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'Wasteful' proposals smacked down in 1987 departmental row over Dublin Millennium expenses

In 1988, the Department of Finance wasn’t happy with what it viewed as numerous “wasteful” projects.

Gulliver floats down the Liffey in July, 1988
Gulliver floats down the Liffey in July, 1988
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

DUBLIN CELEBRATED ITS millennium in 1988 with a series of festivities, one of which involved a giant 70-ft Gulliver floating down the River Liffey. 

Beached on Dollymount strand before appearing to Dubliners at the Ha’penny Bridge, Jonathan Swift’s character was in part funded by the National Lottery which fronted £50,000 towards the giant float – the work of Galway-based street performance company Macnas. 

The Dublin Millennium of 1988 saw several now-iconic city features like the Molly Malone statue and Anna Livia, otherwise known as the ‘Floozie in the Jacuzzi’, installed. 

Securing funding for the Dublin Millennium was a thorny subject between government departments, however, recently released State papers reveal. 

Back in 1987, Dublin Corporation – now Dublin City Council – had a grand plan.

Establishing the Dublin Promotions Organisation Ltd, the company was tasked with promoting and co-coordinating celebrations. It was estimated that the company needed £2 million for 1988′s celebration of the capital.  

The idea was to host a series of cultural, educational, entertainment and improvement projects across the city. But the Department of Finance was not happy with what it viewed as numerous “wasteful” millennium projects proposed by then-Minister for the Environment Pádraig Flynn. 

‘Severe cutbacks’

Flynn, who chaired the Cabinet sub-committee for the Millennium, proposed a number of projects for funding approval – including works on Grafton Street and O’Connell Street – which would form part of the series of celebratory events. 

Flynn’s office proposed granting £500,000 to Dublin Corporation so that it could spruce up Grafton Street and O’Connell Street, a report from June 1987 notes. 

This money would come from “special amenity grants” following a similar gesture by the government when it donated £300,000 for ‘Cork 800′ to build a park in the city. 

Flynn suggested that a grant be made from the National Lottery towards Dublin’s millennium celebrations, proposing in late September 1987 that £2 million be taken from these funds.

By then, the government had approved a £250,000 grant towards improving Grafton Street. 

A briefing note from the department at the time dismisses the idea that it would help fund improvements to O’Connell Street and Grafton Street, though. 

“That is something Dublin Corporation should be doing of its own funds. The Corporation is one of the best-off of all the LAs!”

Should there be any surplus of funding for amenity grants these, the Department said, “should be surrendered as savings.”

MS19_Gulliver_Parade Millennium parade makes its way past Trinity College Dublin Source: Dublin City Council

‘Wasteful proposals’

Rejecting the bulk of Flynn’s proposals one week later, then-Minister for Finance Ray McSharry “wished to remind the Government of the extremely severe expenditure cutbacks being introduced in 1988″.

Every area of expenditure, the Department said, had been looked at to “eliminate waste and non-priority agencies.”

“Programmes are being abolished with major loss of jobs in many instances” and Flynn’s “wasteful” proposals undermine austerity measures. 

McSharry proposed a maximum National Lottery contribution towards the Dublin Millennium of £500,000 – not the £2 million that Flynn had hoped for. 

By that stage, the private sector had already donated £2.5 million for the celebrations, according to the Department of Finance, “but … no details are available as to how it proposed to spend this”.

The Department then dismissed 25 projects Flynn had sought funding for. 

These included £15,000 for flags along the River Liffey, £25,000 for the Lord Mayor’s golf tournament and £330,000 for improvement works to the Norman crypt at Christchurch Cathedral. 

It was proposed to spend £75,000 on a Gulliver’s Travels community pageant and £63,000 on the “Gulliver Suite”. 

In the end, the Dublin Millennium was a success for the capital, despite its expenditure. 

Gulliver, made of fibreglass, aluminium and plywood, was the first major project by Macnas. He headed back to Galway after Dublin’s 1988 millennium celebrations.

Following further outings to Gateshead in England, Seville in Spain and Derry in Northern Ireland, he was dismantled in 1993.

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