PO Box 30 Tara, Co. Meath. Republic of Ireland

We're trying to preserve the Tara/Skryne Valley from the M3 motorway.
We're not against the M3, as long as it doesn't pass through the Tara/Skryne Valley



We urgently need your help

Motorway Madness
                               Sean McDonagh


I deplore Bord Pleanala's decision to approve the M3 motorway on August 25, 2003. Everyone will agree that, after decades of neglect, there is a need to improve the transport infrastructure in Ireland. The place to start this is  with an effective national spatial plan to guide all infra-structural projects towards serving the needs of ordinary people.  Unfortunately, the last government put the cart before the horse by publishing and proceeding with a National Development Plan before National Spatial Plan was completed. Unfortunately, the latter only appeared in November 2002)

In terms of roads there is a need to upgrade many roads, bypass towns and villages and in some circumstances build new roads in order to  cut down long, daily commuting journeys that are taking a huge toll on the well-being of individuals, families and communities.

The rail system for transporting people and goods needs to be improved, modernised and extended. This will cost a lot of money. Finally serious thought ought to be given to using rivers and canals as a means of transport.  This is the direction that transport policy ought to take according to the White Paper -European Policy for 2010.  It states on page 13 that in the new context of sustainable development, community co-financing should be redirected to give priority to rail, sea, and inland waterway transport.

In this paper I will argue that the National Roads Authority's (NPA)  plan to build the M3 motorway  is not justified on transport, financial, ecological and ethical grounds.

The Campaign For Sensible Transport (CaST) is an umbrella body  that co-ordinates the opposition of numerous community groups against some of the road building projects of  National Roads Authority.  In the latest study from CaST entitled The 12 Billion Euro NDP Road Spend Frenzy, Is Ireland Getting Value for Money? (2002) the authors claim the National Roads Authority's (NRA) blind implementation of the Government's Nation Development Plan (NDP) roads programme has run into serious delivery and also financial difficulties.  A report on the road building programme by private consultants in August 2002 estimated that the scheme will cost over euro 14 billion 1. This is more than 100 percent above the 1999 estimate. Such massive overrun is happening at a time when there is a significant downturn in the both Irish and global economy.  Economists are talking about a double dip in the US economy later in 2003. This would have a major knock-on affect on the Irish economy which is heavily dependent on US Foreign Direct Investment and US multinational corporations.

The extent of the problem with the public finances did not become clear until after the general election in May 2002. Even the normally pro-business Irish Independent in an editorial on Monday 29, July 2002 accused the government of misleading the public on the state of the public finances before the election in May 2002.  "No sane person expects 100 percent truth from politicians at election time. But this was a deviation from the facts of colossal proportion" .  For the first time in five years a large budget deficit looms later this year.  On RTE's Prime Time (April 30th) Dr. Brendan Keenan, a leading Irish economist, was critical of the fact that all the major political parties were willing to borrow money for capital investment in the infrastructure of Ireland.  He stated that while we needed better roads "traffic volumes don't justify the money that is being spent on some roads".   But despite this sound advice the new government was not for turning. On July 12, 2002 the Minister for Transport Seamus Brennan  acknowledged  that a euro 2 billion hole in the infrastructure had appeared. Rather than cut back on unnecessary expenditure and ensure that no cuts are made in the Health Services he, and presumably the rest of the government,  has decided to steam-roll ahead with the colossal road building programme through a funny money scheme called Public Private Partnership (PPP).

Writing in The Irish Times on Saturday November 2,2002, the former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald encouraged the Minister for Finance in the current financial difficulty to re-examine the roads programme. He asked the question that I asked above and others have been asking for the past year. Why, and in what circumstances, was a decision taken to reclassify for motorway treatment many stretches which as recently as 1998 had been identified by the expert National Roads Needs Study are requiring only dual carriageway roads in order to cope with traffic growth up to 2092.

I will argue that the proposed M3 is not needed. That it will further exacerbate our greenhouse gas emissions and that the PPP route for financing roads is not good value for taxpayers. In fact it is a scam. 

The National Roads Needs Study

I will begin by looking at what are the road needs? The National Road Needs Study was produced by the Consultants M.C. O'Sullivan & Co. Ltd, in association with Scetauroute for the National Roads Authority in July 1998.  The Report which cost the taxpayer 2 million punt accepted that on the N3 a standard two lane road is needed from the Northern Ireland border to Virginia. Between Kells and Navan the Report recommended that a dual carriageway should be constructed based on  projected traffic growth. A dual carriageway was recommended  also for the section between Navan  and the Clonee bypass.  The same study recommended that the N7 from the Nenagh bypass be upgraded to a dual carriageway.

Two years later the National Development Plan opted for a number of motorways. Why? I began this paper by saying that I readily admitted that some new roads are necessary but I am convinced that little thought is given to other options like rail, which is safer, cheaper and less wasteful of prime land.  People have a right to know whose agenda is being served by these massive, unnecessary motorway building programmes which divide communities, destroy land and will contribute enormously to Ireland's greenhouse gas overrun. As we will see later in the discussion on the Public Private Partnership initiative to finance the roads only those who were likely to benefit from construction projects were involved in discussion to shape The Framework for Public Private Partnership developed by the Department of Finance (2001). None of the other social partners were involved in these crucial discussions that will have enormous impact on the lives of thousands of people. Furthermore neither the future access to cheap oil, our moral obligations in the context of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, or an adequate land ethic to guide policy have  been addressed by the NRA's  EISs

Oil to be scarce within a few decades

In the previous chapter I described the thermal depolymerization technology which its proponents claim can transform any carbon based material into oil.  This would certainly revolutionise energy production world-wide. If TDP is not as cost effective and technologically adaptable to different situations in various countries,  humans in the next few decades will have to face the challenge that much of our activities in the modern are dependent on petrochemical sources of energy which are finite.

