One of the first signs of madness is to continue doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. The alcoholic who picks up a drink thinking that this time he won't end up twisted is quite obviously deranged. Another form of madness infects a society that keeps pursuing the same policies that have proved over decades to be entirely destructive.
Last Tuesday, the head of Nama, Brendan McDonagh, told an Oireachtas committee it may be necessary to flatten some ghost estates. These are the housing estates that will be deemed to be beyond any redemption from the market. They represent the craziest reaches of the property bubble. By right, they should be retained as decaying monuments to the madness of developer-led planning. Let them fester as sores on the landscape, a reminder to unborn generations of the dangers of mortgaging a country's future to the highest bidder.
One of the main features of the bubble was that planning was more often than not led by developers. They saw opportunities to make serious bucks, and then persuaded local politicians that there was a confluence of interests between developer and the common good. Land was rezoned on this basis, turning muck into gold with the stroke of a pen.
Sometimes there was a confluence of interests between developer and society. History is also littered with examples where councillors rendered a dubious service to the common good by buying into a developer's spiel. Planning, which is legally bound up with the common good, was, in many cases, manipulated to enrich vested interests at the expense of the common good, while councillors from the two main parties cheered on the sidelines.
At this stage of the game, as we sift through the carnage of developer-led planning, you might think those days were behind us. Not so. The madness prevails.
Last Monday, a majority of Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown county councillors voted to reject a ministerial directive from John Gormley to rein in their rezoning instincts. The councillors in question were from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and an independent. (Two Fine Gael councillors didn't go along with it).
The problem involves a plan to redesignate lands at The Park retail centre in Carrickmines, south Dublin, near the M50. The developer wants to increase the zoning for retail, which would effectively turn the place into another motorway shopping centre, sucking life from the existing retailers in the area. It is difficult to fathom that anybody believes that a market for such a centre exists.
The county manager, and his planners, are convinced that the plan is unsustainable. Another development, in which the council is involved, is planned for a few miles away.
But the developers, Michael Cotter's Park Developments, have the ear of councillors. They have whispered the magic word – jobs – and politicians from the two main parties are on board.
The situation is so devoid of any common sense that John Gormley felt compelled to intervene, issuing a directive to desist from changing the zoning. The councillors at first accepted his directive – on the chairperson's casting vote – but last Monday they overturned it by a majority of one.
This is just one example of the attitudes to planning that still prevail despite all that has been wrecked. On the one side stands the developer, whose primary focus is turning a buck. Allied with him are councillors from the main parties, lined up like a column of nodding donkeys, chanting a simple mantra, "jobs, jobs, jobs." (This mantra has replaced an older version, "I'm pro-development", which doesn't have the same ring today).
The other side is occupied by professionals whose duty it is to plan for the state's future. They are joined by nearly all politicians who are not from the two main parties. These councillors also are in favour of jobs, but simply don't believe that the plan is sustainable. As Richard Boyd Barrett pointed out at the council meeting, jobs gained in any new shopping centre in the area will inevitably mean retail jobs lost in the surrounding area. The empty shops in Dun Laoghaire's main shopping centre stand testament to that. None of this is rocket science.
If the plan goes ahead, the validity of each side's stance will only become clear in the long run. By then, the developer will have long completed the job, pocketed the big bucks and moved on to new horizons. The councillors who voted in favour will most likely also have moved on. In any event, a result won't be clear until after the next election, and that's about as far ahead as some of these people are capable of thinking.
The position of the Fine Gael councillors on the Carrickmines issue is particularly curious. At national level, the party makes hay portraying Fianna Fáil as being in bed with developers, while at local level, the Blueshirt councillors enjoy just as cosy a relationship.
None of this is new. It's just as mad as it ever was. Some of us naively thought that the current crisis was an opportunity to pause for reflection, to see where we have gone wrong, and how a better society might be crafted. It is becoming more obvious by the day that the mainstream parties just want to get the same old show back on the road. Anybody who really believes that this approach to public life will lead us anywhere but back to our current station is, quite frankly, bonkers.