Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 April 2020

3:35 pm

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

It is our duty as parliamentarians to not only keep our citizens safe during the immediate crisis, but to ensure that we plan for the future. The Irish people have never lost faith in their future and that of Ireland. It is at our toughest times that we must hold onto and safeguard this faith in our future. As a nation we have endured hardships but we have prevailed and will do so again. It is with this faith that I address this House.

The framework for recovery already exists in Ireland. We already have the resilience that will be required.

What we need from the State and what we as Deputies must ask of the State is to support our communities. We must place faith in our communities and remember, Ní neart go chur le chéile, there is no strength without unity: we are in this together. It is the duty of this House to ensure that the recovery, when it comes, brings about prosperity for every corner of Ireland. With leadership, foresight and honest application of hard effort, this Dáil can guide Ireland through these dark days. With a unity of purpose and trust in the highest principles of public office, those of duty and service, we can achieve a balanced recovery for our nation. I firmly believe that this recovery can take route through following green principles. The Green Party's policies are integral to achieving a fair and prosperous society for all.

In Thomas Kinsella's translation of The Táin, Nes asks, "What is the present hour lucky for?". What can we say when we are asked the same question now? How can we answer, except to say we used this challenge as an opportunity to show our abilities, our determination and our self-belief. The front-line heroes have responded magnificently to this crisis and we must trust in ourselves to carry this effort forward to recovery.

While the State has many avenues through which it can support its communities, I want to raise the issue of balanced regional development. This regional development can unlock the strength of Ireland's communities and ensure a fair recovery for our cities, towns and villages - a recovery that reaches all parts of our island. We have a duty to learn from our mistakes and apply new technologies, practices and knowledge. We need to enable people to work from every corner of Ireland to ensure every corner of Ireland can work. As we seek to rebuild our economy we can do it in a more balanced and beneficial way. Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Galway have immense potential in their own right and as leaders of their respective regions. We have a duty to ensure that each city has the infrastructure to be best poised to move from this devastating moment towards a bright future. One size, of course, does not fit all. Thankfully, our country is home to talented, knowledgeable experts, many of them young and well travelled who can unravel the diverse requirements of each city and region. The gifted generalists must learn to work with these highly educated, bright, multidisciplinary professionals, urbanists, transport planners, architects and designers. We must employ them at the great rebuilding task that is before us.

What then is the necessary infrastructure of the next recovery? What are our strengths that we can build on and what opportunities can we take advantage of? Now is a good time to take stock and think about the future. The public and private sectors have shown during this crisis that remote working can work. In many respects, among the unknown heroes of this period are the IT professionals who worked tirelessly to ensure whole industries could move from offices to homes. They have kept people working and we owe them our gratitude. Can we learn from this experience? Can we make it possible for more people to work remotely from all parts of Ireland in the future? I am hopeful that we have learned a new way of working that we can use to cut-down on long commutes and allow more people to work from rural communities. Where we need to expand our public service in the coming years, we should do so in a cost-efficient way, not necessarily by basing new public services in Dublin but by locating offices in cities that can benefit from economies of scale. Decentralisation was politicised in the past, but it can work well if we focus our efforts on our regional cities.

We are seeing so many inefficiencies in our capital owing to the cost of office space, housing and transport. We want to see Dublin thrive as an international city but to do that we need our regional cities to be more attractive in order to ease the pressure on Dublin. One of the reasons for my entering politics is that so many of my peers in Limerick saw no future for themselves in the city and so moved to Dublin or further afield. I believe we can do more to keep talent in the regions. We can develop regional cities that complement Dublin, to allow Dublin to become a more affordable city, to remove the traffic that is choking our capital's historic core and to give the city and its citizens the space to breathe.

We have seen how other European countries have recognised that regional cities can be significant drivers of national economic growth and exist and prosper on the European and global stage. We should have a similar ambition for Ireland.

I wish to talk about our towns and villages. Rural Ireland has been let down by poor planning practices. Once-bustling towns and villages have been undermined and gutted through haphazard, ill-thought-out policies. A viable and resilient rural economy cannot exist unless towns and villages are attractive places in which to live and work. We can ensure that our towns and villages are compact, walkable, vibrant and thriving once again. This can only happen if we, the State, provide the necessary infrastructure, whether broadband, shared workspaces or ambitious public realm projects that embrace the natural and historic characteristics of our towns. Our economy depends on efficient transportation to help people to access education and work. High-quality and reliable public transport in rural areas will connect our communities and bolster our rural economy. I wish to acknowledge the success of Local Link but we need to expand it significantly. We can and must increase speeds on our intercity rail network to ensure our regions are well connected. Cycling and walking must be a mainstay of transport policy so we can benefit from clean air, better health and safer streets. I do not want my generation to be the last to experience the joy of cycling to school.

Our capacity for investment will be limited as we emerge from this crisis but it is fundamentally important that we are able to meet our needs without compromising our children's ability to meet theirs. This applies to our economy as much as it does to our environment. So many of the false divisions in our society - between private and public, urban and rural, young and old - mean little as we all seek to work together. We face many challenging decisions in this House in the months to come. Whatever shape the recovery takes, it must be felt by all and in all parts of our country. Our economy must serve our communities and not that our communities only exist to serve the economy. We can end long commutes if we lead the way with community-strengthening infrastructure such as public transport. If we can revitalise communities such that people have the time and energy to get to know their neighbours and to coach their children's sports teams, we will have succeeded in leading a community-focused recovery. As we build a new society, we must ensure that care is extended to all, that as a community we can say we look out for and after one another. I have faith that together we can revitalise a community-based, considerate and loving Ireland.

I will finish by thanking the people of Limerick for their mandate and their support. As the rallying call of Patrick Sarsfield's Wild Geese went, when they fought on overseas battlefields for Ireland, "Cuimhnigh ar Luimneach". I will be here to ensure that Limerick is remembered. I will place myself at the disposal of all Limerick people to represent their interests and issues to the best of my ability.


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