Neither the National Road Needs Study and the Ireland National Development Plan 2000 - 2006  address this issue. Both presume that  gasoline will be readily available at a relatively cheap price for  decades to come.  Before any talk of TDP most of the research that I had to hand did not believe that fossil fuel will be cheap for the indefinite future.  On the contrary it saw real problems with price and supply within the next 20 years.  There is now widespread agreement that by the mid-21st century 80 percent of the petroleum on the planet will be exhausted leaving the planet unable to support the way of life developed during its period of abundance.  Such is the conclusion of Colin.J. Campbell in his book Coming Oil Crisis  (1997) which is based on a vast amount of data and extensive consultation.  He is convinced that, as the 20th century was largely the story of petroleum, the 21st century will be the story of the terminal phase of petroleum even if shale oil and oil sands are exploited. Exhaustion is inevitable and may come sooner than later as nations like China, India, Brazil and others demand a greater share of the resources of the world, particularly gasoline for their growing populations. 

The competing demands for petroleum for agriculture, chemicals, clothing and plastics industries will mean that less will be available for transport needs.  It is obvious that in the post-petroleum era we will need new technologies and new, more sustainable patterns of human living in relation to the Earth's resources. Now is the time to plan for the post-petroleum era rather than when we are about to hit the crisis which will  take place in the lifetime of today's children.

Learning a way of life which will be more and more independent of petroleum is one of the most critical challenges facing the human community today. We need to use the next few decades as a transition period and not fritter away a golden opportunity and scarce financial resources on building motorways. In the post-petroleum world we will need new technologies, new forms of energy, new ways to transport people and goods and new, less exploitative patterns of human living.   

If there is any foundation for the view I have articulated here then it seems incredibly stupid to invest over 14 billion euro in roads that either are not necessary nor are the best transport option in the present circumstances.  If a major oil crisis happens the infrastructure that we are spending billions of euro to build may be used at full capacity for a mere 20 or 30 years. At least other rich countries in Europe and the North America will have had 70 or 80 years use out of the motorway systems that were built after World War 11. 

It is unbelievable that we splurging huge amounts of money at a time when the economy is under threat without researching the long-term availability of gasoline.  If, as I argue, gasoline is poised to become much more expensive wouldn't it make much more sense to invest our money in alternative transport options like rail and water.  This is why we need a National Transport Authority  that would look at the all the options and choose the one that  best fits our needs. The National Roads Authority is focused exclusively on the road option and, therefore, it should be abolished or severely downsized.

Global Warming and Ireland's commitments at Kyoto

Thus far I have argued that we should not spend euro 12 billion on motorways during the next few years because cheap gasoline may not be available 30 years from now.  But even if cheap gasoline was available into the long-term future we should still consider other more sustainable transport options because the increased use of fossil fuel is driving climate change.

The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, methane, chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) and other "greenhouse" gases are expected to increase by 30 percent during the next 50 years.  This build-up is likely to increase the Earth's surface temperature by between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees centigrade by the year 2030.  A study by a group of scientists in preparation for the international meeting on global warming in the Hague in November 2000 suggests that the upper range of warming over the next 100 years could be far higher than was estimated in 19951.

Global warming will cause major, and in the main, deleterious climatic changes.  In Northern latitudes, winters will probably be shorter and wetter. Sub-tropical areas might become drier and more arid and tropical ones wetter. The changes will have major, but as yet unpredictable, effects on agriculture and natural eco-systems. 

Melting Ice

As the oceans warm up and expand, sea levels will rise, leading to severe flooding over lowland areas. In March 2002 scientists in the Antarctica revealed that the Larsen B ice shelf disappeared from the map setting 500, million, billion tonnes of water afloat. Glaciologists were taken aback by the speed with which the area disintegrated. It took only 31 days. This disintegration has dumped more ice into the Southern ocean than all the  icebergs for the past 50 years.  The  reason why the ice-fields in the Antarctic are breaking up so rapidly is that the temperature in the area has increased by 2.5 Celsius in the past 50 years.

Unfortunately, the poorest countries, many of which emitted very little greenhouses gases during the last century, will suffer most from climate change. Much of Bangladesh and the low-lying areas of countries like Egypt will simply disappear and thus create enormous migration problems. Even first world cities like Venice are feeling the effects of global warming as the sea rises around it.

There are about 160,000 glaciers on earth. Only about 40 have been monitored closely during the past 30. Many of these have been melting during the past 20 years. Melting glaciers are also creating potential disasters. In the next five years as many as 40 lakes that have been formed by melting ice high up in the Himalayas, especially in Nepal and Bhutan, could burst their banks and cause devastation in the lowland valleys. According to Paul Brown of The Guardian "there are thought to be hundreds more such liquid time bombs in India, Pakistan Afghanistan, Tibet and China2. The situation is rendered more dangerous by the fact that many of these lakes are in geologically active areas.  A sizeable earthquake could trigger a disaster.
More frequent and violent storms

Storms of great ferocity, like hurricane Mitch that slammed into Central America in October 1998, the devastating floods and mudslides that killed over 10,000 on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and the  wind storms that battered France after Christmas 1999 will probably become more frequent. The Guardian  October 31, 2000 surveyed the damaged caused by gales and flooding in southern England at the end of October 2000 and proclaimed in banner headlines that  Global Warming: it's with us now.  Unless we stabilize greenhouse gas emissions  floods of similar magnitude will become a routine feature of our weather. According to Dr. Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia, Norwich We are running massive risks by altering the climate of our planet in ways we do not fully understand let alone are able to predict with confidence.   And the longer we continue to rely on a carbon-based energy economy, the greater the risks will be.

