If you happen to be a Jackeen relation of a large Cork family, we might get together and form a self-help group. Given the amount of inter-cousin abuse I’ve had to endure over the years, it’s tempting.
Being a semi-detached, arms-length Corkonian comes with its burdens but they are but nothing compared with those carried by the Leesiders themselves, who combine fragile victimhood with muscular self-regard. But putting the inter-city rivalry aside, one thing is clear to me: if Cork doesn’t succeed economically in the years ahead, Ireland will also go backwards.
Cork is the litmus test when it comes to Ireland’s ambition to lift the burden of development from Dublin’s shoulders. If Cork can’t do it, nowhere can. The development of Cork won’t come at the expense of other cities such as Limerick or Galway, but will be complementary, and is vital for spatially balanced growth in the country.
Have you ever wondered why the windows of the Bank of Ireland on College Green in Dublin are bricked up? It is because of the imposition of a wealth tax, called the “window tax”.
Ireland, the UK, Holland, parts of northern France – unlike the Mediterranean – are starved of natural light at certain times of year. In the pre-electricity era, light was a luxury in these countries.
The urban poor lived in a dark world of gloomy, window-less hovels, while the rich who wanted to live in the brightest rooms possible, built magnificent ceiling to floor windows to let in the light . Georgian sash windows attest to class difference; the poor lived in the shadows and the rich lived luminously.
On Wednesday evening at rush hour, with rain falling steadily and traffic bumper to bumper, I hopped on the Dart from Dún Laoghaire to Dublin city centre. Plugging in my headphones, I thanked my lucky stars that I live in one of the few areas of Ireland that has a reliable train service.
Relaxed ahead of a meeting, safe in the knowledge that the train would be on time, I considered how good public transport infrastructure enhances our lives. It’s not just a means of getting from A to B , it’s a mark of a civilised, democratic country. But why should citizens who live along the Dart line enjoy a luxury that is denied to others?
Providing public infrastructure is a basic function of any state – and we are failing. The track my Dart runs on was laid before the Famine. I’m not joking. Transport infrastructure is an ongoing project, and a country with a growing population and ambitions to compete internationally needs to constantly upgrade.
Dubai is not for everyone. The glittering metropolis, which erupts out of the desert, captures much that is good and bad about humanity in a few square miles.
On the good side, this extraordinary trading hub, reveals what human ambition can achieve. As it waves its two diamond-encrusted, air-conditioned fingers to Mother Nature, a city where none should be, Dubai stands testament to what can be done through sheer force of will and extraordinary urban vision.
On the other hand, Dubai’s legions of mostly Asian labourers, who toil away under the searing heat, remind us again of the world’s unacceptable inequalities and how – irrespective of the huge strides made in recent years – the lottery of location or the accident of birth, dictate our time on this Earth. The city’s success is partly a product of deeply problematic bonded labour.
Two years ago, my son spent half his transition year in the Vedado area of Havana, a few miles west of Havana’s extraordinary old city. Havana is a vibrant city. There might not be a more exciting place to learn Spanish – and the competition is stiff. The Spanish-speaking world hosts some of the most pulsating cities on Earth.
He stayed with a Cuban family, immersed in the fascinating psychodrama that is everyday life on that island.
When I went to visit, I was delighted to encounter himself and his mate haggling with the local cab drivers over fares, gesticulating wildly, half theatre/half commerce, in an accent that the locals told me was pure Havana.
Ireland’s population is surging, the fastest-growing in Europe, on target to hit five million citizens next year. Such burgeoning dynamism implies that our approach to planning and urbanisation needs to be revised.
The new reality promises all sorts of opportunities. For example, a rapidly rising population and, more significantly, large-scale increases in employment signal lower income taxes.
When your population rises, so does your tax base, and therefore income tax levels should fall, if we manage it properly. Conversely, as taxes fall and demand for housing rises, house prices are liable to increase unless we manage the economy better than we do at the moment.