Thinking about Working Lives in 21st Century Dublin, by Dr. Deiric O'Broin, North Dublin Development Coalition (NorDubCo)


In this contribution I want to discuss the nature of Working Lives in Dublin and the many challenges that we as individuals and a city are likely to have to face over the coming years. Similar to other contributions in this blog, I use the word ‘work’ in terms of a whole life view. This means talking about education, skills, training, social protection, transport, spatial planning, economic globalisation, job creation and economic sustainability. As a city, what can we do on a regular basis and what could local government possibly do to assist in the development of more rounded and sustainable Working Lives?

As noted in earlier contributions, this discussion is taking place in the context of other important aspects of sustainable development that are contained within Dublin’s Sustainability Indicators Framework (2011). The diagram below shows how interlinked the topic of Working Lives is with every other aspects of sustainable development. This indicates how complex and broad ranging sustainable development is, linking all areas of Working Lives.



A Broad Range of Working Lives Issues

The expert group that discussed Working Lives identified a number of what we called Headline Issues and Crucial Underpinning Factors. Similar to other groups in the D5P initiative, we worked on the basis of looking 5, 10 and 15 years into the future at the type of changes we could expect to see and how we could accommodate these.

With regard to the Headline Issues we saw three major issues for discussion:

• Public Governance and Public Policy;
• Business Infrastructure;
• Finance and Investment.

In relation to Public Governance and Public Policy we discussed a wide variety of issues and challenges likely to face employers, employees and the City in the coming years and devised a series of linked suggestions for change. The challenges we face as a city include:
• The globalisation of much of our economic activities;
• The weakness of the indigenous enterprise sector and our corresponding reliance on transnational corporations for a significant proportion of well-paid employment;
• The more fluid nature of employment, i.e. the increasing number of people employed on short term contracts in the private sector;
• The growing number of not-for-profit groups providing services, previously considered to be public service;
• A large number of skilled people remaining unemployed.

In terms of what we called Business Infrastructure, we focused on a small number of issues. These included commercial rent and lease costs, and the provision of world class digital infrastructure. In both of these areas we felt that Dublin faced very significant problems and they were areas where coherent local responses could really help the situation.

With regard to Finance and Investment we recognised that while the problems facing Dublin were easily identifiable, many of the solutions were rooted in national, if not global, responses. There were, however, a number of areas where effective local initiatives could be delivered.

The Crucial Underpinning Factors included:
Education and Skills;
• Social Support;
Sustainable Development.

While many of the challenges we identified are complex and require multi-level responses, as a group broadly representative of Working Lives, we suggest that there are a number of changes that could make very significant differences to how Working Lives could be improved in Dublin.

The principal suggestion is that we need to radically reform the nature of public policy decision making in Ireland and devolve much more power to the local level. Many of the challenges that impact on Working Lives don’t require changes to the corporation tax rate. Instead, they require better communications between employers, labour market agencies, training providers and education institutions. That doesn’t necessarily mean more meetings, it can simply mean better relationships between public and quasi-public agencies and how they engage with employers. Many employers and employees recognise the need for incorporating a lifelong learning ethos into their Working Lives, but require access to more flexible methods of delivery. To be meaningful, these will have to be locally derived and appropriate solutions.

We need to empower local stakeholders to develop locally appropriate solutions to the challenges they face. Whether is it access to start up capital or developing a more integrated economic development/spatial planning process so that brown-field development is given precedence over green-field development, as a society there has to be a recognition that for Dublin’s economy to be sustainable in the coming years, a fundamental rethink of how we make decisions has to take place. Is this possible?

We believe that it is, but that it will take a long term commitment from all the stakeholders. It requires more flexibility and innovation from many and more coherent and structured systems thinking in spatial planning, economic development, and the delivery of services. It will require a rethink of our social supports to address the ‘benefit trap’ and lack of appropriate affordable childcare in the City Region, a rethink of how the City’s transport system operates and how it relates to sustainable spatial planning. At a very basic level, urban sprawl undermines the economic competitiveness of the City and negatively impacts on Working Lives.