A joint report sponsored by the British government and climate change scientists was released at the end of April 2002. It stated that the world was warmer in the first three months of the year than at any time in the past one thousand years. The report predicts that the weather in Britain and Ireland will  become warmer and more unstable.

Areas that expected to be flooded every 50 years can now expect that by 2080 they will be flooded for 9 years out of 10. Storms and heavy seas will batter coastal areas during winter.  The summers in Ireland and Britain will be longer and drier. There will be an average increase in temperature of more than 0.25 C each decade. The top temperatures in the south of England could reach 40 degrees celsius4.  Such a major climate change will have a huge impact on agriculture and the Irish landscape5. In November 2002 there was widespread flooding in Dublin, Co. Meath and Cork. The once-in-30 year floods may come much more often.

 Most scientists would agree with the above prediction that Irish summers will be warmer as a result of global warming.  This  might seem a blessing for those who have to endure a summer like 2002. Other analysts believe that the future in Ireland may not be so rosy .  They base their predictions on the fact that the melting of the Arctic ice cap may interfere with or suspend  the Gulf Stream which keeps Europe warm.  This would leave Ireland, and much of Northern Europe, much colder than it is now.  Not a welcome scenario!

Climate Change is Facilitating the Spread of Diseases

The British Meteorological Office called that 1998 was the warmest year on record. The warmer climate has helped insects, mosquitoes and rodents expand their range and their ability to cause sickness to humans. Malaria which is carried by the Anopheles mosquito has now been found in Southern Europe and also Korea. Similarly, a few decades ago dengue fever was confined mainly to Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Now it is inflecting people in Africa, Central and Latin America and the Indian subcontinent.  New Orleans has reported a population explosion among mosquitoes and cockroaches during the period from 1990 to 1995. During that time there was no winter frost.  The sad reality is that the poor once again will suffer most from the illnesses that follow in the wake of global warming  .


At the UN sponsored conference on climate change in Kyoto in 1997 scores of scientists from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called for 60 per cent reduction in the use of fossil fuel.  Unfortunately, the politicians attending the meeting, representing 160 countries, could only agree to a miserly 5.2 percent reduction below the 1990 levels by the year 2010.  At Kyoto Ireland was one of the few wealthy nations that received permission to increase its 'greenhouse' gas emissions. We claimed that, since we had not been industrialised in the 19th century, we should be allowed more leeway than other industrial countries.  We were allowed to increase our greenhouse gas emissions by 13 percent above the 1990  levels by the year 2001.  

The gallop of the Celtic tiger during the mid-1990s meant that by 1998 we had already exceeded these greenhouse gas emission levels.
In August 2000 the Environmental Protection Agency published a report entitled Emissions of Atmospheric Pollutants in Ireland 1990-1998.  It stated that we had already exceeded our 2010 target by 1998 since greenhouse gas emissions had grown by 18 percent in 8 years.  The annual rate of greenhouse gas emission was then over four percent. 

In response the Department of the Environment published the National Climate Change  Strategy  to curb greenhouse  gas emissions.  Among the initiatives mentioned were an unspecified tax on fossil fuel, the closure or conversion of the Moneypoint coal-fired power station and reductions in the number of animals in the national herd. The document lamely admits that transport is generally proving to be the most difficult sector in which to achieve controls on greenhouse gas emissions in most countries  due to the rising vehicle numbers and increasing travel.  Chapter 5 of the Report deals with transport.  It is vague and  aspirational.  The development of rail transport is mentioned on few occasions but, for the authors of this Report, transport means - road transport. After the Report was published I attempted to find out whether any government department or agency had calculated what the extra load of greenhouse gases releases would come from the road building programme. Presumably the need for these motorways springs from research on the increased volume of vehicles on the roads, therefore it ought to be quite easy to quantify what the increase in greenhouse gases will be.   I called the National Roads Authority  and spoke to a very helpful person  (name with the author) who informed me that the NRA have not quantified what the increase greenhouse gas load will be. Their Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) do look at local levels of air pollution which will follow in the wake of the motorway building programme, but they have no figures on the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

In July 2002 the government produced another document in preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development scheduled for Johannesburg in August 26- September 4, 2002. The Report entitled Making Ireland Sustainable acknowledges that according to the Environmental Protection Agency Ireland's emissions of greenhouse gases in the year 2000 was already 23.7 percent above 1990 levels and under a "business-as-usual" scenario they would increase to 37 percent by 2010.  Once again this document is heavy on spin and what must be done.  Rather feebly it informs the readers that it has always been recognised that, with no action, Ireland would rapidly and substantially exceed its (Kyoto) Protocol targets.  It goes on to state that "significant action" is  required over this decade to limit the rise in emissions to 13 percent.

  Once again in response to this report I called the NRA on July 26th 2002 and asked whether anyone had researched the extra greenhouse gas load that would arise from the projected increase in traffic on the proposed motorways. I spoke to an official involved with environmental policy in the NRA(name with the author).  While he was very helpful  he confirmed that, to date, no data was available.

