Apple’s decision to establish a data centre is an undoubted boon for Athenry, a small town that, like so many other small towns and rural areas, has seen little substantial investment in recent years. Data centres employ small numbers but 100 permanent jobs will make a significant impact in a town that in 2011 had 4,000 inhabitants, 1,265 jobs and an unemployment rate of 18 per cent. The development was celebrated by An Taoiseach, who sees it as another step in the right direction “… as the Government works to secure recovery and see it spread to every part of the country”. This comment should be understood in the context of the recently launched framework for the development of regional enterprise strategies and the IDA’s stated aim of achieving a better distribution of investment across Irish regions. But what does Apple’s investment in Athenry really mean for the future of small towns and rural areas? Should it be regarded as a potential path to future economic growth for small towns and rural communities or should it instead be seen as a one-off event?

The answer is, neither. Nationally, (and globally) we are witnessing a concentration of employment in urban centres, notably the largest metropolitan centres. Edgar Morgenroth at the ESRI has calculated that in 2011 overall jobs were 11 per cent more spatially concentrated compared to 2006. My own research has shown that in 2012, County Dublin accounted for 71% of all employment in new foreign operations in Ireland (the situation has improved somewhat since).

This preference for larger urban centres has proven to be most evident amongst those knowledge economy companies that the IDA has been so successful in attracting: the born-on-the-Internet companies, digital content developers, financial services, business services, and so forth. These companies require connectivity, both in terms of international airports and Internet-ports. They look for large pools of educated labour and, therefore, like to be located near universities. Educated workers also tend to prefer to live in vibrant cities that possess a high degree of connectivity.

Apple’s decision to locate in Derrydonnell near Athenry should be seen as a special case (though not a one-off event). The main attractions of Ireland for data centre investment include favourable corporation tax, connectivity to the transatlantic Internet backbone and, last but not least, its climate. Cooling is a major cost factor for data centres and companies can achieve significant cost savings by making best use of Ireland’s low-temperature ambient air. Until recently, data centre activity in Ireland was heavily concentrated in the periphery of Dublin, close to the Internet backbone that connects the business parks along the M50. But, after Rackfloor’s decision to locate in Limerick, Apple in Athenry is evidence of an incipient dispersion process that can also be observed abroad. For example, Google is constructing a mega data centre in Eemshaven, arguably the most peripheral spot in the Netherlands. The reason is that high bandwidth connectivity is becoming available in more locations and companies like Apple are establishing their own content networks, allowing for rural locations – where property prices are relatively low – to now become attractive sites. Data centres are able to operate in small towns because they require a relatively small number of IT service workers – I estimate 50 IT service workers of the 100 permanent jobs, with the remainder occupied with support functions and security.

There will be other date centers and other informational economy projects locating in small, or even smaller, urban centres. But there are about 100 urban centres in Ireland that are larger than Athenry, the vast majority of which did not receive any foreign investment in the last decade. And there are another 100 towns and urban settlements that are smaller than Athenry. The point is that small urban centres in Ireland should not focus on foreign investment. Neither should IDA Ireland be asked to promote foreign investments in every town in Ireland. Clearly, the current trend in concentration of foreign investment is too strong and, as stated in its new five-year plan, the IDA is correctly, and energetically, adopting a strategy supporting greater dispersion to the regions. But this cannot, and should not, take the form of investment in every regional town. We must face up to the fact that the character of inward investment has changed and that the time when the IDA could parachute a low value-added assembly plant in every small town in Ireland has gone.

We need to reconsider the space-economy of Ireland, and the roles of urban centres of different size, in the context of the new environment. Concentration of foreign investment in a select number of sizeable regional urban centres, and in Dublin, should be encouraged. If we concentrate social and economic infrastructure we can make these centres attractive for foreign investment. These centres will enjoy cumulative processes and their growth will benefit the wider region.

The centres will function as major regional employment centres for their hinterland. That will involve commuting for some. Currently 38% of the population of Athenry are already commuting into Galway. Provided that we invest in high quality public transport and infrastructure, there is nothing wrong with this.

