June 2013

What can be said about the Anglo Tapes?  That conversations such as those between John Bowe, Peter Fitzgerald and David Drumm, which seem to suggest a concerted attempt to mislead the Government regarding the bank’s levels of debt (an allegation that both Fitzgerald and Bowe deny), must have been happening at Anglo during this period is something most of us had already expected.  In this sense, the revelations of the tapes are perhaps unsurprising.  But should this placate us?

© Eoin O’Mahony 2012

© Eoin O’Mahony 2012

The reaction has been ambivalent.  On the one hand, the aforementioned lack of surprise has left many people slightly cynical about the level of media attention being afforded to the affair, and particularly the Independent’s handling the story as an unfolding soap-opera.  On the other hand, there is understandable shock and outrage regarding the content and tone of these conversations.  One point that has been returned to on a number of occasions is the perceived tone of frivolity with which these men discuss a strategy to get the Government to commit €7 billion of taxpayer’s money to a bank that, at the very least, knew they would need much more than that to stay afloat.  As Bowe describes it:

That number is seven but the reality is we need more than that. But you know, the strategy here is you pull them [the Central Bank] in, you get them to write a big cheque and they have to keep, they have to support their money, you know.

Writing in September 2010, Vincent Brown suggested that the forces that shaped white collar crime in Ireland lay in the “socially illiterate” ethos of the “posh” schools.

“Just think of the thousands of lawyers, accountants, bankers, stockbrokers and others who must have colluded in criminality over the last decade or so… These people didn’t come from nowhere. They came out of our schools, most of them Catholic schools and they came out not just theologically illiterate but socially illiterate as well. Most of them are without any sense of being part of a society; they have no sense or little sense of being social beings, of having responsibilities to others. No sense of sharing or wanting to share. Instead they have a highly individuated sense of themselves, out for their own advancement and enrichment and, if society suffered as a consequence, nothing to do with them… [These schools] went on a lot about character, character formation, that sort of stuff…That Kipling If palaver:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute /With sixty seconds worth of distance run,/Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, / And which is more you’ll be a Man, my son!

Yeah? What is more you’ll be a sociopath, my son! Not a single whisper in the poem about anything to do with social responsibility, just character stuff; and that was (is?) the ethos of the posh schools that brought us the criminal generation.”

The lack of social responsibility of which Brown writes is clearly evident in the taped conversations of the Anglo executives.  Nobody here expresses concern over the level of debt they are about to plunge Irish taxpayers into, other than the concern that if the Central bank “saw the enormity of it [Anglo’s debts] upfront they might decide… the cost to the taxpayer is too high”.  But this is also hardly surprising. Studies have shown that psychopaths often make good CEOs precisely because they lack empathy and a sense of social responsibility, traits which allow them to make ‘ruthless’ decisions in the pursuit of profit.  The neoliberal capitalist system prizes these traits.

But this is just one aspect of the troubling liminal zone between capitalism and criminality.  Much of what constitutes legitimate business is not far from a form of sanctioned criminal activity.  The recent controversy over Apple’s tax record offers a clear case in point.  Whilst applying the letter of the law to their payment of corporate tax, Apple’s position as a transnational company with operations across several countries has allowed it to avail of loopholes to avoid paying tax on profits.  Although this does not constitute ‘illegal’ activity, it very clearly puts the accumulation of wealth ahead of any perceived social responsibility to the countries they operate in, and is obviously part of a well though-out tax strategy.  This is what Bono, in a recent interview with Gay Byrne, referred to as being “tax sensible”.

Gay Byrne: “If I don’t ask you this, I’ll be criticised and if I do ask you this I’ll be criticised but since you’ve touched on the subject now. The subject of U2′s taxation arrangements, whereby people are expressing their wonder at what they call your hypocrisy, not my word, their word, hypocrisy of haranguing us all and asking us to pay for more international aid, at the same time as you shift your company overseas in order to save taxation.”

Bono: “Yeah, but it’s [unintelligible] of Irish people to be critical of this is because the shock horror moment here is U2 behaving like a business. (Fake shock facial and gasp expression). And I mean our, we live in a small rock in the North Atlantic and we would be under water were it not for very clever people working in Government and in the Revenue who made tax competitiveness a central part of Irish economic life.

