Saturday 22 November 2014

Brooks fiasco epitomises national insanity just as we return to the ways that broke us

Published 15/07/2014 | 02:30

Country music star Garth Brooks. AP
Country music star Garth Brooks. AP
Garth Brooks.

BY Albert Einstein's definition, we're an insane little country. Einstein said insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

But that's our speciality.

The controversy and hand-wringing over the Garth Brooks concerts was but the latest example of this.

It's just three years since the conclusion of the marathon Mahon Tribunal into planning that ran for 14 years at a cost of €159m. 'Never again', we solemnly resolved as a nation in its wake, 'would we let the integrity of the planning system be compromised for the sake of private sector interests and profits.'

Good planning, from here on, would be sacrosanct. The common good and bitter experience demanded it. But, we're like a mass troubling of goldfish. Those harsh lessons seem to have been already erased from the public consciousness.

'The five Garth Brooks concerts must go ahead' was the new catchcry. To fail to do so would cost hundreds of millions of euro and make us an international laughing stock. The integrity of the planning system, already being stretched to arguably beyond its limit by even having three concerts at Croke Park, quickly went from being sacrosanct to becoming an irritating inconvenience. Sure where was the harm in it? Well Mr Brooks has put the tin hat on that.

The argument might still be made that there can be no comparison between building housing estates on totally unsuitable sites, utterly removed from services, and allowing a few concerts to go ahead that would have given so much pleasure to 400,000 people over a five-day period. There is of course something to that argument. They are different.

But that misses the fundamental point. You either believe in, and respect, proper planning or you don't. And once you start compromising on planning – as we have done repeatedly over the past 50 years – it's very hard to know where to stop.

There will always be arguments for bending the rules. Everybody thinks their case for a one-off house is utterly justified and inoffensive – and the result has been a rural landscape blighted by ribbon development. Twenty years ago, when planners were warning against building housing estates in isolated parts of west Dublin, developers were arguing that the houses were desperately needed for young couples and they were providing badly needed jobs.

We've always been overly seduced by such arguments, ignoring both the hugely negative impact on our environment and the fact that jobs and houses can also be created by building in the right places.

It doesn't happen elsewhere. Tinkering with the rules is simply not entertained in other developed EU countries. There the law is the law – simple as. Not to be altered or amended or to find loopholes therein. That's why the concerns, about how the refusal of permission for the concerts will be perceived internationally, are so misplaced.

For starters, the idea that people in the US or Britain or anywhere will pay much attention to whether a concert in Dublin goes ahead or not is ludicrous. But if they did pay attention, most people abroad would understand and agree with the notion that planning regulations and laws must be adhered to.

They would be far more appalled at the idea of changing the State's planning rules – as has been suggested in some quarters – simply to allow the concerts of a hugely wealthy musician to go ahead.

But we've never developed that importance of the common good in this country. Local or vested interests here tend to win the day because they shout louder than the silent majority.

To return to Einstein's quote, it should be said that our inability to learn from the mistakes of the past is not confined to matters of planning.

In the wake of the banking collapse, everybody bemoaned the absence of proper and rigorous regulation in the sector.

But then less than two years later there was an enormous hullabaloo when the Financial Regulator quite rightly got tough with Quinn Insurance.

We want tough regulation, but just not this time and not in this case.

Meanwhile, the troika is barely out the door and the Budget remains far from balanced, but the Government is promising tax cuts and help to people to buy houses.

It's as if the whole experience of giveaway Budgets, crazy election promises and a bubble property boom between 2000 and 2007 has been wiped from the national memory bank.

It's insanity and we shouldn't expect the results to be any different this time.

Will we ever learn?

Shane Coleman is the presenter of the Sunday Show on Newstalk 106-108FM

Irish Independent

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