Tom McEnery: The Past Should Surely not be a Prologue to the Present. Decisions Need to be Made – Now.

Recently, Willie Penrose, the Minster for Housing and Planning called for “action now without delay.” He was responding to the release of the final report of the Advisory Group on Unfinished Developments entitled “Resolving Ireland’s Unfinished Housing Developments.” This comes on the heels of the head of NAMA, Frank Daly’s, comments that evoked a column from me in a recent edition of the Irish Times. Both recall the “ghosts” of the past; both deserve attention if Ireland ever plans for a decent land for current and future generations. And other “ghosts” and goblins seem to rise with these utterances.

Penrose proposed the following:

  • Establishment of a National Co-ordination Committee to oversee the implementation of action on unfinished developments and to monitor and drive progress.
  • Formal protocols for liaison between the various stakeholders; developers, financial institutions; residents; local authorities; approved housing bodies and the Department, should be put in place to facilitate the sharing of information.
  • Resolution of public safety and other critical issues e.g. public lighting, drainage etc., that are having a serious impact on the living conditions and quality of life for residents of unfinished developments.
  • Prioritisation by local authorities of a number of developments to act as lead projects to demonstrate what can be achieved.
  • Implementation of the best practice Guidance Manual on Managing and Resolving Unfinished Housing Developments.

Apart from taking precautions to prevent injury and vandalism, there is nothing here that suggests any action at all beyond forming yet more committees and something called QUANGOs – which sounds like a monster from a Godzilla-like, Japanese horror film. It mirrors the comments of Minister Daly at the Cork Chamber of Commerce last month when he said, “We are looking at ways in which we can facilitate the provision of debt finance to purchasers of commercial property which is either under the control of NAMA debtors or of receivers engaged either directly or indirectly by us. English would be preferable – or Irish if that fails and we could at least have the poetic touch.

Outside of the use of ghastly words like “prioritization” and “protocols”, both Penrose and Daly are not only lost in jargon, but seemingly adrift in the real world of crises and decision making. With this latest proposals, you really have to be perplexed and confused.

Patrick Pearse once said in another context that should have some resonance today, that the ghosts of a nation ask very big things and, “… they must be appeased whatever the cost.” I have said for some time that the current efforts are doing the opposite of helping, they are “restructuring failure instead of nourishing success.” I stand by that assessment. Ireland must have a stronger, fresher and more decisive leadership from the new Government.

With the great Irish universities, a talented workforce, an unending creativity, what should have been a century of progress, a knowledge century, has deteriorated into a economic downturn of Homeric proportions. No one wanted to listen to the Cassandras of doom, the realists like Dermot Desmond, TP Coogan, O’Toole and McWilliams – they wanted to raise the Tricolor over the Savoy Hotel in London and make the suburbs of Dublin look like Los Angeles. They had many enablers in banks and media. Reform is not assisted by a stodgy response to the problems of ghost estates and empty hotels, some finished, some abandoned, that litter the landscape. Add to this the many commercial properties that exist like punch drunk fighters, empty and mismanaged, waiting for the final blow to be struck.

Strike it!

It is necessary to make decisions and then implement them. The scant financial resources that Ireland possesses must be focused; the human bandwidth of Government ministers should be channeled. If the Government that was elected to bring change, is led by the nose by an unyielding, unknowing bureaucracy, then Ireland might have any possible recovery strangled in its crib.

As Bono reputedly said recently, the debt that is being passed on to future generations who have not the least say in it, is outrageous. To this observer, it is as bad as any colonial error by Sir Charles Trevelyan, of the Famine era or Lloyd George in the “Troubles”. It will thankfully not result in massive loss of life; it will, however, crush lives in massive and undeserved debt. It must not stand.

Decisions must happen far more dynamically. To allow the country to put resources into education, infrastructure, and to salvage the dream of a new and prosperous nation, there must be action on the ghost estates and bankrupt hotels, the selling of surplus properties, and the abandonment of the illusion of a new home for all. Action must follow reform rhetoric, and grasp this simple fact: Ireland will not have a second and third chance to make a first impressions. Reform must not be just a ‘word.’ The ministers quoted are going it the wrong direction. There is no reason to set up another committee, a “national co-ordination committee” or to fall back on shibboleths and slogans. Fall back on reason and common sense. People are crying out for it and can take the truth.

THE SOLUTION IS NOT TO TRY AND IMPROVE A HORRIBLE SET OF past DECISIONS. The solution is new and dramatic changes in how Ireland makes decisions and apportions resources. MOVE ON, FOR GOD’S SAKE, DECIDE AND MOVE ON – and implement. THE GHOST OF A NATION DEMAND MANY THINGS, as the martyred Pearse declared. CLARITY AND JUDGEMENT MUST BE TWO OF THEM.”

2 thoughts on “Tom McEnery: The Past Should Surely not be a Prologue to the Present. Decisions Need to be Made – Now.

  1. Hi Tom,I believe that part of the problem is our relentless and unjustified faith in our prior greatness.  If we challenge the conviction that Ireland was ever a great place to do business, live or visit. If Ireland was in fact, never a good place to do business, live in or visit, how will that change national strategy moving forward? How does that affect our ability to evolve and improve? If the emphasis is placed on the reclamation of past glories how are we to fix the problems of the present? You reference it yourself; “With the great Irish universities, a talented workforce, an unending creativity”. Our lack of modesty is the greatest impediment to our own progress.I would suggest that Ireland has never been a good place to do business, live or visit and it’s this sort of nostalgic sentimentality that will destroy our potential to start fresh. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this summation and it’s easy to understand why we feel like we do; We were a desperately poor country who held tightly to our national identity while clawing our way to independence and equality, but the Ireland of our parents yesteryear should not be the inspiration for the Ireland of our tomorrow.The people of Ireland have never had the chance to build their own country. We borrowed our legal, electoral, education and prison system from the Britain. We were ruled by the church and governed by misplaced morals. We were stifled by poverty and ignorance, but now for the first time in our history we have the chance to decide who it is we want Ireland to be. For the first time in our history we have the architects and not the builders.The first step, in my mind, is to design the Ireland we want to be rather than the Ireland we think we were.John Egan, C.E.O Archipelago


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