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Dublin Opinion >>
The Dublin Port Debacle
Saturday March 18, 2006 15:23 by Andrew McGrath - The Tara Foundation thetarafoundation at yahoo dot ie
PD plan to move Dublin Port has an interesting precedent
The PDs' announcement of a plan to move Dublin Port comes at an interesting time, when the Dublin Port Tunnel (an integral part of the expansion plan implemented by the Dublin Port Authority) is nearing completion. This article reveals that the idea to relocate the Port is not an original creation of the PDs': in fact it goes back to 1990. But why, in spite of a set of logical reasons in favour of the move, was the plan put on the back burner in favour of the construction of the multi-million Port Tunnel and minor upgrades to the port facilities?
The Progressive Democrat Party recently announced a proposal  to move Dublin port to a smaller terminal facility at Bremore Port in Balbriggan. Bremore Port is a deep water facility (unlike Dublin port), and is entirely suitable for development as a 21st century port. There is, however, some additional background to this initiative. The suggestion to move Dublin port from its antiquated 18th quayside facilities to a Dublin coastal deepwater site was first made in 1990 by the ESB. Why is this not mentioned by the Progressive Democrats on their website? The actual reasons tun out to be rather revealing.
In June 1990, a report was presented to the Government outlining a series of studies undertaken by the ESB into infrastructural deficits in Ireland in relation to transportation, electricity and natural gas linkages to other EU countries. In addition to these, a study  was carried out into the existing port infrastructure, in the light of what whereby then rather obvious weaknesses in the port transportation network in Ireland. It was natural that the ESB should undertake this work, given their ‘considerable experience in port development and project management, and its extensive engineering and hydrometric knowledge of locations on the Irish coast capable of port development.'  Nothing came of the report. Instead, in 1991, Dublin Corporation hired consultants to undertake a study into a relief road that would connect Dublin port to the first phase of the M50 Ring Motorway, then under construction.
The ESB report criticised the proposed upgrades in 1990 by the Dublin Port Authority to port facilities in Dublin and Dún Laoghaire (£11m on extending the ‘landlocked and inherently inefficient South Bank Lo-Lo terminal' , £3.8m on providing a new ferry port for passengers and freight at the North Quay, £5m on Stages 1 and 2 of the North Quay extension container terminal, if proposed reclamation was permitted, and £3m on additional cargo handling equipment; for Dun Laoghaire, £10m for developing a ferry terminal at St. Michael’s pier, and £7m for the development of Carlisle pier) on the grounds that even with these upgrades, Ro/Ro service level from each location would be vastly inferior to that provided at Larne; Ro/Ro operations in Dun Laoghaire would still be hampered by lack of space; Lo/Lo operations on the South Bank would, owing to the layout of the facilities, be ‘inefficient, expensive and slow' ; and given that land reclamation in Dublin Bay had been blocked since 1979, the ability of Dublin Port and Docks Board to extend Lo/Lo operations on the North Quay was doubtful. So, while the proposed expenditure provided for a 50% increase in roll on/roll off capacity in Dublin Bay, a significant improvement in passenger terminal facilities and a limited increase in Lo/Lo capacity, this would not allow for the projected doubling in unitised cargo handling requirements into the 21st century. In comparison with facilities at Larne, Dublin/Dun Laoghaire were stated to be disadvantageous from practically every point of view; the result was that Larne, in addition to handling virtually all sea traffic between Britain and Northern Ireland, also handled a substantial portion of the Ro/Ro traffic between the Republic and Britain.
It was also pointed out that the improvements would leave unaddressed the most significant problems, namely, the inaccessibility of the existing terminals, and the impact of port-related traffic on the city. The ‘port relief road’ which was proposed to overcome these problems is now known as the Dublin Port Tunnel. The projected costs, due to environmental concerns and construction requirements, were then estimated by Dublin Corporation to be in excess of £250m, and the construction was scheduled for 1995 to 2000. But the feasibility of such a move was questioned by the ESB on the grounds that such a significant investment made no sense in the light of the limited expansion potential of the port, and the road would not necessarily remove port-related traffic from the city streets. The decline of Dublin as a manufacturing location and the move of existing manufacturing and distribution facilities to industrial estates, and moreover, the rise in road-based distribution and the provision of the orbital motorway (the M50) increased the likelihood that business would find it more attractive to locate outside the city. The location of interchanges along the route of the relief road was deliberately selected to minimise commuter use of the road, and north/south traffic would already be catered for (at least to some extent) by the M50  .
