Ceann Comhairle, 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 on to and safeguard this faith in our future. We, as a Nation, have endured hardships and we have prevailed as we will do so again. It is with this faith 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 as TD’s we must ask of the State, is to support our communities. We must place faith in our communities and remember “Ní neart go cur le chéile” – that 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 root 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 make sure every corner of Ireland can work.
As we seek to rebuild our economy we can do it in a more balanced, and indeed beneficial, way. Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Galway have immense potential, both 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, multi-disciplinary 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.
In addition, where we need to expand our public service in the coming years, we should do this in a cost efficient way, not necessarily basing new public servants in Dublin, but also making sure that offices are in cities that can benefit from economies of scale. Decentralisation is something that was politicised in the past but it can work well if we focus efforts on our regional cities.
We are seeing so many inefficiencies in our capital due to the costs of office space, housing, and transport. We want to see Dublin thrive as an international city, but to do that we need to make regional cities more attractive, in order to ease the pressure on Dublin. One of the reasons I entered politics is that so many of my peers in Limerick saw no future for themselves in the city, and ended up moving away to Dublin or further afield. I think we can do more to keep talent in our regions. We can develop regional cities that complement Dublin, that allows Dublin to become a more affordable city, that removes the traffic that is choking our capital’s historic core, that gives the city and her 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 can exist and prosper on the European and global stage. We should have a similar ambition for Ireland.
I want 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 to live and work in. We can make sure our towns and villages are compact, walkable, vibrant and thriving once again. This can only happen if we, the State, provides the necessary infrastructure, whether it is 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 want to acknowledge the success of Local Link but we need to significantly expand it. We can, and must, increase speeds on our intercity rail network to ensure our regions are connected well. Cycling and walking must be a mainstay of transport policy so we can benefit from clean air, better health and safer streets. I don’t want my generation to be the last that experienced the joy of cycling to school.
Ceann Comhairle, our capacity for investment will be limited as we emerge from the crisis, but it is fundamentally important that we are able to meet our needs without compromising our children’s abilities 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 like public transport. If we can revitalise communities where people have the time and energy to know their neighbours, the time 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.
If I may finish by thanking the people of Limerick for their mandate, for their support. As the rallying of Patrick Sarsfield’s Wild Geese when they fought on overseas battlefields for Ireland went: “Cuimhnigh Ar Luimnigh”. I will be here to ensure 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. Go raibh maith agaibh.