Photo by Lois Kapila

In 1982 Fianna Fail Taoiseach Charles Haughey tried to pull a stroke aimed at shoring up his slim Dáil majority. He offered Ireland’s EU commissionership to the sitting Fine Gael TD for Dublin West, Dick Burke, precipitating a by-election he thought Fianna Fail would win.

The FF director of elections was Ray Burke (no relation to Dick), and, in a bid to win votes, he had trees planted in the constituency. To general surprise, Fine Gael held the seat. Ray Burke reacted by having the newly planted trees dug up and removed.

In 2002, the then Tanaiste, Mary Harney, came to the Dublin suburb of Quarryvale to open a resource centre. Trees were planted prior to the event – and taken away again just a few hours after it ended. The efforts of local children to prevent the trees’ removal by workmen from South Dublin County Council were in vain.

Trees are clearly political. They, and greenery more generally, are also economic in the sense that they reflect economic inequality across Dublin (and elsewhere). Dublin 2 enjoys 30 hectares of green space and has almost no derelict or vacant sites, whereas the Liberties in Dublin 8 has three times more vacant or derelict land than green space.

And a two-and-a-half acre park promised for the Liberties since 2003 is, reportedly, not now going to be put in place. The largely derelict site may be used for modular housing instead. The need for new housing in the city is obvious, but, as one resident is reported as saying, this particular area “cannot take any more housing” and “needs to breathe”.

Dublin Inquirer has previously reported on the campaign of the Sporting Liberties coalition for a place for children to play outdoor sports in an area where, in the words of one resident, there is “Not even a park, not even a proper playground, nothing.”

The presence or absence of green space is not the only issue. As UCD’s Gerard Mills has noted (see the map below), the issue is not that south-west and west Dublin lack green spaces (though the north and west of the inner city do), it is that the spaces are much less likely to be planted with trees compared to south-east Dublin in particular. Similarly, a resident of Ballsbridge is up to 20 times more likely to have a tree on their street than someone living in the north inner city.

A recent seminar organized by the Redrawing Dublin project and the UCD School of Geography elaborated on some of these findings. Redrawing Dublin co-founder Paul Kearns claimed that “living on a street full of trees can raise the value of a home by 20 per cent, is the equivalent of a €9,000 salary raise, can make you feel seven years younger and can raise the IQ of a child”.

Now whether the presence of trees actually causes those outcomes might be questioned. The children’s-IQ claim is certainly contentious, though proximity to greenery probably does promote children’s development. Overall, and unsurprisingly, it is evident that if you live in a wealthy area you are likely to enjoy disproportionate environmental benefits.

What has been the new government’s response to inequality in general? To cut inheritance tax so that children who inherit their parents’ estate will not now have to pay tax on the first €500,000 they receive. As Fintan O’Toole explains, “There is only one purpose of this measure: to copperfasten the transfer of privilege from one generation to the next.”

The denizens of the leafy, tree-lined parts of town will have yet more advantages bestowed upon them.

As the Bible puts it, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” Including trees.

Andy Storey is a lecturer in political economy at University College Dublin and a board member of human rights group Action from Ireland (Afri).

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  1. Is it not possible people who can afford to live in nice areas have a higher and pass this on to their kids? This would account for the difference in IQ between affluent and disadvantaged areas. You say the North of Dublin lacks green spaces, but what about the Phoenix park? If parent were committed to their child’s development they could take them there. I doubt planting trees in the Liberties would make much difference to outcomes there – more important would be getting fathers to stick around to provide for their children. You won’t hear the left advocating this however.

  2. John Flynn’s email beggars belief. Why would a person who is left-wing politically (i.e. believes in equality) not want fathers to be part of their children’s upbringing? However, one can’t nail a father’s foot to the floor of his children’s home. That’s reality.
    Has Mr Flynn walked through the streets of inner city North Dublin? The reality is: few or no trees; if there is a green space, the grass is grey or non-existent; rubbish is omnipresent; black bags full of rubbish left here and there and too often have been pecked at by birds with the resultant scattering of rubbish in the immediate area; many, many derelict buildings; the odd bag of clothing thrown in a corner. It is totally, totally depressing. One understand why the rates of depression, ill-health and suicide are higher in areas of want.
    Our country is every bit the picture spoken about in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Ireland. We have a country of many tales with two sharp extremes of extreme poverty at one end and extreme wealth at the other.
    It doesn’t have to be like this. There’s enough bread and cake for everybody if the political will is there. That political will will only become a reality if we the electorate push our elected representatives in that direction.
    Each one of us must take responsibility for the current unequal state of our country.

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