Towards the end of 2002 the government began to wake up to the fact that their unwillingness to take any effective steps to curb greenhouse gas emission either by way of tax on fossil fuel or of subsidy to promote alternative energy sources might cost them dearly.  Under the Kyoto Protocol Ireland was allowed to increase its greenhouse gas emissions by 12 percent above the 1990 levels. Research by the Environmental Protection Agency and consultants DIW Berlin discovered that by 2001 Ireland has achieved a 30 percent  increase.    If we continue  our present do nothing policies we will achieve a 60 overrun by 2012. Since fines are part of the Kyoto Protocol Ireland could be facing penalties as high as 4.8 billion euro.  Alternatively we could buy permits to pollute from other countries.  This would cost hundreds of millions of euro each year.   The Department of the Environment has finally woken up but it seems that the mindset of the Department of Finance and Enterprise, Trade and Employment is to put industry ahead of everything else .  

Lead from the Churches

One of the reasons that the Society of St. Columban became involved in opposing the M3 motorway is that we believe that environmental issues like global warming are not merely technical issues but also constitute an ethical and religious challenge. As missionaries we live in many countries that will be adversely affected by global warming. We know from our missionary experience that addressing global warming is one of the most pressing ethical issues of our time.  Unless we address it with concrete strategies future generations will pay the price for the selfishness of this generation.  Millions of people will be condemned to live in a much less hospitable and fruitful world.  This is why concern for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation has been a central theme of our missionary ministry for over a decade and a half.  At our General Assembly in Sydney in 2000 we once again recognised that "Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (are) integral to our lives as Columban priests, students, lay missionaries."
The World Council of Churches has also responded to the global warming crisis by publishing a very thorough analysis of the ecological, economic, ethical, theological and pastoral aspect  of global warming in a  document   called  Accelerated Climate Change: Sign of Peril, Test of Faith 6. The document is in line with the Gospel's call for a clear stance on the side of the poor and the exploited earth. This is the heart of the Church's prophetic responsibility. The text discusses the theological and ethical issues involved in global warming and attempts to motivate the Churches to become involved in the issue. 
Unfortunately, however, neither the Department of the Environment, The Department of Transport, The Environmental Protection Agency or the NRA have addressed the global warming issue in the context of the massive motorway building programme. We believe that this is a very serious oversight. Rather than push through now with this project they should return to the drawing board and factor in these considerations so that Ireland will meet its target under the Kyoto protocol.

The madness of building motorways and closing railways

In the light of fossil fuel becoming scarce and also the fact that it is causing air pollution and global warming every effort should be made to seek less polluting ways of transport.  Rail is certainly one of these.  It is mentioned in chapter 5 of the National Climate Change Strategy but it is very  much on the margins of transport policy for this government.  The document states that any remaining barriers to the transport of freight by rail will be identified and removed. 

Unfortunately, it is the rail that is being removed as is clear from Jerome Reilly's article in the Sunday Independent (November 18, 2001). He writes that "the Government's  lunacy is effectively forcing Irish Rail to slash its freight service by nearly 50 percent". In 1999  180,000 tonnes of timber from Coillte forests was transported by rail,  Timber movement by rail for Coillte ceased on October 31st 2001.  This decision will bring an extra 20,000 heavy lorry journeys per year, each of 90 miles duration. The 19 mile stretch of rail from Kingscourt in Cavan to the Tara Mines junction outside Navan now lies idle.  This line was used to carry gypsum from Cavan to cement factories.

In the same Sunday Independent  article Reilly interviewed the Chairman of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, David Maher about the tragic deaths of cyclists in Dublin recently.  Maher is convinced about three  things.  Firstly, the shift away from rail in Ireland is against everything that is  happening in Europe. The Swiss, for example, are close to forcing all transnational freight onto the rails. The French government is investing heavily in rail expanding the Paris underground Metro and building regional express train lines . Secondly, Maher contends; this increase in road freight will be used to justify an NRA road-building craze. If the same level of Government subsidy was given to the CIE freight division as is being given to build roads then the routes currently facing closure would be profitable. Finally, if freight was moved back to the railways and a better service was provided there  would be far less accidents on the  roads.  Of the 20 cyclists killed in Dublin during the past six years 15 died from collisions with Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs). 

Pressure to close the railways has gained momentum in the past two years despite the congestion on Irish roads.By November 2002 it appears that that the rail connection from Ballybroffey to Limerick, passing through Roscea, Cloughjordan and Nenagh could be terminated. The line from Limerick Junction to Rosslare is also under threat. CIE Iarnr˝d Eireann (Irish Rail) also plans to discontinue all unprofitable freight services. Iarnr˝d Eireann recorded losses of euro 6 million in 2001. A decision to terminate freight will increase the truck fleet on the roads by over 400 a day according to a group known as Irish Railway News (IRN).  This undoubtedly will lead to more serious and fatal accidents. The  inability of the Department of Transport to present a credible transport policy was evident in November 2002. During one week two contradictory messages emanated from the Department. On the one hand that Minister for Transport Seamus Brennan introduced penalty points for motorists caught speeding in an attempt to cut down on road fatalities. On the other hand Iranr˝d Eireann were announcing possible cuts to their passenger and freight services in an effort to make savings.

It does not seem to have occurred to the Department that far from making savings rail cuts will be quite costly. The increase in the number of 40 tonne trucks on the road will do enormous damage to the roads and consequently increase the maintenance budget dramatically. Such roadtrains causes thousand of times more damage to roads than the average car .  Instead of closing freight lines tax breaks ought to be given to business that are willing to move their freight by rail.

