May 30, 2005

Get ready for Ireland 2021

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The Central Statistics Office has confirmed what many of us privately suspected – Dublin between the canals will become a largely non-Irish zone within 16 years.

During the same period, the white Irish middle classes will flee to the suburbs. We saw this pattern in the US during the 1970s and 1980s, but it has been halted somewhat in the past ten years.

In continental Europe, particularly Holland, this trend has continued. In London, immigrant communities are over-represented in central London and thin out as you head towards the M25. This demographic shift is called the doughnut theory in the US, where the centres of cities are hollowed out and left to immigrants while the rich natives flee to the sanctuary of suburbs for better schools, a perception of greater safety and, frankly, to be �among their own’.

So what does the CSO project? It states that Dublin’s population will rise to two million by 2021, but the country as a whole will see population growth for the first time in centuries. The fastest growing region will be what is termed the “mid-east” – Westmeath, Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois and Offaly. This region will see a 50 per cent growth in population in the next 16 years. After years of stagnation, the west of the country will see a 35 per cent increase in population.

It is significant that a sizeable proportion of this increase in both cases will be made up of Dubliners moving out of the capital. �Dulchies’ – a Dubs/Culchies hybrid – will form a large part of the new midlands population. Meanwhile, 112,000 Dubliners (or 10 per cent of today’s population) will move away from the city. Replacing them will be nearly a quarter of a million immigrants, or just under a quarter of the present population. This is a monumental change. Dublin will be unrecognisable in 16 years. Let’s paint a picture of what the country might look like in November 2021,100 years after independence.

If the CSO projections are right and US or London models are anything to go by, Dublin will be predominately young and ethnic. Bars, clubs and shops will be totally different. Entire areas of Dublin 1, stretching in an arc from the docks to the Phoenix Park, are likely to be African.

Rents are likely to be soggy in these places, as today’s young white professionals move out to the suburbs and are replaced by poorer black families. Where rents are cheap, younger white artists and bohemians will move back in, giving the place the feel of Hoxton or Shoreditch in London or Williamsburg in Brooklyn. In the centre around Moore Street, one of Europe’s most vibrant Chinatowns will emerge, with a huge import/export trade between Europe and China, routed through a tax-free zone just behind the GPO.

Just north of these places, the new Ranelagh will emerge, full of chi-chi coffee bars run by lads with dreads, tattoos and bolts of metal through their extremities. The likes of Drumcondra – which at the moment has one of the city’s oldest populations – will become very trendy, liberal and hip, a bit like the Islington of Dublin. It will be close enough to the ethnic areas to offer Mum and Dad cool, ethnic experiences such as Somalian cuisine on a Tuesday night, while at the same time far enough away to make sure that their white kids go to well-funded opt-out �educate together’ schools.They like diversity, but not if it means little Se�n has to sit in a rundown national school where 19 languages are spoken and lessons are delivered by alternating relief teachers from eastern Europe.

You get the picture. There will be some clear positives from our population revolution. Dublin will be more tolerant, culturally much more diverse, there will be more creative types happy to live in such an environment and the standard at the Community Games will rise. But only a fool would ignore the likely adverse social and political ramifications of such developments.

In the meantime, the suburbs will grow and grow. We will get a rainy version of Wisteria Lane from US sitcom Desperate Housewives: upmarket estates with fantastic looking, cosmetically-enhanced occupants.

The new �exurbs’�, rather than suburbs, will spring up beyond the new outer M50, which will span a great tarmac semi-circle from Drogheda to Arklow. The major question for the exurbs is whether they will be commuter dormitory towns, like Naas is today, or much more self-sufficient communities.

America offers some interesting pointers. The exurbs of the US have become autonomous places, with their own businesses, employment, shopping centres, restaurants and a distinctly different living experience from the commuting one. They are the places that voted overwhelingly for George Bush last time.

They are full of people who moved out, not because they had any great rustic dream, but because they probably didn’t like their neighbours. There is full employment in America’s exurbs and many companies have moved out there to large, cheap facilities. The crime rate is low, sporting facilities are good and, at least at a superficial level, these new suburbs feel safe, secure and prosperous. They vote for low taxes, self sufficiency and the freedom to own large fridges, 800 square metre kitchens and Ford Galaxys.

For our political parties, the exurbs of the new Irish mid-east will pose a huge problem, because they will be atomised places. The local fiefdoms currently running the showin places like Parlon country will have to connect with people who have absolutely no roots in the area. For example, the 2002 census revealed that 62 per cent of the population change in Carlow since 1996 was the result of people from outside Carlow settling there for the first time, with no previous connection to the county. This figure will double or treble over the coming years.

