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Dublin Docklands Development Authority and the Bertie Ahern Curse

Even though Bertie Ahern’s dig-outs were grubby, sordid, compromising and embarrassing, they weren’t the most disturbing thing about the worst prime minister in the history of our country.  That came during his now-famous interview with Brian Dobson on the main evening news, when he informed Dobson that he appointed people to the boards of State companies because they were his friends.

He didn’t appoint people to State boards on the basis of expertise, qualifications or experience.  No indeed.  Bertie put his pals in charge of your money and was quite happy to announce it to the nation on the six o’clock news because he saw absolutely nothing wrong with that way of doing business.

His friends – whatever a friend is in the grasping psyche of Bertie Ahern – got jobs controlling State money, hundreds of millions, billions, solely on the basis that they had been nice to Bertie one way or another.

I don’t know what Bertie would consider a friend, but I do believe that beneath the bonhomie and the backslapping joviality, there’s a cold, calculating personality fixated on one thing only: Bertie.  In my opinion, Bertie would have only one idea of what a friend is — somebody who has been useful to him in the past or who is likely to be useful in the future.

Everything else has to do with the personal insecurity that drove him to lie about his educational attainments and his professional qualifications.  I think he’s in awe of people who are richer, better connected or more powerful because at heart he’s still the ducking-and-dodging street-corner boy he always was.  A calculating little spiv who saw politics as the way to feather his own nest.

A man devoid of vision.

This is worth thinking about.  It’s worth pondering.  Our prime minister considered it appropriate to put people in charge of this country’s assets who might be incompetent, dishonest or in severe conflict of interest, if and only if they were members of his social circle.

Take it lads, and do whatever you want with it.  It’s only taxpayers’ money.

Where is the vision in that?  Where is the principle?

Thus we have the Dublin Docklands Development Authority which is now facing huge losses.

This organisation was given full powers as a planning authority, a huge budget and the autonomy to go out and redevelop the Dublin docklands.

Unfortunately, it was also given Seán Fitzpatrick and Lar Bradshaw, both directors of the disgraced Anglo-Irish Bank.  Seánie, as Bertie called him, was another friend.

There were eight State-appointed directors whose job it was to protect the State’s financial interests: Fitzpatrick, Bradshaw and six others.

  • Mary Moylan was a civil servant.
  • Declan McCourt was a director of Bank of Ireland.
  • Angela Cavendish worked for Alexsam Corporate Finance.
  • Donal Curtin, an accountant, was the husband of a senior Anglo executive, Anne O’Donoghue.
  • Niamh O’Sullivan was a director of Ove Arup, consulting engineers.
  • Joan O’Connor qualified as an architect but works exclusively in project management.  O’ Connor, who served on the DDDA board from 1997 to 2007 was the project manager for developer Seán Dunne’s Jurys-Berkeley Court project in Ballsbridge.  Dunne – or Dunners, as Bertie called him – later took a successful legal action against the DDDA to prevent it carrying out a development on Dublin’s north quays.

On the 24th October 2006, these eight agreed to embroil the DDDA in the biggest property deal ever done in Ireland : the purchase of the Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend.  The price was €412 million, and the owner was the Dublin Port company, chaired by Joe Bourke, another friend Bertie had appointed.  The site was leased to Paul Coulson whose company would ultimately make over €270 million from the deal.  Fitzpatrick and Bradshaw had a business relationship with Coulson as members of a syndicate that had bought property elsewhere in Dublin.

A company called Becbay had been set up to develop the IGB site and DDDA was to take a 26% stake in the venture.

When it emerged that his bank would be partially funding the deal, McCourt withdrew from the discussion.  The two Anglo directors had no such qualms and declared that they would simply stay out of their bank’s decision-making process on this deal.

Nobody seemed to think it strange that two people whose bank would be putting up the money should be part of this decision.  The civil servant didn’t walk out of the meeting, and her political bosses seemed happy enough with the decision.  Later that very same day, Brian Cowen, as minister for finance, personally approved an increase in the DDDA’s borrowing limits to buy a  share of the site.  For a man of Cowen’s turgid and ponderous nature, this was an action of extraordinary alacrity.  It seems almost as baffling as his later insistence on including Anglo in the bank bailout contrary to all the expert advice available to him – a decision that now threatens to sink the Irish economy.

The deal went through, but the property market went sour and the State lost a fortune, currently in the order of €90 million.  The DDDA’s total deficit last year was over €200 million.

Here’s cronyism at its most naked, with the worst banker in the history of the  State put in place by the worst prime minister and neither of them caring in the slightest what the ultimate cost to the taxpayer might be.

The DDDA debacle was only one instance of political patronage.  Multiply this sort of chicanery by the two years Ahern was finance minister and the ten years he was prime minister.  Work out how much damage a cynical, grasping, unprincipled clod could do in all that time and you have some idea why Ireland is in its current state.

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