In terms of value for money and a rational, national transport policy many commentators like Hassard Stacpoole, editor of Irish Railway News claim that the services which Iarnr˝d Eireann are totally inadequate and that; no serious  attempt has been made to try and lure people away from road transport on to the railways .  The Irish Times columnist John Waters queried the authenticity of the 8 million euro loss on freight that Iranr˝d Eireann reported for 2001. He worked as a clerk in the goods office of Iranr˝d Eireann many years ago. Most haulage transactions by the company involved a combination of rail and road trips and; the policy was to assign a vastly disproportionate level of the revenues for each transaction to the road end of the operation. The logic was that rail attracted subsidy whereas road did not, so it was  important to make it appear that the rail end was performing less well  .  There is also the ethical argument that the government ought to chose options that promote the common good by saving lives and protecting people from horrific road accidents. It seems that the government at this point in time is more responsive to the road haulage lobby.

Motorways will promote Dublin sprawl

Rather than solving the commuter problem for many people the national development plan to plough euro 12 billion into building motorways will only exacerbate Dublin sprawl out into the surrounding countries in an unplanned and ultimately extremely expensive way for the exchequer. As the Irish Times points out in its editorial on July 26, 2002. The creation of an ever widening commuter belt dependent on the capital is utterly unsustainable, not just in terms of the huge volumes of additional traffic it generates or the acreage of good agricultural land sacrificed to housing and roads, but also in terms of balanced regional development and, even more importantly, quality of life.

The same point was made by Professor Brendan Williams from the Dublin Institute of Technology on Morning Ireland July 26th 2002. He was reacting to the preliminary findings from the recent national census which found that there was a massive increase in the population in towns and villages within a 60 mile radius of Dublin while there was a significant decline within the city Dublin. In some areas the drop was in the order of 15 to 17 percent. Professor Williams pointed out that such developments are totally unsustainable. People were moving to areas where there were inadequate facilities in terms of schools etc. while there was over capacity in areas of Dublin inside the M50.

Writing in the Sunday Tribune  (August 11, 2002) Michael Clifford described how the population of the village of Ratoath in County Meath had grown by 82 percent over the past six years.  Six years ago 3,064 people lived there. It has now jumped to 5,585. There are very few facilities by way of shops, school, roads and public transport to serve this community in a sustainable way. Building unnecessary motorways will only compound the social and infrastructure problems for Ratoath and scores of villages and towns like it within a 60 mile radius of Dublin7. A lot of the problems could be avoided if the  resources that are being wasted on roads  were  committed to developing  regions at the edge of the city and even brownfield sites like the dockland within the city itself.

Funny Money - Public Private Partnership

The government plans to fund sections of the roads programme through the Public Private Partnership. This method of funding roads, schools and hospitals was thought-up by the Conservative Government in Britain in the early 1990s. In Britain they are called private financing initiatives (PFIs).  .  One can understand why a Conservative government would like to dole out public money to its cronies in the private sector even though the investment might represent very poor value for money for the taxpayers.  It is not so easy to understand why a British Labour Government or an Irish Government should follow suit. 

The first PPPs in Britain was the Skye Bridge. This, according to George Monbiot is turning out to be the biggest failure in government procurement since the Poulson scandal in the 1960s and 1970s8. The British government, firstly under the Conservatives and now under Labour is exporting PPPs to other countries.  At the end of 2001 the financial secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Trimm assured his South African audience that there was solid, independent research to show that PPPs were on average 17 percent cheaper than the public procurement. Critics dismissed that claim and pointed out that the findings were widely distorted by the terms of reference give to the consultants9.

Spurious Private Patnership.

George Monbiot who has been observing PPPs or Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) in Britain for the past six years wrote in The Guardian (June 10, 2002) that the British taxpayer is being ripped off by similar sleight-of-the hand PFIs initiatives in Britain.   The various schemes work more or less as follows. The government announces a new programme like building a road or school and invites bids.  The governments then proceeds to select a suitable company and moves on to open negotiation with the 'preferred bidder'. Monbiot considers that from this point on the company, almost invariable a large corporation with access to unlimited financial, legal and human resources, has a government over a barrel. For example, the British government has only deselected a preferred bidder on one or two occasions during the past six years from hundreds of PPP projects.  De-selection can be costly and lead to protracted legal battles.
The PPPs puts government agencies that plan to expand services or build infrastructures in an invidious position.  Monbiot claims that public bodies that are in need of capital for development are being forced by the government to rig the "public sector comparators".

This is designed to show whether privately or publicly funded schemes offers better value for money.  Monbiot insists that public servants are rigging the comparators because the government are starving them of capital and is presenting them with objectives that cannot be reconciled.  Government ministers inform them that the only money they can get for projects must come from the private sector. On the other hand the government insists that they can receive this money only if it offers better value for money than public funding. To help them square this circle the government provides them with a questionable way of massaging the figures. It is an accounting device called "risk costing".  When a company builds a public project -hospital, school, prison or road it accepts that there is a risk as the project might fail.  This risk is calculated financially and this becomes a key component in the value-for-money calculations.

However, the private sector risk component is much larger than allowed for in public sector bidding.  A public sector project could only claim around 7% while a privately funded project is allowed to claim 12.7%. In reality the risk factor for both is the same as the government is not going to allow a company to fail and leave the much needed hospital or motorway to remain half built. No wonder companies see PPPs as a better deal than privatisation.  At least in privatisation the company has to accept both assets and liabilities of state companies. In June 2002 the auditor-general at the National Audit Office in the UK, Jeremy Colman, stated that some of the comparators being used are "utter rubbish" and "utterly irrelevant".