The political strategy will have to be a bit more than �throw on the county colours, give the two fingers to Dublin and make sure the council fits the new windows’�. In the new exurbs, like Longford and Offaly, where people will shop, work and play in self-contained, gated communities, the feel will be more that of settlers than commuters. Culturally, the new settler suburbs of the mid-east will be exciting, particularly in terms of youth culture, because there will be a 43 per cent rise in the number of children between the ages of one and 14, while the numbers of teenagers and young adults will increase there by over one fifth. Local politics will have to reflect this.

At the other end of the scale, the number of Irish people over the age of 80 will increase by about 66 per cent.This will create an entirely new group to be catered for, both in terms of health and entertainment.

Expect an explosion of self-contained retirement villages, private hospitals like Beacon in Sandyford and third and fourth marriages of folk well into their 80s.

Ireland in 2021 is likely to be a mixed jumble of black and white, rich and poor, old and young, and night and day. As for what it will mean to be Irish 100 years after the end of colonialism, your guess is as good as mine.


  1. Up the Dubs

    More proof was displayed,if any more was needed,of the
    state of rotteness that exists in our country in 2005 when
    RTE Primetime exposed the conditions in which our elderly
    citizens are being kept at Leas Cross Nursing Home
    and Retirement Complex. This is a modern facility,just a
    few years old,with all the latest in care technology
    available and it was officially opened by no less a
    dignitary than An Taoisech himself. This is not a deceprit
    old institution with which one might associate poor care
    and lack of diligence, if it was an old Victorian
    crumbling ruin one would probably hear shouts that it was
    the Brits fault anyway.No green flag to hide behind here,
    this was an extreme case of the authorities being caught
    with their pants well and truly down.
    This is modern Ireland, pure neglect being driven by pure
    greed.This is the ethos espoused by current partners in
    government. Workers from foreign lands ,barely able to
    speak English,being paid the lowest possible wages,looking
    after the most vulernable in our society.If you have ever
    wondered why An Tanaiste,the deputy Prime Minister of our
    country went on a tour of African countries just a few
    years ago on a recruitment drive to get workers to meet
    the demand for workers in the service industry then wonder
    no more.That tour was a drive for cheap labour and those
    labourers were to be seen in the documentary, these night
    workers struggling to keep awake in hell.
    Mr Sean Power T.D. Minister of State at the Department of
    Health and Children,being interviewed on RTE Radio the
    next day said that the industry of health care for the
    elderly was regulated as was all industry,just like the
    cattle and meat industry .This fatal slip of the tongue
    was picked up immediately by the interviewer who burst out
    with the exclamation”but these are people we are talking
    about”.
    It was an unfortunate slip of the tongue and we must
    accept that.
    Was it a Freudian slip,did it reveal the mindset of the
    man,not in relation to the issue of care for thr elderly
    but the whole meaning of his being a T.D. Is there a rural
    feudal mindset at the heart of our government,does the
    rural constituency have a profound grip on the political
    psyche of the parties in government and is this healthy?
    Bertie Ahearne once countered a heckler by saying that
    although he was not a countryman his father was,so with
    that quip he was able to establish his rural
    credentials.This was some time after the period when the
    gombeen men would loudly decry the fact that Ireland was
    being run by the Dublin Four set,Garret Fitzgerald and his
    colleagues in power at the time.
    Fianna Fail are sensitive to the perceptions of the
    country vote and place the ministries around the rural
    constituencies.Likewise the Progressive Democrats,who
    elevated the former president of the Irish Farmers
    Association to a junior ministerial position on his first
    day in Leinster House.
    There is something about this type of behaviour that seems
    to devalue the offices of government and bring into
    disrepute the whole issue of democratic suffrage.
    Half the population of the Republic of Ireland live in the
    Greater Dublin area,that is,within thirty miles of the
    city centre and no apology will be given for using the
    word greater even though it may offend some who still get
    a rush of blood at the mention of Great before the name
    of the old enemy.
    The time has come to re-evaluate the level of
    representation which the Dublin population get at the
    Cabinet table.Time was when deValera swamped the schools
    and Garda stations of Leinster with men and women of the
    west in his ever failing attempt to make us all in their
    image,rural and Gaelic.He did not succeed in his efforts
    but a seed was sown which gave forth a thorny bramble
    which manages to snag us to this day.Supplant the Dubs
    because ethey are too like the old enemy,they play
    soccer,speak english and have control of the economy from
    their west brit hideouts in Dublin Four.
    This falsehood was accepted by rural Ireland and
    politicized by the major political parties Fianna Fail,
    Fine Gael and their greedy offspring the Progressive
    Democrats.It continues to this day.
    Its time for a change,
    Dublin and its environs needs to be represented by people
    who will put their needs first,people from Dublin, not
    rural people planted among them by the political
    commissars .Dail Eireann is bursting at the seams with
    what John B called cute hoors and the tribunals of
    enquiry ,going on for so many years now are nothing more
    than an expensive soap opera whitewash of the same kind of
    hoors who have desecrated and despolied our institutions
    of government in the last thirty years and probably since
    the foundation of the state.
    Put Ireland first, put Dublin first,PUT THE PEOPLE
    FIRST.Down with the axis of IBEC/IFA.