It is the reason we have companies like, you know, Google and Facebook and, indeed, I helped bring those companies to Ireland. So it’s more than churlish for Irish people to say well we don’t want an Irish company involved in that stuff that we do want everyone else. I mean we do pay a lot of, I want to say, we pay a lot of tax and…but we are, you know, tax sensible. But, as every business is. And why is it because I’m involved in these…some people think as idealistic things but I think as pragmatic things, why can’t U2 be tough in business? This thing of the warm, fuzzy feeling, you know we want you know this…I’d like people to get over that. Because that’s not who I am. I am tough and I may have, you know, I may sing from a very private and intimate place and I make art. But I’m tough-minded and I’m intellectually rigorous, I hope. And, I think U2′s tax business is our own business and I think it’s not just to the letter of the law, it is to the spirit of the law.”

Bono’s line of argumentation here is interesting.  He appears to suggest that the “spirit” of the Irish law is tax avoidance, or to coat this in Bono’s cuddly neoliberal veneer, “tax competitiveness”.  Bono’s broader ideological position is also explicated here.  Bono believes in neoliberal solutions – or at the least he sees this kind of brokerage to be the only pragmatic way to operate in the world, whether that is addressing global inequalities through aid or handling U2 like a business.  Such a position is dependent on the partitioning of the ‘private’ sphere (where the sole objective is the pursuit of profit) from the ‘public’ sphere (where the responsibility for redistribution takes place), the only problem being that ‘private’ sector tax avoidance tends to severely deplete the ‘public’ resources that are meant to be redistributed.  Bono would seek to mitigate the inequalities that this partitioning produces through aid.  While Bono’s work in Africa has undoubtedly materially improved the lives of many people, as Slavoj Zizek argues, charity can also act as a way of easing inequalities while allowing the system that creates these very inequalities to continue.  On this view, Bono is a champion of, and frontman for, neoliberal elites and his political work has, as Harry Browne argues, made the world “worse” [i].

I am not trying here to demonise Bono (who is a clearly complex character), but rather to highlight how the consensus viewing the operations of the ‘private’ sphere as inherently separate from that of the ‘public’ sphere is normalised.  I think that this separation is crucial to understanding our ambivalent attitudes to white collar crime.

In an intervention on the London Riots in 2011, David Harvey makes the argument that the rioters were simply re-appropriating the “feral capitalism” that has become the globally accepted norm.

“Feral politicians cheat on their expenses; feral bankers plunder the public purse for all it’s worth; CEOs, hedge fund operators, and private equity geniuses loot the world of wealth ; telephone and credit card companies load mysterious charges on everyone’s bills; corporations and the wealthy don’t pay taxes while they feed at the trough of public finance; shopkeepers price-gouge; and, at the drop of a hat swindlers and scam artists get to practice three-card monte right up into the highest echelons of the corporate and political world… [The rioters] mimic on the streets of London what corporate capital is doing to planet earth”.

While I don’t necessarily buy the direct line of causality that Harvey proposes, he hits upon an important distinction that is made between the ‘legitimate’ ‘business activity’ of the corporate world and the ‘criminality’ of the rioters.  Moreover, there is a clear class bias in this distinction.  This perspective is wonderfully satirised in a sketch on Chappell’s Show, which inverts the arrest and prosecution trajectories emanating from the investigations into criminal activities of a corporate executive and a cocaine dealer: the corporate executive is raided by an armed SWAT team while the cocaine dealer is phoned up by a police detective informing him of a warrant and politely asking him when would be convenient for him to turn himself in.

We can clearly see such distinctions being made in the discussions about the Anglo Tapes.  As well as the inherent class bias, this stems, I think, in large part from the nebulousness of the border between feral capitalism and crime.  In a world where private sphere companies can pursue the profit motive without recourse to any other considerations, and where global corporations can situate themselves in the interstitial terrain between different legal jurisdictions to minimise tax and maximise profit, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine where capitalism ends and crime begins.  In this sense, it is unsurprising that we are unsurprised by the Anglo Tapes – this is how we expect the corporate world to behave.

