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The Dublin Port Debacle
 
 
Brian Guerin and Andrew McGrath 
 
 
This is a shortened version of an article previously published on Indymedia and at Planetsave.com.
 
 
The Progressive Democrat Party recently announced a proposal to move Dublin port to a smaller terminal facility at Bremore Port in Balbriggan. Bremore Port is a deep water facility (unlike Dublin port), and is entirely suitable for development as a 21st century port.  However, the suggestion to move Dublin port from its antiquated 18th quayside facilities to a Dublin coastal deepwater site was first made in 1990 by the ESB. Why is this not mentioned by the Progressive Democrats on their website? The actual reasons tun out to be rather revealing.

In June 1990, a report was presented to the Government outlining a series of studies undertaken by the ESB into infrastructural deficits in Ireland in relation to transportation, electricity and natural gas linkages to other EU countries. In addition to these, a study  was carried out into the existing port infrastructure, in the light of what whereby then rather obvious weaknesses in the port transportation network in Ireland. Nothing came of the report. Instead, in 1991, Dublin Corporation hired consultants to undertake a study into a relief road that would connect Dublin port to the first phase of the M50 Ring Motorway, then under construction.

The fact that the Dublin Port and Docklands Authority ignored the ESB proposal and insisted that the money be spent shoring up the existing facilities suggests that other considerations were at work. The Dublin Port Tunnel, though clearly intended as the major component of the Authority’s plan to sustain the port’s viability, was identified by the ESB report, years before its inception, as a waste of money, chiefly because it would be thoroughly unreasonable to expect port traffic to take a lengthy roundabout route and pay the associated tolls. Thus it could be expected to have little or no effect on the congestion caused by port traffic in the city. And as commuters were not intended to use it, because in the first place it was purposely designed to be difficult to access from commuter routes, the proposal amounted to no solution at all, a redundant road, all the more so given that the projected cost of ESB’s own plan was significantly lower than the projected cost of the Tunnel alone. The ESB’s assessment of the proposal has been demonstrated, beyond a shadow of doubt, to be true by subsequent events. So it could be argued that the Tunnel should never have been built, given that such serious criticisms went without answer.

However, it seems that, far from the Port Tunnel being part of the port upgrade plan, there are reasons to believe that the port plan was simply a pretext for building the Port Tunnel. In other words, given that it was known before the road was begun that it would not serve its stated purpose, it is a more plausible explanation that the Dublin Port Tunnel was planned from the beginning, and that the upgrades were proposed as an afterthought, to provide a reason for building it in the first place. This may seem, at face value, to be unlikely, but that is not the case.

If, instead of the conventional explanations along the lines of bad planning and incompetence, it is suggested that that the State sat on the ESB proposal for over 15 years, then aspects of the PDs’ behaviour that previously seemed absurd start to make sense. According to the Village magazine of 2nd February 2006, the market value for land in the docklands area is a minimum of ¤15 million per acre. On such an estimate, the sale of 660 acres would raise ¤10 Billion for the State, were it to sell the land outright.         

However, it is unlikely that a sale is on the cards. Obviously, the costs involved even for large-scale property corporations, international or otherwise, would be considerable, whatever the financial benefits to the taxpayer. It seems certain, therefore, given the government’s record on such matters, that another device will be found to assist Big Property with their difficulties. A pretext has already been created for this, with the Government’s decision to hand over State properties to private developers, with the proviso that a certain percentage of social housing is provided (or provided that a commitment is given to that effect).

The purpose of the Dublin Port Tunnel from its inception, was to increase the value of the lands where Dublin port is situated, so as to maximise the potential benefit to private developers. The PD’s are the Government’s useful lunatic fringe; public opinion has been conditioned to expect their style, and in the public’s search for reassurance against their excesses, the State and its PR-economists will produce the needed rationale for the programme. That moving Dublin port ‘makes no sense’, now that the Dublin Port Tunnel is an accomplished fact, is beside the point: from the point of view of the private interests behind the Government parties, it makes perfect sense to manipulate the State’s planning procedures to implement, at vast cost to the taxpayer, what amounts to a long-term land grab. That, in a nutshell, has been the motivation of State policy over the past thirty years.

 ‘Development’, that is, the expansion of suburbs into Co. Meath and North Dublin, is being promoted as an inevitable process, no other options being available if there is to be ‘progress’. Dublin City authorities decided to implement the Dublin Port Tunnel, knowing full well that Dublin port was unviable, and knowing that a proposal to relocate it would certainly resurface in the future, thus removing any justification for such a grotesquely expensive scheme. The involvement of Brown and Root, Halliburton’s construction wing, as project coordinator, is, and is intended to be, an announcement of the political loyalties of those responsible for devising the plan.

The Drogheda Port Company, as if by coincidence, is now proposing a deepwater port at Bremore. Neither the Drogheda Port Company web site itself nor the consultant’s report, prepared for Drogheda Port Company by John Mangan and Associates, mentions the 1990 ESB report. What is at stake in the disguise is the vast profit potential for private construction and property companies that will accrue through the inflation of land prices in the port region by the now entirely redundant Port Tunnel: a sale of the Dublin port lands is not on the cards, but rather a transfer to private ownership. This will be accompanied by the expected propaganda about Public-Private Partnerships and the Government’s commitment to providing much-needed ‘social housing’, but in fact, and this is a prediction based on the consistent logic of the way the public planning process has been perverted over the years, there will be no provision of low-cost housing. Instead, what is intended, what has always been intended, is to provide construction and property firms with one of the biggest building bonanzas in European history.

©  The Tara Foundation, February 2006