It’s not hard to find evidence that the country is on an election footing. As the Dail returned this week, it became clear that virtually every pronouncement made by the Government from here until the moment Enda Kenny names the day will be viewed through an election prism.
Perhaps those who have lobbied hard for Dublin’s €3 billion Dart Underground scheme, which was knocked by Minister for Transport Paschal Donohue on Tuesday, may now be ruing that the decision was made just as Mr Kenny was all but putting the printers on standby for Fine Gael’s order of election posters.
Mr Donohue did confirm that the Dart line will be extended as far as Balbriggan, which is now prime commuter land in north Dublin - a project which will cost a vast sum by the time it is completed around 2022. Perhaps, in knocking back the underground plan, he was mindful that spending billions on a single infrastructure project in the capital was likely to generate a hostile response from campaigners around the country who have seen their own projects put on the long finger.
“We must continue to seek the best value for taxpayers’ money in everything we do,” Mr Donohoe said. Nobody could disagree with that sentiment, but now that the public finances are improving to a significant degree, the members of the Governnment’s Economic Council – Mr Kenny, Tanaiste Joan Burton, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and his Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin - will increasingly find themselves facing critical decisions of which capital projects should proceed, and which should not. In a perfect world, Dublin would have its Dart Underground. There is no doubt but that the project has many merits and it would undoubtedly make our capital city more competitive on the world stage. World-class cities such as London are ploughing untold billions into rail projects, for good reason. But, as with finance decisions made in the most humble household, it all comes down to priorities. Can the Dart Underground be deemed a greater need than the most important piece of motorway this country neglected to build in the good times, namely the road from Cork to Limerick, our second and third cities? In our view, absolutely not. The current road is not fit for purpose but hopes that the N20 would be upgraded to a motorway were dashed earlier this year by Mr Donohue.
Such is the complexity of the scheme that were it to be made top priority in the morning, it would probably take 10 years before the project was completed.
That is a depressing scenario for those of us who believe the road is essential to the future prosperity of our region. We have waited too long already - and however compelling the case for the Dublin underground might be, it should not take precedence over this vital piece of regional infrastructure.
Local politicians aspiring to be part of the next Government should be told as much when they come knocking on doors.