But when it comes to NAMA, I haven't heard a single utterance from a profession most affected by this crucial piece of legislation. This is what sickens me about Ireland to be honest. We don't do ourselves any favours at all, by playing our cards that close to our chests.
Granted there may be too many voices audible in the debate all at once. But for the entire debate to pass through the system, without so much as a squeek from the architectural profession, in my humble view, is unacceptable. Maybe an architect would decide as (250 minus 46) economists decided that banking was not their area of expertise. But still, the lack of comment from the architectural direction is sadly missed in the debate about NAMA. It was sadly missed in the debate about Metro North and about every other item of concern to the built environment. In the sheer absence of a voice from architects, I have done as much as I can to fill a gap.
The recent silence by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland exposes them for what they are. They are not a body, an organisation or even a loose gathering of like minded folk. All they are, is a group of individuals who look after their own interests and no one else's. Apart from Frank McDonald's newspaper articles and books, the Irish public would not know a single thing about architecture. More is the pity. The Irish architectural profession is much too smug and private about itself. This has to change.
A rare text artifact did emerge from the direction of architect Paul Keogh wrote an essay earlier in the year about Irish towns and cities.
Meanwhile, elected members continue to rezone swathes of agricultural land, often remote from schools, shops, services and transport; frequently ignoring the advice of their professional planners and accepted concepts of sustainable development.
Recent interventions by Minister Gormley - and the criticisms by the chairman of An Bord Pleanala of â€˜indiscriminate and excessive land rezoningâ€™ - are therefore most welcome.
I believe that I know the reason the architectural profession remains so silent. Suppose in an ideal situation, there was no object to NAMA. We move the loans to the NAMA vehicle and proceed with our business. I know that my phone and those of many construction professionals will begin to ring. People who took out loans will need to make some attempt to make them good again. The simple fact that most people refuse to debate, is that Ireland has planning applications for several times more building stock that it could ever require.
The only way to make good on loans that NAMA will take on board, is to develop these projects. How is that going to help? This is the nettle that no one wants to grasp. It felt good to own a field on the edge of an Irish town. It felt good to know that your land had been zoned residential or commercial. In every town across the Irish landscape, people made sure to support politicians and local representatives who would take care of them, by re-zoning their land. This is where the ugly problem raised its head in the first place. How are we going to deal with that in the future? I know sites on the edge of Dublin which may not see development for 10 to 20 years. Those landowners will eventually see a return on their investment, but those are the better off ones.
I commented earlier, at the Designcomment blog, in a post called 'Hunter Gatherer' - in Ireland we have a rather primitive construction industry which wasn't ready for the pressure the Celtic Tiger put upon it. How is it going to be ready to munch it's way through â‚¬90 billion's worth of bad loans, I don't know. How will we organise that in an economical and sustainable way? On the other hand, we have made plans to produce a way more build product than we can consume. How is that equation going to work? That is looking from the point of view, where everything else about NAMA is sustainable, workable and has some solution. That is basically the point of view of Fianna Fail today. But what Fianna Fail hasn't bothered to even do, is deal with the 'What Then' question. That was a question that Peter Bacon himself, the architect of NAMA tried to ask months ago.
I have at least a couple of dozen phone numbers on my phone today, who I would love to call and give work to. All of them are excellent trades people and craftsmen who would dearly like to have a job. But I think there are as many questions about NAMA avoided, as there are questions asked. I should be very pro-Fianna Fail. I should be biased. But I am finding it hard to avoid some obvious issues. I respectfully suggest to the younger architects of Ireland, if they wish to be granted any business at all from the ordinary Irish public in the future, that they at least contribute to the debate in Ireland at the moment. I am sure the Irish public would like to listen to what architects have to say in this crucial time.
Brian O' Hanlon