Saturday 24 February 2018

State papers - 1980: Fianna Fail anger at builders over unfinished estates

Brian Hutton

Fianna Fail rank-and-file complained to then-Taoiseach Charles Haughey about rogue developers -- who were known party backers -- abandoning unfinished housing estates.

Files, just released, show a memo was passed around government ministers in 1980 about the scourge of private developments being left uncompleted around the country. The high-level missive drew attention to Fianna Fail's promise in its local election manifesto the year before to crack down on cowboy builders and make them pay.

The 1979 manifesto declared: "Developers will have to foot the cost of completing estates one way or the other."

It also claimed that the party wanted developer bonds -- money lodged as security with local authorities as a condition of planning permission -- to be set at realistic levels so they covered the cost of carrying out works left undone.

At the time, there were 120 abandoned housing estates around the country with safety concerns over sewerage, public lighting, footpaths, roads and open spaces.

But while Fianna Fail vowed ahead of the polls to stump up IR£3m (about €13.2m today) towards a clean-up, they became worried in power that using taxpayers' money would only encourage builders to ignore their obligations, the files show.

Finance Minister Michael O'Kennedy considered it "unacceptable in principle" that public money would be used to right the wrongs of builders and demanded an overhaul of planning conditions.

The problem was so bad in south east Dublin that the honorary secretary of Fianna Fail's Dun Laoghaire constituency executive, Breandan O'Leang-laoich, wrote to Mr Haughey on behalf of the party grassroots on June 19, 1980.

"Frequently housing estates are left unfinished by builders, many of whom are known Fianna Fail supporters," he wrote.

Mr O'Leanglaoich said there were 52 uncompleted developments in Dun Laoghaire and asked the Taoiseach to bring pressure to bear on the builders.

The Taoiseach insisted local authorities were responsible for policing developers. He said he had contacted David Andrews TD and Environment Minister Sylvester Barrett about it.

A government memo showed the Cabinet agreed on an IR£500,000 (around €2.2m) scheme of grants that year to be reviewed at a later date.

It was suggested grants must be one-off measures "to ensure that developers are given no reason to assume that the State will step in to relieve them" again in future.

Irish Independent

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