27 August, 2009

Fireworks and Festivals

Back at work this week after a holiday down in Galicia in Spain. It's a magical slightly Celtic part of the world, prone to rain and wind, and everywhere we went there seemed to be wind turbines on the hilltops. We took the slow travel option of a ferry from Portsmouth in England across the Bay of Biscay to Santander, and the journey there was half the fun.

Meanwhile here the NAMA debate has intensified, and it's straight back into the discussion as to what is the best option for Irish tax-payers and the Irish people. As the IMF stated:

"The success of NAMA will depend on a number of very complex decisions that will need to be taken in designing it during the course of the coming months and then in its implementation."

I waded my way through the Heads of the Bill with James Nix and Gary Fitzgerald the other day. We discussed the valuation issues at length, as this is crucial. Writing down the loans to a realistic level from the stratospheric level that they reached at the height of the boom must be at the heart of the legislation.

I was interested in Fintan O'Toole's piece in the Irish Times the other day about NAMA versus the Kenny Report. I sat on the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution as it considered property rights, and the Green Party's submission endorsed the views of Justice Kenny's report from 1973 which recommended that Local Authorities should be able to buy land in specific areas for the existing use value plus 25%. I don't believe that both proposals are mutually exclusive, as I'd imagine that the bulk of development lands have already undergone a massive write-down that brings their value a lot closer to agricultural use. In essence the green field lands will only constitute a small share of the value of the loans that the State may acquire. I'd imagine the real value will lie in assets located in cities such as Dublin, London, and in the United States. Perhaps this is related to the on-going High Court discussions relating to Liam Carroll's Zoe group. I'm hopeful that some of the work that is underway on the Planning Bill will address some of the issues raised by Justice Kenny one third of a century ago.

The challenge for those who reject NAMA is to propose a viable alternative that could cost Ireland less in the long run. The recent contributions by Brian Lucey, Alan Ahearne and other economists to the debate are hugely useful. I'm heartened that Alan Ahearne seemed to call the bubble for what it was earlier than others. One of my concerns about full nationalisation is that it has the potential to raise the interest rate at which Ireland borrows money abroad.

NAMA is only one of the challenges that lies ahead over the next three or four months. We also have the McCarthy Report, the Commission on Taxation, the Programme for Government Review, and Lisbon Two. Each issue in itself will generate heat, and hopefully light inside and outside the Green Party. As Eamon Ryan said the other day, there's a fascinating 100 days of politics ahead. NESC suggested back in March that we need an integrated approach to Ireland's Five-Part Crisis in banking, public finance, Ireland's reputation, and in the economic and social field. I tend to agree.

Meanwhile in Dún Laoghaire the long term weather forecast (as I write) is looking good (if a bit showery) for the Festival of World Cultures this weekend. Trevor is coming out to talk about food at Cool Earth in the County Hall on Saturday at 2.30 pm, and on Sunday, there's a first in the line-up - the Climate Change comedians at 3.45pm!

Looking at the line-up I'd say Dub Colossus at 6.30pm Saturday on the Main Stage at Newtownsmith (between the East Pier and Sandycove) should be amazing, and the following day Oumou Sangare from Mali in the same slot is bound to impress. Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is the main backer of the Festival which has gone from
strength to strength in recent years. They're also organising the Mountains to the Sea book festival from 10th to 13th September.

Between culture and politics there'll be more than enough festivals and fireworks to keep us busy, and entertained over the months ahead.