Close encounters of the Celtic Tiger kind

With Johnny Ronan and Bertie Ahern opening a project begun in 1997, it's like the boom never ended, writes Eamon Delaney

Published 12/09/2010 | 05:00

So the new convention centre has opened in the Dublin docklands, spanking new and costing a fortune.

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Forgive us for carping a little, but it seems that these days, not only are we living in two worlds -- there's the convention centre, and the Aviva Stadium with its overpriced seats, and well, there's the rest of us -- but we are also living on two timelines.

Cleary, the convention centre is something that should have opened during the boom (it has all that feel), but with the delays and an unexpected downturn, it means that it just opened now, and so it's time for a surreal retro moment of Bertie backslapping Johnny Ronan. Yes, it's just like the Celtic Tiger once again.

The project began in 1997, when Ronan was very rich and Bertie was very popular -- and even the architect, Kevin Roche, now a sprightly 88, wondered when it all might be finished.

It is like those Japanese soldiers continuing to fight on in the jungle, unaware the war is over.

Or better still, those Aztec tribes in the Amazonian rain forest, building another temple, unaware that white-man invader is already at the gate (or in our case, the IMF, EU and Jean-Claude Trichet), and that they're all about to be wound up, exiled or obliterated by disease, leaving wonderful stone temples for the tourists to pick over. And each such tourist/delegate is apparently worth over €1,500 to the economy, according to the Taoiseach. This is the cost of human sacrifice.

It's all a bit strange. For, despite its title, we don't actually own the national convention centre.

No, the State will pay €47m annually, plus €24m for the next 20 years, to 'rent' the centre under a private/public partnership agreement with the developers, Johnny Ronan's Treasury Holdings, a firm being bailed out through Nama.

Does this make sense? Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I very much doubt if pony-tailed Johnny Ronan will be the loser in this relationship, no matter what lies ahead.

Meanwhile, the Anglo Irish saga continues with the split into two banks, and Enda Kenny finally emerges from his summer quarantine to call the plan "half baked". But he doesn't try to say why. Presumably, he's not allowed.

Enda had been gathering the Fine Gael troops for a healing get-together in a Waterford golf club. Ah, golf and FG, a curious relationship. Remember all that fuss Lucinda Creighton recently made?

And where was Sean Barrett, on his first day as the party's new Foreign Affairs spokesperson? In the Dail? No. Playing golf.

But then didn't we have Phil Hogan taking a golf trip to Turkey and provoking his leader's ire, before he saved Kenny's bacon?

We can be assured that when the crisis really hits, FG will be playing golf.

Michael Noonan said the Anglo Irish split was only a "fudge", but he didn't follow up with much else.

Can a "fudge" be "half baked"? Noonan seems to deride or sneer philosophically, like a farmer lying resting on a gate. He said that when he saw the word 'recovery' he thought hopefully it was about the 'recovery' of the economy. But it wasn't. It was about the bank's recovery. This was a joke, by the way, a sour Limerickman's joke.

So we turned for the RTE News for clarity, and David Davin-Power told us the plan was not a "silver bullet", but "a game plan". So what is the convention centre then: a spaceship, or a tilted discus?

Anyway, it looks great, another asset to the riverside, and I'm not going to join those old fogeys who lament the loss of the old docklands, because of the nostalgic integrity of their stevedore uncles unloading ships, or something.

One nostalgic pundit contrasted such 'dignified labour' with the alleged murky goings-on at the IFSC. But this is another simplicity, similar to last week's Freefall documentary on RTE about the banking crisis.

This had lots of night-time shots of the IFSC, as it sought to link the crisis back to Haughey and those innovative corporate-tax rates.

But they might more properly use night-time shots of Merrion Street and the Central Bank. The IFSC is a jewel of international investment and high-end native employment, and its creation is a continuing credit to Haughey and financier Dermot Desmond.

What would FG have done with the space? Possibly turned it into a golf course.

The docklands is a positive transformation of a run down area and the new convention centre is a positive, if strange, addition.

I have a simple question, and these days, given that so many experts got it so wrong, even those of us with the simplest of questions should be given an airing. My question is this: if we have all these hotels around Ireland, and especially in the capital, offering lots of convention space, with many of them specifically built for this purpose, then why do we also need a vast convention centre?

It reminds me of another simple question I had asked previously. After going along the Stillorgan dual carriageway and seeing the continuous building of apartments, I wondered: where are all the people going to come from to fill them?

I put it to my 'commercially minded' friends. Immigration had dried up and the birth rate had steadied: were we expecting some dramatic rise in the divorce rate, and the need for extra apartments.

"Ah, you don't understand economics," they'd say, putting the patronising arm around me.

You see, in business, it's a case of 'expand or die', and they muttered about 'demand finding its own level' and 'don't question the wisdom of the market'.

So, hey, it's OK to feel good about the parallel world of the new convention centre, albeit with some caution. But I think I want to be on the other timeline, the Celtic Tiger one, with Johnny Ronan and Bertie, backslapping outside the spaceship, and Sinead O'Connor singing Molly Malone.

Beam me up, Scotty, before the golfers arrive.

Sunday Independent

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