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07th Dec 2019

The Dublin white water rafting project is just a really, really stupid idea

Carl Kinsella

White water rafting Dublin

At this stage, Dubliners don’t need a raft. They need a lifeboat.

Last week, it was determined that Dublin City Council would invest €22million in bringing a white water rafting centre to George’s Dock, near the quays.

That was unexpected.

At the risk of boring you, I won’t talk about how what Dublin really needs is homes. That’s a fact, to be sure, but we can all appreciate the need for amenities too. Homes aren’t much without green spaces, swimming pools, sporting facilities, places where people can go to enjoy the life that exists outside of their four walls.

In that spirit, it is not ours to criticise a local authority for investing big money in some sector other than housing. Indeed, it’s fundamental that local authorities invest in all sorts of things.

After all, think of the good that money could do if it was invested in reinvigorating the city’s dying art scene, or its nightlife? Benches, or public toilets? Facilities for the sports we actually play? Things that wouldn’t cost anywhere near €22 million. There are improvements that people are dying to see. It’s not just about housing.

However, using the money to bring about such outcomes requires dreaming big, not dreaming stupid.

Let’s start with this. One massive investment of €22m seems ill-judged. What are we hedging this against? What happens if it fails? What kind of Lyle Lanley character suckered 37 councillors into believing that the benefits could possibly outweigh the costs on this investment? Can the councillors who voted for this proposal really look the public in the eye and promise that this is money wisely spent?

According to a report commissioned by the council, the first year will see 11,000 customers for the site, but the projected total after five years is 37,000 — because we’re not going to get sick of doing the same unnatural white-water rafting course over and over again, apparently. No, apparently, we’re only going to want more.

Allow me, a simple-minded person who doesn’t have a seat on Dublin City Council, to wrap my head around this logic.

This facility, that will cost the taxpayer an initial €22 million, followed by an on-site cost of at least €50 per person, that is not expected to be popular when it opens, is going to… grow on us? And even still, not that much. After five years, this centre is still projected to do business of fewer than 100 customers per day.

Perhaps something to do with the fact that one can get battered and soaked in Dublin free of charge almost any day of the year.

So rather than, oh, I don’t know, get bored of it, we’re actually going to come around to it and say “You know what, I didn’t fancy white water rafting last year or the year before that, but this is the year I really get into it?” How many times in your life would you need to use such a centre for it to become worth it? Four times? Five times? Are you going get the bus into town and spend €50 to go white water rafting over and over again?

The idea is that, as the years wear on, people will become more excited about this venture. Does that tally with our usual experience of the way Dublin deals with fads? Remember milkshakes? Remember how many milkshakes there used to be? Remember the cupcake stalls in every shopping centre? Remember Aungier Danger (rest in peace)?

But white water rafting isn’t even a fad. Nobody asked for this. There is no natural demand for white water rafting in the middle of Dublin city centre and there never has been. There won’t be when the centre first opens and there certainly won’t be any four years down the line after that.

So let me outline who I suspect this white water rafting thing is really for. It’s for tourists. It’s for employees of tech-firms who don’t have to stay here any longer than eight months. People who are killing time rather than living lives.

Dublin City Council is a body of officials, elected as guardians of our city, using money scraped off the top of taxpayer’s income, to build a prohibitively expensive and deeply strange amenity right in the middle of our city, for the benefit of people who do not live here. Ruminate on that.

It says much that the only body who has really come out in favour of the project is Canoeing Ireland, who said: “We would be very excited about the prospects for developing young athletes in that area and giving kids an opportunity to grow a love for water.”

I’m happy for Canoeing Ireland, honest to god I am. I don’t know too much about their cause, but over the course of my life I have certainly noticed that the country’s canoeists have almost never been at the forefront of the national discussion. This is their moment, and it seems cruel to be stamping all over what must be a dream come true for them.

But the fact remains the vast majority of Dubliners — a city of 1.7million — will not benefit from this centre, which, in its wildest dreams, will serve 2% of the population. Not only that, but the explicit assumption that it will be popular with tourists means that the number of Dubs who use this thing might end up being well under 1% at the best of times.

It should scare us that the people who run our city are putting €22million into a raft and sending it over a cliff edge. It should scare us that the people we elect care more about potential profits for private companies than making this city liveable for the many who live here.

We don’t need rafts. We need a life boat.

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