31 Jul 2009

…in a week when the board of the DDDA spent a long Tuesday evening searching the office high and low for those goddam 2008 accounts, and as an air of giddy expectation descended on the mouth of the Liffey in anticipation of a Bord Pleanala decision on a northside development, what are the odds that Liam Carroll’s property development empire would come tumbling down two days after the Wednesday when the CEO of the DDDA would choose by mutual agreement to take early retirement?  

31 Jul 2009
Reading the Nama legislation is like staring at the sky on a clear winter’s night: before us a universe of bullet points – scattershot, random and infinite – each of them at first appearing whole and discreet but, when put to the lens, revealing a multitude of hidden meanings - just as the specs in the night sky turn out to comprise entire galaxies of limitless solar systems each with their countless retinue of stars, themselves swarmed by masses of planets, and all of them hostile to the human condition.

How do you begin to get your head around Nama? How do begin to get your head around the universe?

Ignoring for a second the black holes of ‘asset valuation’ and ‘how do we know this will get the banks lending again?’ (although I will touch on the former a little later) lets ponder the infinities of some of the lesser astral puzzles to be found in the Nama Bill:

How big will Mama be?
Absolutely enormous. A behemoth, a leviathan. And if we compare it to other similar international property conglomerates with their workforces of thousands, it will probably need more than the fifty full time employees that the Government have been suggesting. Consider this very basic, very crude workload calculation: €90 billion’s worth of sundry assets parcelled into 10,000 loans, of which 1,500 may be considered dodgy. If we assign a project manager to each of the dodgy projects (average worth of  project, say, €30M each? That’s a full time job (plus administrative assistance, offices, faxes, computers, mobile phones, travel, expenses, etc.)) and expect him/her to somehow manage both the dodgy loan as well as the other 8 plus projects in his/her portfolio during a forty hour week for seven and a half years and at a salary of €70,000 a year – why, we’re already talking about the best part of a billion (making the €10B Nama budget look a bit small (not to mention, where will be get all these project managers?)).

Getting Things to Site 
Apart from the mountains of work involved in inspecting long abandoned sites to see if weather exposed structures might still be suitable for reuse (and, if not, condemned, demolished, removed and replaced), how will we engage the architects, engineers and quantity surveyors to design, specify, price, approve, etc. all the work that remains to be carried out? Not the way the Nama Bill suggests on page 99. Even if we architects handed over all our drawings and specifications to the Nama people and sat dutifully at our desks to resume work as the Bill proposes, we still couldn’t organise and mobilise the way the Bill framers think. Aside from the logistics, think of the money. If a design team gets about 13.5% of the final project cost, and if we presume that a very conservative €30B worth of construction work will be carried out over the envisioned five to ten year period, we’re already talking about €4B in fees alone, which we can be sure the struggling developers are not now and will not be in a position to pay. And before you say ‘joint venture!’, think Dublin City Council/Bernard McNamara, circa 2008. (The good news for design professionals who’ve lost their job in the past couple of years is that they’ll soon be able to come back from Dubai and settle into something permanent and pensionable.)

Compulsory Purchase
There are many reasons why Nama may need to take advantage of its wide ranging compulsory powers of purchase – here’s one: imagine a Nama site with planning permission for a large scale development separated from the main road by a site owned by a third party. In order to realise the development potential of the dodgy asset, there would be excellent reasons for Nama to force the third party to sell. However, with about thirty percent of the Nama projects said to be located outside the State, will these compulsory purchase powers extend to, say, sites in Moscow? (I wouldn’t compulsorily purchase a site from a Russian even if that site was in Connemara and it was just him versus me and the Canning brothers.)  

Planning Permission
The Minister can come up with whatever formula he likes come September to value our dodgy assets. But his formulas won’t mean nuttin if the relevant sites don’t have planning permission. Without planning permission, billion dollar dreams are just REPS funded meadows. Some folks were speculating a while back that Nama would be given DDDA type powers (grant planning permission as you wish) to get over this MASSIVE FLAW in its plan. The Government ruled the idea out, but there are some curiously phrased references to planning, scattered with eerie nonchalance throughout the text.
‘Nama may make any planning application in relation to land, and intervene in any planning application made by another person…’
‘The Minister may make regulations providing for the taking into account by NAMA, in determining the acquisition value of a bank asset, of any report of an expert (whether prepared before or after the commencement of this Act) concerning factors or matters relevant to the determination of the value of property or property of a particular type or in specific locations or with specific features or benefits, including—
(a)    Zoning...’
‘The Minister may make regulations providing for the adjustment factors to be taken into account in determining the long-term economic value of a bank asset and the property comprised in the security for a credit facility that is a bank asset. In making (these) regulations under… the Minister may have regard… in relation to the determination of the long-term economic value of the property comprised in the credit facility that is a bank asset, to land and planning considerations (including national, regional or local authority development or spatial plans) that may exert an influence on the future value of the asset concerned…’
I might quite rightly stand accused here of quoting these lines out of context but I searched the document high and low and could find their context nowhere. And, with or without context, it’s pretty difficult to write phrases so elegantly vague and so secretly open to future interpretation.