Clearly, some areas will be outside the commuting range of the large centres. But all urban centres will potentially have an important economic and employment role. Foreign companies account for only 9% of employment in Ireland. Smaller regional centres should focus on indigenous opportunities such as indigenous private enterprise, public sector jobs, farming, off-farm employment, and tourism. Indeed, the indigenous sector beyond Dublin is performing very well, with 70% of net job gains of Enterprise Ireland clients over the past year occurring outside Dublin.

Chris.vanegeraat@nuim.ie

Today the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (DJEI) launched its Framework for the Development of Regional Enterprise Strategies. It includes many sensible ingredients. The Regional Enterprise Strategies are to be developed ‘bottom-up’, with the key regional stakeholders, such as local authorities, regional bodies, higher education institutions, other public bodies, the private sector and communities, working collaboratively across the region. In addition, it is recognised that economic activity is not confined to administrative boundaries, and that it is important that the Regional Enterprise Strategies address synergies for collaboration between the regions. That is, the Regional Enterprise Strategies should fit into cross-regional frameworks. The Framework will be applied to regions designated at NUTS III level (the former eight administrative regions of Ireland). The DJEI recognises the need to examine alignment of the current regional structures of Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Universities and Institutes of Technology, and the regional operations of the Department of Social Protection, SOLAS and the Training Boards, with these NUTS III regions.

With this document, DJEI takes a proactive approach in the development of regional development policy and related governance structures. Unfortunately the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) acts less fast and the actions of DJEI happen in the absence of an overall regional and national spatial planning strategy and regional tier of governance. The role of the 2002 National Spatial Strategy (NSS) was seriously undermined by Phil Hogan who stated, in February 2013, that the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) was to be scrapped and replaced by a new policy in about a year’s time (see here). Proposals would be brought to Government later that year for a roadmap to develop a successor strategy but we are still waiting. The Regional Authorities and Regional Assemblies were abolished in 2012 as part of the Action Programme for Effective Local Government. These were to be replaced by three Regional Assemblies (see here). Two-and-a-half years later we are still waiting.

The idea is to have a successor National Spatial Strategy. This will provide a framework for the development of Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, under guidance of the new Regional Assemblies.  This should guide regional strategies and frameworks of other departments, including those of the DJEI and its agencies. The Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies should, in turn, act as the framework for the development of Local Economic and Community Plans by the Local Authorities. But the actual situation is rather different. Some local authorities proactively started developing Local Economic and Community Plans (and bottom-up governance structures), in the absence of any guidelines or regional framework. The guidelines were developed kind of retrospectively, incorporating what was happening on the ground in various local authorities. The Regional Framework and the Spatial and Economic Strategies will follow later, hopefully in 2015. And successor National Spatial Strategy, the overall framework, will follow after that. We are backward engineering our regional and national frameworks. There is a difference between ‘bottom-up’ and ‘in-reverse-order’.

Chris.vanegeraat@nuim.ie Chairman Regional Studies Association – Irish Branch

The recent closure of the Smithwick’s Brewery in Kilkenny City has end over three centuries of brewing tradition on the sixteen acre site. Its purchase by the local authority presents a once in a century chance to enhance the economy of the region and the liveability of the city. The Council are to be commended for purchasing the land at such a low cost. However, that was the easy part. Now begins the real work.

The whole place is dripping with heritage. However, heritage on a construction site is usually the last thing any developer wants to see. Clean, green, locations have few surprises and require less brain power to develop. Such sites provide the best opportunities to design easily, get planning, construct, and make a profit in as short a timeline as possible. This approach is certainly understandable, especially if you are the one paying. Heritage can add value but usually it is perceived to be not worth the trouble beyond a marketing driven sop. Typically, it is only in the highly developed marketplaces of major cities that heritage attributes are fundamentally incorporated into the design of a development. In these markets, heritage can be a key distinguishing factor that adds exclusivity and helps create a memorable experience. It is these latter developments that add positively to a city over a long period.

