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Emerald Isle, Green City?

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

According to the European Commission, “A smart city goes beyond the use of digital technologies for better resource use and fewer emissions”, it has “smarter urban transport networks, upgraded water supply, and waste disposal facilities and more efficient ways to light and heat buildings” (European Commission, 2022). Meanwhile, in their contribution to the international scientific journal Resources, Dwevedi, Krishna, and Kumar (2018) detail key environmental factors as they relate to India’s Smart City Mission, which they state has been established “to achieve better living conditions in a sustainable environment with smart solutions”. These standpoints could be said to represent either end of a smart city definition spectrum, with one having readily quantifiable constituent factors and the other presenting scope for ideological wiggle-room.

The author would suggest meeting at the intersection of the Commission’s literal exposition of a smart city’s components and the Mission’s more ambiguous, projection-centric focus in order to achieve a fully-rounded working concept. Therefore, for the purposes of this brief essay we will from this point operate under the assumption that a “smart city” is one which incorporates a meshing of transport networks, water supplies, waste disposal facilities, lighting, heating, and digital technologies to achieve a more liveable, sustainable environment. Having established these factors, we will briefly investigate the extent to which Dublin, Ireland might be considered a smart city (and, by proxy, a “green” one) in accordance with the first two factors – transport networks and water supply.


As Ireland’s capital, Dublin is better-equipped than the rest of the island in terms of transport infrastructure. The great Dublin area is serviced by two main public bus operators (Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann), a major private bus operator (Transport for Ireland/TFI and its subsidiary, Go-Ahead Ireland), a train network comprising a number of services, a tram system (LUAS), as well as some smaller initiatives such as the DublinBikes scheme for bike rental on the move. That being said, despite the variety of services available, not all experiences have reflected favorably on the city’s transport infrastructure.

In Kinsella and Caulfield’s 2011 survey of newcomers’ experiences of transport in Ireland’s capital, the following metrics were assessed: quality of vehicles, safety, provision of information, the proximity of stops, convenience, punctuality, waiting times, frequency, price, and night services. Their results found that “Ticket integration performed worst… all the aspects that respondents were asked to rate performed below average, and four out of five aspects did not receive a ‘very good’ rating” (69-81, Kinsella & Caulfield, 2011). It must be noted that environmental concerns were not among the aspects queried by the academics, however, it can be suggested that such negative outlooks in a more general sense are not consistent with the “better living conditions” deemed essential of a smart city by Dwevedi, Krishna and Kumar (2018). That being said, at the time of the survey cited, two major innovations had not yet occurred in Dublin’s transportation system: the release of the “Leap card” (which was launched in December 2011 and allows users to pay for their public transport journeys using a pre-paid contactless card) and the takeover of many of Bus Éireann’s routes by the TFI transport company.

“The Leap card uses a chip inside the card [that] can be read from and written to without direct contact: a so-called proximity card or RFID card” (Canonico et al., 2014). In essence, Dublin’s (and Ireland’s, more generally) integration of the Leap card has resulted in a transport network that could feasibly operate with zero reliance on paper. Barriers to entry prevent a 100% adoption of the system (the integration of the technology remaining elusive for a more senior demographic, for example, or the system possibly proving needlessly complex for tourists staying only a short while), but it remains, nonetheless, environmentally beneficial and quite possibly the best extant demonstration of Dublin’s capacity to be considered a smart city.

The aforementioned TFI takeover of certain bus routes, moreover, saw a marked increase in efforts at making the smart transport system thus far discussed even more green. A recent “Initial order for 100 double-decker electric hybrid buses” was made by Transport for Ireland in 2020, which “utilize BAE Systems’ Series-ER hybrid system… [and] As a result, [are] capable of running in zero tailpipe emission mode for a distance of at least two and a half kilometers and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30%” ("NTA Launches Hybrid Buses for Dublin and Galway City Services - Transport for Ireland", 2020).

