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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mahon points up the past lines in the sand

A long time ago I canvassed for Bernie Malone in a general
election. It was a bleak autumn day when we were packed into cars and made our way to Dublin County Council in the heart of Dublin just up from the Carlton. Bernie was whip at the time on Dublin County Council and had to be there to vote on a rezoning motion.

The old council chamber had 78 members and a small public area which was roped off where councillors sat. We took our place along side the gentlemen in suits who leaned forward to consult with the lobby fodder who were doing their bidding. Just 3 parties were represented on the council at the time, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail and there were a handful of Independents. Labour was at the time at the receiving end of stick due to its part in the Fitzgerald government which was struggling to deal with the economic meltdown Fianna Fail had visited on the country.

Despite this in 1985 Labour was successful in north Dublin in the local elections while in the city it was reduced to 2 seats out of 52. I’ve understood why for a long time, last week the rest of the country caught up with what was common knowledge in County Dublin for a long time. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael had effectively handed the development of the county over to vested interest for the price of meals in posh restaurants, election expenses and pints in Conway’s bar around the corner. Let’s leave Bertie Ahern and his $45,000 war chest in his chest of drawers for a minute. The real damage is that we will pay for this planning shambles long into the future.

Land values climbed against a backdrop of rocketing house prices as land was drip fed onto the market in areas where maximum return would be made for private developers. At the same
time many in inner city Dublin relied on the Gregory deal to secure decent accommodation
as they were priced out of the private market even in 1982 prices.

For those who could get into the market, the community facilities, the transport infrastructure was a figment of the developer’s imagination. Everything was about maximising profit and return. The stereotypical builder was a self made country man in his mid 40’s who didn’t have an arse in his trousers the day he arrived in big smoke and how through good connections wasn’t afraid of work and had done well for himself as the saying was at the time.

The stereotypical house buyer had a spouse, 3 or more children, one family income and a 20 year mortgage at a high interest rate that reduced disposable incomes. You were always told that you can’t lose in bricks and mortar. Well now we know that you can lose on anything.

To Labours credit the only councillor who supported Dunlop’s orchestrated corruption was sent packing 19 years ago after just 2 years on the county council. The mess has yet to be cleaned up and the real price is to be paid by communities where the car is now king and retailing has moved from the city centre to the shopping malls that surround the outskirts. Sure the malls have created jobs but what a shop worker’s salary can now buy when compared to 30 years ago are not comparable.
Few could realistically expect to cover a mortgage. That’s where the 100% mortgages came in with the holiday, car and spending money for the decking was all rolled into one. That’s where the guys in the bank with their bonus based on the size of the loan they advanced and the letters through the box offering cash in your account by 5 pm came in too.

Any punishment that CAB or the courts can dish out will be a mere drop in the ocean to what the real cost will be into the future. Whatever damage Bertie Ahern has done to his credibility it pales into insignificance with that done by the Fine Gael & Fianna Fail councillors in Dublin.

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