Last month, negotiations on the exit of the UK from the European Union commenced. As noted elsewhere, Brexit constitutes a critical milestone of game-changing significance not just for the UK but also for the EU and indeed for the Republic of Ireland. In November 2009, it was argued in the initial post on this blog, that the establishment of NAMA represented a critical moment for Irish Geography. Brexit represents a critical moment of transformation with perhaps similarly far-reaching consequences for geography of the island of Ireland. Brexit represents a reconfiguration of territoriality with direct implications for North-South, Ireland-EU and Ireland-UK relations. I argue here that Brexit thus requires critical and sustained engagement from the geographical community. To date, much of the discussion and debate on Brexit has occurred at macro-level against the backdrop of an implied simplistic geography of ‘London and ‘Brussels’ or the UK and Europe. Discussion of a ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland has occurred for me the most part without due reference to the complex territoriality of Northern Ireland post-1998.

A Briefing Paper recently published by the Centre for Cross-Border Studies sets out the specific geographical implications of ‘flexible and imaginative solutions’ for Northern Ireland post-Brexit. Significantly the paper highlights the potential role of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) as a political framework for territorial relations ‘on these islands’ post Brexit. The GFA is composed of three strands concerning the devolved governance for Northern Ireland (Strand I), North-South (Strand II) and British-Irish (Strand III) relations. Crucially these strands are mutually interdependent:

To reach a negotiating outcome that undermines any one of the strands of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the geographical spaces they represent would be to undermine the entire Agreement given that they are all interdependent (CCBS, June 2017).

 In this context, the Irish and British governments have pivotal roles as co-guarantors of the GFA. The interdependence of the three strands goes to the heart of the territoriality of Northern Ireland. It follows that this territoriality must be understood relationally – in relation to the UK, the Republic of Ireland and, indeed the EU. This perspective serves to relativize the perception of Northern Ireland as a bounded container space within the UK. Katy Hayward has argued cogently on QPOL that different normative ideas on sovereignty are at the heart of the Brexit debate:

At the heart of this Brexit debate are two different conceptions of sovereignty. If the EU is about the growth of sovereignty by sharing it, Brexit is, in essence, a move to deepen sovereignty by restricting it to the territory of the UK (QPOL, June 2017)

A relational understanding of territoriality helps in moving beyond black/white, either/or solutions to the Northern Ireland question. Maintaining a (for the most part) porous and open border does not need to lead to a border poll and political unity. A hard Brexit does not need to lead to a hard border. The CCBS Briefing Paper sets out a possible post-Brexit geography whereby the island of Ireland under Strand II of the GFA becomes an in-between space allowing access for goods and services from Northern Ireland (but not the rest of the UK) to EU / European Economic Area markets. An alternative model would allow free movement of goods and services between Ireland and the UK due to Ireland’s status as a co-guarantor of the GFA. A recent House of Lords report on the implications of Brexit for devolved governance in the UK, has furthermore suggested that Northern Ireland could maintain compliance with EU law in order to minimise discordance the impact of the border on North-South relations.

Both of the above approaches indicate the potential for imaginative solutions (not necessarily the political will), which requite innovative engagement with territorial relations on the island of Ireland, but within the context of existing frameworks. In the period since the GFA, the island of Ireland has emerged as a coherent functional space with extensive effort gone into the development of shared cross-border spaces for cooperation at community, local authority, regional and inter-jurisdictional levels. Reflecting this, as discussed in a previous post here, the proposed National Planning Framework (RoI) makes substantial reference to the North-South, island of Ireland context and the work of the border area networks. The International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) among other organisations has played a key role behind the scenes, in fostering spaces for cooperation in spatial planning and local and regional development within the border region. Reflecting the near-invisibility of the border in the landscape, a comedian quoted anonymously in Garrett Carr’s The Rule of the Land wryly remarked, “We are going to need the border again… if anyone can remember where we left it”.

