Thursday, 18 February 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
They say a leopard never changes its spots and Fianna Fáil does not change its character. It has always been, and remains, a party of the big developers and big builders. We have three proofs of that this week alone. First is the ESRI research which confirms what the left has said about the supposed affordable housing schemes, that their effect will be to push up house prices to make houses even more unaffordable for ordinary workers and to line the pockets of developers. Second is the Government's drive to re-open construction, putting construction workers and the wider community in danger and prolonging the lockdown as a consequence. Third is this legislation, which represents an attempted mass giveaway of public land. The Land Development Agency is nothing other than the mass privatisation of our public lands through the backdoor. It completely wrecks the very limited local democracy that we have. Currently one of the very few powers that elected councillors have is that they can veto the sell-off of public land. Now that is to be scrapped and instead the power to sell off lands will be handed to an unelected and ultimately unaccountable bureaucracy. It is a recipe for dodgy dealings outside of the public eye, not subject to the regular Freedom of Information scrutiny. I have no doubt that if the Government manages to push this Bill through, the LDA will be at the heart of major national scandals in the future, just like NAMA was.
All of this is in order to provide cover for what will amount to massive handouts to big private property developers whose interest this Government politically represents. This privatisation agenda should be rejected. Public land should not be handed over to developers, it should be used to build public and genuinely affordable housing for all.
Looking at how the LDA will work, under the proposed legislation, it can do a survey of public lands and pick and choose the most potentially profitable lands it wants. At that point, its task is to develop this land however it sees fit, including handing it over to private for-profit developers. In fact, it is instructed to avoid what the legislation refers to as "undue segregation on the basis of social background". Anyone who has been around long enough to hear and know Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's anti-social housing mantra knows that that is a code phrase for privatisation of public land by pushing anti-social housing. It is telling that in the mandate there is no mention whatever of social housing. The Government is moving away entirely from the building of social housing, council housing, towards public private partnerships. The plan is for lucrative contracts to be given out to private developers. We will see more O'Devaney Gardens-type plans with private for-profit houses built on public land but these are likely to be even worse, with the LDA not subject to the same public pressure as councillors.
The community of Moyross in Limerick recently saw first hand exactly what the LDA is like. It seems it intervened recently to try to overturn long existing plans for the area which had been demanded by the community but the LDA felt it knew better. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said he wanted to bring it in "for the best interest of the Moyross area" and did not seem to care what the actual residents thought. The result was outrage among the community with the Moyross Residents Forum decrying this as a coup and the local priest writing a stinging letter accusing the LDA and the Minister of a massive betrayal. After the uproar it seems the Government has retreated somewhat but there is still talk of part of the land to be given over to a private hospital as part of the development of the area. Working class communities do not need another white knight with some plan developed over the heads of the residents or some privatisation scheme; they need democratic, community control and public investment to build public homes on public land.