Kilkenny is a relatively small place. However, it is a small place that can think big. The Council obtained the Brewery Site at a bargain price. This allows the pressure for quick returns comprising crass buildings to be somewhat relieved. There is time to reflect. It is interesting to note that the city’s best spaces and buildings are almost all hundreds of years old. That is the timeline that should be thought about when planning the future of the site. These are also the places that have led to Kilkenny being such a great place in which to live, work, and visit.

Plainly, the heritage of the Brewery site will be central to the long term success of any development. Unfortunately, despite having some interesting ideas about the reinstatement of medieval burgage plots, the current masterplan lacks creativity when addressing the past. This is not surprising given that there was no obvious heritage professional on the project team. Thankfully though, there is time to amend the document.

In the current plan, archaeological finds are listed as an opportunity. Despite this, during a recent public consultation meeting I got the feeling that some senior Council staff saw archaeology as a threat. According to this perspective, archaeology is best avoided, not so as to conserve it, but because it costs money to remove and does not add value. Nowhere in the masterplan has the possibility of having an exciting urban excavation open to the public been entertained. In York, thousands visited the Viking dig. Elsewhere in the UK, at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, 100,000 tourists pay each year to witness archaeologists peel back the soil. Hundreds more pay to dig.

Currently, very little is known about the nature of the Brewery Quarter’s archaeology. Despite some previous disturbance, it is likely that the archaeological deposits are extensive, dense, and deep. Clearly, more information is needed to enable a well thought out redevelopment. If this has to be conducted, is it not better that archaeological investigation is embraced and used as an opportunity to increase both the number of visitors to Kilkenny and their length of stay? Nowhere else in Ireland would there be an urban excavation open to the public. It would also bring added authenticity to the Medieval Mile marketing initiative.

The Council themselves admit that the site will take years to fully develop. All this offers the possibility for a large scale excavation to occur over two or three extended summers. Such a dig would attract tens of thousands of tourists to the northern end of the city. Finds could be stored and displayed securely in the Brew House. A pop-up museum such as the one on the Parade last August has shown the public’s thirst for archaeological knowledge. In just four days 3,200 people visited.

Learning about a place and avoiding archaeology for construction is one thing but how about using the information? In the Rocks district of Sydney there is a four storey 106 room youth hostel built over one of the most important archaeological sites in Australia. Constructed on steel columns, the hostel hovers over the archaeological deposits. Like in Kilkenny, the landowner was the local authority. For many years they had identified the then derelict site as a place of high development potential. It was also place that if its potential was realised would rejuvenate an area which was underperforming. In 2006 they put out a call for suitable proposals on how to develop this archaeologically sensitive place. The judging panel – which was dominated by heritage professionals – chose the youth hostel (YHA) project.

A 99 year lease was then granted. An excavation that had been partially undertaken in 1994 was restarted. The dig was halted when the archaeological research questions were answered. Throughout the whole project heritage professionals were at the heart of the design process. The excavation informed every aspect of the build. On several occasions steel columns were moved to avoid newly discovered archaeological deposits. Ultimately, only 10% or so of the remaining archaeology was removed to make way for the 4,700msq development.

Today, the whole building permeates with its past. The central atriums of both blocks look down on to archaeological remains, tourists walk along reopened historic laneways, and tens of thousands of students go to the education centre to learn about early Sydney. Overall, the Rocks YHA is a massive success, not in spite of its heritage but because of it. Imagine a similar approach taken to the abbey of St. Francis and its extensive medieval wall foundations that lie under the concrete slab.

During a recent public consultation meeting there was much made of the removal and retention of existing buildings. It was disclosed that the Brew House and the former Mayfair Ballroom were to be kept while all other unprotected buildings would be removed. In order to aid transparency the report upon which these decisions were made was released. Unfortunately though, instead of clarifying issues, the report has perhaps muddied them. How, for instance, is a 20th century former ballroom worthy of keeping while a 19th century oratory listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage is not? Similarly, the brewing equipment in the Brew House is marked for full removal even though it is this same equipment that the building was constructed to house. Surely, this wholesale removal radically reduces the importance of the building? Overall, there may be very good reasons for the recommendations of the report. However, these are not obvious when reading the document.