The more that the ‘private’ sphere (profit) is partitioned from ‘public’ sphere (society), and the more that this arrangement is rationalised through the kind of cosy neoliberal discourses espoused by Bono, the more that the ‘spirit of the law’ constitutive of each of these spheres diverges.  What is clearly demonstrated through the case of Anglo is that these spheres are not separate at all; the private pursuit of profit at any cost has had devastating impacts on Irish society.  Rather than accepting the inherent partitioning of these spheres, only paying attention when one very obviously bleeds into the other, we should seek to enlarge the public sphere in order to equalise the spirit of the law between the corporate world and that of society.

Cian O’Callaghan

[i] These aspects of Bono’s political work are unpacked by Harry Browne in his recently published The Frontman: Bono (In the name of power) (Verso).


A new paper by Linda Fox-Rogers and Enda Murphy on the informal strategies of power in the local planning system and the workings of a shadow planning system in Ireland has just been published online first in Planning Theory.  Here’s the abstract:

Existing studies that question the role of planning as a state institution, whose interests it serves together with those disputing the merits of collaborative planning are all essentially concerned with the broader issue of power in society. Although there have been various attempts to highlight the distorting effects of power, the research emphasis to date has been focused on the operation of power within the formal structures that constitute the planning system. As a result, relatively little attention has been attributed to the informal strategies or tactics that can be utilised by powerful actors to further their own interests. This article seeks to address this gap by identifying the informal strategies used by the holders of power to bypass the formal structures of the planning system and highlight how these procedures are to a large extent systematic and (almost) institutionalised in a shadow planning system. The methodology consists of a series of semi-structured qualitative interviews with 20 urban planners working across four planning authorities within the Greater Dublin Area, Ireland. Empirical findings are offered that highlight the importance of economic power in the emergence of what essentially constitutes a shadow planning system. More broadly, the findings suggest that much more cognisance of the structural relations that govern how power is distributed in society is required and that ‘light touch’ approaches that focus exclusively on participation and deliberation need to be replaced with more radical solutions that look towards the redistribution of economic power between stakeholders.

Download the paper.

This piece originally appeared on Broadsheet.ie yesterday.  It is reproduced here with the reference footnotes.

In April, Broadsheet.ie published articles about some work I have been doing on the media’s coverage of the housing bubble in Ireland, here and here. My point was that the Irish media supported the hype about the housing market and contributed to inflating the bubble that collapsed a few years ago, leading the country into a deep economic crisis. One media commentator, Marc Coleman, formerly Economics editor at the Irish Times and now running his own radio show on Newstalk, wasn’t so happy about it, and responded to Broadsheet.ie here, attempting to defend his record.

I decided to examine Coleman’s record on the housing bubble in more detail, and so I took a look at all the newspaper articles on the property market he has written since 2004 as well as his two books, The Best Is Yet To Come (2007) and Back from the Brink (2009).

Perhaps the clearest examples of how wrong he has been come from the following pieces. In September 2007, he attacked those who warned of a housing collapse like David McWilliams as ‘careless talkers’ who make meaningless ‘simplifications and generalisations’ and threaten to ‘run down our economy’. Coleman claimed that ‘Far from an economic storm—or a property shock—Ireland’s economy is set to rock and roll into the century’. He thought the economy was so strong that he wrote that ‘Ireland enters the 21st Century in a position of awesome power’, which ‘promises a future more flourishing than ever before; a future that will turn economic prosperity from a statistical fact to a reality’. Apparently, the country was doing so well that worldwide, ‘hundreds of millions of people are one the move, looking for a country like Ireland to make their home’. After all, ‘Far from collapsing, our economy and property prices will do more than hold up’. Supposedly, all we needed to do to protect ourselves against a crisis was not to talk about it, because ‘unless we talk ourselves into one, an economic storm is not going to happen.’ All we had to do is proceed as if there was no problem at all: ‘If we keep our eyes fixed forward and our heads cool, then the best is yet to come’.[i]