Experts experts everywhere. Everywhere there will be experts to advise on everything. Who will these experts be? Well if we lived in a country with a strong executive branch of government, the Minister for Finance would, by definition, have a proven pedigree and background in his/her field. A Minister for Finance with a smattering of published academic papers, chairs in various universities, honorary degrees from overseas institutes, etc., would give us the comfort we need to know that our man had  the right names in his Rolodex. But we don’t live in that kind of country. In Ireland, like elderly nuns seeking advice on the disposal of a convent, the Cabinet will inevitably consult party suck ups for recommendations on which of the D4 cadre of mandarins and eminences grises should be dug up  warmed over and recycled. We all know who these occasional Morning Ireland contributors are. My eyes are drawn to the section in the legislation which describes the skills and competencies which members of the new Nama Board will need in order to be considered for appointment by the Minister. The ‘planning/construction’ board member will, I have no doubt, be filled by one of a half dozen candidates – former presidents of institutes, survivors of failed but forgotten committees, golf club habitués and dullards. When the name of this board member is finally announced, building professionals all over the country will utter sighs of anticipated resignation. I feel confident that you folks in the banking, finance, legal and economic walks of life will feel the very same sense of anticipated resignation when the least inspired and the least inspirational of your number are chosen to join the board charged with leading the country out of the underworld.

Am I exaggerating? Perhaps in tone. And maybe the little scenarios I've sketched are a bit OTT. But the extent of the project and the kinds of problems that will accompany it are, I think, accurately described.   

The Minister said he was looking for suggestions on how to make Nama succeed, so here’s mine: in the month we have been given to reflect on the Nama proposals, is there any way he could assemble in one room a dozen or so of the biggest construction/legal/accounting curmudgeons in the country and have them throw darts at the proposed legislation by testing it against a ‘notional’ dodgy project? It would give us the chance to identify at least some of the potential pitfalls and make the necessary adjustments before the courts make them for us.

And here's another suggestion - publish a separate Bill for how the banks, the developers and the other assorted greedy guts will never ever be able to pull this crap again. It doesn't have to be fair or balanced or follow due process: biased, prejudicial and disproportionate will do fine. And we'll all get behind it.

28 Jul 2009

The process of repossessing the homes of another 83 families for failure to meet mortgage payments commenced at the High Court yesterday. The ‘83’ figure was a record. But don’t worry if you missed it – it’ll be broken again next Monday as it has been for more Mondays than you can count.
Most of the big lenders (AIB, IIB, ACC, etc.) were in some way involved in yesterday’s proceedings. But one lender above all others – Start Mortgages – jumps off the list for the frequency with which it is mentioned: of yesterday’s 83 homes, Start is looking for possession of 29 of them. Checking through the list of High Court proceedings going back for months it seems that Start (who’s motto is ‘Open Minded Lending’) have had the worst luck in getting people to pay them back what they think they're owed.    

As everyone knows, Start specialises in charging people with dodgy credit ratings way over the odds for property backed loans. This is from their website.

But I had no idea that Start gives back to the community by sponsoring soccer teams for homeless people:

So they’ll take your home away from you but, don’t worry, you’ll get your game.

I think I'm representing all the open minded people of Ireland when I say we should kiick Start out of the country, take over the mortgages they've issued on family homes, let the families involved stay in these homes, and have them (the affected families) pay the rest of us back whatever they can afford, whenever they can afford it.

Anyone with a Start story to relate? info@garrymiley.com

28 Jul 2009
28 Jul 2009

This useful piece of background information on  what 'Nama' really means comes courtesy of a correspondent:

... shared land ownership... praise poetry...

Everybody but everybody seems to already know what’s in or what isn’t in the proposed legislation on the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency. Don't expect anything too Pulitzer-Prize-winning-worthy when we see the draft on Wednesday: by all accounts even the people involved in putting it together know that the document doesn't come anywhere near to dealing with the problems it set out to address. 

