So the government announce this evening that the DDDA is to be wound up after 15 years in operation and that responsibility for the area will be transferred to Dublin City Council, in the person of the Dublin City Manager. How ironic? Twenty five years ago when the CHDDA (the pre-cursor of the DDDA with many of the same personalities involved in the early days) were established, the general discourse, in common with most of the neo-liberal gospel being preached at the time, was that the local authority could not be trusted to do the job and should have power over this area removed from them. While they may not have been particularly efficient in sparking development nor particularly astute with dealing with the private sector, they certainly could not have been accused of the litany of mismanagement that we are now hearing the DDDA were responsible for. Interesting too that we are being told that what happened was due to a lack of ‘corporate governance’ or (Submission by Executive Board to Minister for EHLG, January 2010) rather that anything more sinister that public representatives and agents have been accused of over the last few years.
What is most important is why has it taken so long for action to be taken? Granted Prof Niamh Brennan was appointed as Chair of the Board in March 2009 to deal with some of the problems and reported to Government on them, but the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and announcement by the Government tonight comes four or five years after a lot of people were questioning what was going on in the Authority? In the late 1990’s, access to any sort of information on the activities of the DDDA – a public agency after all – was almost impossible to come by. In 2008, a number of serious questions in relation to the Authority were raised in my book Dublin Docklands Reinvented (Dublin: Four Courts Press). For example, how could one agency simultaneously act as co-developer and planning authority on the one site (Irish Glass Bottle site)? Could the government not see the potential problems? Highly respected and experienced journalists were also raising these questions and others about the activities of the Authority at the time. For example why did Brian Cowen sanction an increase in the capacity of the authority to borrow even more money when it was obvious that they were stepping way beyond their remit and gambling with the public finances? It is no secret that along with the issues already in the public domain about the relationship between the DDDA and Anglo-Irish Bank, other projects within the area were also promoted, developed and implemented by an overly tight network of closely connected individuals where there was at the very least serious conflicts of interest.
As I think about my experiences researching the docklands development since the late 1990s, it strikes me that many of the community activists in East Wall and surroundings must be laughing tonight. For years, they have called for greater transparency in the operations of the Authority and when they questioned or objected to particular decisions, they were fobbed off as ‘naysayers’. The Government decision tonight is symbolic because it is the final nail in the coffin to a project that represented the best and worst of the Irish experience over the last decade. While it achieved many good outcomes and radically altered the face of this large part of Dublin City, how ironic that after 25 years, it is the local authority who gets the last laugh!