PPPs do not represent value for money for the taxpayer.  There are huge cost over-runs and often shoddy work. Monbiot quotes to a report in The British Medical Journal (May 2002) which claimed that 39% of the cost of a PPP hospital is incurred by the extra cost of borrowing. Since governments have a better record they can borrow money at more competitive rates. As interest payments are spread over 25 to 30 years duration of the projected small differences in interest rates can add hugely to the costs. 

One of the most notorious examples of bad value for future taxpayers over the long haul is the Edinburg Royal Infirmary.  The project was built by a public private partnership at the cost of  £180.  The British Government has agreed to pay the company a £30 million rent over a period 30 years. This means that the cumulative cost to the taxpayers will be £900.  If the British Government had borrowed the money at the current low interest rates it would not cost the taxpayer a fraction of that amount10. The quality of services offered by PPP companies is often totally unsatisfactory.  Christopher Walker in a letter to The Guardian in October  complained about the poor quality of food supplied to Barnet general hospital by the PPP supplier with an 18 year contract; it is so inadequate that nutritionists advise relatives of patients to bring in food from the outside11.

The Irish taxpayer was stung by a PPP involved in building a car  park at Beaumount hospital which involved the hospital and private company Howard Holdings. The deal was so tilted in favour of the private company that the taxpayers had to foot a bill of euro 13 million. In May 2003 the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard that hefty tax breaks and clause which forced the hospital to Howard Holdings a hefty fine for every car that was parked outside the car park. For years 300 fines a week were levied against the hospital by Howard Holdings while  the  occupancy at the car park reached less than 60 percent. The result for the hospital was that they only received e120,000 in rent instead of  euro 1.8 million in the period between June 1999 and March 2002. Deputy Paul Connaughton of Fine Gael put his finger of one of the main problems with PPPs when he said that,   Sherlock Holmes would have difficulty tracing the complex web which lead to the deal being agreed

One justification offered by the  British and Irish governments for favouring PPPs is that they reduce the government's borrowing requirements. It also allows current governments to appear prudent in the management of the country's finances by not borrowing now.  But this is not true.  They are short-term solutions because they merely defer and, in the long run, inflate the borrowings. Monbiot concludes that if maturation of the schemes this government (UK) has commissioned coincides with either a recession or a serious budget deficit  the PPP has the potential to bankrupt the United Kingdom. .  Because both the UK and Ireland have low level of state debt it is in an ideal position to borrow money for infrastructure programmes.

 One reason why EU government felt constrained about borrowing was the stabilisation package which was agreed in Dublin in the run up to the single currency. This imposed a compulsory limit of 3 per cent of GDP on government deficits and envisaged heavy fines for companies that were in breach of this limit. It was heartening to here the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi describe such an agreement as stupid in an interview with Le Monde in October 22, 2002

The simple fact is as George Monbiot points out in The Spectator (March 10, 2002) that PPPs are scams 12. He writes; its works for neither socialists non free marketers, as it offers neither effective public provision non business efficiencies. Far from introducing market disciplines, it has become an official licence to fleece the taxpayer. Far from reducing public sector borrowing requirements, PPP is, as the Accounting Standards Board has noted, simply 'an off-balance sheet fiddle'. Most alarmingly, the ministers I have spoken to simply do not understand how it works".  PPP are not free gifts to the citizens. Over the life of any institution they will cost the taxpayer multiple times more than if the government were now to borrow money for public purposes. PPP are a costly accounting fudge.

PPP initiatives in health, education and infrastructural projects will also create new monopolies for private corporations who have long-term contracts with public bodies according to Dr. Jeremy Leaman of Loughborough University. The contracts will contain some stipulations about the quality of the project and the upkeep of buildings, but they also contain guarantees of acceptable rate-of-return and of dividend payments for the directors and shareholders of private companies over many years 13.

According to Monbiot, PPPs  are being pursued by governments as a way of appeasing corporate lobby groups whose members are becoming wildly rich at the public's expense14. One other reason why the British Labour government has persisted with PPPs is that they have exported the model successfully to South Africa, Holland, Poland and Ireland. Everywhere the product is on offer one finds a bevy of British lawyers, bankers and consultants.  In 2001 the Bank of Scotland estimated that the global PPP market would be in the region of £25billion by the year 2015.

The claim that private corporations will always deliver better value for money than the public sectors looks a bit ridiculous after the corporate scandals at Enron, World Dotcom and Arthur Andersen and scores of other corporations. Roy Hattersley succinctly captured the opposition of many democrats to PPP. It is based on a deep faith in public service and the understanding that the rules of the market cannot provide an adequate substitute for the commitment which it engenders16. The first editorial in The Guardian (January 17, 2003) 'What value for money?' Raised serious question about the value of PPPs. A Report from the Audit Commission in the UK which is an independent watchdog on public spending compared 17 or the first 25 schools to be build by PPP with 12 building and financed in the traditional way.  It found that the PPP schools were no cheaper, better or completed more quickly than those built by the councils& All the schools were below 'best practice' but the audit found the PPP schools were significantly worse for light, space, heating and acoustics, with little evidence of design innovation.

