Ireland’s National Development Plan must be delivered
As the political fallout from Ireland’s General Election result gathers apace, Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) confirmed to interested parties on 11 February that the market consultation for Dublin’s MetroLink is to continue with one-on-one meetings scheduled for later this month.
On 12 February, TII launched a public consultation on a tunnel intervention shaft for the EUR3bn rail project with a “number of other local area consultations will be held during 2020.” The authority had announced in January the consultation was to be postponed so it would not get caught up in the election campaign.
I wish to commend TII for displaying their world-class expertise in project delivery once again, when Ireland needs it most.
During the election campaign Taoiseach Leo Varadkar performed the opening ceremony for N25 New Ross Bypass, which incorporates Ireland’s longest bridge. The project has been delivered as a PPP contract between TII and a consortium led by BAM and ACS and received widespread positive media coverage.
Outspoken support from political leaders anywhere for PPP models is a rare and valuable thing, but cutting the ribbon of shiny new facilities that will shape communities goes along way. However despite contented success for the PPP model, Varadkar’s Fine Gael government is now unlikely to be returned, and the next government is increasingly likely to feature Sinn Féin and/or the Green Party. As a result the future of PPP in Ireland appears bleak.
Sinn Féin has consistently been an arch-critic of PPP and has attempted to thwart PPP procurements at every possible opportunity, including at local government level. This was particularly evident at parliament committees where civil servants from departments and agencies such as TII and the National Treasury Management Agency were consistently grilled on government PPP policy, despite supporting data and logical responses (such as value for money, and policy is not decided by civil servants).
That is not to say Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin, Pearse Doherty and David Cullinane are inept politicians in anyway and somehow cannot grasp the virtues of PPP. I would in fact note it is widely accepted these future leaders are stacked with ability and financial acumen, but perhaps like many politicians did not let the truth get in the way of the message they wanted the electorate to hear.
What is inexplicable however is the Green Party's stance to take a wrecking ball to plans for the new M20 Cork to Limerick motorway. This is despite widespread support in the Munster region for the EUR1bn project which is at the design stage and a vital tool in the widely agreed strategy of spatial realignment away from Dublin.
However it was not PPP policy that decided how people voted in this election.
For 58% of the electorate it was a lack of social infrastructure investment (health 32%, housing 26%), with climate change following pensions in a distant fourth with 6%, according to an exit poll (conducted by Ipsos/MRBI on behalf of RTÉ, The Irish Times, TG4 and UCD). To Varadkar’s dismay, Brexit was 1%.
Receiving the largest vote, Sinn Féin appears to have tapped into what concerned Irish people the most; the government is not getting to grips with the extent of these interlinked national crises which are all exasperated by a lack of, or mismanagement of, infrastructure investment. Project Ireland 2040 was an admirable mission statement, but now it has become apparent 2040 is a long way off if you do not have access to a house or healthcare.
However there is now a clear mandate for the delivery of the 10-year National Development Plan (2018-2027) to be expedited and the game changing projects across health, housing, transport and energy must at the very least continue pre, current, and post-procurement activities.
If the next government attempts to change the course (and thus delay) of any of these projects at such a crucial stage in their delivery it will likely face the wrath of an electorate who just wanted well-laid plans developed into the fundamental facilities and services people require.
However with the arrival of realpolitik in Ireland, there are silver linings for the infrastructure delivery sector, and users.
The party that won the most seats (by the slimmest of margins) is Fianna Fáil and within their senior ranks are capable proponents of the PPP model, such as Dara Calleary and Michael McGrath.
The latter hails from the same Cork constituency as party leader Micheál Martin, who now appears to be most likely to be the next Taoiseach for the simple reason that he can be the next Taoiseach, and is unlikely to get another shot at it. Between the Cork contingent leading the party and Limerick stalwart Willie O’Dea first of the party’s TDs (MPs) to be returned, I would expect the M20 to be taken off the coalition negotiating table in the weeks ahead.
The final silver lining is neither in Belfast, Dublin, or Cork, but in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg.
The European Investment Bank has been widely touted by many politicians as a panacea to financing Irish infrastructure and housing, particularly by Sinn Féin as an alternative to private finance. However thanks the European Commission’s new sustainable investment plan, the European Green Deal, private finance will continue to play a key role in infrastructure investment as the European Union responds to climate change.
A reality the next Irish government I hope will embrace.