Also, in March 2007, just as the housing bubble reached its peak, he wrote confidently that ‘Nothing exciting is in prospect for the market over the next two or three years, but nothing dangerous is in prospect either’.[ii] Later that month, he wrote that ‘some commentators on the property market… are predicting the downfall of the market, the collapse of the economy and the sky falling on our heads’. He said that those people were ‘talking nonsense’, and ‘dangerous nonsense at that’. He continued: ‘Doom merchants and indulgent parents are bad for the market’. He didn’t like those ‘irrational predictions of doom’ because he said ‘the market is correcting, not collapsing’ and in any case we shouldn’t worry because there is only a ‘modest amount of overvaluation in the market’ and ‘the safety nets for house price levels in 2008 are effectively already in place’.[iii]

But those are not his only contributions. He wrote a number of articles over the years that reinforced the notion that house prices were set to climb higher or, at worst, would gently stabilise in a ‘soft landing’. For example, he penned articles entitled ‘Housing Demand Set To Stay Strong’ (Irish Times, 28 September 2005), ‘Risk From Collapse in House Prices “Has Receded”’ (Irish Times, 2 November 2005) and ‘House Prices “Set for Soft Landing”’ (Irish Times, 22 November 2005). In another article, entitled ‘“Ryanair” effect adds to confidence in housing market’, he wrote that ‘The Irish housing market will experience another strong year, due in part to Ryanair making Ireland a more accessible place to work, according to Irish Intercontinental Bank (IIB) chief economist Austin Hughes’ (Irish Times, 25 January 2006). He presented another entertaining thesis in an article entitled ‘Legalisation of Contraception a “Major Factor” in House Price Rise’, reporting on a study entitled ‘Condoms and House Prices’ by Alan Ahearne of NUI Galway and Robert Martin of the US Federal Reserve Board (Irish Times, 1 May 2006). Another piece, entitled ‘Economists Forecast 15 More Years of Strong Growth’ (Irish Times, 23 March 2006), stated that ‘As a result of population growth, the number of houses is expected to continue growing by around 65,000 units a year until at least 2020’. Later, he wrote an article entitled ‘Housing Market Set for “Soft Landing”’ (Irish Times, 28 February 2007) and stated reassuringly that ‘Negative equity is here—but only for a tiny percentage of the market’ (Irish Times, 14 June 2007). One could say that some of those articles were merely news stories and that Coleman was only reporting the opinion of others, but that confirms my point: he chose to report the views of those property ‘experts’ who were cheerleaders for the market, but ignored those who warned that it was in bubble territory, such as Morgan Kelly, David McWilliams, or The Economist magazine.

In January 2006, in the Irish Times’ Property section, Coleman advised his readers on how to buy property overseas. The article started thus: ‘Thinking of investing abroad? Don’t just check out the bars and the beach—research the economy of the country you’re buying in if you want it to be a good long-term prospect. Economics Editor Marc Coleman shows you how’. For example, he wrote that ‘The absence of serious political discord in a country is a necessary if insufficient condition to making a sound investment, in that it helps underpin confidence in the property market’.[iv]

In August 2006, he wrote the introduction to a Daft.ie report on the property market. In it, he claimed that the housing market’s ‘price resurgence is “fundamental” in nature’ and thus that it was ‘unlikely’ that ‘a downturn in the market [was] going to happen’.[v]

In January 2008, Coleman encouraged his readers to buy property, writing that ‘provided you are not paying 2007 prices, 2008 could be an excellent year in which to buy’. Some might have wondered whether ‘you should wait until 2009 before buying a house?’ But Coleman said assertively that ‘that idea is nonsense’—as such, ‘many will this year have perfectly good reasons to buy houses in 2008 and—provided they pay 2006 prices—they should go ahead in confidence’. He believed that the property market would ‘bear out my prediction of a quick correction in 2008 followed by resumed growth’. [vi]

In March 2008, he wrote another piece entitled ‘Property: bottoming out—so it’s time to spend’.[vii] He minimised any worries about the market: ‘Less about a boom and bust, Ireland’s current economic story is more like a property bulge passing through the gullet of our economy’. He thought that by early 2009, ‘at the very latest, house price growth should turn very modestly positive’.

