January 2012

Readers of this blog might be interested in Rory Hearne’s new book, the first published in the new ‘Irish Society’ series of Manchester University Press.

Public private partnerships in Ireland: Failed experiment or the way forward for the state?
Rory Hearne

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) have come to public attention in recent years in Ireland with the impact of toll roads, the collapse of social-housing projects and their use in the provision of schools, water/waste water treatment plants, hospitals, light rail and other public infrastructure and services. This book provides a ground breaking and unique analysis of the development of such PPPs internationally, with a detailed focus on the rationale behind their introduction and outcomes in Ireland. The detailed evidence outlined from the author’s extensive research (including interviews with senior central and government officials, private sector, community and trade union representatives and the Irish Minister for Environment) highlights the important role PPPs are playing in the implementation of privatisation and neoliberalism.

The book also provides considerable practical lessons from individual PPP projects. It is therefore an essential read for students, academics of politics, economics, sociology, geography and policy practitioners in Ireland, and further afield. It is of considerable interest to anyone concerned with the progress of Irish society, its economy and public services and governance internationally.

1. Public Private Partnerships
2. The welfare state, neoliberalism and Public Private Partnerships: the international experience
3. Trends in the historical development of the Irish State, public services & infrastructure
4. Outcomes of the Grouped Schools Pilot PPP Project
5. Spinning the wheel: The regeneration of Dublin’s inner-city estates through Public Private Partnerships
6. PPP outcomes in Ireland
7. The twenty first century Irish State, services and infrastructure


The recent occupation of Stapleton House by the Occupy Movement in Cork points to the relationship of such a movement to a wide-array of overlapping groups, emerging in various locations, who are seeking to transform the everyday use and meanings of the built environment by active and participatory means.  The more politicized of these groups are focused upon activities aimed at subverting the normalized fashion in which the built environment is regulated. Their activities include the unofficial transformation of public and private spaces, as expressed by the recent Unlock NAMA event in Dublin. Others are perhaps more playful in their approach, such as is emphasised by activities discussed on the Urban Garden Dublin blog. The more officially sanctioned examples include ‘pop-up’ shops, space for arts, and the establishment of temporary parks within undeveloped parcels of land, which, as municipalities seek stop-gap measures in the face of the unknown, have now become common aspects of current ‘fast policy’. Given the broad-range of activities, to refer to such groups collectively as a ‘movement’ would be misleading. However, whether they be official or unofficial, such endeavours represent a common desire to seek out new ways of relating to our built environment. A recent exhibition at the NAIM-Europa in Maastricht, entitled ‘Common Ground’ (Gedeelde Grond), served to highlight a sample of such initiatives. The exhibition drew on examples from Detroit, to London and Maastricht itself. The broader context was illustrated through an animated version of David Harvey’s commentary on the crises of capitalism, while greater detail was given through the presentation a number of urban farming initiatives and projects focused upon creating temporary public spaces. One of the local examples of the latter was the ReSphinxed  project, which aimed at transforming part of the  land at the former Sphinx ceramics factory (as part of the currently delayed Belvedere regeneration project) in Maastricht into a temporary park in November 2011.

Former Sphinx factory in Maastricht which was used as temporary park in November 2011.

As I have alluded to before with relation to the example of the half-built Anglo Headquarters, the bringing together of different projects also served to highlight some important questions about the long-term impacts of such endeavours, and particularly those that are now more embedded within mainstream planning practice. Terms such as ‘meanwhile’,  ‘in between’, ‘slack spaces’ and ‘pop-up’ are all now firmly embedded within the lexicon. Given the commitment shown to various projects, there is no doubting the motives of those involved. However, it still seems important to question whether such activities will have a long-term impact on our relationship to the built environment or not. It would seem like a lost opportunity if such initiatives discussed above were to wane at the first sign of an upward swing in the property market.