First, there’s the matter of assessing the value of the assets that Nama will buy from the banks. Now, this isn’t just one single problem all on its own, it’s actually a whole bunch of idiosyncratically screwed up situations. Contrary to what’s been reported in the general media, value assessment is way more complicated than things simply being worth 'half of what they were worth two years ago’.  While some of the alleged assets were the product of relatively responsible exercises in capitalism and might end up someday being worth something to somebody, others were the result of speculation that was so beyond belief that there was every chance they would have failed even if the Age of Collective Madness had continued. The chances of these latter alleged assets ever being worth anything to the Irish taxpayer within the next twenty years are slim to none.

Then there’s the question of planning. Many of even the most secure alleged assets have a ‘the project will be viable provided we get permission for the tall bit’ clause. As I mentioned on this site in the past, in order to get over this problem, the folks advising on the set-up of Nama have already sought powers for the new agency to award planning permissions in much the same way that the DDDA currently does (i.e. by bypassing the planning process and avoiding pesky local authority policies (not to mention the entire democratic process)). While the Indo said at the time that the Government had rejected such an idea, its rumoured that that Nama will have some recognisable-through-the-disguise DDDA-type characteristics.

Other problems the legislative framers are having difficulty with include: the government says that the success of Nama will very much depend on people not tripping it up by bringing their personal beefs to the courts: this is a totally unavoidable scenario. There are an infinite number of cases where members of consortia, partnerships, etc., who were all kissy-kissy when the alleged assets were being put together, are now at such loggerheads that staying out of court simply isn't a possibility (industry people are aware of situations where, for example, the line of connection between the owners of troubled development sites and the folks who ended up with the money isn't al that direct. Hopefully, Nama will know how to avoid ending up with responsibility for these kinds of projects.) Then there’s the question about the legal proceedings Nama itself might have to pursue if it discovers that alleged assets in its possession are more ‘alleged’ than it originally thought (where, for example, the bank involved in organising the loan may have actually contributed to the difficulties of a particular asset before passing it on). And its also worth mentioning that not even the most optimistic of real estate speculators supports the Government's idea of paying above current market value for alleged assets on the basis that they'll probably be worth more in five year's time - there's every possibility that these same assets will be worth less. 

The Irish people are completely ignorant of what Nama is about. They've no idea what's coming down the pike.

16 Jul 2009
16 Jul 2009
Many thanks to a friend who found this article in a German newspaper about life in Limerick and went to the trouble of translating it into English for us. There's nothing in it you don't already know, but its still quite chilling to read an outsider's view of the society we've created for ourselves. Details after the jump.
16 Jul 2009
Hey. My little numpties.

I’ve been back and forth to London lately…  where walking barefoot around Knightsbridge, speaking Portuguese and being intimate with a man just to prove to yourself that you’re really straight are so ‘tomorrow’ (which, for your information, isn’t a good thing because ‘tomorrow’ is this season’s ‘five minutes ago’) (and, yes, I am aware that Shoreditch is the new Knightsbridge).

Ohh, London. All I can say is, thanks be to the lord Jesus that that roof closed over Centre Court the other week. It was one of those nation defining events: the tension was tense, the palpitations palpable as the BBC commentary team made occasional references to tennis in between shots of: The Roof. Honestly. London would not have been the place for this type of Irishman to have found himself if The Roof thing hadn’t gone off without some kind of drama (as it added another icon to London’s iconography). It was a bit like, you know when you coincidentally happen to be in England on the day their soccer team have been beaten by Moldova in a crucial World Cup qualifier and, even though smirking is the furthest thing from your mind, you’re terrified that you won’t be able to fight back an unwanted facial twitch as you stroll through Heathrow immigration because even the very remotest possibility of a smirky attitute will have you – on production of your passport - dragged off to the side and engaged in the following:
‘So, how long will you be staying in London, sah?’
‘About an hour. I’ve a connecting flight to Tokyo.’
‘And do you have an address in London where you can be reached during your stay?’

Meanwhile, the other day I had a deep thought. Do you know this famous map

which shows the distribution of medieval tower houses around Ireland? And do you know the way no one has so far come up with a really convincing argument as to why the distribution of these magnificent structures should have taken on such a pattern? Well, how about this: aren’t the tower houses everywhere where people play hurling?

What do you think, eh? Am I on to something here?

3 Jul 2009

Having reached the half way point in 2009, I thought I’d have a quick look at a few planning application numbers from around the country for January to June.