The shared border region, and indeed the idea of the island of Ireland as a functional space may be understood as soft, non-territorial spaces. They are informal spaces, located outside the regulatory sphere of nation-state territoriality but very much located in shadow of territory and dependent on formal territorial relations, including in this case the GFA. It is likely that in the post-Brexit context such soft spaces will acquire increased significance whether on the island of Ireland or in terms of Ireland-UK or indeed Northern Ireland-Scotland relations. Indeed a number of scholars of European integration and EU reform (e.g. Jan Zielonka, Andreas Faludi), the future of European integration lies in precisely these forms of soft space, in moving beyond the straitjackets imposed by dominant conceptualisations of the EU as a ‘club of nation states’ and embracing flexible boundaries, soft spaces and variable geometries.

Brexit will lead to paradigmatic shifts in the political geographies of these islands as well as of Europe more broadly. These shifts will play out at multiple scales from that of the EU to the micro-geographies of the Irish-Northern Irish borderland. It is imperative that current and future debates on post-Brexit geographies are informed by critical, theoretically informed perspectives recognising the complex relationships between shifting territorial spaces and the lived places that lie behind them.

Dr. Cormac Walsh

University of Hamburg and ICLRD

A message from Niamh Moore-Cherry, President of the Geographical Society of Ireland:

“It is with sadness that I am letting you know that Prof Anne Buttimer died this morning, July 15. She had been receiving treatment over the last few months in St Vincent’s hospital Dublin but passed away at home. I was privileged to have been able to visit her yesterday to give her the UCC alumni award 2016 that was received on her behalf at the Conference of Irish Geographers this year.

Her legacy in Ireland and beyond will be longlasting. A service will be held at Belfield Church, UCD before she is brought home to Cork for her Funeral Mass and burial. Details will be announced.

May she rest in peace.”

In memory of Prof Buttimer (1938-2017) here is a copy of the chapter about her life and work from ‘Key Thinkers on Space and Place’ (Sage, 2010) PDF

Letter to Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy.

Dear Minister Eoghan Murphy,

We, the undersigned academics and policy experts, recognise, along with other housing experts, homelessness charities, and most politicians, that Ireland is experiencing a housing crisis on a scale never seen before.[1] Homelessness figures continue to rise, while rents have increased by over 40% nationally since 2011, and housing conditions worsen for more and more of the population. The response from government thus far has been wholly inadequate. The evidence strongly shows that treating housing as a commodity has exacerbated homelessness, prevented the building of sufficient numbers of affordable houses, and stoked inflation in house prices and rents. The current housing crisis demands extraordinary emergency measures. To this end, in solidarity with the Inner City Helping Homeless and Irish Housing Network, we support the six demands below.

Current government solutions through ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ overly rely on the private sector to deliver affordable housing, despite our past record of failing to deliver housing through the private sector. During the Celtic Tiger years, tax incentives for developers increased housing supply to excessive proportions. According to the 2011 Census, there were 289,451 vacant units nationally;[2] in terms of oversupply, there were at least 110,000 units.[3] This approach, rather than making housing more affordable, has resulted in housing price increases of between 300% and 400% in different parts of the country.[4] As the government did not provide sustainable long-term policies to deliver a stable social housing supply, as was the was the case for countries such as Denmark and Austria, [5] when Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), created to deliver social housing, collapsed during the crash no alternatives were set in place.[6] Meanwhile, the private rental sector remained underdeveloped and poorly regulated. The result is that Ireland has now some of the worst tenant rights of any country in Europe.[7] The series of housing crises in Ireland[8] have only been significantly exacerbated by the government response to the crisis.[9]

Cumulatively, as a society, Ireland is steadily moving from treating housing as a basic need and right to treating housing as a commodity. However, international evidence clearly shows that government policies that treat housing as a commodity have led to growing wealth inequality, housing insecurity and human rights abuses.[10] In 2017, a report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Housing to the Human Rights Council concluded that “rather than treating housing as a commodity valued primarily as an asset for the accumulation of wealth [governments must] reclaim housing as a social good, and thus ensure the human right to a place to live in security and dignity”.[11] We, the undersigned, urge the government to: to acknowledge the current housing crisis, change its housing policies and treat housing as a societal good, and to provide affordable housing to all to benefit Irish society as a whole.

