Property and politics - This report challenges us all to act

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen has been critical of the “pervasive negativity” that has come to shape public discourse. This “pervasive negativity” is, regrettably, as unavoidable as it is unhealthy.

He has suggested that it has contrived to undermine him and his government so we should all look forward to his response to yesterday’s damming report from the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis.

Nirsa, a state-funded academic institution, in what may be one of the most scathing and unambiguous attacks on the role of politicians in the destruction of our economy and so much personal wealth, has called for an independent inquiry into the Government’s failure to control the property bubble. Nirsa has also demanded a full investigation into charges of cronyism in the planning process. Though one of those inquiries has tragically dragged on for 13 years, recent history suggests that there is need for another.

All of the Nirsa findings relate directly to when Mr Cowen was finance minister or Taoiseach so it is unimaginable that he can respond with his usual dismissive shrug though, as the Dáil is in recess, he will not be grilled as he might be on the findings.

This raises the question as to why this kind of report is published while the Oireachtas is not in session. Or, more to the point, why the Dáil is not is session for much longer than it is, allowing it to deal with this kind of important public document. How convenient it is that the Government can avoid these questions.

In its 66-page report Nirsa lays blame for the spectacular property boom and bust squarely on the Government and local councils. Light-touch regulation and tax incentive schemes administered by a political system infected by those in power favouring friends were the chief culprits, it suggests. None of these charges are especially new but the silence and denial of those responsible is a stunning threat to the legitimacy of our political process, our parliament and democracy. It is hard to understand how those so closely linked with the behaviour indicted by yesterday’s report, and many others before it, are still the most powerful public figures in this country. It is not that they have refuted the charges, it is that they have just ignored them as if they were an irrelevant inconvenience in their relationship with power and their determination, at all costs, to hold on to it.

Planning guidelines, regional and national objectives as well as proper assessment of demand for housing were thrown out the window in the gold rush, Nirsa remind us. And yet those who did all of those things and contributed so spectacularly to our economic collapse and unemployment crisis expect to be respected, tolerated and even deferred to?

A second report was issued yesterday. The Central Statistics Office published crime figures yet there was not one reference to planning decisions, rezoning, political corruption or reckless bankers.

As long as we accept this as our reality we will be treated as we are and expected to fund multi-billion euro rescue packages for those whose greed knew no bounds. Mr Cowen should thank his lucky stars that he has nothing more assertive than “pervasive negativity” to deal with. The rest of us need to wake up.


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