Two Irish voices have raised questions about the PPP.  Dr. Eoin Reeves an economist at the University of Limerick queries whether PPPs are value for money.  He is sceptical that competitive tendering and private sector efficiency could generate sufficient economies to outweigh the two burdens of the PPP process - the higher cost of borrowing by the private sector and the significant costs of the tendering process. Martin Kay is also critical of PPPs believing that even if they were value for money they do not guarantee value for community nor 'quality' public service17.

A Land Ethic

One of the most worrying aspects of the whole motorway building frenzy is the NRA has no ethical policy and, in particular, no land ethics to guide its strategies.  It would appear that the NRA has not given much thought to the fact that an ethical perspective ought to govern human's engagement with something as precious and sacred as land? Certainly no formal ethical perspective is articulated in the documentation or in response to queries. In fact one NRA official admitted that there was no such code of ethics. This is a major neglect when once considers that the decisions that the NRA takes will have an enormous and long lasting impact on individual people, communities, parishes and other creatures in the wider earth community. Furthermore the vast majority of the people whom the NRA and Department of Transport proffer to serve consider themselves Christians and still identify themselves with the Christian Churches. All of these Churches consider that ethics are a crucial dimension of life for individuals and communities and are adamant that there is an ethical dimension to all environmental problems.

Ironically while the NRA doesn't subscribe to a formal ethical perspective, in fact, they base their decisions on a utilitarian philosophy that would be rejected by most Irish Christians.  Furthermore I question  whether it is classical utilitarianism that claimed that an action was good when it promoted the well-being of the greatest number of people.  Many people ask whether the NRA utilitarianism is designed to benefit the majority of the people and the environment or the interests of small, financially powerful groups within the state.
No Land Ethic

Even though it is seeking to acquire over 24,000 acres of land for its road building the NRA has no land ethic. A land ethic is not a new  idea.  Over 50 years ago the American ecologist  Aldo Leopold wrote a chapter on "the Land Ethic" in his  book  A Sand County Almanac. Leopold argues that humans are members of an interdependent community.  Our instincts prompt us to compete for our place in the community while our ethics encourages us to co-operate in order to promote the common good of everyone.  Land ethics simply enlarges the boundaries of what we perceive as community to include soils, waters, plants and animals or collectively: the land. The natural world has its own intrinsic value, its own integrity and beauty.  Humans are called to care for all aspects of the  land and not to reduce everything to economic figures and see land merely as a commodity. A land ethic flows from an attitude of love, respect and admiration for land. It sees land as a community rather than a commodity.

Today as we are beginning to understand more the magnitude of the destruction which humans have wreaked on  local and global ecosystems we know that we  are in dire need of a land ethic.  As Aldo Leopold saw clearly over 50 years ago this  must spring from accurate ecological knowledge of our habitat and an ecological conscience. Such an ethics sees Homo Sapiens as part of the community of the living and not its master. Furthermore a land ethic is grounded in a "holistic" approach to knowledge that emerges from the science of ecology itself and the ethical imperatives that flow from viewing an ecosystem as a community rather than a collection of interacting individuals. Finally a land ethic imposes obligations on individual farmers to take responsibility for the health of their land. 

According to Leopold there is a duty to protect and preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. But this can only happen if the community at large supports initiatives to protect and conserve land.  I would argue that running unnecessary motorways through good land shows how far our planners have moved from any sense of intimacy with land.

Finally, it is worth remembering that in our Judeo-Christian tradition land is one of God's most precious gifts to humankind.  In the second account of creation in the Book of Genesis we see that God's involvement with humans does not end with creating them and setting them loose to do as they will. Immediately after creating humans 'the Lord God planted a garden  in Eden, in the east and there he put the humans he had formed' (Gen. 2.8). In Genesis 2:15 God took  man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  The Hebrew words used here have overtones of service, protecting and defending from harm..  The tradition of  stewardship has emerged from this perspective.  This attitude of respect led to allowing the land to remain fallow and thus regain its fertility every seven years. (Ex. 23: 10-11).  The hubris and absolute right to property found in the Code of Justianian (529 A.D.) that owners enjoyed the jus utendi, jus fruendi, and jus abutendi (right to use, to the fruit of land and even to abuse their property) has no support in the Bible. The cultivators were only God's tenants; they were stewards and it was clearly recognised that there were clear restrictions on what they could do with the land. The Land  must not be sold  in perpetuity, for the land belongs to me and to me you are only strangers and guests (Lev. 25:23).

In conclusion there is not sufficient data to warrant building the M3 motorway.  What is planned constitutes a colossal waste of money and forecloses other sustainable transport options. It is predicated on the illusion that fossil fuel will be readily available and cheap for the foreseeable future and takes no account of our international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. A land use ethics has not been articulated on the  basis of Judaeo-Christian teaching that sees land as a gift from God and that it ought to be stewarded in the best possible way.

 Those who care about the environment and the future viability of rural communities should lend their support to farmers who wish to protect their lands.  We must seek innovative and non-violent though sometimes confrontational ways to oppose this madness.  Many of us would feel that the public authorities have not entered into real dialogue with those who are opposed to the motorway and, in fact, have treated objectors in a shabby way. This is exemplified in the fact that the Bord Pleanßla hearing which was held in the autumn of 2002 took place outside County Meath began in August 2002. Even our Government takes holidays during August.

