O’Devaney Gardens is a 14 hectare site right next to the Phoenix Park, and if developed sensibly, could have provided a large number of social and affordable housing units on site, yet instead it is being used to give a huge payday to developer Bartra Capital.
Public land at O’Devaney Gardens Given Away for Private Developer Profit
It is more than two years since a terrible decision to gift the public land at O’Devaney Gardens to the property developers Bartra Capital was made by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael councillors joining forces with councillors from the Social Democrats, the Greens and Labour. A full two years on and what has happened on the site?
Precisely nothing. No sod turned nor one brick laid.
In the midst of a deepening housing crisis, Barta delayed and delayed lodging a planning application, and when indeed they did apply for planning permission, rather than adhering to the agreement made with DCC in November 2019 to deliver 796 new homes, the developer went looking for more: going higher and denser. An Bord Pleanala duly delivered a planning permission in September 2021 to build 1,047 residential units across 10 apartment blocks up to 14 storeys high.
As far as a bad deal goes, at least those who voted in favour of it could now say housing was on the way, no?
No. Bartra have spent the past six months in the High Court challenging one of the conditions attached by An Bord Pleanala to the planning permission, namely that the developer was prohibited from selling any of the “for private sale” apartments to institutional investors, ie vulture funds.
Take a moment to realise that DCC officials and councillors from the Social Democrats, the Greens, Labour along with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail still believe that this is the best use our public land and the best way to deliver housing in the city. Truly dire politics wedded to failed neoliberal ways of governance.
Fianna Fail Force Through Giveaway at O’Devaney Gardens 11 May 2022
On 11 May 2022, I spoke at a special meeting of Dublin City Council on the giveaway of O’Devaney Gardens to a private developer and called for the deal to be scrapped.
The O’Devaney Gardens PPP deal was a disaster from day one and should have been stopped before it began. This is as true today in its latest iteration as it was in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 when we last voted on the deal. Barta have breached certain conditions of the Development Agreement and therefore the deal should be rescinded immediately, the plans for this site gifted to DCC and work begin on engaging construction companies to go on site and commence building genuinely good value social homes and actually affordable rental and purchase homes.
We know that the housing crisis so that so many individuals, couples and families are enduring has been caused by the extremist market ideology of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael over the last number of decades as they took turns at misgoverning this state, viewing housing as a commodity from which private interests have a divine right to profit from at our expense.It was ever thus with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. In the first decade of this century their ideology led to the massive property bubble and crash in 2008 and the resultant decade of misery for so many a alongside the wholesale gifting of vast swathes of Irish property to international vultures via NAMA, and a retrenchment in social housing construction which led directly to our current housing crisis.
So to expect either of these parties, or indeed their junior partners in crime from time to time the Labour Party, to “solve” the housing crisis is ludicrous – their policies are the housing crisis. Which leads us to this city council and our responsibilities to the people who elected us in 2014 and in 2019: they did not elect us to rubber stamp the appalling housing policies coming from FF FG Lab Greens at national level which have had and are having such devastating consequences for so many but particularly for thousands of children whose early years have been so negatively affected by this housing crisis.
When the plan to privatise vast tracts of public land emerged in 2014/2015, a plan known as the Housing Land Initiative, it should have been rejected outright as it was by myself and other socialist councillors. We should have joined together and campaigned with all those concerned with the housing crisis to force a change in government housing policy.But instead the largest group on DCC at the time with 16 councillors, Sinn Fein, enabled this disastrous public-private partnership model of housing delivery to progress through 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
So at a national level the blame lies squarely with FFFG but at the local level of the city council Sinn Fein, the Labour Party, Greens and Social Democrats must carry a significant amount of the blame for the continuation of failed neoliberal housing policies that sees prime parcels of public land like O’Devaney Gardens and Oscar Traynor Road gifted to private developers in return for expensive social homes, unaffordable cost rental homes and unaffordable private purchase homes.
There is another way to deliver social and affordable housing that doesn’t rely on private, for profit developers but sadly the support that the Housing Land Initiative has received over the last 7 years from all the above parties has at the very best delayed an alternative housing policy emerging for at least a decade and at the very worst, has buried the potential for Dublin City Council, in conjunction with construction companies, delivering the social and affordable housing so many Dubliners need and deserve.
So where are we with O’Devaney Gardens?