In Clare, there were 680 planning applications to the end of June. This compares to 1750 for the same period in 2007. On quick perusal, applications are for no more than extensions and retentions.

Galway City had 250 applications, down from 500 in 2007. Cork County is down from 9200 in 2007 to 6100 this year. In both cases, very few applications were for anything more than a house or an extension. Dublin City Council, too, has very little going on: 3350 applications this year down from just over 3950 two years ago. Not much difference numberswise, big difference scalewise.

From what I can make out on Limerick County Council's website, there were about 740 applications to the end of June 09 compared to 1400 for the first half of 08.

2 Jul 2009

Many thanks to Deputy Terence Flanagan for his relentless efforts in obtaining answers to some questions I put to the Public Accounts Committee on the cost overruns on the Ballymun Regeneration Project. It took him two years.

I’m not going to go over the whole thing again but, basically, the project to complete the reconstruction of Ballymun is years overdue and hundreds of millions of Euro over budget. Many moons ago the Comptroller and Auditor General published a report which, in my view, kinda pulled its punches in explaining what is an epic of tiger era indulgence and mismanagement. So, I composed 14 questions which I thought the Comptroller’s report had failed to address and sent them, via Terence, to the PAC.

Earlier this week, we got a response from Ciaran Murray, Managing Director of Ballymun Regeneration Limited. I won’t bore you (yet) with his ten page reply. Here’s a little amuse bouche.

Around about 2000, and amid a great deal of fanfare, it was announced that a €1 point something billion business and technology park would form a 100 acre centrepiece to the larger Ballymun regeneration project. It was to be co-developed by Green Properties and Ballymun Regeneration Ltd.

It went by the wall.  But not before Green Properties had run up some costs. I wanted to know how much of these costs the taxpayer had handed over to Green.  This is how Ciaran Murray responded.

'... A sum of € X  (see footnote) million was paid to the Developer on dissolution of the proposed joint venture.  €Y million of the figure related to the actual costs incurred by the Developer in acquiring 29.6 Acres of land, the title to which has been transferred to Dublin City Council and is an asset of the Regeneration Company.  The balance of €Z million was paid to the Developer representing 50% of the actual third party professional fees incurred by the joint venture in developing a Local Area Plan and obtaining planning permission on the lands.  As part of the Dissolution Agreement the Regeneration Company acquired the sole rights to use any designs developed and the benefit of the Planning Permission obtained.  All of this expenditure was funded through internal capital receipts generated by BRL through property disposals and only actual vouched costs were recouped in exchange for the acquisition of valuable assets.'

Foornote: Confidentiality clause inserted in joint venture Dissolution Agreement (settlement of high court proceedings) at the request of the Developer.

The developer was Green Properties. X is said to be somewhere around €6 million but I’d be interested in hearing what the exact figure is.

The €X million cost to the taxpayer doesn’t, of course, take into account the amount Ballymun Regeneration itself spent on wages, administration, legal fees, consultants fees, etc. before the business was wound up. What are we talking about here - €2m maybe €3m? We’re getting into electronic voting territory on this one element of the project alone.  

30 Jun 2009

Well, kittens, and in particular FPL. I missed this telling sentence from an article by Joe Brennan in the Irish Independent last week which suggests that the steering committee advising on the establishment of NAMA have reached a worrying conclusion. Namely, NAMA won’t be any more effective in turning around bad debt sites than the average liquidator unless planning permissions for developments of unrealistic scale are guaranteed (for up to fifteen years): 

‘The steering committee behind the setting up of the so-called 'bad bank' had looked at obtaining powers to deploy compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) and grant planning permission, similar to that enjoyed by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. However, it is understood that the Attorney General, who is also on the committee, advised that building such overarching powers into NAMA legislation could drown the whole process in a quagmire of legal proceedings...’

In other words as FPL has already correctly pointed out in his/her comment on the last post, and despite the concerns of the Attorney General (who'll be overlooked), the whole country will soon become a giant DDDA. What an irony: the price we have to pay for fifteen years of terrible planning is fifteen years of worse planning. Or no planning. Or maybe I mean, anti planning. Ooh la la.  

Here’s the full piece:


All the jibber jabber in the financial pages and the opinion columns of the newspapers about ‘the best way to go about establishing fair valuations’ for bad debt sites is completely irrelevant. The only way to establish a valuation on any of these sites is to make an assumption about the amount of development which might be permitted. Which means that if the tax payer’s support is to be rewarded, all the NAMA sites must be developed beyond even the levels the original purchasers had in mind.   