Some pointers towards the long-term potential of such initiatives are given in the documentary Grown in Detroit, which was featured within the NAIM exhibition. Linking the educational welfare of teenage mothers – living in the archetypal post-industrial city, Detroit – with the emergence of the urban farming movement within disused suburban lots, the documentary evokes the potential for a new urban future. It is one that in re-adapting vacant land seeks not for temporary solutions but re-embracing the land as a resource for this generation and perhaps the generations afterwards. Grown in Detroit gives an insight into the means by which the connections can be made between education, productivity and land-use in ways that remind us of what creative processes can initiate when viewed outside what Martha Rosler recently referred to as Richard Florida’s ‘gospel of creativity’, which has so dominated urban policy agendas of recent years.

Philip Lawton

The Brookings Institute has released its Global MetroMonitor 2011 that tracks the economic performance of 200 cities across the globe.  Dublin is the only Irish city to feature in the study.  It is presently ranked 198th globally in terms of its key economic trends.  Between 1993-2007 it was ranked 12th in the world.  It is the city that has dropped off the edge of an economic cliff by Brookings measure (which uses a mix of GDP, GVA, employment, income and population to assess economic performance with respect to two key indicators: annualized growth rate of real income (GDP per capita); and annualized growth rate of employment). These two indicators, Brookings argue, ‘reflect the importance that people and policymakers attach to achieving rising incomes and standards of living, and generating widespread labor market opportunity (employment)’.  Interestingly, Dublin still scores highly on income (ranked 14th), but it is shrinkage in income and rising unemployment that pushes it down the rankings, with it ‘greatly underperforming on its long term trend’ being in ‘full-recession’, though this is partially explained by Dublin being characterised as a ‘bubble region’ in the period 1993-2007.

Brookings provide an interesting interactive map – click on below image to link to it.

A more detailed profile of Dublin can be found here that outlines the principle changes in with a summary chart below.

Rob Kitchin


Wicklow artist Frank Buckley has constructed a house made from shredded banknotes originally worth €1.4 billion.  Each two inch by six inch brick contains around €50,000.


Given that a very large chunk of the banks over-lending went to developers to build property, it seems only fitting that someone has literally constructed a house out of defunct money.  Though the next logic step seems to be to set fire to it and hope that the troika will dose it with water then lend us some replacement bricks.  Or perhaps we can persuade Mr Buckley to donate it to the nation so that we can pay back the Anglo bondholders?  Most art sells for way more than the worth of the original materials used to create it, so by that logic the Anglo bondholders would be getting much more returned to them than their original €1.4 billion investment.  And they get a house  into the bargain.  Sounds like a viable plan to me.

Rob Kitchin

Ireland is bankrupt and the IMF team headed by Ajai Chopra has flown to the country to negotiate the terms of the bailout. Amongst their number is an Irish-American who is a more than a little bemused by his ancestors approach to finance and public service. He is given the task of shadowing the head of the Department of Finance, Dermot Mulhearn, during the negotiations and is then left in place to monitor progress when the rest of the IMF team leave town. Mulhearn’s priority seems to be to maintain a certain kind of lifestyle for the civil service and to protect his various perks and assets such as investments in apartments, hotels and a room full of voting machines, rather than to broker the best deal he can for the country. The politicians on the other hand seem totally clueless, dancing the last waltz as the walls come crumbling down around them. Instead it is left to the Eighty Five Billion Euro Man from the IMF to go through the books and to try and get civil servants and politicians used to the high life to change their ways. Mulhearn and his cronies however have a touch of the Sir Humphries about them and they’re not about to simply lie down and roll over.