How can we address the City’s economic reliance on Foreign Direct Investment? Should we? How can we address the costs of doing business in the city that still allows businesses to recruit the best talent available? How can we develop world class training and education systems that are responsive, flexible and affordable?

Who do we need to make these decisions and lead the change process the city requires? Are our existing institutions the right institutions? What scale should we look at? What is best for Dublin?

These comments and questions are designed to generate a discussion and debate that can contribute to a broader process in Dublin. There are unquestionably a wide range of opinions and our hope is that our contribution will offer people an opportunity to reflect and make a positive contribution.


Learn more about Sustainable Development and Dublin: Introducing Sustainable Development and Dublin, by Dick Gleeson, City Planner



Thinking about working lives in 21st century Dublin

Dublin is a city that has seen large scale changes over the last 20 years, the city has experienced large growth in terms of business, population, cultural diversity and infrastructure. A large proportion of the eastern population work in Dublin as Dublin is the national gateway it has a large labour pool of skilled and unskilled people. Work in Dublin and in Ireland as a whole however is no longer just about financial security in today’s world and today’s Dublin work means a lot more. People now see work as a better quality of life, as a way to secure their future. In order for this to happen the city of Dublin has to adapt and provide the necessary requirements to become a sustainable city in order to do so education is key, along with transport, planning, employment and most importantly economic sustainability which we have not experienced in a number of years. Work has now become a lifestyle, the Government need to address this issue now in relation to Dublin in order to create growth for the future. This can be achieved by looking at what the city can offer and what ways it can improve. As this is such a broad topic with many different factors I have picked the following issues regarding working lives in 21st Century Dublin.

Governing Dublin

According to the 2011 census Dublin now has a population of 1,273,069 people (, the local authorities along with the Irish Government need to address this by putting in place action plans to accommodate the always increasing population of the city and improve the quality of life for everyone. Services such as health, education, public transport and employment should be made priority. In order to improve and sustain the above topics the Government needs to give more responsibility to the people which will create a more civic society which is critical in achieving an inclusive and egalitarian society. British PM David Camerons idea of the Big Society could be adopted in Dublin. This gives local communities more responsibility such as keeping the area clean or running the local library, this in turn gives the authorities more time to look at the likes of the transport system. Perhaps separating Dublin on certain issues to the rest of the country maybe another way forward for example certain issues in Dublin can be governed differently or by a separate body to the rest of the country. The Mayor of Dublin should also have more responsibility and decision making power, Borris Johnson the mayor of London and Michael Bloomberg the mayor of New York are prime examples of this. There job sees them making it easier for people to move in and around the city, transforming open spaces into cleaner, calmer, greener places, tackling housing and health inequalities, giving young people a better start in life, championing their city at home and abroad this I feel is a roll the mayor of Dublin should be playing. (


As Dublin is Irelands gateway to the international markets it is vital that the is city made priority and that it is efficient, clean, sustainable and most importantly an attractive place to live and work. At present it is clear that many small, medium and large indigenous companies are struggling due to the economic downturn this is a difficult issue to address however Dublin has many advantages that will maintain growth of indigenous companies along with keeping multinational companies in the country on a long term basis. This advantage is education, there are currently 90,000 third level full and part time students in Dublin which will create a large educated labour pool in the next five years that can be used by Irish and international companies. ( However to maintain high levels of education it is vital that the city set a plan of action to prevent inequality in education allowing each student to progress and reach their potential i.e. providing resources to those that cannot afford it such as computers, this in turn will be of benefit in years to come. It is often said that you inherit your parents class, in order for Dublin to become and maintain a 21st century working life city this can no longer be the case.

Transport and spatial planning

For Dublin to grow and become an environment for people and business, public transport is key. The Luas and Dublin bike schemes have been successful but need to be updated regularly, the new luas line connector will be of great benefit. The city needs to car free and encourage cycling which in many peoples view is the new mode of sustainable transport throughout Dublin. This can be achieved by encouraging cycling such as the cycle to work scheme and also adding more bike stations and improving cycling lanes i.e. contra flow lanes. Transport 21 was a great project that would have greatly improved the quality of transport and life in the city, the abandonment of the metro line could come back to haunt the city in future years.