24 Jun 2009

On the question of whether we the Irish taxpayer should be putting €4B into shoring up the ailing Anglo Irish Bank, I thought the chap who asked Alan Dukes ‘do you ever get fed up trying to explain complex banking issues to the (stupid) [my parenthesis added] public?’ on Questions + Answers last week might have hit the nail on the head, but in a way he himself wasn’t intending.

Hopefully not being too unfair to this gentleman, it seemed to me that what he was trying to do in his question was imply that if the ordinary Irish citizen better understood how necessary it is when dealing with international bankers to maintain an air of scheming connivance and, furthermore, if we only understood the sanctity of the secrecy and unaccountability which characterizes the world of big finance we would, in order to allow the next financial ponzi scheme take root and destroy us afresh, let retired-politicians-turned-bankers fling money into a black hole in quiet acquiescence. While Dukes dutifully replied that no, on the contrary he quite enjoyed trying to convince the reluctant public of why it should continue to live only to support the banking system, I thought I sensed that he actually really did appreciate the questioner's intention: yes folks, he appeared to hint, little people don’t understand what this kind of thing is all about and are better off leaving it to those who do. Like him.

If we accept both Alan Dukes’ and Mary Coughlan’s assertion that the main reason for supporting Anglo is to protect our national reputation then wouldn’t this mean we’d be spending an equivalent amount of money convincing the rest of the civilized world that we have no tolerance for the frocked child abusers who terrorized a previous generation? (The Ryan report is already drifting into a convenient haze...) And, in any event, does anyone really, really believe that, when a situation can be exploited for a quick buck, international banks care a jot for a country’s financial reputation? In five years time when the money starts to flow around these parts again, they’ll be back.
In short, the Government is simply lying to us about what it’s doing. The reason why they’re intent on supporting Anglo Irish Bank is because they’ve been told to do so by Brussels. And this is what really lies at the heart of the Lisbon Treaty: the freedom to let money do what money wants to do.   

Meanwhile, the cause of all this mess – a planning system whose only obvious effect in recent years has been, not to improve our way of life in any measurable fashion, but only to create a little bubble within which the spectacularly greedy indulged themselves in a diabolic orgy – remains fully intact, its failings completely oblivious to a cabinet of demagogues, high on dema but low on gogue.

And now I need a drink.

10 Jun 2009

The Dublin Dockland Development Authority shares its acronym with the better known Demolition Derby Drivers Assocition. Whose motto is 'We Crash'.

I just finally read Justine McCarthy’s piece in the Trib from several weeks back regarding the state of play in The Docklands of Sodom and Gomorrah. http://www.tribune.ie/article/2009/apr/26/ddda-deals-to-be-investigated/?q=DDDA Well done, Justine – you don’t write a piece as carefully pitched as that one was without having a good idea of what’s really going on down there. I look forward to the fruits of your further investigations – perhaps you might just be the person to finally explain to the rest of us the inner workings of that most inscrutable of quangoes that is the DDDA. For example, it would be useful for us all to know how a teeny, tiny little organisation which happens to have life or death power over some of the greediest, sharpest, money grabbinest bastards in the country manages, without much public accountability, to keep everyone happy and away (relatively speaking) from the courtrooms they so otherwise adore? I’ve always felt that the folks at the DDDA must have the moral fibre of members of certain religious orders, especially when faced with circumstances which might lead those of us with weaker juridical constitutions astray. Circumstances like, for example, when U2 decided to take a greater (that is to say ‘financial’) interest in the tower which was proposed to bear their name; or when the designers of the competition winning original U2 Tower, BCDH, were shafted and (allegedly, etc.) owed an absolute fortune in unpaid fees; or the occasson when Liam Carroll was satisfied to accept a reduced level of development on the site he owned right next door to the one where the revised Norman Foster designed U2 tower of awfulness was due to be built? Or the time the same Liam Carroll was fortunate enough to have the development potential of another piece of land he owns within the DDDA's jurisdiction suddenly multiply?

10 Jun 2009
10 Jun 2009

I need a little help on something. While interviewing Brian Cowen on the radio last week, George Hook asked the Taoiseach why, instead of fooling citizens into believing that supporting bad banks is a patriotic thing to do, the Government didn’t just let Anglo Irish go to the wall? And, in reply, the Taoiseach said something to the effect of ‘… because European rules say we're not allowed to…’.