Sincerely yours,

Irish Academics and Policy Experts Supporting Housing Justice

 

Dr Véronique Altglas, Lecturer in Sociology, School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr. Patrick Bresnihan, Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Michael Byrne, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, University College Dublin

Dr Patrick Collins, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway

Prof Linda Connolly, Director, Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute

Dr Laurence Cox, Sr Lecturer in Sociology, Maynooth University

Dr Nessa Cronin, Centre for Irish Studies and Associate Director, Moore Institute, NUI Galway

Ciarán Cuffe, Programme Chair, Masters Programme in Urban Regeneration & Development, School of Transport Engineering, Environment & Planning, Dublin Institute of Technology

Professor Anna Davies, Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Dr  Sharae Deckard, Lecturer in World Literature, School of English, Drama and Film,  at University College Dublin

Dr Jessica Doyle, Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University

Samantha Dunne, MA, South Dublin County Public Partnership Network Coordinator

Dr Claire Edwards, University College Cork

Dr Frances Fahy, Head of Geography, Sr Lecturer, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway

Dr Eugene Farrell, Lecturer, Physical Geography and Director, MSc Programme ‘Coastal and Marine Environments’, NUI Galway; Member, Ryan Institute for Environmental, Marine and Energy Research, and President, Irish Geomorphology Group

Dr Eoin Flaherty, Asst Prof, School of Sociology, University College Dublin

Dr Ronan Foley, Sr Lecturer, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Alistair Fraser, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Paula Gilligan, Dept of Humanities, Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dún Laoghaire

Dr Leonie Hannan, Queen’s University, Belfast

Dr Rory Hearne, Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute

Dr Nuala Johnson MRIA, Queen’s University Belfast

Prof Gerry Kearns, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Prof Rob Kitchin, Maynooth University

Dr M. Satish Kumar, FRGS, RCS, FHEA, Director of Internationalisation, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr David Landy, Department of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Joe Larragy, Lecturer in Social Policy, Maynooth University

Dr Philip Lawton, Lecturer in Human Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Steve Loyal, School of Sociology, University College Dublin

Dr Kevin Lynch, Lecturer in Geography, National University of Ireland Galway

Dr Mark Maguire, Department of Anthropology, Maynooth University

Dr Lidia Manzo, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Chandana Mathur, Maynooth University

Dr Mary McAuliffe,Gender Studies, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice

Prof Aoife McLysaght, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Alan Mee, Lecturer in Urban Design, School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, University College Dublin

Dr Julien Mercille, Assoc Prof, University College Dublin

Assoc Prof Niamh Moore-Cherry, School of Geography, University College Dublin

Dr John Morrissey, Associate Director, Moore Institute for Humanities, NUI Galway

Dr Anne Mulhall,  University College Dublin

Prof Enda Murphy, University College Dublin

Dr Michelle Norris, University College Dublin

Prof John O’Brennan, Maynooth University

Dr Cormac O’Brien, Asst Prof, School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin

Dr Cian O’Callaghan, Asst Prof of Urban Geography, School of Natural Sciences,Trinity College Dublin

Dr Féilim Ó hAdhmaill, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork

Dr Eoin O’Mahoney, Geographer

Dr Jacqui O’Riordan, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork

Dr Michael Punch, School of Sociology, University College Dublin

Dr. Declan Redmond, School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, University College Dublin

Dr John Reynolds, Department of Law, Maynooth University

Prof Jan Rigby, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Silvia Ross, University College Cork

Dr Rory Rowan, Department of Geography, University of Zurich

Meabh Savage, PhD candidate in Equality Studies, University College Dublin

Dr Helen Shaw, Maynooth University

Dr Henry Silke, School of Culture and Communication, University of Limerick

Dr Karen Smith, Lecturer in Equality Studies, University College Dublin

Prof Ulf Strohmayer, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway

Prof Karen Till, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Sander van Lanen, Lecturer in Geography, National University of Ireland Galway

If you are an academic and would like to join this petition, please contact Prof Karen Till at karenetill@gmail.com

