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.
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.”