Certainly, many of the tanks and piping in the Brew House will have to be moved for the building to be made useable. However, by taking out everything, the chance to create interesting and special internal spaces is massively reduced. More imagination is needed. Items that are deemed not suitable for retention in the building should be considered for use elsewhere on site. During the redevelopment of the Carlton and United Brewery in Sydney, a survey was undertaken by heritage consultants and an artist to assess the possible use of industrial heritage components for art pieces in the new residential and commercial blocks that were on the way. Closer to home, Lough Boora, Co. Offaly, has shown how the reuse of seemingly useless industrial artefacts can add significantly add to the distinctiveness of a place and its ability to act as a tourist attraction. Similar actions could take place here.

The possibilities presented by the Brewery site are almost overwhelming. However, no matter what the area is used for, the true incorporation of the site’s heritage into its redevelopment must be done. To do otherwise would undermine the uniqueness of the site, and its ability to significantly improve the economy and liveability of the city. Bad places are cheap. Good places that provide a sustained long term benefit are not. That is the choice Kilkenny – the Medieval Capital of Ireland – has to make.

 

This article appears in an edited form in the current edition of the Kilkenny People.

Liam Mannix, Heritage Consultant

Liam is a heritage consultant with experience of working across the private and public sectors in Ireland, Australia and Papua New Guinea. He project managed the educational programme of the Irish Walled Towns Network which won the EU prize for cultural heritage / Europa Nostra Award in 2013. @maxmannix

In late January, the Irish Times reported that the Fine Gael Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe was pressing ahead with the privatisation of a number of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann routes. This is a proposal that has been doing the rounds for years. It has been part of at least three government programmes since 2007. Having failed to convince the drivers’ unions of his plan, Donohoe is now putting 23 Dublin Bus routes and 5 Bus Éireann routes out to private tender. From a geographic perspective, this plan is of interest because part of the proposal is that no privatised route will “terminate in the city centre and are primarily orbital routes, or services carrying commuters from rail stations or large shopping centres to suburbs”. Why is this? What is the rationale for doing it this way? It will not take long but this is part of a plan for wholesale privatisation, working inwards from the city’s periphery to the centre.

In this post, we want to briefly examine the geography of the Dublin Bus routes considered for privatisation. We examine the demographics of these ‘orbital’ areas. It is an attempt to understand the politics of this transport policy and to see if there is a relationship between these routes and specific socio-demographic indictors. We use CSO/AIRO maps at small area and electoral division levels to examine what public is served by public transport. These districts are generalised census units which aggregate a large amount of information in a single measure. All of the routes proposed for private tender serve suburban locations, albeit very densely populated ones. In the absence of route-specific passenger load data (a vital part of commoditisation), it can be argued that some of the routes proposed for privatisation have been in decline since the early part of this decade. For example, routes 63 and 75 serve many of south Dublin’s affluent areas where travel by private car is more usual. The map below shows a part of Dublin’s suburbs alongside the percentages of Professional Workers in each area.

map 1The map shows how the routes proposed for private tender travel through areas of relative affluence in terms of social class. A map for private car ownership (a basic proxy for affluence) yields broadly similar results. Routes 63 and 75 travel through this affluent and car dependent part of south Dublin.

Map 2How will private tenders operate in areas of higher car dependency and among those in higher social class groups? If the imperative is to profit and not service, what attracts a private operator to these routes? Looking at Blanchardstown, a western suburb, a number of routes are proposed for privatisation. The map below shows the percentage of an area’s population in the skilled manual social class. Areas that are soon to have privatised bus services have up to 20% of their population in this class, arguably those most in need of mass transport.

Map 3Finally, and in the same area, the areas with many households with access to two cars is relatively higher in the south when compared to the area north of the main road (indicated by routes of the 270 and 17A). Using the All Island Deprivation Index data for the north city area, we can see that the 17A and 220 routes serve areas of high disadvantage but that these are served by other bus routes. In Blanchardstown, the 236 and 200 routes proposed for privatisation serve areas of relatively high disadvantage.

Map 4While the routes proposed are said to be ‘orbital’ they serve tens of thousands of people travelling to and from work, retail and education every day. To whom they are orbital is only a consideration to a network and its planners that makes the city centre the terminus for most routes.