It is quite difficult to look at all the issues Dublin faces as a 21st century as it is such a broad topic, however I feel Governance, education, transport and planning are key. Finally there are 3 main areas the city needs to focus on to maintain and create economic growth they are as follows

1. Develop Strong Leadership for the Dublin City Region
2. Create A Vibrant Place
3. Nurture, Attract & Retain Creative People


Dublin’s citizens firstly should be behind the strengthening of local government so that we can have more balanced and sustainable working lives. The Irish government has a history of being highly centralised. This situation hinders development at local level, as decision making and policy formation are made at a distance from local stakeholders. Furthermore those making the decisions do not have sufficient grassroots information to qualify them to make these decisions; a more bottom up approach is required, with greater communication and public participation.
This situation is not unique to Ireland and Dublin; the EU commission has experienced the gate keeping position of Irish and other EU member states in relation to the distribution of the structural funds, where the national governments do not want to delegate power to regional authorities. Regionalism needs to be strengthened in Ireland, with one region for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) which includes parts of Kildare (Naas and Newbridge), Wicklow (Bray and Enniskerry) and Meath (Navan, Trim and Dunshaughlin). There still needs to be an overview at national level and a restructured local government based on representation with directly elected mayors. The latter would raise the profile of local government. There is no guarantee that these governance changes would lead to cost savings as other factors are at play namely demography, service levels and processes.
The lives of people in Dublin have changed dramatically since the financial crisis in 2008. Unemployment levels are now at 14.3% in Ireland with the 16.8% of persons aged under 25 being unemployed according to the latest CSO figures. Job security for those that have jobs is a major issue. Employment conditions have become more transient and there is a greater prevalence of contract and part time work as uncertainty increases globally. Globalisation requires that our work force is more flexible. Innovations in media and telecommunications should be built upon. Working from home may become an option for more people.
The data sharing between the four Dublin local authorities through the Dublinked provides opportunities for an overall analysis of the employment and social welfare figures on a regional level. The data can be used to highlight areas of marginalisation and long-term unemployment. This would help to identify areas were local and community development initiatives would be beneficial involving social actors such as community groups and trade unions. Construction workers, foreign nationals and early school leavers need particular assistance. Training can be completed while in employment or through courses, potential for future employment being necessary. Different levels of support and monitoring should be available to those who have worked before and those with no work experience.
Foreign direct investment is still strong in Ireland; however the domestic economy is suffering caused by among other things government cutbacks. Dublin people in particular are weighed down with huge mortgage debt because of the property boom, consumer confidence is low. Mortgage indebtedness is a critical issue for economic recovery and should be of utmost importance in the political agenda. A long-term view is required. Economic development is a means for achieving the well being of society and this should be guaranteed for future generations as well.
Many multinational firms have their headquarters in Dublin, and the city has worldwide status, this needs to be promoted and recognised locally to enhance job creation and a sense of pride in the region. Research and Development (R&D) and mentoring are important in the growth of new businesses in the growth sectors such as ICT and Clean Tech. We have R&D resources at third level such as Invent in DCU and Hothouse in DIT which should be utilised.
Census figures can be used to analyse the different transports modes for the region. Access to suitable transport, especially public transport, is essential for work and education. This is an important consideration when regenerating or developing areas of the city for residential and office use.
The reorganisation of the communication between central and local government is central to improving working lives in Dublin. Economic development needs to be sustainable in the long-term by providing continued access to adequate resources and educational and training facilities. Unemployment, job security and consumer confidence are serious issues which have arisen because of the economic crisis and globalisation. The Dublin region now has more limited resources and these should be directed to areas where they are most needed. The experience we have in R&D, attracting investment, community development and ICT and the aforementioned government structure changes will be essential to the Dublin region having more sustainable and balanced working lives.