*****

Demands of the Inner City Helping Homeless and the Irish Housing Network below:
1. Emergency Accommodation Independent Review: An independent human rights and care review of all emergency housing, from private to charity and state run, must be conducted immediately.
2. Emergency Accommodation as a Centre of Care: Ensure that all Emergency Accommodation facilities have 24-hr access, with a fully funded response team, including wrap around supports, that focuses on: mental health, security and privacy for all residents. In addition, full and enforceable complaint procedures must be available and implemented.
3. No to Family Hubs. Warehousing families is not a solution. Instead we demand the creation of safe and affordable homes, not hubs, for those experiencing homelessness and/or housing crises.
4. No Evictions and Security of Tenure: We demand the end of economic evictions, as well as request security of tenure and housing rights, including affordable rents, for all currently in the private rental market.
5. Build and Buy Social Housing: To provide longer-term stable communities and cities, social housing must be provided. To this end, 183,000 empty houses should be transformed to social housing, and portfolios purchased from NAMA. In addition, new social housing must be planned and built at a reasonable rate.
6. Mortgages Write Down. For those in mortgage distress in their single family homes, negative equity should be cancelled.

*****

 

[1] Healy, T., & Goldrick-Kelly, P. (2017). Ireland’s Housing Emergency-Time for a Game Changer. Nevin Economic Research Institute Working Paper, (41).

[2] Of the 289,451 vacant units, 168,427 were vacant houses, 61,629 vacant apartments and 59,395 vacant holiday homes. 2011 Census data available at: http://www.cso.ie/en/census/.

[3] Although the oversupply had reduced to 77,00 units by 2016, these units are mostly not located in places where housing is needed.

[4] Kitchin, R., Gleeson, J., Keaveney, K., & O’Callaghan, C. (2010). A haunted landscape: housing and ghost estates in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) Working Paper59.

[5] Norris, M., & Byrne, M. (2017). Housing Market Volatility, Stability and Social Rented Housing: comparing Austria and Ireland during the global financial crisis (UCD Geary working papers No. 201705).

[6] Hearne, R. (2011). Public Private Partnerships in Ireland: Failed Experiment or the Way Forward for the State. Manchester University Press.

[7] Sirr, L. (2014). Renting in Ireland: The Social, Voluntary and Private Sectors;. Mcgill-Queens University Press.

[8] Kitchin, R., Hearne, R., & O’Callaghan, C. (2015). Housing in Ireland: From crisis to crisis. http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/6313/1/RK-Housing-Ireland-77WP.pdf.

[9] Hearne, R. (2017) A home or a wealth generator? Inequality, financialization and the Irish housing crisis. TASC. https://www.tasc.ie/download/pdf/a_home_or_a_wealth_generator_inequality_financialisation_and_the_irish_housing_crisis.pdf.

[10] Aalbers, M. B. (2016). The financialization of housing: A political economy approach. Routledge; Fields, D., & Uffer, S. (2016). The financialisation of rental housing: A comparative analysis of New York City and Berlin. Urban Studies53 (7), 1486-1502; Marcuse, P., & Madden, D. (2016). In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis. Verso Books.

[11] Farha, L. (2017) Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. January 2017; available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/HousingIndex.aspx

 

 

Eoin O’Mahony, UCD and TCD.

I have been working for a while now with the data produced by the InsideAirBnB project. I teach students how to map and analyse these kinds of datasets when they are learning to use geographic information software. The data are really useful to understand how the city changes, how urban unevenness plays out and what can be done to undermine the ‘sharing economy’. That last phrase in particular, the sharing economy, is very pernicious. Sharing usually involves me giving you something and, maybe, you giving me something. In the case of AirBnB, money is given over for a space to sleep and eat.  That doesn’t sound like sharing to me but old fashioned marketised social relations. The same goes for the gig economy: the last time I went to a gig, I wasn’t asked up on stage to pound out a few tunes with The Unthanks.