Barta Capital won their High Court judicial review and are now free to sell privately the 50% of the residential units to whomever they so choose, for whatever price they like. As to the remainder of the units, 30% will be purchased by the city council for social housing with some 20% for a very expensive-looking affordable purchase scheme. Every single unit will be sold by the developer with a healthy 15% profit margin or more.
Some more good news for the developer though: Dublin City Council officials have recently stated their willingness to take more units on the site, looking to purchase some 30% of the 50% of the private units for a cost rental scheme. Developer pay day again.
The sheer awfulness of the original and subsequent O’Devaney Garden deals angered and shocked the people of Dublin, who are still at a loss to understand how anyone would think giving public land to private developers for nothing and in return buying off the developer the homes built on the site at overinflated market prices is the best way for Dublin City Council to meet its housing targets.
There are still some of us on Dublin City Council who believe that DCC officials should rescind the terrible deal with Bartra Capital and develop the site itself as this would result in housing being delivered in a more timely and cost efficient fashion. Crucially, though, it is going to need a mass campaign to save this land for public housing.
Background: In 2019 DCC gave away O’Devaney Gardens without guarantees of affordable housing
On the evening of 4 November 2019, Dublin City Council officials and councillors from a range a political parties (Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein, Labour, Soc Dems, Greens and some Independents) handed over a hugely valuable piece of public land, owned by the people of Dublin through the local authority, to a private developer.
Independent Left Councillor John Lyons made his opposition to this plan clear after the meeting of Dublin’s councillors.
The vote tonight on the O’Devaney Gardens Public-Private Partnership deal was a red line: the plan to gift the private developer Bartra Capital one of the most valuable sites in Dublin was passed by a majority of Dublin City councillors, meaning life in this city for thousands of individuals, couples and families struggling with sky-rocketing rents, unaffordable house prices, ever-lengthening housing lists, insecure tenancy arrangements and worsening homelessness will become even more of a struggle.
I voted against this proposal as it further entrenches the neoliberal model of housing delivery pushed over the last two decades by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael: gift prime public assets to private capital, receive a paltry return and be grateful.
Is it crazy to believe in the idea that public land should be used to meet the housing needs of the public and not to enrich a wealthy property developer?
Instead, it appears that Fianna Fáil, the SocDems, Greens and Labour would rather have cosy chats with Bartra Capital than campaign for public housing on public land.
Dublin City Council can and must do better: yes, our ability to act independently is restricted by the pro-market, neoliberal, property developer-friendly Fine Gael government at a national level but this only serves to emphasize how important it is that all elected representatives who care about housing in the city oppose the sell-off of public land and link in with local, city-wide and national housing campaigns to apply the pressure and force a change in national housing policy, away from the failed pro-market policy that only favours the rich and powerful towards a more humane housing policy that treats housing as a right and not a commodity.
I will continue to campaign and call for the construction of public and affordable housing in Dublin City. This city belongs to us all not just those with the deepest pockets and the ear of the government. We need to stand up and take back the city from the vultures and speculators and their politician friends.
Councillors had a vote on the proposed section 183 disposal of the land to the developer. Unfortunately, even parties who claim to represent the interests of working class communities allowed this plan to go ahead.
The deal went through with the support of Fianna Fail, SocDems, Greens and Labour. They called for the housing minister’s resignation yet they rubber-stamped and further entrenched Fine Gael’s pro-market model of housing delivery.
Sinn Féin opposed the plan, but had previously flipped and flopped over O’Devaney Gardens over the past three years. Their manoeuvring on 4 November rang hollow. The previous council meeting had an opportunity to develop a truly public cost rental model on the site but SF, along with Labour and Greens, defeated it.
A bad deal for Dubliners out there struggling on mid-to-low wages and faced with dire homelessness, outrageous rents, unaffordable house prices and lengthening council lists.
Public land should not be used for private gain.
Developer demands €7m: Councillor John Lyons refuses to be bullied
Ahead of the important Dublin City Council vote on Monday 7 October 2019, the head of housing for Dublin City Council, Brendan Kenny briefed the press that the developers, Bartra Capital, had demanded a €7m payment from the council. Kenny threatened that there would be a five-year delay should this not be granted by councillors and released figures that glossed over the extent to which Bartra capital were able to exploit the situation, namely by having 50% of the units for sale on the open market.
John Lyons, Independent Left councillor, made his opposition to this extra give-away clear:
I will not be threatened by the executive of the city council acting on behalf of a private developer, and so will be voting against the plan to hand over the O’Devaney Gardens site to a Bartra Capital.
