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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 May 2007, 20:15 GMT 21:15 UK
Polls apart after Celtic tiger
By Diarmaid Fleming
BBC NI's Dublin correspondent

Bertie Ahern
Mr Ahern's legacy will owe much to the arrival of the Celtic Tiger
The Republic goes to the polls on Thursday, with Enda Kenny seeking to wrestle the reigns of power from Bertie Ahern who has held them for the past ten years.

The decade has seen unprecedented economic growth after the emergence of the Celtic Tiger, but with that have come growing pains, particularly in the new communities of the new Ireland.

I have been to one such area, East Meath, to hear from voters on what how the strains of development are showing.

On a whistlestop tour during election campaigning, surrounded by local dignitaries, Irish government minister and local TD Noel Dempsey opens the 400M euro (270m) Bettystown town centre development.

Congratulatory speeches echo in the foyer of a glistening new hotel owned by local businessmen spearheading the development, the kind of progress the government is keen to point to; the footprint of the Celtic Tiger changing the landscape of towns across a country ravaged by emigration up to the mid-1990s.

"The change that's occured in Bettystown in the past six or seven years, in this whole area, epitomises what's been happening in Ireland in the past decade," the minister says proudly from the podium.

It is a commercial and residential development, the brochure saying it will create 2,000 jobs and a community of 23,000 people.

Already, the area's population has almost doubled in five years, with many relocating because of Dublin's high property prices.

But less than five minutes drive away from the glitzy reception is Alverno Heights in Laytown, a council estate more than 30 years old.

Rotting

It presents a different picture of the Ireland of trade and tourism brochures. While some houses are privately owned, others rented from the council appear in dire need of repair, rotting window frames and roof timbers showing more than their age.

Mould grows rampant inside one elederly woman's house, with locals almost keen to show a visiting reporter what most people would be ashamed of.

"Show what it's like, show what we have to put up with," says a middle-aged woman.

While the council is not responsible for private repairs, locals in the estate say they are in dispute with Meath County Council, because they are opposing the council's plans to build more houses on their estate's green spaces, so-called 'infill development'.

Standing on a potholed pavement, John Brodigan, who represents residents, vents his fury, saying the Celtic Tiger has passed them by.

"See the condition of the footpaths and lighting and the condition of the houses interally and externally. They're a disgrace, they are nearly uninhabitable at the moment," he says.

Councillors said to me that we should have accepted the the six houses and the repairs would be underway now
John Brodigan

"In the green space there behind you, they're talking about building houses there, two and three storeys."

He says that the locals appear to have no voice with those in power.

"The people rejected it on seven or eight occasions at different meetings, but the council just don't want to listen," he adds.

"Councillors said to me that we should have accepted the six houses and the repairs would be under way now."

Although they have the benefit of a beach nearby, there are no facilities for youngsters in the run-down estate, the steel doors of a disused library firmly shut, covered in graffiti swastikas.

While there are a few pubs, two hotels and an amusement arcade, there appears little for adults either.

No facilities

Massive development has brought only houses in what were recently fields, with no community centre or built leisure or social facilities.

Playing football along rutted tarmac, a group of loitering youths say there is little else to do.

"We badly need a youthclub, that would be a big help. Facilities for the young kids, playgrounds, everything, there's just nothing for the young kids around this estate," says one teenager.

Chidren look on as an excavator attacks the ground in yet more building work in the nearby Inse Bay private housing estate, dubbed 'Dublin Bay' by locals because of the huge influx of young Dubliners unable to afford to buy property in the city 30 miles down the road.

The estate was finished just a couple of years ago - but now the builders are back, this time building on what was to be recreational green space, adding to hundreds of recently built houses.

But the private building boom has not been matched by state construction. No new school has been built, meaning children starting at Laytown primary school last year came to class in shifts, some starting in the morning, with others in the afternoon.

Classes then moved to the gym before the arrival of the prefabs many of children are currently schooled in.

Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge
Dublin has been the centre of the Republic's economic boom

The debacle has made national news. Parent Sharon Tolan who has two children at the school blames local and national politicians.

Her clarity of argument makes some politicians uncomfortable, one senior minister last week unwilling to appear with her in a head-to-head radio discussion.

"Local councils can rezone land without having any kind of responsibility for providing any kind of social infrastructure for the families moving to these areas," she says.

"It seems ludicrous that they can build houses so quickly, hotels can go up in a matter of months, or a casino. Yet we haven't even a playground, there isn't a swing for our children to play on."

"It seems very unfair that central government doesn't take responsibility, or make our local authorities responsible to provide the social infrastructure for the families coming to live here."

There is little industry in the area, apart from the vast amount of building work - a feature of many parts of modern Ireland, with most of the area's new residents commuting to and from Dublin to work.

Lucky

This area is lucky, as it is served by rail. But with just eight trains in the three hours before 9am, even though the service is reliable, it is a squeeze, says commuter Tony Campion.

"There's a train every half an hour, but when the trains get into north County Dublin, from then on they're completely full, there's no room for people. It's probably quite dangerous I would imagine for the amount of people who have to stand going into the city," he adds.

"Coming home, it's the same. I have to stand around 45 minutes in cramped conditions with hundreds of other people in a similar situation."

For those who drive, a 6.30am start is needed, otherwise the 30 mile drive to Dublin can take two hours. The nearby village of Julianstown is now daily clogged with traffic, says local Fred Logue.

"I've been living here since I was a child, in fact I went to school right very close to here. What happens is people's quality of life deteriorates.

"People can't walk their streets, there's a huge litter problem, old people can't cross the road, it's a nightmare," he says, with a constant line of cars and juggernauts snaking its way through his village behind him as he speaks.

We are suffering from growing pains - but I think five more years would help us
Noel Dempsey

Economic transformation has brought virtual full employment to Ireland, and has seen emigration replaced by immigration, with hundreds of thousands from other countries, particulalry Eastern Europe, coming to Ireland to work to help feed the Celtic Tiger's appetite for growth.

Back at the launch in the marble splendour of Bettystown's newest hotel, Minister Dempsey says that when he first went into politics 20 years ago, there was not a house he visited untouched by emigration.

He understands how people living in Ireland's newly-built communities feel, but says the government needs more time to keep pace with rampant development and that difficult problems cannot be solved overnight.

"I'm not going to claim that government did everything. As I said earlier on here when we opened this magnificent facilty, the government created the (economic) conditions and the Irish people are taking full advantage of that," he says.

"We are suffering from growing pains - but I think five more years would help us and having learned, I think we could finish the job very well."

Whether his government gets another five-year term, many in East Meath will be hoping whichever government is in power, there will be some relief from the strains of living in the new Ireland.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Diarmaid Fleming's report for BBC Newsline





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