My question is simple – is this true? I’ve tried looking for the answer myself on various EU websites but, just as it was with the Lisbon Treaty, the experience makes me feel dim, euphoric and giddy all at the same time – a bit like Patrick on Sponge Bob. (Actually, before I settled on the Patrick analogy I just used there a second ago, I was going to make a reference to Charlie McCreevy and his ‘you’d want to be mad to read the Lisbon Treaty’ comments from last year. Obviously, something deep in my subconscious is making a connection between Charlie McCreevy and Patrick from Sponge Bob. Uncanny. (Also, does anyone know if, in a previous career, McCreevy was the person who voiced the lines ‘There is no dark side of the moon. As a matter of fact it’s all dark’ on the eponymous Pink Floyd album of the 70s? The voice isn’t quite right, but the mentality is captured exquisitely.))  

Anyway… now that Declan Ganley has said it won’t be him, who’s going to step up to the plate and save us from the ‘you might think you’re voting for greater democracy in Europe but, instead, you’re helping banks increase that uncomfortable hold on your throat ’ inspired Lisbon Two? Ganley was on to something for a while, but I think if he’d stayed in Galway and focussed his energies on getting the Irish people to more fully understand his message instead of forging alliances with folks from unusual parts of the Continent so unknown to us that the pro Treaty media could mispresent their characters any way it liked, he would have obliterated Lisbon Two last weekend.

Richard Boyd Barrett, perhaps?

Despite the Irish Times’ desperation to have us believe that, unlike the last time round, this time their opinion polls showing that the Treaty will be supported are accurate, my gut feeling is that a combination of (a) increasing awareness that support for the FF government is irrational and, therefore, absurd + (b) Joe Higgins + (c) Sinn Fein’s heavy first preference vote getting in Leinster and Munster + (d) The People Before Profit folks suddenly emerging in Dublin + (e) Ganley’s natural 70,000 constituency in the North West, will all mean that we’ll be facing a Lisbon Three this time next year (if the banking system hasn’t collapsed the in meantime, in which case the Lisbon Treaty won’t be necessary (because its got nothing to do with you or me feeling any sense of 'ownership' of the 'Great European Experiment')). 


2 Jun 2009

This is from the latest Nenagh Guardian:

'A Ballina man is appealing for people experiencing planning problems in North Tipperary to contact him with a view to setting up a forum on the matter.

Patrick Clarke has spent six years battling for planning permission in Ballina. He says his case is just one of too many affecting people all over the county, who Pat alleges are being treated unfairly by the local planning authority. Pat and his wife Martina McKeogh have been renting in Ballina for over two years with their four young children, who all attend Ballina NS. They want to build a home in the area and do have local connections on Martina’s side, she being able to trace her family history in the area back over eight generations.

Six years ago the couple were offered a site on the family farm, only to discover that they could not proceed with their plans to build a house as they did not meet ‘local need’ criteria. “Because neither of us were born locally nor lived locally for 10 years we are excluded from building our family home on the family farm,” Pat says... he has been repeatedly refused planning permission by the local authority, whose interpretation of the local need policy he finds too “black and white,” offering no room for discretion in individual circumstances.

The Ballina resident believes many other people are experiencing similar problems in North Tipperary, and that local politicians are either unable or unwilling to help. He’s now appealing for people to contact him on the matter. “You are not alone,” Pat says. “There is strength in numbers. If you wish to do something about this then now is the time to act.”

Contact Pat on 087 9020321 or email  mailto:pclarkeirl@eircom.net

Anyway. So far so typical: a ridiculously discriminatory planning policy, which wouldn't last on the statutes in the US or any Continental European country for the smallest fraction of a second, being exposed for the national embarrassment it is.

However, the situation must be viewed in the context of a separate North Tipp application for a family home which was recently approved but for which there was an alleged question as to that applicant's qualification under the 'local need' rule. It has come to Pat Clarke's attention that the applicant on the 'successful' application couldn't really be considered a local but does have alleged connections with a local TD as well as a senior planner. Whether this fact in any way influenced the outcome of the planning application, as Clarke suggests in a letter to all TDs in the country that it might have, is something I couldn't possibly comment on.  