This morning, I read that Dublin City Council have finally published their report on the impact that AirBnB is having on Dublin City’s housing. One of the more significant reported findings is that there are many individual people renting out multiple short lets. Downey’s report for the Council (which I have yet to read) recommends that two Council committees work together to figure out a way to “tackle the issue”. While we await the Council’s prognostications, let’s examine some of the impacts that the most recent batch of data (February 2017) points to. This is a kind of geography of AirBnB in Dublin, a way in which to help analyse the current housing crisis. This is the housing crisis that Coveney would like to solve part of before June, you know, after winning the leadership race of his party. Priorities, right?

Firstly, within the City Council area, there has been an increase in the number of listings between August last year and the February scrape. In August, there were 4,931 listings for the city area – the vast bulk of all Dublin region listings. By February, this had increased to 6,729, an increase of 36%. There must be few other things in the city that have increased by this amount in this period, except perhaps seagull droppings.  There has not been a 36% increase in the output of social and affordable homes in the city over this period. There is clearly a number of people out there who have apartments in the city who know that if they rent the spare room or the whole apartment they can make some money. Short-term lettings like these allow people the flexibility to rent some weekends and not others but also to pay a mortgage on a second (or fifth or eighth) rental property they just happen to have lying around. It beats having long term tenants it would seem. Perhaps significantly, the proportion of listings that rents the whole property out (as opposed to a room) has remained stable at 47% of all listings.  So where are these listings located?

One of the really good features of a geographic information system (software that allows for spatial analysis) is to be able to see patterns across the city. I conducted a point-in-polygon analysis of the data from the February 2017 listings dataset. As the name implies, this counts the number of listings within each predefined area, in this case electoral divisions (EDs). There are 162 EDs in the DCC area. Location information for these listings are anonymized by Airbnb so any scraping process encounters the following spatial constraints:

    • the location for a listing on the map, or in the data will be up to 150 metres from the actual address.
    • listings in the same building are anonymized by Airbnb individually, and therefore appear “scattered” in the area surrounding the actual address.

I would be interested to see how Downey may have compensated for this in his report for the Council. Any point-in-polygon analysis is therefore compromised by these two constraints. Knowing this, what spatial patterns can we see? The average number of listings per ED is about 34. In the first map below we can see the distribution of listings below, around (±10), and above the average.

Edit: dynamic map is now available here.

number of listings per ED

 

The parts of the city that have above average listings include the docklands, the north inner city around Mountjoy Square and near Stoneybatter. By the far the largest concentrations of listings are seen south of the river, particularly in the south docklands and around Temple Bar. Focusing on those EDs with 100 or more listings, it is clear that the areas south of the river have many more listings than those north of it. This may point to a greater availability in these areas.

EDs with 100 or more

 

Interestingly, the gap between in the southside of the map above contains the areas fancifully known as ‘the Georgian core’. The sabre-shaped ED known as South Dock has well over 300 listings. This takes in an area including the south docklands as well as the area immediately to the south and east of Trinity College. In and around the City Council building on Wood Quay is an area of high concentrations. Thanks to a suggestion by Martin at NCG, I then normalised these listings data by the number of housing units per ED from the 2011 Census. This gave a slightly different geography to the listings data. The average per area is a little under 2% of all housing units. Again, I classified the normalised listings data by below, around and above average but have not displayed the below average areas. We can note a number of differences, as is clear from the final map below.

as a percentage of

 

13% of the units in south inner city are listed as AirBnB-available units. About 9% of the units South Dock are. The Georgian core comes back into play. The heaviest concentrations of listings are therefore found in the south inner city, heading west. I would like to read Downey’s report on this before I do any more work on these data. What’s not clear to me of course is if the Council is going to take any concrete actions to at least curb the power of property to yield profits in the middle of the city’s worst housing crisis.  As Lorcan Sirr has indicated recently, some in control of this city have a strange relationship of denial with data. Action would require the Councillors to push back against the primacy of private property so you know…..not much will happen unless we organise like they’ve done in Barcelona and elsewhere.

The Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework (NPF) currently under preparation, is tasked with providing a ‘framework for future development and investment in Ireland’ (Issues and Choices Consultation Paper). The consultation document makes clear that the NPF is intended to provide a high-level strategic policy document, working to coordinate the spatial aspects of a wide range of sectoral policies concerned with ‘housing, jobs, transport, education, health, environment, energy and communications’. The potential of strategic spatial policy to be provide a frame for the coordination of broad-scale policy objectives such as quality of life, prosperity and environmental sustainability and the development of place-based policy is explicitly addressed. It is evident that the NPF is intended to provide more than a reformulation of the politically-sensitive issue of balanced or effective regional development. It is also evident that it is not to be understood as ‘national plan’, prescribing where development should take place, as discussed previously on this blog here). Whereas the NPF will hopefully provide a central guiding framework for planning authorities, informing their decision-making and placing their work in a wider strategic context, this should not be understood as its primary function.

The NPF is asking to be taken seriously as cross-sectoral overarching framework for investment, rather than treated as a national plan to be ‘implemented’ by local authorities. These strategic cross-sectoral policy coordination policy coordination objectives are to be welcomed. The current context of Brexit-induced uncertainty calls for open dialogue, cross-sectoral communication and strategic stakeholder engagement, as Ireland-UK and by default, Ireland-EU and North-South relations are simultaneously re-ordered and re-worked. Indeed, this period of uncertainty calls for spatial public diplomacy. The NPF can play an important function in this context providing in particular a framework for working out island-of-Ireland perspectives and reaffirming existing commitments to cooperation in matters of spatial planning and regional development on a North-South basis.

The experiences of Wales and Scotland with strategic spatial planning furthermore demonstrate the potential of spatial strategies with strong cross-sectoral ambitions. The Scottish National Planning Frameworks build on a strong Scottish tradition of strategic planning and have played an important role as part of a broader ‘national conversation’ post-devolution. More importantly, they have served to focus policy attention on key projects of national importance and ‘spatial priorities for change’. The Wales Spatial Plan similarly was designed from the outset as an over-arching cross-sectoral framework, placing the work of the then newly established Welsh Assembly in a strategic spatial context and supporting joined-up thinking at a sub-regional level.

In order to be taken seriously and to have relevance as a framework at a strategic policy level outside of the Department of Housing, Planning Community and Local Government, however, the NPF needs to be explicitly linked to public sector investment decision-making. The National Spatial Strategy was of course, designed to give spatial expression to the National Development Plan with the Gateway Investment Fund as the bridge linking spatial and capital investment planning. Unfortunately, the GIF was one of the first items to go when budgets were cut and the decentralisation fiasco characteristically served to make the worst out of a bad situation. We should nevertheless expect and demand that the NPF contain explicit commitments regarding major infrastructure projects of national and regional importance, aligning the spatial framework with national transportation policy and other key sectoral policies. Debate on the NPF should focus on concrete substantive issues of strategic spatial significance such as outstanding commitments under Transport 21, sustainable energy and climate adaptation policy and the future of the border region in a time of uncertainty. NPF scenarios could focus on the spatial development implications of infrastructure investments and policy choices, providing informed insights into possible regional development dynamics in Ireland 2040. This of course is based on the perhaps naive assumption that the Irish Government is prepared to commit public funds to strategic investment projects rather than relying on private sector investment.

The NPF might also be expected to make funding commitments to support innovative regional development initiatives emerging from the bottom-up. It is possible to envisage a scenario where local authorities, business and community stakeholders could apply for capacity-building or small-scale investment funding on a competitive basis from funds administered by the three regional assemblies. Projects would be required to support the objectives of the NPF and to cross local authority boundaries, working with ‘functional territories’ in order to ensure strategic regional importance. Lessons can be learnt from urban-rural partnership programmes organised on a similar basis in Germany which have challenged metropolitan and rural districts to identify potential synergies and means of working together. Closer to home, the experiences of three Border Area Networks and work of ICLRD in developing common projects and strategies on a cross-border basis demonstrate the potential of this approach in the Irish context.

It is time for a mature debate on the substantive issues the NPF can and should address on a cross-sectoral basis, and time for the Government to commit to public investment aligned with national spatial policy.

Reminder: Submissions on the NPF consultation can be made until this Thursday 16th March (12 noon).

