are 4 models for the long-term governance of Ireland
that seem to have at least some significant support
at present amongst commentators, politicians and the
public on all sides of the existing religious, social
and political divides. They are:
retention of existing status quo
26/6 Federal Model
Unitary 32-County State
is also of course Éire Nua, but support for
this is very limited and anyway falls outside the
purpose of this article. I will return to Éire
Nua on its own merits at a later stage. Joint Authority,
when mentioned, is always placed in a temporary, transitional
context towards models 3 or 4 and so can be discounted.
I concentrate on these four at present for one simple
reason: they all have the same fatal flaw.
one of the above models assumes a 19th Century style
centralised State (or States) on the island. By this
I mean that in each and every case the current model
of an entire territory being ruled politically and
economically from one central location. All power
and decision making is concentrated in Dublin or Belfast
(or both). This is, of course, the way its
always been done - at least since the 17th century.
It is also entirely the wrong way to do things for
a wide range of reasons. Recent articles by myself
have mainly concentrated on the historical/cultural
reasons why centralised government is wrong for Ireland.
I turn now to more prosaic socio-economic and geopolitical
is a truism that hardly requires further explanation
that at present economic activity and wealth (and
hence population) are overwhelmingly concentrated
around Belfast and Dublin. This is a direct result
of the concentration of political power in these locations.
When the people who make all the legislative and economic
decisions are in one place, they naturally tend to
concentrate more on the issues of that location. Lobbyists
for various sectors flock to the area to better exert
influence. Economic clustering effects take hold,
meaning that new companies will set up or invest in
the locations where other similar companies - and
hence a pool of already-skilled workers - exist. Labour
flocks to the area from outlying regions, and a feedback
loop is created that sucks ever more power, wealth
and activity into the one location.
allowed to continue over decades we end up with the
situation we have today - rural depopulation, poverty
and deprivation; dying rural towns; a decaying social
and cultural fabric across huge areas of the island.
Indeed even without the Unionist mismanagement of
Old Stormont it is likely - probable - that the area
west of the Bann would still be economically deprived.
The various Dublin Governments since Partition had
no such ideological grudge against the ironically
named BMW (Border, Midlands and West) regions of the
Republic, yet the very same processes were in effect
and have had the very same results.
this concentration of activity is not just bad for
the depopulated outlying regions. The traffic congestion,
housing problems, urban poverty - with attendant drug
abuse and crime - that excessive urbanisation brings
in its wake cause huge problems for the populations
of Belfast and Dublin. In Belfast the added dimension
of tribal conflict is only exacerbated by the ensuing
competition for space and facilities in a crowded
in the last year we have seen in Dublin that in the
long run such over-crowding eventually drives away
the economic activity. Negative factors of congestion,
rapidly rising costs of living and doing business,
crime and the general attitude of harassed and stressed
city folk eventually outweigh the positive infrastructural
and labour-availability issues - not to mention the
tourists. Dublin is now seen as an unattractive place
to work and run a business, and as a consequence the
Celtic Tiger is beginning to look decidedly mangy.
Belfasts own unique problems will only reinforce
there is the corruption that centralisation brings
in its wake. The endless parade of Tribunals in Dublin
Castle and the appalling cynical manipulation and
neglect of working-class communities in Belfast stem
from the same centralised system. With unfettered
sovereign power as in the Republic the temptation
to abuse that power to line your pocket has obviously
been too great for many politicians to resist. When
all that matters is the 6-county-wide sectarian headcount
in Stormont, politicians are free to ignore the problems
of local communities as long as they throw the proper
shapes in the Assembly against the enemy.
only people that gain from all this are the people
running the whole dysfunctional mess. This is democracy
in the 21st century?
a balanced system, there would be many other regions
of the country to which companies could relocate and
continue in a more conducive environment. But after
decades of neglect, much of the Republic and west
of the Bann are even less attractive as either places
to live or as places in which a successful business
could be run. And so the activity flees elsewhere,
mainly at present to Eastern Europe. Of course, this
in itself brings up the issue of over-reliance on
FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) rather than building
up the indigenous industries. But even an Irish-owned
company would think twice these days about setting
up shop in Dublin
could go on, but I think you get the idea.
consequence of a centralised state is that local producers
have no protection from the ravages of globalisation.
Bizarrely, most of the vegetables found on the shelves
of Irish supermarkets, north and south, are imported.
Why? Because in a centralised system one-size-fits-all,
and central governments come under extreme pressure
from transnational organisations and global marketeers
to rig the game in their favour. If central government
caves to the demands of the fundamentalist disciples
of the so-called Washington Consensus
economics, we all must pay the price. There is no
last line of defence.
is quite simply the reason why it is now almost impossible
to find locally-produced goods. I am quite young (29),
and I can remember a time growing up when everything
from most basic foods to round-the-home tools to flowers
came from people you knew. Local families were financially
supported, in addition to their jobs - by out-of-work
family members indulging in various arts, crafts,
vegetable gardens and so on. Communities were kept
strong (and solvent), local crafts and skills were
kept alive, you knew what you were eating, and multinational
chain stores for unusual or high-tech goods were never
far away if you needed them.
that has gone, local communities are fragmented, where
they still exist in any meaningful sense, many local
crafts may already be lost forever. And the young
people have no choice, no option, are not even any
longer aware of any option, but to make the trek to
Belfast or Dublin and sell their lives (or 60 hours
a week of them) for a pittance to multinational who
may close down at any moment. And people wonder why
Irelands youth seem, despite increased prosperity,
to be more disaffected, alienated and as a consequence
angry and seeking escape in substance abuse than ever
before. They realise that something has been lost,
that this road leads nowhere. But a centralised system
offers little hope for change.
highly decentralized system, on the other hand
the transition period would involve much upheaval
and change, the end result would I believe be well
worth a few years of inconvenience. It is easier -
and cheaper - to build 200 houses in 20 towns around
the country than to try to build another 4,000 in
the monstrosity that is Greater Dublin (now rapidly
swallowing Kildare, Meath and Wicklow). Easier - and
cheaper - to upgrade water, sewage, electricity, road
and telecommunications access for those same towns
than to build the folly that is LUAS. When added to
strong local government that can make real decisions
- including revenue-raising and legislative powers
- you have all the ingredients you need to encourage
economic activity of all kinds.
strong local council supporting local producers and
crafts, offering incentives to a (sensible) amount
of FDI, and maintaining a decent infrastructure would
add up to an attractive place to live and work and
do business. The vast majority of the populations
of our cities come from somewhere else in Ireland,
and if only these ingredients were in place I know
most of them would return to the region of their birth.
After all, living in a vibrant Omagh, Enniskillen,
Tralee or Castlebar has got to be better than enduring
- for that is all many people do, put up with
- Belfast or Dublin.
if such councils had treaty-making powers with foreign
governments, and if the central Government had a limited
role in only those areas strictly best dealt with
nationally - and overseeing equality of opportunity
in the local council areas (so that it could not actually
enforce the demands of transnational organisations
even if it wanted to)
pipedream? Not if the political will was there to
make the change. It really wouldnt take all
that much organisation and money to rebalance the
island and lead to better lives for all Irishmen and
Irishwomen (and Irish children!). Unfortunately those
who have lived their lives in the belly of the beast,
who know nothing but the seduction of unfettered centralised
power, will never countenance such a move. Unless
they are told to.
We The People.
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