herald

Friday 15 December 2017

The lavish spending sprees that led to disaster

THE sheer size of the hole the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) now finds itself in is astonishing. But the fact it has all ended in tears is not really that surprising.

Having covered many stories about the authority, I've heard about its lavish spending for years.

The DDDA was supposed to be about social regeneration.

But somewhere along the line, it was hijacked by greedy developers who were given a free run by Fianna Fail.

Throw Seanie FitzPatrick's dysfunctional Anglo Irish Bank into the mix and you get a recipe for disaster.

We now find out that the taxpayer could be liable for the €426.8m paid for the Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend.

Even so, praise has been heaped on the DDDA for turning the derelict zone that was the docklands into a fashionable business district.

But many cities have managed to regenerate their docklands without leaving the taxpayer with a near half a billion debt.

Stories of the DDDA's cavalier attitude towards spending have abounded for years.

Annual meetings in Killarney attended by hundreds of people, champagne receptions in community centres and, of course, fine dining in top restaurants.

The Killarney jamboree was billed as a social regeneration conference but it was renowned for its lavishness.

One junket abroad which included FitzPatrick and a coterie of other DDDA members, cost €80,000.

A classic example was its invite to no less than 17 of its board and council members to visit Germany some years back. They were asked to visit HafenCity in Hamburg to view the area's "water and waterside development".

Apparently, DDDA bosses were furious news of the trip had leaked out.

During the boom years, it was swimming in money as it cashed on the property bubble to a spectacular degree.

It's interesting to note that, even before the DDDA bought into the calamitous Glass Bottle site deal, concerns had been raised about its exposure to the property market.

A downturn in the market was identified by auditors as a key risk facing the semi-state body as far back as 2005.

DDDA chairwoman Niamh Brennan summed it up best when she said the authority was "infiltrated" by Anglo.

Anglo directors also sat on the board of the commercial semi-state company, leading to a "systematic" conflict of interest.

Ms Brennan questioned whether those individuals were "engaging in transactions, influenced by their interests outside of the authority".

Ms Brennan, who is the wife of former justice minister Michael McDowell, pointed out Anglo "did a very extensive amount of business with developers".

People can walk through the docklands area now and marvel at the changes.There are towering apartment blocks, the National Conference Centre, hotels, a Luas line and countless offices.It's alive with chic restaurants and cafes.

But all of this could have been achieved without landing the taxpayer in the mire.

comurphy@herald.ie

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