In October 2008, he attacked those who suffer from ‘illiterate panic-mongering’ and talk down the property market and who ‘with no quantitative discipline to back their statements, tell us that house prices are going to fall by another 40 per cent’—well, they’ve actually fallen by about 45% since then.[viii]

His optimism was displayed again in a January 2010 article entitled ‘All Signs Indicate We Are Turning the Corner on to Recovery’ (Sunday Independent, 10 January 2010) and in another one entitled ‘It’s Not “Hype”, the Worst Really Is Over’ (Sunday Independent, 7 February 2010) in which he wrote that ‘The armageddon brigade may argue otherwise, but the evidence suggests we are on the slow road to recovery’ and that ‘the signs of recovery are everywhere’.

A few of Coleman’s articles may appear to have warned against a housing crash, such as one entitled ‘Economy Vulnerable to Housing Crash’ (Irish Times, 4 March 2006), but in fact when one reads them, they turn out to have been reassuring about such an event, stating that ‘The good news is that, although possible, a crash is not yet probable’.

Coleman tried to defend his record in an article in the Sunday Independent in 2010, in which he gave examples of articles written by himself that purport to demonstrate that he had, in fact, warned us all about the impending collapse of the economy.[ix] However, none of his examples prove anything of the sort. All one can find are a few sentences saying that growth may not be sustainable, that credit is growing too fast, that the construction sector is a very large part of the economy, that the financial sector could be better regulated, etc. For instance, he says that ‘On March 31st 2006 in a piece that began “Stop the economy I want to get off” I warned that financial regulation had broken down’.[x] The piece says that the economy is overheating, but doesn’t warn about a housing bubble.

Coleman also wrote a book entitled The Best Is Yet To Come, published in November 2007. It makes a number of economic assumptions that are simply wrong or irrelevant, such as arguing that a country’s climate and a coastal location help its economic performance: ‘Situated on the temperate if rainy north-west fringe of Europe, Ireland has one of the world’s most fortunate locations’ (pp.11-12). Another one is the book’s main argument, that population growth will stimulate economic growth in Ireland. As Colm McCarthy and Dan O’Brien have noted in their reviews of the book, that doesn’t make any sense, as on that count sub-Saharan Africa, India and other poor countries should be rich.[xi] To grow an economy, you need the right policies.

The book presents a very optimistic picture of the Irish economy. Coleman finished writing it in early October 2007, and by that time, signs of an economic slowdown were apparent. For example, he wrote that ‘At the time of writing, latest forecasts from the ESRI indicate that the so-called Celtic Tiger would expire in 2008’ and that housing construction would decrease. But Coleman saw that as a mere ‘pause for breath’ on the part of the economy. In other words: ‘Ireland’s economic miracle is far from over. As anxiety mounts about the end of Ireland’s boom, The Best is Yet to Come argues that Ireland is not experiencing the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning’, as stated on the book’s back cover.

There’s one line of defence that Coleman may use, and it goes something like this: ‘My predictions were conditional on the government doing this and that, and it didn’t do it, so I can’t be proven wrong’. For example, in many of his articles and in his 2009 book, entitled Back from the Brink: Ireland’s Road to Recovery, he kept predicting that house prices wouldn’t fall too much or would stabilise soon, only to be constantly proven wrong by further falls in house prices. But he then says that his predictions were conditional on the government cutting stamp duty or enacting some reforms. He even said that his predictions would materialise provided ‘the kamikaze commentators stop killing confidence’ (p.75). But that line of defence is worthless. Anybody can predict anything and then blame the government or anybody else for not having done this or that, or not enough of this or that, or having done this or that, but not at the right time, or having done this or that, but not well enough, etc.

Julien Mercille, UCD (author of the forthcoming book, The Media and the Irish Economic Crisis: A Political Economy, Routledge).


[i] Marc Coleman, ‘We need these expert scaremongers’, Sunday Independent, 23 September 2007.

[ii] ‘Market view’, Irish Times, 1 March 2007.

[iii] Marc Coleman, ‘Market view’, Irish Times, 15 March 2007.

[iv] ‘Location, location . . . and the economy too’, Irish Times, 12 January 2006.

[vi] ‘Property market in need of tough love’, Sunday Independent, 6 January 2008.

[vii] ‘Property: bottoming out—so it’s time to spend’, Sunday Independent, 30 March 2008.