Having stated the basic problems with the continued expansion of the Dublin/Dun Laoghaire ports in 1990, the ESB then outlined what it believed would be a reasonable alternative. A new East Coast Port would have to be provided, it would have to be deep water, capable of handling the largest vessels, with ready access to road and rail facilities. The ESB report stated that the necessary combination of transport access, land availability and deep water access limited the choice considerably given the geography of Dublin City and its environs. In fact, the combination of these factors effectively precluded ‘all options South of Bray’. Drogheda was considered, but dismissed as unsuitable as it was:
1) too remote from the road network radiating from Dublin at that time;
2) over 8 km from deep water. The proposed new port at Mornington was still 5 km from deep water.
With these considerations in mind, and given the need to remain close to the city, or rather to the road network radiating from the city (i.e. the M50 and M1), the choice was between the section of coast between Malahide and Balbriggan, where deep water is available within 500m of the coast.
The development of the M50 meant that such a port location would, in 1990, be within 15 minutes of the N1, N2, and N3, twenty minutes of the N4, 30 minutes of the N7, and 45 minutes from the N11. These transit times would have been a considerable improvement on the only available route for heavy goods vehicles to the Port, which was through the city streets. In addition, the rail network could be readily connected into such a port area as it was generally less than 1 to 2 km from any of the other projected locations.
The conclusions of the 1989 ESB/ESBI study were that:
1) it was technically feasible to establish a single unified port capable of handling both present and future needs for both Ro-Ro and Lo-Lo Shipping, on the Central Irish Sea Corridor, at a suitable North County Dublin Location;
2) suitable land areas were available to service both port needs and back-up services;
3) the development could readily be undertaken without encroaching on existing residential developments and with little visual intrusion;
4) appropriate road and rail access could be provided to the port area;
5) the Capital Costs of the proposed development were estimated to be £160 Million in 1989 values, including road and rail access and all associated construction costs and servicing work.
The fact that the Dublin Port and Docklands Authority ignored the ESB proposal and insisted that the money be spent shoring up the existing facilities suggests that other considerations were at work. The Dublin Port Tunnel, though clearly intended as the major component of the Authority’s plan to sustain the port’s viability, was identified by the ESB report, years before its inception, as a waste of money, chiefly because it would be thoroughly unreasonable to expect port traffic to take a lengthy roundabout route and pay the associated tolls. Thus it could be expected to have little or no effect on the congestion caused by port traffic in the city. And as commuters were not intended to use it, because in the first place it was purposely designed to be difficult to access from commuter routes, the proposal amounted to no solution at all, a redundant road, all the more so given that the projected cost of ESB’s own plan was significantly lower than the projected cost of the Tunnel alone. The ESB’s assessment of the proposal has been demonstrated, beyond a shadow of doubt, to be true by subsequent events. So it could be argued that the Tunnel should never have been built, given that such serious criticisms went without answer.
However, it seems that, far from the Port Tunnel being part of the port upgrade plan, there are reasons to believe that the port plan was simply a pretext for building the Port Tunnel. In other words, it makes little sense to believe that such a huge and costly infrastructure project as the Port Tunnel, which would have to be tunnelled underground for much of its length, would be justified in the light of the comparatively small estimates for the upgrade work on the port facilities: in fact, given that it was known before the road was begun that it would not serve its stated purpose, it is a more plausible explanation that the Dublin Port Tunnel was planned from the beginning, and that the upgrades were proposed as an afterthought, to provide a reason for building it in the first place. This may seem, at face value, to be unlikely, but that is not the case.
That the PDs would now announce what is substantially the same plan as in the ESB report, at a time when the Port Tunnel is nearing completion after the expenditure of enormous sums of money, seems simply a piece of absurdity; that is, if one ignores the origins of the plan in the ESB report, and the reasoning behind the plan. If, instead of the conventional explanations along the lines of bad planning and incompetence, it is suggested that that the State sat on the ESB proposal for over 15 years, then aspects of the PDs’ behaviour that previously seemed absurd start to make sense. According to the Village magazine of 2nd February 2006, the market value for land in the docklands area is a minimum of €15 million per acre. On such an estimate, the sale of 660 acres would raise €10 Billion for the State, were it to sell the land outright.