  2. Paul Rux, Ph.D.

    David, I live in an American “exurb,” Mount Horeb,
    Wisconsin, which is eleven miles to the west of Madison,
    Wisconsin, our state capitol. I agree totally with your
    analysis. The capacity to telecommute to work today will
    also play a large role in creating vibrant “exurbs” that
    will disconnect from the central cities. The political
    implications of these are “Libertarian,” in my view.

    The Republican and Democratic parties in this country
    reflect the old centralized factory-based industrial
    order, not the new networked decentralized Internet-based
    economy. The “Libertarian” approach is amenable to
    networking and networked organization of society.

    Instead of a centralized Roman imperial system, we shall
    recreate federations of decentralized Greek city states,
    which will combine and recombine as they pursue their
    interests of the moment.

    If the logic of the new Internet-based technology
    succeeds, as I think it will, we shall discover that the
    local and regional will trump the national, as you have
    suggested in your analysis. I for one welcome this return
    to a sense of place instead of the faceless, soulless
    urban jungle.

    The implications for political parties here and there are
    an increasingly loss of relevance. The impulse will be
    toward a new “Libertarian” politics, which is still
    unhatched, but it is coming.

    I suspect that men like Padraig Pearse would welcome this
    escape from the dehumanizing Industrial Revolution. It is
    consonant with a strong sense of place, an impulse that a
    thinker like Edmund Burke would welcome too as basic to
    human health.

    Again, you are the only foreign columnist, except for Sir
    John Keegan, who writes on military affairs, which I seek
    to read on a regular basis. I cannot waste time. I can
    always count on you for return-on-investment for my time
    spent reading your analyses. Keep them
    coming!

  3. Seamus Mulconry

    Excellant article, very perceptive, and the first article
    I’ve seen that talks about the most important political
    development in Ireland in recent times the birth of the
    exburbs and the arrival of the B&Q generation

  4. Hitesh Tewari

    Great article but one has to take the CSO predictions with a
    pich of salt. The CSO figures are dependent on one crucial
    assumption, and that is that there will be further growth in
    the Irish economy as was seen in the heyday of the “Celtic
    Tiger”. This will result in more internal consumption which
    will require more immigrants to work in the services sector.
    These immigrants will require new houses and thus employment
    in the housing market will remain strong etc. etc.

    Recent reports have however shown that Ireland has become an
    expensive country for doing busisness in. Manufacturing and
    techninal services jobs are being lost at a rapid rate to
    cheaper destinations in the new European member states,
    China and India. Rising oil prices are also a contant threat
    in terms of inflation and loss of competitiveness. Recent
    reports have indicated that high oil prices are to stay and
    could reach the one hundred dollar mark in the near future.

    However, the single biggest threat (as pointed out by David
    himself many times) is the property market. Recent sales in
    Dublin 4 have valued the price of land in the Ballsbridge
    area at 22 million dollars an acre (see recent Sunday
    Business Post article). If the property market was to go per
    shaped, then instead of a doughnut effect, we could see a
    “black hole” effect, where everything else will be dragged
    down along with the price of houses.

  5. Dan Hayes

    David,
    You’re right on the mark!
    What infuriates me is that the average Irishman (oops,in PC
    parlance, Irishperson) is blithely oblivious of the
    tectonic shifts that are occurring under their very feet.
    But when and if they ever wake up it will then be too late!
    Regarding your comment about Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In
    addition to the Yuppie invasion, are you aware of a more
    recent development – that the Hasidim are building there
    from scratch a whole new city. Multiculturalism – it’s a
    never ending kaleidoscope!
    Let you’re readers be aware that they they are in for quite
    a ride – and, rest assured, it won’t be a joy ride.

  6. Aidan OSullivan

    “Dublin between the canals will become a largely non-Irish
    zone”

    I agree mostly and I think it will be a good thing if done
    properly. Dublin could be a world city, like London or NY,
    but you forgot one area – the new and very yuppie
    Docklands.

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