Sunday 4 December 2016

Martin Breheny: Bottom line trumps public interest yet again

GAA facility at Spawell would have been good use of Dublin site

Published 24/06/2015 | 02:30

The Spawell Complex
The Spawell Complex

This is the story so far and, quite likely, the final version too. Dublin GAA wanted to buy the Spawell Complex in Templeogue on the city's southside for a major centre including, at some point in the future, the development of a 25,000-capacity stadium.

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Spawell is included on the properties listed for sale by NAMA.

Dublin GAA entered the bidding process and are understood to have gone considerably higher than the €6.5 million asking price, but were told it lost out

Now, you would expect NAMA to have an influential role in deciding who the 35-acre site was sold to. It appears you would be wrong.

According to NAMA, a receiver is selling Spawell and is obliged to "accept the highest offer on behalf of the debtor".

NAMA had more to say too.

Dublin GAA CEO John Costello is unhappy at NAMA’s decision regarding the sale of the Spawell site
Dublin GAA CEO John Costello is unhappy at NAMA’s decision regarding the sale of the Spawell site

"The receiver could not have accepted a lower bid simply because it was received from a sporting organisation. The debtor could have sued the receiver if that was to happen.

"Taxpayers would have been disadvantaged if the property was sold to a bidder for less than another bidder was willing to pay."

Now aren't taxpayers (incidentally, shouldn't they be referred to as people, given that everybody pays tax in some form?) blessed to have NAMA in place to save them from being 'disadvantaged' or, worse still, dragged through the Courts?

Truly, it should make us all sleep more soundly to have such a caring, vigilant organisation looking out for us.

Dublin GAA CEO John Costello wasn't impressed and tossed a stone into the tranquil NAMA pond by pointing out that the organisation has a 'Community Development' dimension.

Quite so. Indeed, NAMA mentions that function on its website.

Under 'Social Initiatives,' it refers to "providing homes for social housing, making properties available for schools and other public uses, working with the IDA to identify suitable properties for companies investing in Ireland."

Public uses? Surely, a voluntary sporting organisation, planning a project of enormous benefit to the country's capital city for generations to come, qualifies as good public use.

The Spawell Complex which is for Sale. Picture credit; Damien Eagers 17/6/2015
The Spawell Complex which is for Sale. Picture credit; Damien Eagers 17/6/2015

If it doesn't, it certainly should. NAMA's noble aspirations under 'Social Initiatives' look great in theory but its response to the Spawell affair hollows out the words.

In reality, it's all about legal fears and noise about looking after the taxpayer.

Presumably, NAMA's reference to the taxpayer being disadvantaged refers purely to financial matters.

What about the community advantage of having a prime site developed by a major sporting organisation that caters for such a large section of Irish society?

Why should financial advantage outweigh the social dividend? On second thoughts, that's a mighty naive question to ask in the Ireland of today and, no doubt, tomorrow too.

Since we rely on Government to represent the people, one would have expected it to keep a watchful eye on how the public interest is served in all matters, great and small.

Most especially, it should have a very definite policy on when social imperatives override financial considerations.

Not this time. Sports Minister Michael Ring, who is never short of several words when it comes to congratulating successful winners, went all circumspect and official on Spawell

"There was a process in place, people tendered for the property, some without success. It is not appropriate for me or the Government to interfere in that process," he said.

Sir Humphrey of Westminster could not have worded the fudge better than Minister Michael of Westport.

So between Nama and its fear of legal action and touching concern for out-of-pocket taxpayers and the Government with its absolute respect for 'process', the issue of whether a site like Spawell should go to the highest bidder, who doesn't have to state future plans, or to a sporting organisation won't even be comprehensively analysed.

That's disturbing. What's more, if the Spawell experience is being replicated all over the country, we can take it that financial advantage, however limited it may be, is trumping social benefit in a whole lot more deals too.

There have been some snide comments around the country about how fortunate Dublin GAA is to be in a position to bid for a property with an asking price of €6.5 million, which would, of course, be only a fraction of the overall cost of fully developing Spawell.

That's completely missing the point. Because Dublin footballers are going particularly well, certainly by comparison with the rest of Leinster, is no reason to question the validity of the Spawell plan.

Confusing the issue of whether Dublin is becoming an untouchable football superpower in the east and the merit of building a valuable GAA facility is illogical.

This is about a chance to develop a sports centre in a prime location in the Capital city on a site in which the Irish people have a material interest.

Once again, they will have no say, silenced by a system where the price of everything and the value of nothing appears to take precedent.

Presumably, the selling price of Spawell won't be very much higher than the Dublin offer.

Yet, however small the difference, it has to go to the highest bidder and to hell with the social aspects.

How small-minded is that?

Irish Independent

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