Cormac Walsh

To make a submission about the proposed NPF go to the website and follow the instructions provided; or email npf@housing.gov.ie; or write to:

NPF Submissions, Forward Planning Section, Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Custom House, Dublin, D01 W6X0

new-urban-ruins-posterFull programme available here.newurbanruinsworkshopfinalprogr2602

Last month saw the publication of the latest government effort at an action plan for rural development.  Realising Our Rural Potential takes the now familiar glossy format of recent government action plans replete with 276 actions, slickly produced with accompanying promo video and, for sake of appearances, an official launch in the suitably rural location of Ballymahon’s (soon to be staffless) public library.

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The plan places a welcome, and long overdue, emphasis on rejuvenating rural towns and villages which are recognised as essential lynchpins to sustain and improve the living and working environment of rural dwellers.  It is acknowledged that, as the populations of rural settlement centres have diminished, so too has the demand for and provisioning of essential services, hindering their capacity to compete for investment and employment opportunities. A new town and village renewal scheme is therefore proposed (a rehash of a scheme launched last August), at a cost of €12 million per annum, to encourage increased residential occupancy in over 600 town and village centres (€20,000 each!).

In these so-called ‘post-factual’ times, it is without any sense of irony, however, that the plan completely glosses over the inconvenient reality that it was the assiduous political commitment over successive decades for policies favouring unfettered suburban one-off housing sprawl that has done most to undermine and depopulate rural towns and villages. Between 2001 and 2011, 104,058 one-off dwellings were constructed in rural areas, 85% within 5km of a town or village. Since 2011, a further 18,500 have been permitted. The level of cognitive dissonance on this issue is all the more striking when you consider that the final report of the Commission for Economic Development in Rural Areas (CEDRA), upon which the action plan is largely based, also makes the same glaring omission. The reality is that, nationally, over 70% of dwellings in defined rural areas are built outside settlement centres, and higher still in some counties. This hemorrhaging of population is not deterministic but as a direct result of a sustained and deliberate policy intervention. As one insightful letter writer to The Irish Times noted, what is killing rural towns and villages is not population decline, but their irrelevance, as rural areas become progressively (r)urbanised and assimilated into the functional reaches of larger cities. No amount of fiscal incentives will reverse this trend in the absence of corresponding firm policy measures to restrict and reverse dispersed suburban housing in the countryside. Of course, such an idea would be an anathema in Ireland against a backdrop of political short-termism and patronage. So instead, the action plan includes a rather insipid reference to increase delivery of small housing schemes in towns and villages as an alternative to one-off housing.

Aside from the umpteenth re-launch of the national broadband strategy, one of the more eye-catching objectives of the action plan is the highly misleading target to create 135,000 new jobs and increase by 40% Foreign Direct Investment in ‘rural Ireland’ by 2020.  Ensconced behind the attention-grabbing target is the actuality that the action plan opportunistically conflates ‘rural development’ with ‘regional development’ for the sake of appearances. What is, in fact, targeted is the creation of 135,000 jobs outside Dublin i.e. primarily in cities outside Dublin. This sleight of hand epitomises the policy churning over successive decades on rural development issues in an effort to give the impression of doing something. As I have argued before, in a typical Irish solution to an Irish problem, in order to defer and displace the political strife that accompanies an implicitly urban-led national growth strategy, we have instead sanctioned the widespread (r)urbanisation of the countryside. Vague, populist and anachronistic concepts like ‘Rural Ireland’ and ‘Action Plans for Rural Development’ simply serve as a symbolic gesture to paper over and silence a more fundamental political discussion on the nature of urbanisation in Ireland – which is off-course the great taboo in Irish political discourse. Our lack of collective memory is all the more alarming when you consider that almost twenty years ago the White Paper on Rural Development (still available on DAFF’s website) was published which contained all of the symbolic rhetoric of the current action plan (including, as today, a commitment to create a twenty-year spatial strategy to promote balanced regional development – sound familiar?). Unfortunately, this latest action plan is simply yet another episode of opportunism over strategy where we are failing to accurately conceive the true nature of the problem. No doubt twenty years hence we will be back having the same discussion again.

Gavin Daly