A stunning story from Ben Haugh in the Times at the weekend:
Six locations in Ireland were discussed by government officials as possible sites for a new autonomous city named Nextpolis proposed by a wealthy Hong Kong businessman, The Times can reveal.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has been in contact with the Victoria Harbour Group (VHG), an international charter city investment company, since December about a plan to create a city from scratch that would be home to tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents.
Documents released under freedom of information laws show that a series of meetings have taken place in Ireland and Hong Kong in recent months about sourcing a 500 sq km area of land for the new city.
Nextopolis? That’s a ridiculous name, for starters. They should just build it around the existing village on the Galway/Mayo border and call it “Hong Cong”.
On the one hand, you have to credit Irish officials with being willing to look at, and talk to those with a solution to, the massive problem facing millions of Hong Kong residents who find their country being, essentially, invaded by China. But on the other hand, come on: This would be nuts.
Which is why, presumably, this is a case of Government officials listening out of courtesy and politeness, rather than considering the matter seriously. For one thing, 500 square kilometers is a lot of land. For comparison, the area of Dublin City (not county) is just 115 square kilometers. This means you’d have to find land for a city that would immediately be the largest in Ireland, by some distance. But let’s have a think about it anyway, for fun.
The Times story reports that six potential locations (none of them Hong Cong, sadly) were discussed: Between Dundalk and Drogheda, in Louth; East of Galway City, near Loughrea; between Limerick and Nenagh; North of Cork City; West of Waterford City; and, bizarrely, between Tralee and Killarney. Of those, the Kerry option is obviously out, as you wouldn’t want a gigantic new City smack bang in the middle of the country’s biggest tourist attraction.
Of the options listed, three are stronger contenders: Louth, Galway, and Limerick. You want somewhere that’s close to existing motorways and airports, as all three options are, as well as somewhere with access to a seaport. Ideally, if you were to undertake such a project, you’d want it to help with regional rebalancing, so the Galway/Limerick options are most likely, if you had to pick one.
But even then, does Ireland have the infrastructural capacity to cope with a new city on that scale? You’re talking, potentially, about doubling the population on the island. The five million Hong Kong residents who moved here, presumably, wouldn’t just confine themselves to their city limits – you’d be breaking transport, waste, water, and electricity infrastructure overnight, as they couldn’t cope with the demand.
As for Ireland’s climate commitments? Throw those in the trash can, in any scenario where we play host to Hong Kong Mark II.
That brings us to another problem, which is political legitimacy, and governance: In this scenario, what’s being proposed is an autonomous city: that is to say, one which is independent of Ireland, but within Ireland. But also, presumably, outside of the EU. So, take all the problems with the Northern Irish border, and Brexit, and transpose them over to Limerick, on a much larger scale. You’d have an autonomous city, inside our borders, with its own trade policy, its own tax rates, and its own legal system. That’s a recipe for chaos. And what direct benefit would Ireland get from it? Presumably, we could sign the land over to the good people of Hong Kong on a thousand year lease, in return for a hefty annual contribution to the Irish budget – but eventually, as is the way with these things, one side or other would decide that it was a bad deal, and either stop paying, or demand more money.
There are other problems, too: The Dublin Government, being, as it is, very pro-Chinese, would have to face down a furious Beijing, and kiss goodbye to the various sweetheart deals the country gets for looking the other way at the UN whenever the Chinese do something egregious. Hosting five million enemies of China would, out of prudence, alone, require a big investment in the army, air force, and navy, just to deter any… shenanigans.
So: put your minds at ease. What’s happened here, almost certainly, is that somebody came to the Government with a proposal, and they felt duty bound to listen. It’s not happening.
In any case, even if it did happen, it would take about forty years to sort out all the planning objections, Compulsory Purchase Orders, compensation, and bribes for local communities.
Unless, of course, they pointed out that whatever county the new City was located in would have the sole right to call on it’s young men for the GAA football and hurling championships. They’ll be lining up to take it, then, just thinking of the prospect of Louth’s fourteen all Irelands in a row from 2044-57.