Saturday 7 December 2019

Carried away on property tide

The failures of Ireland's banks when it came to property investing are well known, but increasingly revelations about the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) show that even state bodies got carried away on the tide of hysteria that was the property boom.

The DDDA was set up to improve the physical and economic landscape of the docklands, but the revelations suggest it had strange ideas about how to achieve this.

Most baffling was its decision to get involved in the disastrous Irish Glass Bottle site, which was purchased for an astonishing €426m in 2006. Not only did the DDDA and other investors overpay for this asset, it now appears a formal valuation was not even done by the DDDA before it was purchased.

This is just one of the findings in three reports on the DDDA that have been leaked into the public domain. While this revelation is disturbing, there are additional concerns about how the DDDA did its business at the tail-end of the property boom.

For example, were all the planning permissions the DDDA gave out appropriate and legal? The leaked reports suggest some may not have been and developer Sean Dunne has already tasted some success in the courts challenging DDDA decisions.

There is also concern about corporate governance standards at the DDDA and how certain deals were put together. The current innuendo about these deals needs to be removed if the DDDA is to move beyond this embarrassing period in its history.

There is also lingering concern over the relationship between the DDDA and Anglo Irish Bank, which provided much of the funding for deals done in the docklands area.

While Environment Minister John Gormley did the right thing to commission various reports on the DDDA in the first place, he should publish them immediately.

Unfortunately, draft versions of these reports suggest that individuals won't be named or held to account for the disastrous financial performance of the DDDA. This is not acceptable. The only way to rehabilitate the DDDA as a properly functioning state agency, if it's not too late already, is to find out what went wrong over the past five years and who was responsible for key decisions.

That is the quickest route to reforming the DDDA and making it fulfil its original objectives, which were not about property, but about helping Dublin's neglected docklands.

Irish Independent

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