Based on the @IMFDublinDiary Twitter feed and stories in The Mire, The Eighty Five Billion Euro Man is a satire/farce, starting with the IMF’s first visit to Dublin and ending just a few weeks after Enda Kenny took office as Taoiseach. It covers a whole range of different events and parodies both the civil service and leading politicians. The story is told mainly through dialogue heavy scenes that work well to capture some of the absurdities, ironies and tragedies of the bailout and subsequent political shenanigans. There is a lot to like about the novel. Some of the scenes are very amusing and the caricatures of some politicians are particularly well done, for example, Brian Cowen, Mary Coughlan, Brian Lenihan, Michael Noonan and Joan Burton. However, the plot is a little uneven, with the tail end of the book, in the lead up to the election and afterwards, notably weaker (partially because it starts to stray too far from the situation it seeks to satirise – especially Mulhearn running for election). The level of satire also varies a little and whilst it is very amusing at times it’s never quite as biting or cutting as it could be, and it doesn’t have the sophisticated wit and cleverness of a political satire like Yes, Minister. Given the in-jokes, I’m also not sure how easy it would be for someone unfamiliar with Ireland to follow some of the scenes. That all said, The Eighty Five Billion Euro Man is a recommended read for anyone who is interested in the crash in Ireland and the government response. It’s an amusing read and provides a counterpoint to the dry journalistic accounts that have dominated the shelves to date.

Rob Kitchin

Finfacts have a short article up today discussing the Demographica International Housing Affordability Survey for 2011.  The survey compares 325 urban housing markets in eight countries.  The five locations reported in Ireland are Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Cork and Waterford.  The survey uses a median multiple to determine housing affordability, basically dividing median house price with median gross (before tax) household income.   A median multiplier score less than 3 is considered affordable; between 3.1-4 is moderately unaffordable 4.1-5.0 is seriously unaffordable; 5.1 and over is severely unaffordable.  The report concludes that Ireland’s housing market is either affordable (Galway and Waterford) or moderately unaffordable (Dublin, Cork and Limerick) and that house prices have almost fallen to normal affordability nationwide (see table below).  On their data and this measure as Finfacts note: ‘For the first time, Ireland has no seriously unaffordable and no severely unaffordable markets.’

Ireland housing affordability

It is clear that Irish house prices have fallen dramatically over the past four years, decreasing by 46% nationally and 54% in Dublin according to the CSO.  There is no doubt then that houses are becoming more affordable in comparison to median household income (which has not fallen to the same degree).  Nevertheless in the case of Irish data, it would be really useful to be able to see the exact source of the median house price data used given the absence of detailed property price register and various estimates of present house prices (DECLG, CSO and Daft.ie are listed at the end of the report).  DECLG reports that average new houses for Q4 2010 (the last reported data) as €238,551 and for secondhand houses as €349,393; for Q4 2011 Daft.ie has average asking prices as 159K for the inner city, 211K for north city, 217K for south city; €215K for north Dublin county; €177K for west Dublin county; and €322K for south Dublin county – all but two areas are above the median Demographica house price of €178,000 for Dublin as a whole.  These sources though seem to be using averages rather than medians.  The household income seems to tally with SILC data for 2010, though that provides a national snapshot and is not disaggregated to cities.

The extent to which Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford are now considered affordable, or indeed some of the most affordable cities outside of the US in the 8 countries surveyed, might seem fanciful to many.  There’s no doubt that housing has, however, become a lot more affordable in recent years given the extensive drop in prices, and Demographica’s data reflects this.  The data suggest though that there is still a little way for prices to fall before all areas become classed as ‘affordable’, but that an idealised bottom may not be too far off (assuming median incomes hold up and that Demographica’s data is a true reflection of median house prices).  The extent to which the wider public agrees with such sentiment and how access to credit, weak demand and oversupply plays out will probably determine where prices level off.

Rob Kitchin

As part of its fortieth anniversary celebrations, the Department of Geography at NUI Maynooth is organising a one-day economic geography conference on Networks and Flows in Economic Space. National and international academics will present papers on export flows, spin-off networks, innovation networks, finance networks, multinational global production networks and regional development. The keynote speaker is Henry Wai-Chung Yeung, Professor of Economic Geography at the National University of Singapore.

Free Registration at: geography.department@nuim.ie
Conference details and list of speakers here.
For further information, contact: chris.vanegeraat@nuim.ie

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