Whilst the reliability, ticket integration, pricing, etc, of Dublin’s transport network, is the subject of frequent and, frankly, warranted cynicism; the author can only commend the recent baby steps forward toward a smarter, more environmentally conscious city.


Ireland’s handling of its water network, particularly in Dublin, has been the subject of widespread news coverage in the last number of years. Whether concerning the spill-over of waste material into public swimming areas, legislative moves toward taxing the precious natural resource, or the state of in-use Victoria-era pipelines; it would be far from overzealous to suggest that the majority of these headlines have been negative. It should come as no surprise, then, that whereas certain elements of Fair City’s transport infrastructure manage to distract from its many shortcomings, its water system fails to stand up to its critics.

It might be surprising to some to learn that the provision of water can be environmentally destructive in itself; responsible, in the UK alone (the state with original oversight for many of Dublin’s pipelines and systems still in use today), for “over 4 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually” (Corcoran et al., 2013). Through research conducted by “Global Water Intelligence (Kwok et al. 2010), it was found that 45% of the total energy requirements for the provision of water services are associated with water distribution; 29% associated with wastewater management, and 26% for water treatment” (Corcoran et al., 2013). Combine this with the fact that in the recent past “It [had] been reported that 47% of water is unaccounted for in Ireland, compared to 23% in the UK and just 5% in the Netherlands” (Corcoran et al., 2013)”, and a worrying picture begins to present itself. Dublin City Council, itself now responsible for the infrastructure in question, has since offered a less dramatic figure and then estimated Ireland’s water loss “to be in the region of 29%” (Kelly-Quinn et al., 2014). When, very recently, potentially up to half of the water in circulation in a state had been unaccounted for in the first place, how can one justify the negative impact of the system’s fallout?

Furthermore, “Somewhere in the region of 550 million liters per day of water are currently required… and it is estimated that… this figure will increase to 800 million liters per day by 2031” in the greater Dublin area (Kelly-Quinn et al., 2014); meaning the city’s dependency on an improved system will only grow more urgent. In short, the author would posit that the city’s water infrastructure’s categorization as “smart” remains out of reach.


Without first investigating the status of Dublin’s waste disposal facilities, lighting, heating, and digital technologies (and their contribution to a more liveable, sustainable environment), one cannot yet determine whether or not the Irish capital qualifies as a smart city. As discussed, great developments have been made across a previously inefficient transport network, some of which, in this author’s opinion, have resulted in green flags for smart city designation. Where water infrastructure is concerned, however, it is a totally different story.


Canonico, P., Consiglio, S., Iacono, M., Mercurio, L., & Berni, A. (2014). Understanding Different Organizational Roles in Smart City Platforms: Preliminary Evidence and Emerging Issues. From Information To Smart Society: Environment, Politics And Economics, 5, 181-196.

Corcoran, L., Coughlan, P., & McNabola, A. (2013). Energy Recovery Potential of the Dublin Region Water Supply Network. Water Supply, 13(2), 552-560.

Dwevedi, R., Krishna, V., & Kumar, A. (2018). Environment and Big Data: Role in Smart Cities of India. Resources, 7(4), 64.

European Commission - European Commission. 2022. Smart cities. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 11 March 2022].

Kelly-Quinn, M., Blacklocke, S., Bruen, M., Earle, R., O'Neill, E., O'Sullivan, J., & Purcell, P. (2014). Dublin Ireland: a city addressing challenging water supply, management, and governance issues. Ecology And Society, 19(4).

Kinsella, J., & Caulfield, B. (2011). An Examination of the Quality and Ease of Public Transport in Dublin. Journal Of Public Transportation, 14(1), 69-81.

NTA Launches Hybrid Buses for Dublin and Galway City Services - Transport for Ireland. Transport for Ireland. (2020). Retrieved 11 March 2022, from

An article written by Eoghan Gallagher

An Irish-born, newly-Berlin-based graduate of DCU’s Economics, Politics, and Law undergraduate program, currently tutoring English and weighing up Masters options in Germany. Mostly interested in security and foreign policy issues.

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