What is being achieved by the proposal of these routes to be sent for private tender? At an initial glance, it seems that there will be differential effects across the city. In the southern suburbs, where two car ownership is higher than other parts of the city, a less frequent privatised bus service will matter relatively little. In areas where the bus is the only form of frequent transport, operating routes on the basis of something other than profit is a social good. It forms part of a social wage. Along with the recent contraction of schedules and the number of vehicles, certain areas of Dublin are now more dependent on this service when compared with others.

A privatised route will have to generate income and to do so can only increase fares and / or lower wages. We have seen this for refuse collection since 2001. Taking the city as a whole, the private tendering of these ‘orbital’ routes is a testing ground for more extensive privatisation on other, more lucrative, routes in the years to come.  A private operator is not going to want to compete on one route but on many across the entire network. If a route is operated by a profit-driven company, the license to service the route will need to stipulate the regularity of the service. A route that runs at peak times only and does not operate outside of this peak defies categorisation as a social good. Ours fears for privatisation is that there will be a focus on running a bus only on that exact slot in the schedule that will be busy. There is little assessment of the route within the system as a whole. Having operated a route for perhaps two years, private operators will be back at the minister’s office door arguing for access to these more lucrative routes.

Eoin O’Mahony, Assistant Lecturer SPD/DCU & Omar Sarhan, GIS and data enthusiast

After four years of little tangible progress in respect of planning policy agendas, the government recently published a new Planning Policy Statement (PPS) to reaffirm its strong belief in the value of a forward-looking, visionary and dynamic planning process” together with the heads of two new planning bills. The first introduces a new vacant site levy and revised provisions in relation to social and affordable housing. The second presents proposals for the long-awaited planning regulator, following the recommendations of the Mahon Tribunal. It also sets out the legislative context for the successor to the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) – the National Planning Framework (NPF).

Both bills have also not been without their criticisms from, for example, the Irish Planning Institute and An Taisce. The proposed vacant sites levy mechanism appears so cumbersome so as to be unworkable in practice and exposes the strategic error in opting for a property tax over a more progressive Site Value Tax. I have previously blogged on the criticisms surrounding the independence of the planning regulator. Regulating planning is not like regulating the taxi industry. Planning is spatial politics – making choices on the use of land which are irreversible and will have profound intergenerational impacts. While I acknowledge that the track record of most former ministers inspires little confidence, the idea of handing such power over to a technocratic regulator outside of democratic oversight would be fraught with danger. It cannot be simply assumed that the regulator would be a benign or progressive force.

The high-level political commitment in the PPS is, of course, welcome – basic ‘Planning 101’ type stuff. The new mantra for the planning system is to ensure that “the right development takes place in the right locations and at the right time”. However, what is actually happening in the micro-politics of everyday practice, and which will no doubt continue, is more like ‘any development, in any location and at any time’. For example, in the majority of local authorities, ad hoc ‘one-off’ housing currently accounts for well over 70% of all new residential units granted planning permission and in many cases it is over 90% i.e. diametrically contrary to the lofty principles of the PPS.

The broader point here, and relevant to the preparation of the new NPF, is Niklas Luhmann’s famous assertion that planning is possible if people are used to being planned. Irish people clearly are not. The political class is equally apathetic, even ideologically hostile, to long-term policy planning. The reason the NSS failed was due to thousands of individual acts of resistance – death by a thousand cuts – which cumulatively undermined the whole foundations of the strategy. This was aided and abetted by the vague nature of NSS policies and objectives which simultaneously offered something to everyone and nobody at the same time. Text could always be pulled out of the NSS to justify almost any manner of development proposal regardless of location, the upshot being a complete loss of steering capacity.

While there will always be broad acceptance of notional long-term planning strategies and feel-good intentions as advocated by the PPS, short-term considerations will always win out in concrete practice. Such outcomes are often tied to emotional pleadings around children of landowners and the promise of local jobs which are impossible to resist. We are already seeing a return of the ‘development-at-all-costs’ culture which gripped the Celtic Tiger, where those questioning development proposals on the grounds of national policy are being pilloried by national and local politicians. Surely, it must be a concern that in almost 50% of planning cases where a decision of a planning authority is sent for an independent review to An Bord Pleanála, that decision is reversed?

