It is not an exaggeration to describe this event as a parable of our times. It tells us a number of things about where we are at this stage of our development.
First, it tells us that at the time of an economic downturn, the first people to feel the brunt are the most vulnerable in our society, those whose communities have been ravaged by under investment, drug abuse, social exclusion and the lack of basic facilities. It would be no exaggeration to say that when we talk about schemes being abandoned, we are talking about communities being abandoned.
Second, it demonstrates the folly of our over-reliance, particularly in recent years, on the private sector to address pressing social problems and concerns. We have become completely obsessed with outsourcing everything to the private sector and have little or no confidence in our ability or the ability of a properly funded public sector to take the lead in issues such as this. I am tempted to suggest that instead of denoting public private partnerships, the acronym PPP should denote private profit prevails. That is clearly what it means in the current situation.
The third thing demonstrated by the collapse of the PPP should be of urgent interest to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and to Green Party Senator Dan Boyle. It relates to the reason given for the abandonment of these projects. We have been told it relates to the downturn in construction, but what was less well noticed were the other reasons proffered by Mr. McNamara for walking away from these projects, namely, that he must, quite rightly, observe the reasonable and necessary building regulations with regard to energy conservation and apartment size that have been introduced in Dublin City. What kind of shoeboxes did he propose to build on those sites?
There are sighs from those on the Government side and no doubt this will be an issue at the famous event in Galway at the end of July. Certain elements of the construction industry, bigger builders and those who find themselves in the top two or three in the CIF’s recent publication, do not take the standards seriously. That is where the Minister’s attention should be directed.