[viii] ‘Let’s fight the battle closest to home’, Sunday Independent, 12 October 2008.

[ix] ‘Don’t shoot messengers, especially if they’re right’, Sunday Independent, 11 April 2010.

[x] ‘Growth threatens to spiral out of control’, Irish Times, 31 March 2006.

[xi] Colm McCarthy, ‘An optimistic prognosis for the wounded Celtic Tiger’, Sunday Independent, 20 January 2008; Dan O’Brien, ‘The curse of local cronyism’, Irish Times, 19 January 2008.

Dereliction map

The Provisional University are hosting a talk on 4 July at 7.30pm with urban researchers Stephen Rigney and Eoin O’Mahony, dealing with issues of vacancy, property speculation and the possibilities of thinking the city from below.

Loom Studios, July 4th 7.30pm

Counter-Cartographies of the city

In the aftermath of the Celtic tiger, the contradictions of debt-fuelled property speculation as a means of economic growth are materialised in the abundance of empty buildings and vacant lots in Dublin’s north inner city. Ironically, this part of the city has a shortage of community spaces and faces an emerging housing crisis, at a time when so many spaces lie idle and closed off from use by virtue of their designation as private property. This begs the question, whose city is this?

Development plans and maps suggest a city of privately owned places connected by thin and vulnerable veins of public space. But Dublin can also be mapped in a way that represents alternative relations across space, such as the city as a place of occupations, of needs and of community. Used this way, maps, which so often are used to justify the appropriation of collective labour by private capital, offer a tool to reimagine Dublin as something more than terrain for property investors.

 Stephen Rigney and Eoin O’Mahony are PhD students in the department of geography at NUI Maynooth. They are currently working together to map derelict spaces around Dublin’s north inner city and to develop a counter-cartography of Dublin.

This event will take place in Loom Studios, which is located in The Hendrons Building, 36-40 Dominic Street Upper, Broadstone, Dublin 7

This time last year, in the post Mahon Tribunal media frenzy, the news that the High Court had quashed part of the Internal Planning Review of alleged irregularities in six local authorities published by the Department of the Environment would be grabbing the headlines. Unfortunately, the lack of media and public interest speaks volumes as to how far down the political agenda that planning reform has fallen. Back then there seemed to be a keen consciousness of the central role that planning deregulation had played in the economic downfall of the State and the need for proper long-term planning as a path to recovery.

We have blogged a number of times on this saga (See here and here). The review was initially announced by former Minister John Gormley as an independent process to be undertaken by an external panel of experts under Section 255 of the Planning Acts. However, on coming into office the current government quickly downgraded the review to an internal investigation to be undertaken by departmental staff ostensibly on the grounds of cost. Criticisms of a whitewash were branded at the time by Minister Jan O’Sullivan as “a smokescreen created by the unholy alliance of a thoroughly discredited Fianna Fail party and the man mercifully released by the Irish electorate from his “asylum” into the political wilderness – John Gormley”.

The Department’s Internal Review predictably found that the allegations made by a number of parties, including An Taisce, did not amount to systemic corruption in the planning system. Now, almost three years later, we are back to square one as Mr. Gerard Convie, a former senior planner with Donegal County Council who had made a series of complaints in respect of alleged planning irregularities in the county, was successful in his application to the High Court in having the findings of the review in relation to County Donegal quashed. Mr Convie also won €25,000 damages, costs and an apology.

The present government was elected in part on a promise to address shortcomings in public administration and the political system – to change the way in which government operated. The final report of the Mahon Tribunal clearly pointed to the now largely self-evident fact that corruption, cronyism and malpractice permeated every aspect of the Irish planning system and was allowed to continue unabated. While recognising the continuing and ongoing important reforms of the planning system, the botched manner in which this review has been handled simply serves to highlight that, far from the election of this government being a ‘democratic revolution’, little, if anything, has changed.

The unfortunate reality is that, in light of this High Court case, the Internal Planning Review no longer has any credibility and should be withdrawn. The episode has also done nothing to assist in rebuilding public confidence in the planning system which is so badly needed. Minister O’Sullivan subsequently stated that “she was determined to uphold the integrity of the planning system” and “It is vital that scrutiny and evaluation of the planning process is not only fair and objective, but is also seen to be so by the public” . She also announced that a new independent review under Section 255, as originally proposed. And round and round we go.