However, it is unlikely that a sale is on the cards. Obviously, the costs involved even for large-scale property corporations, international or otherwise, would be considerable, whatever the financial benefits to the taxpayer. It seems certain, therefore, given the government’s record on such matters, that another device will be found to assist Big Property with their difficulties. A pretext has already been created for this, with the Government’s decision to hand over State properties to private developers, with the proviso that a certain percentage of social housing is provided (or provided that a commitment is given to that effect).
The purpose of the Dublin Port Tunnel. from its ionception, was to increase the value of the lands where Dublin port is situated, so as to maximise the potential benefit to private developers. The fact that the PDs are being used as the conduit to float the proposal is a clear sign that it is shortly to be announced as Government policy. The PD’s are the Government’s useful lunatic fringe; public opinion has been conditioned to expect their style, and in the public’s search for reassurance against their excesses, the State and its PR-economists will produce the needed rationale for the programme. That moving Dublin port ‘makes no sense’, now that the Dublin Port Tunnel is an accomplished fact, is beside the point: from the point of view of the private interests behind the Government parties, it makes perfect sense to manipulate the State’s planning procedures to implement, at vast cost to the taxpayer, what amounts to a long-term land grab. That, in a nutshell, has been the motivation of State policy over the past thirty years.
‘Development’, that is, the expansion of suburbs into Co. Meath and North Dublin, is being promoted as an inevitable process, no other options being available if there is to be ‘progress’. In Dublin port, the relevant Dublin City authorities have been holding 668 acres of land which are more than sufficient for the public housing needs of the city, even considering for a moment that the policy of concentrating the population around the Dublin area is necessary for ‘economic growth.’ Dublin City authorities decided to implement the Dublin Port Tunnel, knowing full well that Dublin port was unviable, and knowing that a proposal to relocate it would certainly resurface in the future, thus removing any justification for such a grotesquely expensive scheme. This can only indicate a consistent long-term policy, one whose object has been to funnel public money, land and resources to multinational corporations. The involvement of Brown and Root, Halliburton’s construction wing, as project coordinator, is, and is intended to be, an announcement of the political loyalties of those responsible for devising the plan. The fact that ‘super trucks’ will not even be able to use the Tunnel without further enormous sums of money being spent on upgrades, and that traffic through the tunnel will have to be limited because the installed air conditioning system is wholly inadequate, are simply insults, jokes at the public expense, while the country is mortgaged to corporations.
The Drogheda Port Company, as if by coincidence, is now proposing a deepwater port at Bremore . Neither the Drogheda Port Company web site itself nor the consultant’s report, prepared for Drogheda Port Company by John Mangan and Associates , mentions the 1990 ESB report. This is not surprising, as it confirms the contention that, by pretending that the idea of moving Dublin port has only just occurred to someone, now in 2006 when the Port Tunnel is nearing completion, the State conceals its complicity in a long-term scheme to benefit multinational companies. What is at stake in the disguise is the vast profit potential for private construction and property companies that will accrue through the inflation of land prices in the port region by the now entirely redundant Port Tunnel: a sale of the Dublin port lands is not on the cards, but rather a transfer to private ownership. This will be accompanied by the expected propaganda about Public-Private Partnerships and the Government’s commitment to providing much-needed ‘social housing’, but in fact, and this is a prediction based on the consistent logic of the way the public planning process has been perverted over the years, there will be no provision of low-cost housing. Instead, what is intended, what has always been intended, is to provide construction and property firms with one of the biggest building bonanzas in European history.
1. Village magazine, 2-8 February 2006, p. 29
2. Port Infrastructure in Ireland: Requirements and Proposals , ESB, June 1990
3. Port Infrastructure in Ireland, introduction
4. ibid., p. 9
6. ibid., pp. 12-13
7. ibid., pp. 17-18
© Brian McGrath and Andrew McGrath, The Tara Foundation, February 2006
If you wish to use this article or portions of this article, please contact the authors for permission.