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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Vincent Salafia: Sustainable Development to Archaeologists


In the prior blog entry, Vincent had just explained his PhD thesis will put forward the concept that sustainable development should be constitutionalized here in Ireland.

Question: What would sustainable development accomplish?

There would be a constitutional implementation of social rights, economic rights, and environmental rights. Hopefully, that constitutional equation would prevent these types of things from happening again.

You and I had worked on the economic issues having to do with the toll roads on the M3 (I had contributed some economic analyses which showed the questions the government should have asked about the deal before it was struck). Maybe in hind sight the economic issues were a lot more important than people realized in the course of the campaigning where everybody was so focused on the heritage end of things that the economic issues didn’t lend themselves so easily to protesting and people getting excited. There were no grounds to go in and make economic complaints back then. People need to be given their economic rights to say that public money needs to be spent in a rational way.

I am trying to pull everything together that I’ve been involved in over the last ten years or so. It is really a formula and I am trying to get it into a few articles or a book.

Question: Is there a recognition among politicians and other decision makers that the economics of a road should be a factor? Should the government shoulder all the risk? Ireland is paying foreign investors for a road, the M3, that is underutilized.

On the M3, they didn’t tell the public if it was going to be a toll road. They said it could be a toll road. They got the contract in the public/private partnership to build the road. However, one of the complaints was made that the traffic numbers didn’t add up, they didn’t justify this road in the first place. With all these motorways going north, it was pretty clear that was correct. They realized it would be a looser for any company getting involved, and they wouldn’t be able to charge enough tolls to make it pay for itself. So what the government did without telling anyone was they went out to the EU and got special permission from the European Commission to allow them to sign a shadow tolling clause into the contract. Normally they wouldn’t be able to do that, because it would be seen as impermissible state aid under the European Union economic rules.

They were given permission to do this in the instance of the M3. Also the Liber Tunnel was the only other road they got permission to do this. They said this road was so necessary there was no alternative to building this road. They said they probably wouldn’t need the tolls anyway because things were growing at such a rapid rate here in Ireland, there would be enough traffic to support the road. They created the impression this shadow toll clause would never be used.

No sooner had they signed that contract than things started to fall apart in the economic realm. Now it’s seen to be one of the worst economic decisions ever. Going all the way back to 2000, the roads program in Ireland was supposed to cost 5 billion euros. We can’t get an exact figure from the government as to how much the roads cost, but we figure they have cost somewhere in the region of 30 to 35 billion. So you see how much money disappeared into the ether.  Now we can see a lot of these roads weren’t necessary at all.

It’s gone from one extreme to the other. Back then, they were building roads everywhere, and now, there is no road building at all. There isn’t much sense in asking the present government what they think of building roads, they haven’t had much opportunity to think about that. Of course, with the troika breathing down their necks, they are not going to be making any radical decisions. The biggest decision was seen to be the withdrawal of the 500 million from the northern end of the M2/A5 road, the Dublin to Derry road. It’s going to be a while before they propose to build new roads. They don’t really need many.  Even though they were supposed to get these new roads done by 2005, they did manage to get most of them by 2008 or 2009.

That is really the end of road building for the time being, and ironically, that also is the end of a lot of archaeology jobs as well.

People want to point a finger at what happened over here. Certainly the archaeologists deserve their share of the blame. They weren’t all bad, of course. The guy at Carrickmines, Dr. Mark Clinton was good. We did have some archaeologists working for us behind the scenes, but for the most part they were willing to go and dig up anything. It could have been Cú Chulainn’s tomb. In fact they would have been dying to get in there.  There was just no stopping those guys. Ethics appeared to go out the window. I’m not sure how sorry I am to see a lot of them out of work now.

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