Gavin Daly

Late last week a little reported and relatively innocuous sounding High Court Judgement was issued which has the potential to have profound implications for the Irish planning system – and the planning profession, for that matter. The case concerned the construction of a small timber dwelling and private waste water treatment system in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty without planning permission near Lough Dan, County Wicklow. Following a lengthy enforcement process Mr. Justice Hogan quashed an order to have the house demolished ruling that the landowner had an inviolable constitutional right to her home under Section 40.5 of the Constitution.

imageThere has been a longstanding set of principles in the Irish legal system whereby the judiciary only involve themselves in matters of procedural legality and not the substantive matters of individual planning cases. In this instance the house had previously being refused planning permission by both Wicklow County Council and An Bord Pleanála on the grounds that the applicant had no need for a dwelling in this highly-sensitive location and that road access was substandard, endangering public safety. Mr. Justice Hogan decided to overrule these concerns ostensibly on the grounds that the house could not be seen from the public road and declaring that  “… one does not need to be a planning or traffic specialist to see that the site does not present a real and immediate traffic hazard..”

This bizarre judgement has huge ramifications for the Irish planning system and the planning profession. While Mr. Justice Hogan is at pains to stress that the ruling does not set a precedent, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that, based on this judgement, any person could purchase a piece of land, construct a dwelling without planning permission and then claim constitutional protection under Section 40.5. Rural libertarians are doubtlessly rejoicing. However, the all-pervasive, but flawed, logic that people should have an automatic right to build a dwelling on their family land must be met head on. While a single dwelling may appear harmless, the cumulative impact of 450,000 such dwellings has profound implications for the delivery of public policy. Currently, 60% of all houses granted planning permission in the State are dispersed ‘one-off’ dwellings and serious questions must be asked as to how we are going to be able to afford to provide adequate services (schools, hospitals, broadband, Gardai, postal services etc) to these dwellings. Interestingly, Mr. Justice Hogan does not grapple with these fundamental planning questions and as to why the applicant had been previously refused planning permission on the grounds of an absence of ‘local need’. Planning is much more than issues of local amenity, visual impact and traffic hazard and this judgement highlights why balancing individual rights with those of society is a job not best suited to the courts. An appeal to the Supreme Court is imperative.

Gavin Daly

Update: Subsequent legal advice provided that the case could not be appealed to the Supreme Court and the Department is considering bringing forward legislation.

Update: “Judge orders demolition of unauthorised Co Wicklow home” Irish Times 17 April 2015

A new paper critiquing how decision-makers have dealt with the Irish crisis is now available on NUIM eprints. It questions how the adherents and practitioners of neoliberal ideas have sought to deal with the contemporary crisis by examining three elements of the Irish state’s adjustment and austerity programme in the areas of property and finance, the labour market and state spending.  The paper contends that the crisis has led to processes of adjustment that deepen and extend neoliberal ideas and practices rather than negate them. It concludes that the various crisis-adjustment strategies are part of a process of disturbance which focuses on shaking the confidence of the working class and ultimately redistributing an even greater share of economic output to capitalists. It can be downloaded via NUIM eprints here. This version deals with events/policies up to May 2 2013 when the final revised version was submitted for publication.

The paper by Alistair Fraser, Enda Murphy and Sinead Kelly is to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Human Geography. The journal is motivated by a need to retain control of the value produced by academic labour. Over the last twenty years, journals that once were owned and produced by universities and academic and professional associations have come to be controlled, in part or in whole, by publishing houses that increasingly are concentrated in a few multinational media conglomerates. This means that the profit produced by (mostly) public funded academic labour ends up with large corporations. The aim of Human Geography is to change that and ensure that any profit made from the journal is re-distributed to young radical scholars.


