Land Speculation – putting profit before people

Kevin Brannigan

“This persistent foot-dragging has denied people access to homes; it has cost homeowners hundreds of millions of euro; and it has allowed speculators to profit at the expense of house-buyers and communities for decades, ” Trevor Sargent, former Green Party leader, February 2007.

A recent edition of RTE’s Frontline saw Pat Kenny tackle the problem of ‘ghost towns’. Railing against developers who, backed by local councils, have been leaving half-built housing estates scattered the length and breadth of the country, Kenny highlighted how these estates lack essential facilities, occupied by a handful of residents living in a location looking a lot different to the artist’s impression which had enticed them to buy in the first place, due to their builders having failed to make enough money in phase one to complete the remaining phases.

Unfortunately for the Irish public, this wasn’t breaking news – rather a continuation of a story that is now decades old.

As far back as July 1969, left wing monthly the United Irishman had been raising the issue of corrupt property dealings involving then Fianna Fáil Minister Charlie Haughey and unscrupulous developers. The paper stated that ‘The foundations of Irish society, the 1916 Proclamation and the First Dáil Programme are sound. The Fianna Fáil top-storeys are crumbling, the woodworm of graft and the termites of speculation have eaten into their fabric’.

The late 1960s saw the beginning of events that would eventually culminate in the marathon tribunals we have now become accustomed to.

On Dublin’s fringes, once rural villages such as Lucan, Clondalkin, Tallaght and Blanchardstown were beginning their transformation into the mega centres of suburbia they are today as long-suffering inner-city communities were broken up and sent west.

While the town planning for Tallaght and Blanchardstown was adhered to, Lucan, the stomping ground of corrupt Fianna Fáil politician Liam Lawlor, became the centre of dodgy dealings as landowners raced to have their land zoned for development.

Present day Workers’ Party President Michael Finnegan remembers the early days of organisation and agitation against the failure of developers to stick to the Lucan town plan. Recalling how meetings for groups such as ‘Esker residents Against Rezoning Madness’ would regularly attract crowds of hundreds.

But the combined power of developers, banks and on the take politicians overcame people power. Finnegan recalls how developers would get people on side in their bid to have the present day Liffey Valley centre zoned as a town centre, despite it being only easily accessible by car, by sponsoring local football teams or community projects – a tactic employed by Shell years later in Rossport.

In the late 1970s, Dublin West was awash with deals between developers and politicians that would make The Simpsons’ corrupt Mayor Quimby blush,  but the Workers’ Party’s newspaper the Irish People was the only media outlet to repeatedly focus on the corruption – naming the crimes and the criminals – among them Lawlor, businessman Patrick Gallagher and Fianna Fáil bagman Gerry Jones. Despite these revelations, there was no effective Garda action.

All this time a report which would have ended the speculation sat gathering dust. In 1973, Mr Justice J Kenny had drawn up a report with a view to ending rampant land speculation.

The report was entitled ‘The Committee on the price of building land’ and became commonly known as ‘The Kenny Report’.

It “advocated that just slightly more than the agricultural value of land would be awarded in compensation to landholders whose land was deemed appropriate for the building of houses”. It was submitted to government but was never acted upon.

Its proposals, if implemented, would have ensured proper planning gave people schools, shops and other services were they were needed. Of course this would have left Haughey, other corrupt politicians and their developer buddies out of pocket, so it is little wonder that 36 years later, we are still waiting for the report to be made law.

While both Labour and the Green Party have spent years shouting from the opposition benches for the report to be implemented, when in power, both have fell silent. Even though the Kenny Report was part of the Green Party’s 2006 election manifesto, in government they have failed to push for its implementation.

Having spent over 40 years fighting for proper regulation of land rezoning, Mick Finnegan believes the only solution remains the implementation of the ‘Kenny Report’. He said: “If the Kenny Report had been implemented when it was first published the social disaster caused by the building of housing estates bereft of any facilities would have been avoided.”

A copy of the Kenny Report is available for download from the Irish Left Review site.

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