Pat is hoping that people in the North Tipp area for whom his situation may resonate will contact him before the local elections on Friday and assist him with an email campaign. Here's his contact information again: Pat Clarke, 087 9020321 or pclarkeirl@eircom.net

29 May 2009

From John Gormley’s statement yesterday announcing the new legislation which will improve planning around the country:

“A sound development plan is the key to ensuring good planning at local level. Decisions taken at development plan stage affect all other planning decisions” said the Minister. A key element of the Bill is the introduction of a requirement for an evidence based core strategy in development plans which will provide relevant information as to how the plan and the housing strategy are consistent with regional planning guidelines and the National Spatial Strategy…’

Apart from sounding like something which well meaning Dissenter  industrialists say about improving the lot of their workers in Dickens novels, what does the phrase ‘evidence based core strategy’ actually mean? The ‘evidence based’ approach is the latest iteration of a particularly English life-simplifying illusion which begins with David Hume, courses through John Stuart Mill and any number of Victorian men of letters and now, in a new line which traces itself back to 1920s Oxford, has found voice in Gordon Brown’s administration. It’s an approach that distrusts imagination, personality, spirit and all those other things which make us human (and Irish) (in an article in the Guardian lately, an ‘evidence based’ commentator criticised some new British Government initiative as being ‘overly reliant on ambition’). The only compelling evidence that I personally would base a planning policy on is that there’s no evidence that the English planning system is the one we want to adopt.  More Kant, Minister, and lest cant (sorry, couldn't resist...).

The new Planning Bill was, of course, announced in advance of the Local elections as part of a shameless piece of Green Party self promotion. (In this morning’s Times, a piece about the proposed planning changes is so fawning it feels like one of those ‘advertisement features’: it’s actually an ‘exclusive interview’.) And that's about all you can say about it - it's more a party position paper that a thought through piece of legislation.

The planning system in this country needs radical, radical, radical change. There isn’t any hope whatsoever that the necessary change can be delivered by our current bunch of political leaders or, indeed, that the change can happen under our political system. What are we supposed to do?

28 May 2009

It's a real website, check it out, add to it, etc.: www.ghostestates.com, that's .www.ghostestates.com.




Does anyone have any more info on John Gormley’s proposals for what to do with unfinished housing developments? I read something a few weeks back about how he hopes to prevent the sponsors of such developments from getting planning permission on future projects. To this end, apparently, a system will be put in place which will allow local authorities to exchange information with each other about rogue builders. But do the Minister’s proposals have anything to say about the hundreds of half built housing estates already littering the country? I’m not being rhetorical – I’d really like to know if anyone has heard anything in this regard.


Meanwhile, on the issue of facilitating local authorities to exchange information about bad builders, it all just seems like so much whispery/gossipy/judgmental fuss – a whole nuther way for local authorities to don’t do what they’re already excellent at not doing (not to mention a whole lot of law suits (not to mention, is this the way we run our planning system?)) How about we do what they do elsewhere – planning applications get judged on their merits, but the actual construction can only go ahead after the contractor has been issued a permit. The permit is issued on foot of proof that the contractor’s insurances are up to date, there are no certificates of ‘incomplete work’ on his file and (crucially) there are no judgments against him/her for non payment of subcontractors. No gossiping, no mid ranking functionaires finding a new way to frustrate us all in the practise of their arbitrary discernments, just a little bit of constitutional discipline.



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19 May 2009

Is it possible that the Bilderberg group really doesn’t control the planet afterall? In a year when they run the risk of having their Lisbon Treaty defeated by the Irish people for the second time and as the Irish Government displays an economic/managerial incompetence that will soon have average people storming Leinster House, who amongst Ireland’s elite did the Bilderbergers invite to Athens for their informal knees-up this weekend past? Former AIBman Dermot Gleeson! (For the second year in a row.) (Hope he cleaned that suit.) No Sir Anthony O’Reilly (I heard he once used to be Irish) and no one from the Irish Times invited to discuss ways in which the level of the Lisbon debate may be raised (by saying nasty things about Libertas) in their respective media orgs prior to the vote.

Anyway, still a bit giddy after my moment of madness in Nenagh, I had half a thought to go down to Athens myself and join all the ding-bats of Europe in a bit of girly civil disobedience. By all accounts that would not have been a great move. Last week, in an attempt to prove that the Bilderberg group are a harmless bunch of international financiers and attorneys general and that you’d have to be a right Fr. Horan to think otherwise, the Guardian of London sent some young comedian called Charlie Skelton to the conference location near the Greek capitol. His self confessed aim was to poke light hearted fun at the claim-they’re-lefties-sound-like-fascists anti-Bilderberg lunatics as they blow whistles and chant the Lords Prayer backwards through bullhorns outside the Astir Palace Hotel. Things didn’t turn out as he had planned. Within minutes of his arrival in Athens Skelton had been picked up the Greek police three times. By Friday it was clear from his reports that he was having a fully fledged, unscheduled nervous breakdown. Followed by shadowy figures everywhere he went, convinced that people were searching his hotel room when he wasn’t there and, when confronted by Greek security types, reduced to paranoid blubbering, Skelton ended up seeking help from America’s foremost subversive, Alex Jones, before making his surreptitious way to the safety of the British Embassy.