The researcher Martin Kay, whose paper I quoted earlier is convinced that the PPP involves very little real dialogue with those most affected by infra-structural projects. Official statements like the Framework for Public Private Partnership18 ; represent considerable expressions of intent to proceed, a pattern of 'will to power' statements which the general public is ill-equipped to deflect, to moderate, to influence or where it wishes, to halt"19. 'Will to power' statements are the discourse of dictators. Other objectors to the M3 who will speak at this Bord Pleanßla hearing will make very specific complaints about being treated shabbily by the NRA. They will state that they did not find the process either open or transparent and lacking in accountable procedures.  Martin Kay found similar complaints against the NRA among community groups who were objecting to the proposed M7 from Nenagh to Limerick.  A letter from the Chief Executive of the NRA to the N7 Steering Group "contained seven inaccuracies and revealed three failures to fulfil deadlines for submission of concerns..  & The group considered that the NRA letter  contain(ed) untruths, misinformation and obfuscation20".

In the light of this general disregard by the NRA for genuine public concerns the only way people may be able to stop huge, destructive and wasteful projects is through acts of civil disobedience. Martin Kay feels that even now there is a lot of  pent-up anger against the NRA and Local Authorities in communities where projects are proceeding without proper consultation. It is speculated, therefore, that unchecked, the PPP system in Ireland could provoke civil disruption 21.  It was such intransigence by civil authorities that motivated Martin Luther King to lead the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s. The establishment in the United States was blind to the injustices of racism. It would appear that the establishment in Ireland at the moment is so dazzled by economic factors that it is blind to everything else.




1   Ireland National Development Plan 2000-2006; Evaluation of Investment in the Road Network, Fitzpatrick Associates Economic Consultants, August 2002 page ii.
2    Editorial, The Irish Independent, July 29, 2002.
3  Garret FitzGerald, "McCreevy must explain the missing millions", The Irish Times, November 2002, page 10.
4    John Vidal, "Global Warming is greater than predicted-study, The Irish Times, October 27,2000.
5    Paul Brown, "Global warming melts glaciers and produces many unstable lakes" The Guardian, April 17, 2002.
6    Dr. Mick Hulme "There is no longer such a thing as a purely natural weather event", The Guardian, March 15,2000, page 4.
7    Paul Brown, "The World's weather hotter than ever", The Guardian, April 26, 2002.
8    Ann Cahill, "Days of drought and deluge loom",  The Irish Examiner, May 1, 2002, page 5.
9    William Calvin, 2002, A Brain for All Seasons, Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change, University of Chicago Press.
10  Rick Clarke, "Is Climate Change aiding spread of disease?, International Herald Tribune, Special Report on the Environment, page I.
11  Meeting Kyoto commitment seen as a 'core' challenge'. The Irish  Times, July 26, 2002, page 5.
12  Liam Reid, "Kyoto may cost  state 5 billion euro",  The Sunday Tribune, February 2, 2002, page 11.
13  Signs of Peril, Test of Faith: Accelerated Climate Change, World Council of Churches, 150 , route de Ferney, PO Box 2100, 1221 Geneva 2, Switzerland, May 1994.
14   Catherine Field, "Taming the car? Europe's cities lead fight", International Herald Tribune, August 28, 2002, page 1V.
15   Frank McDonald "Loss-making freight routes likely to close", The Irish Times, November 6, 2002, page 2.
16   Cris Ashmore, Iarnr˝d Eireann accused of discouraging travel", The Irish Times, November 6, 2002, page 2.
17   John  Waters, "The folly of spending our social capital",  The Irish Times, November 11, 2002, page 12.
18  Michael Clifford, The Sunday Tribune August 11, 2002, page 8.
19   George, Monbiot, "Do as we say not as we do", The Guardian, October 29, 2002, page 15
20    ibid.
21    The PFI needs a review", The Guardian (editorial), October 1, 2002, page 21.
22   Christopher Walker, letter to The Guardian, October 8, 2002, page 19.
23   Michael O Farrell, "Taxpayer foot 13 million euro car park bill, The Irish Examiner, May 23, 2003, page 5.
24    George Monbiot "Public Disgrace", The Spectator, March 9, 2002, pages 14-15.
25    Letter to The Guardian, October 8, 2002, page 19.
26    George Monbiot, The Captive State:  The Corporate Takeover of  Britain,  Macmillian.
27    George Monbiot, "Do as we say, not as we do"The Guardian, October 29, 2002, page 15.
28    Roy Hattersley "Private Obsession, public grief" The Guardian, September 30,2002, pag
29    Martin Kay, "Ireland's Public Private Partnerships: Unaccountable Procurement in an Excluded Landscape?  A paper presented at the Regional Studies Association (Irish Branch). The Conference was entitled IRELAND 2020; PEOPLE AND SPACE. Bunratty, Co. Clare, 25-26 April 2002, page 3.
21 In May 2001, the Public-Private-Informal Advisory Groups (PPIAG) published the Framework for Public Private Partnership -Working Together for Quality Public Services (Ireland, Department of Finance, 2001 a).  The working group was chaired by the Central PPP Unit in the Department of Finance and comprised representatives from the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), the Irish Congress of Trade Unions(ICTU), the Construction Industry Federation as well as the main departments and agencies engaged at the time in PPP programmes, for example, the National Roads Authority (NRA) and the Office of Public Works. The Framework document was formally launched, without amendment, on 1 November 2001.  Interestingly the PPIAG did not include 'social pillar' representation despite the document's concern that "the development of the PPP Programme must remain fully consistent with the objectives of Social Partnership" (section 3.5).  (compiled from Martin Kay's paper pages 4 and 5).
30   Martin Kay, ibid, page 7.
31   Martin Kay, ibid 12.
32   Ibid. 16.

Reprinted by kind permission of the author*.




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