In short, we must be realistic about the prospects for the NPF. There is growing academic evidence of the widening gap between the theory and practice of spatial planning, and Ireland is obviously a clear case in point. In fact, it is difficult to point to any instances where national spatial planning has actually worked. Simply, persisting with all of the borrowed buzzwords of the late 1990s (e.g. balanced development, gateways, hubs, networks etc) for continuity’s sake would be foolish in the extreme. So would be to try to ignore the contentious spatial politics at national level by shirking responsibility to the new ‘super regions’.

The fact of the matter is that Ireland is not a blank page onto which we can sketch abstract spatial policies. This has been amplified by the legacy of the Celtic Tiger which has accreted a complex economic, social and political geography which creates manifold path dependencies which cannot now be unpicked. These geographies are adversarial to national planning and present as countervailing headwinds to any strategy aimed at focusing development and infrastructure into a limited number of growth centres. Our widely dispersed settlement patterns make both the politics and technicalities of such explicit choices impossible. In fact, it is hard to conceive of a more unfavourable environment for conducting national spatial planning. Concentrating resources in one location inevitably means withdrawing them from others. Spreading them too thinly automatically undermines a strategy aimed at spatial concentration. The recent HIQA report on the under-performance of regional ambulance services, and the subsequent political outcry, is instructive here.

So in the end the NPF, like its predecessor, will fudge it. Within the fog, all development regardless of location will be justifiable. This depoliticised consensus will of-course suit the wider elite political project of maintaining the primacy of Dublin and Ireland’s competitiveness at the global scale. The NPF and the illusion of balanced development implies a form of spatial Keynesianism whereby resources are redistributed territorially. However, imposing artificial constraints on the growth of Dublin will inevitably be presented as counter-productive. FDI will simply not move to peripheral regions, but overseas. Figures released by the DJEI show that almost half of all FDI jobs created in 2013 were in Dublin with Cork, Galway and Limerick accounting for the majority of the balance. Demographic analysis by the Western Development Commission also shows that population is projected to become more regionally concentrated, particularly in Dublin and the Mid-East regions.

We have previously marshaled great effort and expense to produce a NSS which ultimately proved pointless. Before we embark on another fool’s errand we should first be asking ourselves the simple question – unless we are willing to confront the spatial politics that such a strategy implies, is there any point? Our experience  is clearly that a spatial strategy based on a bland depoliticised consensus is equal to no strategy at all.

Gavin Daly

Previously published in the Irish Examiner

THE Central Bank’s proposed mortgage lending regulations — through the introduction of a 20% deposit requirement for borrowers — have drawn criticism from the Government, property market interests, and the ESRI, for its likelihood to restrict the ability of people to get mortgages to buy housing.

The ESRI state that “Irish house prices still appear to be undervalued” and that “most commentators have identified a lack of housing supply as the main policy concern in the Irish housing market at present”.

Instead, they want to give a different “signal to the market”, ie tell property developers that financial institutions will be allowed give lots of people lots of credit to buy homes, and thus they should start building again.

Prices will stabilise, their theory says, and we will have another generation of happy homeowners living the property dream.
Of course the reality will be developers and sellers pushing up prices in the knowledge that borrowers will be able to get mortgages at multiples of their incomes and deposits.

Doesn’t this seem eerily familiar?

Wasn’t the expansion of unsustainable borrowing for home ownership one of the fundamental causes of the crash?
Have we learned nothing from the fact that 130,000 households are still in mortgage arrears?

If the concern of policymakers and economists is to provide young families and low to middle income earners with high quality, affordable, secure housing in sustainable communities, then clearly this is not the way to do it.

There is a need to explore alternative ways of addressing this need rather than creating another housing bubble and unsustainable levels of indebtedness, poverty, and stress.

One obvious area that offers great potential is the private rented sector.  Many people looking to buy a home are doing so, not because of some insatiable desire to own property, but simply because of the failure of the private rented sector to meet their needs.

