Thursday 29 September 2016

Colm O'Rourke: NAMA overseeing greatest plundering of Ireland's land assets since Cromwell

A once in a lifetime opportunity is being squandered because no one really cares

Published 21/06/2015 | 13:00

‘The Dublin County Board were not looking for charity. In fact, they should have been allowed to buy this land for far less and told to spend the rest of the money building a stadium’
‘The Dublin County Board were not looking for charity. In fact, they should have been allowed to buy this land for far less and told to spend the rest of the money building a stadium’

Mayo and Donegal made statements last weekend about their intent. So too, to a lesser extent, did Kerry and Cork. There has not been even a hint of a shock so far in the football championship and all the big guns are hell bent on joining the party through the front door.

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For Donegal in particular the attraction of winning Ulster is unmistakeable. Imagine a scenario for them of getting to and losing an Ulster final and then heading out on the road in quick time. It would seem too much like hard work and they would be damaged goods. The shortest road to Croke Park is the only one.

The same applies to Mayo. Sightseeing is not in their plans this year. Neither is it for Kerry, who dealt with Tipperary as All-Ireland champions should, but it is always easy to be wise after the event. Kerry could not afford any lack of intensity and the respect shown to them last Sunday demonstrated how far Tipperary have travelled. They could still have an enjoyable summer.

Last Sunday saw three potential All-Ireland champions in action, and this week once again shows the pathetic nature of the scheduling of our games. Can the provincial councils not sit down together and make sure a more coherent system of fixtures applies? I have been making this same point all year. One Sunday we have a raft of interesting games and serious teams in action, and the next? Well, nothing. Monaghan might not agree with that assessment, and they are definitely in the top rank of teams, but they are still outside the top four.

Yet it was not games or teams or star performers which grabbed my attention last week. It was the critical comments about NAMA by Dublin County Board CEO John Costello, after the board failed in its bid to buy the Spawell centre on the south side of the city. It was not as if the Dublin board wanted this property for nothing, anything but in fact, as it appears they offered more than the €6.5m asking price for the 35 acres which could have been the ideal home for Dublin GAA on the south side. It is badly needed and this location, near the M50, would have been ideal.

More surprising still has been the fact that there has been little response to this from the wider GAA public. Maybe it is because people are still angry at the great meltdown that they don't realise what is happening in their name. NAMA was set up in the name of the taxpayer but is systematically selling off all the best assets of this country, in some cases to foreign vulture funds, without a hint of protest from anyone. These funds, in many cases, are shifting them on as quickly as they can, often making enormous profits, and have little or no interest in what is best for the Irish public.

The sale of the Spawell complex only underlines the sheer stupidity of this policy. Instead of using an instrument of State to benefit the communities who bankroll NAMA, they sell to faceless funds and then try and depict it as some great victory. The reality is that NAMA is, with official blessing, overseeing the greatest plundering of Irish assets since the Cromwellian plantations. That involved the theft of land, this is even more comprehensive.

NAMA will argue that they are making a return for the Irish taxpayer and must obtain the best deal possible. But the best deal is not always the one that brings in the most money. I did not have to stay awake for too long in economics lectures to learn the rudiments of buying and selling, and exploitation. NAMA bought the assets from the banks, with taxpayers' money, and basically gave them what they liked. They then resold at a profit. Any fool could do that.

Instead of using the opportunity to sell land and property at basement prices to schools, hospitals and sporting organisations, they have allowed the country to be fleeced by groups who, in many instances, do not appear to care anything for community life. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the GAA - and other sporting organisations with the means to do so - to acquire property in every town and city in the country to serve all the people for the next 100 years. The Spawell debacle is just one example of how the GAA are trying to help their people, all the people, in trying times.

Near many schools and football clubs in every town in the country lie banks of land which is in the hands of NAMA. They should have been actively seeking out the local organisations involved in community life and giving them first crack to purchase these assets. The Dublin County Board were not looking for charity. In fact, they should have been allowed to buy this land for far less and told to spend the rest of the money building a stadium.

Quite how a government led by Enda Kenny, and containing people like All-Ireland winning captain Jimmy Deenihan, people who have genuine affection for our national games, can stand over this policy is beyond me. Have they no vision? Do they not realise that this is the chance of a lifetime to do some good? Can they not see that from an economic disaster, a new Ireland built on the values of community spirit, which has never been lost in the GAA, can rise? How can they be so short-sighted?

A lot of the time, these funds buying up our assets won't do anything for this country. They are in the business of making money and good luck to them. It does not mean that we should actively encourage them to profit at our expense, ultimately at the expense of every citizen of this country. These lands should be the playing fields or schools of the future, with all the health and welfare benefits involved.

We bailed out the banks and it would have been much better for the long-term interest of the country if they were allowed to sell off their own devalued assets over a period of time. At least we would be spared NAMA trying to give the impression that they are doing great work on behalf of the nation. Sooner or later, when sense and reason take the place of anger, people will realise the travesty which was carried out in their name.

John Costello could and should have put the boot in a lot harder on those whose job it is to run the country in the best interest of its citizens. This was another opportunity lost by those charged with leading our country, and these opportunities won't come around again.

There is no other country on this planet which would hand away its most valuable assets, actively work against its greatest community organisation and claim that they are doing a great job. Back in the 1930s and '40s the Land Commission of the time gave the GAA the chance to buy pitches in their own parishes. Compared to the present generation of leaders they look like men of extraordinary foresight.

Instead of being left with debt when this is all over, but with wonderful sporting facilities, we now face the future with nothing to show for all the misery.

The GAA as a whole should be taking up the Dublin cause. This is the most shameful national disgrace of our time.

Sunday Indo Sport

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