In response to Neil's section on transport

Efficient Transport Networks are essential for improving working lives in Dublin:

Cities play an increasingly crucial role in the development of national competitiveness in modern knowledge-based economies. According to the National Competiveness Council (2009) ‘As people become more mobile and firms more selective about where they locate, competitive cities have emerged as magnets for talent and investment. The majority of the population, businesses, jobs, innovation systems and higher education institutions are concentrated within our cities and their hinterlands. Our cities, therefore, play a critical role in driving national competitiveness and national income levels’.

What makes cities competitive? The NCC identifies four key areas that measure how cities perform these include:
• Enterprise
• Connectivity
• Sustainability
• Attractiveness and Inclusiveness

The Economic Development Action Plan for the Dublin City Region (2009) provides a blueprint for the sustainable economic development of the region by setting out key priorities for the development of Dublin as an ‘internationally competitive city region’. The action plan does this by making sure all of the necessary facilities that exist in internationally competitive cities are in place in the Dublin Region. These facilities include efficient transport networks.

Transport 21 aimed to expand capacity, increase public transport use, increase accessibility and integration, enhance quality and ensure sustainability. This was of particular importance for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) because it focused on delivering high-grade public transport within the GDA, including expansion and development of heavy rail as well as new Luas and metro lines in the foreseeable future. At present however, Transport 21 has been suspended due to a reduction in public spending.

I think the suspension of major transport projects for Dublin will have serious consequences for the city especially with the deferral of the metro north line. Ireland is one of the only countries in Europe with no adequate transport connections in place serving its airport. This needs to be addressed in order to improve Dublin’s position as a competitive city. Even with the reduction in public spending, transport connections that will connect the airport to the city and vice versa should be prioritised to help develop and promote growth in the business environment.

Sustainability is a core principle for the Department of Transport. The policy, Smarter Travel recognises the importance of continued investment in transport to ensure an efficient economy and continued social development, but also sets out the necessary steps to ensure that people choose more sustainable transport modes such as walking, cycling and public transport. Given the current climate these sustainable modes should be promoted in all aspects of working lives.

Achieving sustainable transport will require a suite of actions. The Smarter Travel document has 49 actions, however they can be grouped into the following 4 actions:

1. Actions to reduce distance travelled by private car and encourage smarter travel, including focusing population growth in areas of employment and to encourage people to live in close proximity in places of employment. This will help tackle urban sprawl. Urban sprawl undermines the economic competitiveness of the City and negatively impacts on Working Lives.

2. Actions aimed at ensuring that alternatives to the car are more widely available, mainly through radically improved public transport service and through investment in cycling and walking. The Luas BXD connector will greatly improve the public transport service and bring many benefits to the region. Investment in cycling has proven quite successful in Dublin with the introduction of the Dublin Bike scheme. The cycle to work scheme has also been welcomed.

3. Actions aimed at improving energy efficient driving such as the electric car and alternative technologies such as the car rental scheme. The car rental scheme has also proved successful. This gives people the opportunity to rent a car when they might need it. This saves on costs with insurance, tax, rising petrol prices, but also saves costs for the environment.

4. Actions aimed at strengthening institutional arrangements to deliver the targets. The Government needs to promote sustainable transport modes for Dublin and build on the projects that have been successful to date such as the Dublin Bike scheme.

To conclude with the reduction in public spending and suspension of the major transport projects alternatives must be addressed in order to improve working lives in Dublin. This in conjunction with sustainable transport modes such as walking and cycling, alternative technologies like the car rental scheme and electric cars as well as actions to strengthen the institutional arrangements to deliver targets for Dublin will improve Dublin’s competitive advantage in the business environment and thus improve working lives.

1. Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 07/01/12]

2. The Economic Development Action Plan for the Dublin City Region (2009). Dublin City Council

3. National Competitiveness Council, Our Cities: Drivers of National Competitiveness (2009)

4. Smarter Travel- A Sustainable Transport Future, A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020

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