John Dolan: Fretting about bus lanes and cycleways? The Bay by-election really highlights the two Irelands

The issues affecting voters in leafy Dublin Bay South are a real eye-opener to most of the country, says John Dolan in his weekly column
John Dolan: Fretting about bus lanes and cycleways? The Bay by-election really highlights the two Irelands

BATTLE GROUND: Taoiseach Micheál Martin with Cllr Deirdre Conroy, the Fianna Fáil by-election candidate for Dublin Bay South.

ITS very name conjures up images of shimmering blue seas, leafy streets, posh coffee shops, and large houses with manicured gardens, owned by the professional classes who employ nannies and gardeners for the stuff you and I call ‘parenting’ and ‘chores’.

Yes sirree, Dublin Bay South isn’t so much a political constituency as a statement of intent.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the ‘Bay’, it is assuredly a paradise found, a place we mere mortals from the other 38 constituencies can only dream of one day residing.

One might even venture that its name has... notions?

Come and live by the Bay... if you win the lotto that is.

And you thought house prices were steep in Montenotte?!

Dublin Bay South was the place Ross O’Carroll Kelly’s equally fictional wife Sorcha ran in the 2016 election — the ‘Independent’ conceding defeat via Twitter after the first count.

Morto, as Ross might say.

Now Dublin Bay South is back in the news, as the battle-ground for a much-anticipated by-election, which is taking place on July 8.

The election was triggered when the promising Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy shocked politics by resigning his seat in the Dáil, to announce that he wanted to work in international affairs.

Get him.

Well, I did suggest the place has notions...

It was hardly the best timing for his party, as Fine Gael are now facing a backs-to-the-wall fight to hold onto their seat, as their rivals in the Green Party, Labour and Sinn Féin eye up what would be a morale-boosting triumph.

And what a prize it would be for those parties, in particular Sinn Féin — currently riding higher than ever in the polls and already with one sitting TD in Dublin Bay South — and Labour, which tend to play better among working class voters.

You see, Dublin Bay South is the polar opposite of working class.

Almost one in five of its people are professionals — degree-educated movers and shakers — compared to 8% of the entire population.

More than a third of voters in Dublin Bay South are employed in the high-paid managerial and technical sectors, while just 6% of workers there are skilled manual staff and only 5% are semi-skilled, compared to 14.5% and 10.5% as a national average.

You can see how big a plum a by-election win in this four-seat constituency would be for the so-called working class parties.

Dublin Bay South is a fairweather place in what will be a bellwether election for all the parties — their only opportunity all year to gauge the way the wind is blowing... aside from opinion polls that is, and we all know how unreliable they can prove — even when you have qualified people doing them instead of fake party workers!

It has been instructive, therefore, to see what issues the folk of Dublin Bay South class as vital as they prepare to cast their votes. Because, let me tell you, seeing their concerns is an eye-openng experience for those of us down here in Cork — particularly those living in rural constituencies. (Just 0.1% of the people of Dublin Bay South work in agriculture, forestry and fishing).

Their issues really lay bare the fact there are two Irelands in this country; one inhabited by the residents of Dublin Bay South, the other inhabited by the rest of the country — let’s call us the coping classes.

But let’s start off with a vital issue that binds us all: Housing.

It will be the issue uppermost in the minds of Bay voters in the coming weeks, just as it assuredly will be for hundreds of thousands of the rest of us whenever we next get to cast a vote in anger.

Sure, there are differences in the economies of scale, as you would expect. An ‘affordable home’ in Dublin Bay South costs well over half a million euro, and is still wall out of the reach of the aspiring people in that area. An affordable home in Cork would be anything under €400,000, and just as out of reach for young adults here.

The by-election will therefore be an indicator to the governing parties that the issue of housing reaches into every corner of the country. The figures may fall and rise, but the result is depressingly the same: Not enough houses, and the few available ‘affordable’ only to vulture funds and as second homes for the likes of the professional classes of Dublin Bay South.

Housing will do for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil whenever the next election is held, that much seems almost certain.

So, housing is an issue in the by-election, so far, so predictable.

But it is the other issues in the Bay area that expose the truth about the ‘Two Irelands’ — issues that we can only dream of here.

While we in Cork, and most of the rest of not-Dublin, worry about large class sizes and poor school buildings, about queues for hospital treatment and no out-of-hours doctor service in Blackpool for 14 months, about failed pledges on events centres, about waiting decades for roads to Limerick and Tralee, and about the very future of our airport — Dublin Bay South is well ahead of the curve.

The big issues there relate to actual transport structure that is already being implemented.

What is taxing the residents of Dublin Bay South, according to an article in the Irish Times last week, aside from housing, are new bus lanes, cycleways, and Metrolink rail lines.

And they are not complaining about a lack of them, they are complaining about having them there in the first place.

I know! Mad, huh? Talk about too much of a good thing.

Bizarrely, so ahead of the curve is Dublin Bay South, that its people might vote against the Greens for bringing all these things to their door, when many of them prefer to drive their SUVs.

It’s like the opposite of the Joni Mitchell song: They didn’t pave paradise and put up a parking lot up there, they got rid of the parking lot and brought in a paradise... and the residents are steaming!

The Greens may get a backlash in leafy Dublin to the kind of transport policy they are being urged to implement in places like Cork city.

The big issue in Terenure is the plan for a bus corridor through the village. 

“I don’t know anyone who will support it,” one voter told the Irish Times.

In Rathgar, there are gripes that bike lanes are hampering some businesses.

In Sandymount, residents fear closing a lane of traffic on the coast road for a bicycle lane will drive huge numbers of cars into their village.

Meanwhile, ambitious plans for a Metrolink railway in the constituency have prompted a protest group to be set up, with folk worried about its impact — what, with the Luas already clogging up the place.

Jeez — and we were worried about having no South Doc in Blackpool for over a year!

Yes, the result of the Dublin Bay South by-election will be instructive for our politicians.

But the issues at play there are already proving very instructive for the rest of us.

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