Yesterday evening I met a friend on a boat. This is not as glamourous (or as nautical) as it sounds. There is a boat called the ‘Cill Airne’ (Killarney) permanently moored on the North Wall Quay on the river Liffey. It is operated as a public bar, a restaurant and as a private bar. I don’t understand why, but every time I go to it – which is seldom, I feel suave and sophisticated and I get an urge to roar ‘Ahoy matey’. I have some dignity however so this impulse is always suppressed.
As we walked from my house down to the river I glanced at the derelict train station close to the hideous National Convention Centre. This whole district is now the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC). It is populated by banks, insurance and accountancy firms. Thirty years ago the whole area was abandoned. Dublin Port had already moved down the river closer to the sea, where the ferries to Liverpool would depart The buildings on the riverbank were rotting, empty warehouses. Years earlier this had been a bustling part of the port. The train station was the final Irish destination for emigrants before they took off for Britain.
These days the only building that survives from that era seems to be the train station. As a listed building it cannot be demolished. Which is commendable – if only it could be renovated and put to some cultural or historical use.
In a sense it is emblematic of all the broken promises of the IFSC.
Slightly inland from the riverbank, behind the banks, lies the tram track on Mayor Street. This Luas line runs parallel to the river from Heuston Station to the Point Depot – in the heart of Dublin Bay. Mayor Street itself runs from the Central Bus Station (BusAras) to the Point. This section is the IFSC. As well as all the money factories, it is also now a ritzy high-end flat-land for young, urban professionals working in incomprehensible jobs in finance and stocks.
The buildings are new and expensive. Forty years ago it was a different story. Back then it was one of the roughest, poorest parts of Dublin where the population suffered from high levels of unemployment and poverty, and where the scourge of heroin arrived in the country in the 1980s. The building in which I now live replaced the bulldozed Sheriff Street flats – a notorious council housing estate.
Back in the 1950s the port provided employment for the local population, but when the port moved this inner city area seemed to go into terminal decline. The TD (MP) for the area was a local man called Tony Gregory.
Gregory was elected in 1982 . In the 1980s the then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Charles Haughey – one of biggest crooks in Irish political history – needed Gregory’s vote to secure power. In the dead of night, like a mafia figure Haughey called over to Gregory’s inner city flat and struck a deal that would see Dublin corporation purchase the derelict Docklands area and build housing and create work opportunities for the area and its residents; in exchange for Gregory’s support. Gregory agreed – as well he would. He was an independent TD whose loyalty lay with the people who voted for him , and to where he lived. The deal was short lived. Within months the government was ousted. Instead of being developed to help the local population the soon to be IFSC was developed for the banks and the vulture funds and the yuppies. The old buildings were demolished. The brave, new world of vulture capitalism arrived in Ireland.
The strange thing is that the IFSC is just a mirage. A few streets inland from the banking façade, Sheriff Street remains. As troubled as it ever was. The big piles of dirty cash swilling around in the accountancy firms is not shared with the old time residents. The people living in my shiny building tend to be educated, well paid and transient. We’re not going to be here forever.
I would like the old North Wall train station to be turned into a museum commemorating the history of the area before the banks arrived. After all the illusion of the IFSC could be as temporary as the residents of the glitzy new flats.