The private rented sector now accounts for a fifth of all households.  In urban centres it is even more significant with almost 40% of people renting in Galway, 35% in Dublin, and 29% in Cork.

However, the recent annual report of the national housing charity, Threshold, detailed chronic failings “that need to be addressed before anyone living in a rented dwelling can really consider it their long-term home”.

Threshold has found that “loopholes in the law are enabling landlords to remove tenants from their homes and then re-advertise the same properties at substantially higher rents” and they are “increasingly witnessing such economic evictions, where families are forced to leave their homes because of exorbitant rent hikes”.

In the absence of any regulation, rents have increased dramatically, in some cases up to 40% in the last four years.
The introduction of rent control is imperative to change this and provide a functioning housing system that can meet people’s needs.

The youth campaign We’re Not Leaving recently produced a report that pointed out Germany only allows increases in rents for sitting tenants of up to a maximum of 20% over three years, with some cities permitting no more than 15%.

The Netherlands has rent control between and within tenancies where the initial rent for a unit is regulated and there is a maximum rent for each dwelling based on a points system awarded according to size, quality, area etc.

This shows that the argument that rent control reduces supply is not true. These countries have a much larger provision of rental properties than Ireland.

The issue of supply could also be addressed by the use of the 43,707 vacant properties in Dublin (including 16,321 apartments), 6,168 vacant units in Cork City, and 3,755 in Galway City.

Refurbishing and rebuilding derelict units or converting the thousands of empty retail and office buildings into suitable accommodation could also help supply.

Nama’s €3bn development fund should focus on funding local construction workers to undertake that work and provide low-cost rental accommodation rather than funding the large developers and real-estate investors.

Another issue raised by landlords and property economists is that rent control would contravene their private property rights enshrined in the Constitution. It is true that Article 43.2 protects “the right of private ownership”.

However, Article 43.2.1 states that this right “ought to be regulated by the principles of social justice” and the State may, “delimit by law” these rights for “the common good”.

Essentially, the Constitution protects the right to private property but states that these rights can be superseded by laws and measures (such as rent control) that are in the interests of social justice and the “common good”.

An expert on housing and property law, Padraic Kenna of NUI Galway, has detailed how there is no property rights impediment to rent regulation at an Irish and European level.

He has pointed out that the European Court of Human Rights has established that rent controls are accepted as a means of state control on the use of property in the general interest.

For example, in 2013, the ECHR held in a Dutch case that laws on rent control which imposed caps on rent increases of 2.5%, 1.2%, as well as rent reductions, did not impair landlord’s property rights.

So there is nothing stopping the Government from passing regulation to restrict the rate of rent inflation in any one tax year to, for example, 5%, and then recouping a higher rate of tax on rental incomes where a landlord has breached this cap.
We need a national debate about who really benefits from the current housing and property market based around homeownership, and spiralling house prices and rents.

The big beneficiaries remain the banks, developers, estate agents, solicitors, landlords, and increasingly, international capital and vulture fund investors who are buying up huge swathes of Irish residential property (often from and with Nama).
They all have a vested interest in a rising property market.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that property commentators, who are generally in some way connected with one of the above interests, argue against rent control.

The truth is, rent regulation along with significantly increased security of tenure for tenants, and improved standards, would help to make the private rented sector a realistic long-term housing option.

It would also immediately help address the homelessness crisis.

Rory Hearne

Previously published in the Irish Examiner

AUSTERITY, unemployment, and the recession have affected some groups in our society more than others.

A generation of Irish youth has been, and remains, disproportionally impacted.

Almost 10% of our young people emigrated during the recession. That equates to over 30,000 young people, aged between 15 and 24, leaving each year.

Emigration has steadily worsened the longer the crisis has dragged on. Just under 20,000 Irish emigrated in 2009. This rose to 30,000 in 2010 and then reached over 50,000 in 2013. Some have questioned if this is actually “forced” emigration.

The Higher Education Authority has emphasised that not everybody emigrating is doing so because they have to and, in fact, the increasing employment of graduates overseas shows that the higher education system is producing graduates who are in “high demand” internationally.

