Making use of the generosity of Galwegians

If the Nobel Academy awarded an annual prize for generosity then the Irish people would surely have won it many times over. This thought came to mind as Insider perused the secluded Tara China site, with the historic Mervue House, standing on three acres of gated grounds, surrounded to the front by trees.

This marvellously secluded piece of property is owned by you and me, but in what Insider sees as a fit of unfathomable altruism, a majority of city councillors sold our property for a mere €533,000 to a private developer. The property is situated in the mature and quiet area of Old Mervue. It is walking distance from the centre of town and has planning permission for 100 apartments.

True, two auctioneers have valued the property at the sale price, but selling this piece of public property for a song simply does not make commercial sense. A shrewd businessperson does not sell a gilt-edged asset when there is a slump in the market. What Insider also finds curious is that there are other sites in this town for sale at much higher prices, even though they are smaller, and not so well situated as Tara China. Of course, these sites are in private hands.

Former PD councillor Declan McDonnell was the main mover behind this deal in the city council. However Cllr McDonnell was not alone, most of the pact backed his proposal including Independent Mike Cubbard and Labour’s Billy Cameron.

Of course, neo-liberal dogma is now propagated as the one true faith from Boston to Berlin and beyond. It means banks and speculators get bailed out by the State (ie, you and me ), while the provision of homes is left to the “free market” with the result there is a homelessness crisis and no social housing being built.

'You wouldn't have been able to make it up'

De Valera’s Fianna Fáil had plenty of failings, but from the 1930s onwards it built vast amounts of social housing throughout the State. The Fianna Fáil of today is a much more reactionary animal. Indeed, the present coalition has just continued the same right-wing economic policies of the previous FF/Green government.

In contrast, Sinn Féin's councillor's Mairéad Farrell did what all councillors should do; she went and consulted the residents. Indeed, she carried out a poll in Old Mervue which showed 89 per cent of households living in the district were opposed to the sale of our property. However Cllr Farrell was not permitted to present the people’s view after Cllr McDonnell proposed a vote be taken on the sale without further discussion. It was carried with votes from the ruling pact. Why such an undemocratic motion was permitted only Mayor Frank Fahy knows.

Insider could dwell the entire article on the Galway public’s generosity in regard to this sale, but there are other recent examples of our munificence worth commenting upon. Take the Picture Palace Arthouse cinema; the public poured a fortune into that project, but a private company has been given a 25-year lease to profit from the cinema. Insider finds that deeply disturbing.

Irish benevolence clearly knows no bounds when it comes to looking after the business sector. Insider heard of another story, this time linked to a NAMA property in Galway. This information came from a local member of one of the public service unions. Apparently a large city centre property was sold to a British hedge fund for €4.5 million – a more than 70 per cent discount from the book price of €18 million. Just as a long lease for the said property was taken out at €720,000 a year by a Government department. In other words, the hedge fund would own the property in at least eight years. Why didn’t NAMA just rent it to the State on our behalf?

While not doubting the veracity of the story Insider emailed Independent TD Mick Wallace in the hope he might give his assessment. Lo and behold he sent a short reply: “Hadn't heard about it, but a familiar story. In some cases, NAMA lent 75 per cent of the money to foreign investment funds, in order to entice them to buy for peanuts. If it hadn't happened, you wouldn't have been able to make it up.”

The same, Insider believes, might be said about the sale of Tara China.

Paying for nothing in return

Our generosity appears to know no bounds. We are forced to pay a property tax for which we get nothing, absolutely nothing. But people are beginning to wake up to the situation as has been seen by the mass boycott of Irish Water. The Right2Water mass movement could become the basis for an alternative.

Insider does not view this purely in electoral terms. Extra-parliamentary activity is vital if change is to take place. Too often we have seen the political parties promise one thing before an election and then do the complete opposite when ensconced in Government.

The current “saviour” is Sinn Féin, like it was Labour at the last election, and the Greens the election before that. Yet, at the outset of the campaign against water charges we saw up close that SF’s candidate in Galway West, Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, did not support Right2Water and was condemning Cllr Mairéad Farrell for going live on TG4 Nuacht at the launch on Eyre Square of the Galway campaign. He only came around months later when it was seen as the thing to do.

No wonder 30 per cent of the public is due to vote Independent at the next election – the more fearless, principled, spokespeople we have in the Dáil the better. We have been generous far too long.

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