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Ireland must build more than just bridges

Tom Fitzpatrick

Property prices in Dublin have grown by almost 100 per cent since their post-crash low of 2012.

The Economist research, reproduced in today’s Irish Times, shows that the well-worn ‘property bubble’ phrase will become increasingly common parlance across the Irish Sea.

Worryingly, the Dublin housing market is also 25 per cent overvalued against income. Yet its buoyancy suggests prospective owners are willing to take a risk.

I wrote about the market coming back to life in April. But with Brexit on the horizon, Irish taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar faces a critical choice: double down on much-needed domestic spending, or first get more clarity on what the EU looks like without Britain.

Housing demand is strong and supply is improving, but Irish infrastructure is badly in need of investment.

Britain’s Remainer-in-chief, former UK infrastructure tsar Andrew Adonis, is currently touring Ireland and offering a blow-by-blow – or should that be slow-by-slow – critique of its rail infrastructure via Twitter as he goes.

He’s there to whip up support for a people’s vote on Brexit but appears to have been swept up in the Papal visit last weekend, believing he can somehow save Ireland from itself.

He said: “I wish I wasn’t overwhelmed with this Brexit nonsense. I could get going helping my Irish friends with much-needed plans for a high-speed line from Dublin to Belfast & other rail and infrastructure to realise the potential of this great nation.”

Lord Adonis may feel like he could save the day were it not for Brexit, but he doesn’t realise that the Pope was blessing the nation at the weekend so any miracle infrastructure investment will likely be claimed as a victory by Rome.

Plus, as a Cork man who knows it takes longer to get the train to Dublin than to drive, I’d be inclined to argue for investment to be prioritised a little further south of that troublesome border.

But still, investment is investment and it’s all vital (Lord Adonis also naively seems to think Belfast and Dublin are Ireland’s “two greatest cities”, so perhaps needs to broaden his horizons).

The government should prioritise infrastructure spending, but with one of the more image-conscious Irish leaders of recent times and a minority government in place, Mr Varadkar will only do so if it makes political sense for his party, Fine Gael.

CN today published features writer Lucy Alderson’s look at the Irish market.

Increasingly you’re seeing developers wanting a foot in both the UK and Ireland (Aer Lingus today announced that a new route from Dublin to London City Airport will run from October, reflecting an increased demand for business travel).

The reason it’s attractive may not just be down to a flourishing market; post-Brexit, it will give companies a European base in close proximity to Britain.

In the meantime there will need to be some serious bridge-building between Britain, Ireland and the EU to keep the market growing.

But in the short-to-medium term, don’t bet against a raft of work to keep UK firms busy too.

With output expected to hit almost €20bn this year compared with a pre-crash high of €38.6bn, it’s not quite the Celtic Tiger of old – but nor would most sane Irish people want it to be.

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