May 30, 2005
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 ï¿½among 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. ï¿½Dulchies’ – 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 ï¿½educate together’ schools.They like diversity, but not if it means little Seï¿½n 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 ï¿½exurbs’ï¿½, 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 ï¿½throw on the county colours, give the two fingers to Dublin and make sure the council fits the new windows’ï¿½. 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.