When it comes to being civilly disobedient, I prefer to do it with a laptop and a glass of red wine.


12 May 2009
I’m not sure if it's the case that I don’t understand the purpose of Sean Dunne’s proposed Developers-Against-Nama-Association, or that I do and I just don’t give a damn. Either way I’ve been having a hard time getting my head around the whole National Asset Management Agency thing myself: it’s characteristically hard to find anything that explains it in the thought-through-detail you’d find if we were living in the US, Germany or wherever. And on that basis alone, it deserves to be rejected.
8 May 2009

Dermot Gleeson’s departure from AIB last week reminds me that Bilderberg season is almost upon us - Gleeson along with Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, were our representatives at last year’s event near Washington DC. This year, the international banking community will attempt to influence well placed, second rate intellects from ‘open economies’ at their meeting in Athens due to take place on the 14th of this month. I’m curious to see which Irish people will be included on this year’s list of invitees. There’s nobody on the boards of the banks worth asking and yet, even though we’re a very small customer, as one of the spots on the planet most reliant on some new global financial ponzi scheme to get us out of our mess, they need some Irish bodies in the conference room. The question is: who? These are my guesses: Peter Bacon and someone with a high-up back room position at the Irish Times. I’m no conspiracy theorist – if the disillusionatti want to meet and greet in Greece it’s alright with me. So long as no one from the Irish Government is there. 

The important news outlets (New York Times, et al) agree never to cover Bilderberg meetings and the lesser news organisations – the Irish ones, for example (except the Irish Times) – have no idea what it is, so don’t expect the names of the Irish attendees to be reported on the SixOne News. We’ll have to wait for their identities to be leaked on the whacky-fringey internet sites, which is always kind of fun. And, then, later that same week we have Eurovision! Its like The Rapture for agnostics.

With all the Chelsea/Barca/Drogba drama of earlier in the week, you might have missed this:

8 May 2009

In answer to your breathless and sometimes deliciously tart texts and emails which I received on the day of the paint-ball massacres, no I had no hand act or part in encouraging Ms Hoctor to consider returning to her teaching job from which is in on leave. My only contribution to her difficulties is that I managed, anti-G8-summit-style, to get her kicked off the dais in Nenagh (which I'm still sore about because Sinn Fein, whom I happened to be standing beside at the time the red mist decended, got all the credit for for the fracas! Lads, if that's all the thanks I get, I'm standing with the Legion of Mary at the next big demo.)  

By the by, has anyone been noticing how much trouble the world's major newspapers have been getting into lately? The Boston Globe was teetering on the brink last week and within the past year the precarious business models of Le Monde, the New York Times and the LA Times have been exposed. In the case of the New York Times, its well known their monopoly on revenue for classified advertising has been shattered with the arrival of giant internet sites like Craigslist. And the quality of punditry on the big commentary sites - both left and right - is so much better that what you'll find on the news stands. So what's going to happen in Ireland, I wonder. Already, the Sunday Tribune and Sunday Business Post are delaying the publication of their on line editions, presumably to encourage folks to go out and buy their papers. And already the quality of commentary you'll find on some news sites is better than that available in the print media. Interesting.

8 May 2009

Thanks to Richard and everyone else for their info/photos of unfinished housing schemes, abandoned by bankrupt developers after half the houses have been bought by (typically) middle income young couples trying to raise families.

Has anyone any idea how to tackle the problem? Feel free to comment. Maybe we should think about meeting.

27 Apr 2009
The post from a couple of weeks back about the unfinished housing estate in the midlands provoked an unusually large response. My attention was brought to this press release from Richard Young, who’s an SF candidate in Limerick in the upcoming locals. I’ve asked him for some further information and I’ll post it when it arrives.
21 Apr 2009
I’ve written quite a bit in the past about the Ballymun Regeneration Project which, when the Public Accounts Committee held hearings two years ago into the ball of chaos it had become, was running a HALF BILLION EUROS over budget and six years behind schedule (god knows what the situation is now). What happened at the hearings was that FF’s John Curran got proceedings under way by asking The Tough Questions (‘What the hell happened to the half bill?), but his colleagues on the committee (mysteriously) diffused any heat he’d managed to generate by subsequently tossing softballs across the room to relieved senior civil servants and assorted chairs of assorted committees. The hearing fizzled out in that way that only senior bureaucrats can make things fizzle out. And the media had nothing to say about it.