Ireland has unveiled plans to set a record € 165 billion in infrastructure projects by 2030 as it struggles to keep pace with a rapidly growing population after decades of underinvestment in the sector.
Despite the high ambitions for more roads, train connections, green buses, broadband and sports facilities and the history of delays and cost overruns for infrastructure projects, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was confident the government would ‘many, many of the projects’ can deliver “In the National Development Plan.
Decades of underinvestment in schools, hospitals and housing despite the Celtic Tiger boom that preceded the 2008 financial crash left holes in public infrastructure.
As the population of 5 million will grow by 1 million by 2040, the pressure on existing services will only increase. “With a rapidly rising population, Ireland must invest heavily in infrastructure,” said Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
The plan will increase public spending on infrastructure to 5 per cent of adjusted gross national income – an economic measure that Ireland uses to remove factors related to the open economy that could otherwise distort GDP – to 4.5 per cent now and 2.5 percent in 2017, the government says.
This is well ahead of the EU average of 3 percent of GDP and amounts to around € 19.3 billion in 2030 compared to € 12.7 billion this year. “We are investing in the future and want to grow,” Varadkar said. The program does not continue about € 1 billion in Covid-19 recovery funds which Ireland receives from the EU.
About 80 percent, or € 136 billion of the program, is funded directly from the state coffers, with the rest from semi-state bodies as well as public-private partnerships.
The government will end the year with a government debt of a quarter trillion euros. Dublin announced on Monday that public revenue was rising with tax receipts in September of € 6.4 billion – 20 per cent higher than the same month last year and 8 per cent above the government’s targets.
The 184-page plan contains the largest investment in Irish history housing as well as education and health care projects, but much focus is on transport infrastructure, including a long-term Metrolink Dublin Airport connects to the capital. No completion date for the Metrolink is included.
Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said the program was the greenest capital investment plan in the history of Ireland and that it was ‘climate-resistant’, including € 35 billion for transport initiatives “that prioritize walking, cycling and public transport”. The program will create more than 80,000 direct and indirect jobs in the construction sector, he added.
Analysts questioned the government’s focus and ability to carry out the projects.
The plan includes many major highway projects as well as bus and train infrastructure. Brian Caulfield, an engineering professor at Trinity College, said that “my fear is that roads will get through planning faster”.
Marie Sherlock, a Labor Party senator, tweeted that some initiatives “can never see the light of day”.
Martin acknowledges that “delivery is a major challenge” and adds: “We need to get better at delivering infrastructure.”