The current economic crisis – the ‘great recession’ – raises numerous questions about neoliberal ideas and practice, not the least of which is whether (and if so, how) neoliberalism can survive it. Our paper takes on these issues using the case of Ireland. This is the first proper neoliberal crisis in Ireland. From the early 1990s to 2008, Ireland was held up by many neoliberal champions as a place that gained from deregulation, openness to inward investment, and low corporation tax rates. But the build-up of contradictions in Ireland exploded rapidly in 2008, when its property bubble burst and private banks and government finances collapsed. Rather than examining what caused Ireland’s crisis, we look at what has happened between 2008 and 2013. We focus on structural adjustments regarding the property, finance, and labour markets and then on the government’s austerity programme as a whole. In addition to demonstrating how these adjustments have been an attack on workers and ordinary citizens, we identify some particularly striking elements, which we use to argue that a new phase of disturbance and restructuring is deepening and extending neoliberalism’s influence in Ireland.

Old_Vs_YoungLast night RTE’s Prime Time looked at the impacts on Ireland’s crisis on different age cohorts.  Prime Time focused their report around two studies, one from the ESRI and one from UCD, which broadly explored the ways in which different generations in Irish society were being affected by, and copying with, the crisis.  The first of these studies suggested that over-45s were less hard hit by the recession, while the latter suggested some of the ways in which families were engaged in inter-generational solidarities that helped them cope with unemployment and cut-backs.

Prime Time was having none of this however.  Their report was a rather shame-faced and ham-fisted attempt to shoehorn the findings of these studies into a sensationalist debate pitting ‘unemployed’ youth against ‘comfortable’ pensioners.  The researchers from ESRI and UCD interviewed in the report never made these claims and were sometimes at pains to dispute them.  Meanwhile, despite what was being said, a Prime Time reporter continued to declare this hypothesis in voiceover and on-camera segments.

When it got to the studio debate Pat Kenny did his best to railroad his guests into echoing this spurious hypothesis.  To their credit, the panel and the audience alike refused to take the bait.  Rather than cow-tow to Prime Time’s attempts to construct sensationalist news, they continued to reiterate that the real issue was that of youth unemployment.

The show offered an interesting example of what many theorists have been calling an increasingly ‘postdemocratic’ and ‘postpolitical’ public sphere.  What is meant by this is that the growing influence that non-state actors (such as multinational companies and transnational organisations like the IMF and World Bank) have on the internal policy formation of nation-states, has meant that in many cases ‘democracy’ has been reduced to citizens’ ability to choose between different political parties, but that they have lost the power to actively shape policy.  This has the effect of nullifying true ‘agonistic’ politics that actually propose different political-economic visions of society, and replacing it with technocratic policy formation that aims towards achieving consensus around the normative vision of neoliberal capitalism.  As Erik Swyngedouw (2009) puts it:

In this postdemocratic postpolitical era, adversarial politics (of the left/right variety or of radically divergent struggles over imagining and naming different socio-environmental futures, for example) are considered hopelessly out of date. Although disagreement and debate are, of course, still possible, they operate within an overall model of elite consensus and agreement, subordinated to a managerial-technocratic regime… There is no contestation over the givens of the situation… there is only debate over the technologies of management, the arrangements of policing and the configuration of those who already have a stake, whose voice is already recognized as legitimate.

The Prime Time show demonstrated this well.  The report and studio debate sought to construct – whether due to some underlying political bias or merely to produce entertaining ‘pundit-style’ television –a narrative that pitted two sections of the population against each other.  But the parameters of the proposed debate skirted around the issue of class-based redistribution of wealth and did not even broach the currently contentious issue of corporate tax or the extent to which the state’s existing tax revenues go into servicing sovereign debt.  These political issues were off the table.  In this sense there was no question of increasing the public spend on job creation, unemployment benefit, or the old age pension.  The only question was how the public funds available in the current ‘given situation’ were to be distributed to differentially ‘deserving’ sections of the citizenry.

The fact that the attempt to construct this oppositional narrative was such a resounding failure makes it easier to pick apart its weaknesses.  But this has sadly not always been the case, as successful campaigns to pit various sections of the population against each other have been a mainstay in Ireland since the beginning of the crisis.  However, the refusal of all involved in this show to consider the problem in these terms is a welcome, if limited, indication that a postpolitical whitewash will not always hold.

Cian O’Callaghan