We have, as Dublin City Councillors, an opportunity next Monday to stand up for the people of Dublin who are despairing at the lack of public and affordable housing in the city.
I will not support a plan that will see a private developer make massive profits from the privatization of public lands, and with such a paltry return for the council terms of social housing, as well as the complete absence of any kind of housing that could be reasonably be described as affordable.
We have a fight on our hands and so we must link up with all the campaign groups and others interested in creating a city that is accessible to all.
The vote to privatise the public lands at O’Devaney Gardens had previously been postponed, seemingly so that then Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, could get involved on behalf of Bartra Capital. On 7 October 2019, the Minister for Housing repeated the threat earlier made by a DCC official that if councillors refused to vote to gift a prime piece of public land to a private developer then nothing will happen on that site for at least half a decade.
At the time Councillor John Lyons made the following response to the Minister’s desire to address councillors:
To offer what exactly? I would say not much but a slightly tweaked outrageously bad deal.
So let’s use the next few weeks to build up the pressure on Fine Gael, DCC officials and the councillors currently in favour of this rotten deal.
Both Richard Barrett, the founder of Bartra Capital, and Eoghan Murphy TD shared the idea that it is valid to build co-living apartment blocks. In other words, accommodation that is only a bedroom, with other facilities being shared.
Infamously, Murphy described such accommodation as like living in ‘a trendy boutique hotel’. Everyone else calls it for what it is: a rat race designed by developers who want to maximise profits.
We should be designing beautiful public environments, like the one in Vienna highlighted here by Councillor John Lyons.
In April 2019 the Irish Sun used a freedom of information request to discover that the founder of Bartra Capital wrote to Eoghan Murphy in 2017 after his becoming Minister for Housing. Richard Barrett intended to avail of the ‘passports for cash’ scheme (officially, the Immigrant Investor Programme) but civil servants replied on behalf of Murphy that the meeting would be premature.
A film made in 2013, ‘Inside Out Outside In, Stories from O’Devaney Gardens’, highlights what has now been lost: a vibrant working class community.
Councillor John Lyons called for resignations over the way DCC was misled over O’Devaney Gardens
Opposition to Dublin City Council’s plan for O’Devaney Gardens rocketed after 18 November 2019 when it emerged that the council voted through a plan two weeks’ earlier (see below) that was reported to the council as a new one, with increased affordable housing by way of new cost rental units, when in fact the Minister, Eoghan Murphy, had not signed off on any changes to the original, rejected plan.
A letter obtained by Sinn Féin under the Freedom of Information act detailed comments from the Minister including statements that refute the promise of social and affordable housing:
In order to repay the required financing, the rental levels would likely have to be set at, or close to, market rates. This would effectively negate the concept of providing affordable homes for rent.
… it seems highly unlikely that the purchase of private units from the developer… can deliver its intended goal of affordable rental.
Independent Left Councillor John Lyons moved a suspension of DCC’s standing orders at the annual budget meeting on 18 November 2019 in an attempt to win a plan for government funding towards a project that guarantees a large allocation of affordable housing for O’Devaney Gardens. Unfortunately, at that time parties such as Labour, Greens and Social Democrats missed the opportunity to recognise that voting for the plan of 4 November was a massive mistake and a betrayal of those on low and middle incomes who elected them.
John Lyons explained his call for resignations by those who had misled the council:
I believe that all councillors from Fianna Fail, the Social Democrats, the Green Party and the Labour Party who voted in favour of gifting the prime public land at O’Devaney Gardens to the private developer Barta Capital should resign, with Fianna Fail Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe the first to step down.
It turns out, unsurprisingly, that their private “deal” with the developer has no legal basis and did not change the percentage of affordable housing contained within the disastrous deal struck between Dublin City Council and Barta.
During the city council meeting in which the vote took place on November 4th last I posed a question to the law agent: does the new FiannaFail/SocDem/GreenParty/Labour Party “deal” materially change the
contract between DCC and Barta?
The Lord Mayor refused to allow the question to be answered. Why?
Either these councillors knew that their new deal was nothing but a fig leaf to cover up their vote to privatise public land or they were genuine in their belief that their “developer deal” was going to increase the number of affordable homes but were too incompetent to ensure that their deal was legally sound.
Either way, they should resign over this farce.