Republican News · Thursday 19 November 1998

[An Phoblacht]

economy gone crazy

Developers make money on empty flats while housing lists grow, reports Roisín de Rossa

There are those who think that the housing crisis ends at the Pale, but there are darker shades of pale all around the 26 counties when it comes to getting a roof over your head.

This is a problem faced by at least 100,000 people in the 26 counties according to Local Authority figures. Local authority housing lists add up to an incredible 47,000, of which 11,000 are in Dublin and County, 4,240 in Cork and County, and amazingly over 2,000 in each of Counties Wicklow, Wexford, Kildare and Donegal.

d no one should be under the illusion that the dire housing crises in these counties arise only because everyone is looking to live beside the seaside. EU money, tax incentives, tourism and all these `goodies', along with the continental cheeses, wines and patisseries, have brought their associated problems. The situation is bad in Dublin - it's crazy in Clonakilty.

For down at the seaside, overlooking the most beautiful sandy strand, is Inchydoney Lodge, a 67 bed-room hotel plus 60 unit apartments blocks. At 100 a night for a suite, or 110,000 to buy an apartment, it's not quite the lodge you'd house the gamekeeper in. The town owes the development of this site to John Fleming, who has done roadworks for the County Council, and Seamus O'Mahony, an accountant from Bandon. They built the lodge for around 10 million, with grants and subsidies and accompanying tax incentives

All this becomes possible with EU funding and tax incentives, which generously allow you to write off double your income from the development against tax for 10 years in seaside resort areas. And of course this all helps build the enormous tourist potential of the area.

The development is managed by Michael Knox Johnston, a well known hotelier who has worked his way up from managing the Sandals Hotel in Jamaica, to the Chepstow Country Club, to Mount Juliet and the Skibo Castle in Scotland.

Knox Johnston runs a thalassotherapy spa - nothing to do with Scottish women, but a process which uses ``fresh heated sea water as a source of relaxation, invigoration and healing'' (a bit like fresh salmon out of a tin) with subaqua massage multijets, counter-current swimming area, a geyser spa, and aeromarine spa, topped off with ``microbubble seats''. Furthermore you can get lymph drainage, marine brumisation and a variety of algotherapies amongst other treatment choices that you wouldn't want to be without.

Local residents, who would have come to this lovely beach for picnics on a Sunday, strongly backed the project, and, as a meeting of 500 in the town showed, so great was the desire to get the project off the ground that the West Cork Branch of An Taisce dropped its objections - the first time such a thing had happened in its 50 year history.

Many of the apartments remain vacantly staring at the beautiful seaview and West Cork scenery, but this mightn't be a source of stress to Fleming and O'Mahony, because getting rid of just 40 of the apartments would bring in over 4 million and that means 8 million tax free.

But three miles up the resurfaced road, in Clonakilty, there are some families living in two room flats above the shops. Pointing to one of the gaily painted, pink and green buildings in the tourist attraction, main street, Sinn Féin Town Councillor, Cionnaith O'Suilleabhain says, ``for instance up there is a family with three children living in two small rooms in totally unacceptable conditions. Apart from the overcrowding, and the state of the building, they would never get out in a fire.''

``Most of these shops have flats above them,'' he goes on. ``The owners can charge exorbitant rents. 70 is quite usual for a sub-standard one-roomed flat. I have called on numerous occasions on the Town Commissioners and lobbied the County Council to implement the Housing Act, register these landlords, and inspect the accommodation and order improvements. It just doesn't happen.''

Cionnaith goes on. ``The Government supports the people who run about in Mercs, who have more money than they know what to do with and who rub shoulders with politicians. It helps them to invest millions, but they don't care a damn at the end of the day if the property is rented or not. They still make money even though there are people living in real poverty and appalling conditions who can't afford decent accommodation.''

``We've 220 on the housing list here in the town, and there are 12 houses coming on stream shortly, and all these empty flats down by the sea. It is criminal.''

It is scarcely any wonder that Peter Bacon, of the highly acclaimed Report on Housing, observed that ``the question has to be asked, is it a good idea that we provide tax incentives for commercial development when the need for housing is far more pressing? Tax designation,'' he added, ``may need to be looked at further.''

It's not that the people in Clonakilty lost by the Inchydoney development. They didn't. Provision of social housing to meet the needs is simply not an alternative, whilst the developers have the money, and government backing, to make investment decisions, and Municipal Authorities and local people don't; but that is the craziness of the `privatised' system that the boomtimes have brought us.

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