Michael Noonan, the finance minister, also captured the views of the so-called insider classes when he glibly remarked that many of those leaving have been doing so as a “lifestyle choice”. This attempted dismissal of “forced” or “economic” emigration downplays the impact of government policies such as austerity and the failure to provide decent employment opportunities here in Ireland.

Last year’s study by the department of geography in University College Cork showed the majority of emigrants were between 20 and 29 and the majority were emigrating in order to find a job. It also found that almost half (47%) were employed full time before leaving, 13% were working part-time, 23% were unemployed and 15% were students.

Almost 70% of emigrants had a third-level qualification such as valuable IT or health professional skills. Young people are, therefore, being forced to emigrate not just because of a lack of jobs in Ireland (the unemployment rate among those 15-24 is 30%) but also because of under-employment — low pay, insecure contracts, and poor career prospects. The public sector reduction in recruitment levels and pay for new entrants has added to the problem. At third level, for example, there is an increasing issue with the use of short-term and non-contract teaching staff.

For those young people who do not want to leave or cannot leave, austerity has hit them hard. The Fianna Fáil-led government in 2009 cut jobseeker’s payments for those aged 22-24 by €44 (to €144) and for those aged 18-21 by €88 (to €100).

The Fine Gael-Labour government reduced it further for 22-24 year olds to €100. Work incentive initiatives such as JobBridge have been criticised for exploiting young people and worsening the inaccurate narrative that youth are lazy and to blame for their own unemployment.

It has resulted in the displacement of employment opportunities. Public and private-sector employers are using the JobBridge and internship schemes to replace what used to be fully paid entry-level positions. Thus the jobs market for young workers increasingly resembles that of the United States, where working for free or for little pay as an intern is becoming an essential part of a modern curriculum vitae.

Furthermore, almost 20% of 15-25 year olds are NEETs (not in education, employment or training). Ireland has the fourth highest NEET population in the EU. Many of the integral supports to such young people have also been radically cut, such as community and youth workers in disadvantaged areas.
Their possibility of attending third level has been further reduced by rising fees and reductions in the availability and amount of the student grant.

All this shows the way in which the insiders in Irish society, ie the “older” generation and existing “order” — those in power, in senior positions in civil service, business, and civil society organisations have protected themselves at the expense of our youth. It is not an exaggeration to say they have imprisoned and sacrificed a generation of young people with the costs of austerity and the banking crisis.

Young people are an easy target They traditionally do not vote. They don’t have a voice in the media. Most commentators are closer to 60 than 20. They have been outsiders in a system that sought to protect its privileges at the expense of those more vulnerable and the young and future generations. They are the victims of an acceptance of emigration as a “natural” phenomenon.

It is sad to see how recent developments are being warped into a celebration of the international ‘competitiveness’ of our graduates. But our education system just turns young people into commodities. They are taught at secondary and third level to study as an individual, in its narrowest sense. To focus on getting the highest mark and making themselves marketable and employable as their primary aim.
They are rarely taught to be critical thinkers, aware of the challenges faced by their surrounding society, nor are they inculcated with a passion or idealism of commitment to better their country. And so they pursue the strategy they are taught. They leave. We export them to a country that wants to purchase their commodified skills.

But they are not products. They are our children, they live in our communities. Their leaving represents our collective destruction as a nation and the slow rotting of our communities. Of course it suits the political system that potential critical and radical youthful voices leave. Throughout Irish history emigration has provided a very useful political safety valve. Figures suggest that without it the unemployment rate would be around 20%. It removes the problem of angry young people who might demand alternatives.

Just look at the streets of Spain and Greece — young people dominate the protests. A new youth campaign, called We’re Not Leaving, has been campaigning against what they have termed the “social catastrophe of forced emigration”. They explain that the crisis has had a detrimental impact on the mental health of our young people.

The cut to guidance counsellors at secondary level hasn’t helped in this regard and neither has the on-going underfunding of mental health services.

The legacy of this crisis in creating a lost generation of youth is already profound and its implications are likely to be devastating for decades to come.

Rory Hearne

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