This is the week when at last, the recommendation by Judge Kenny in his landmark Kenny Report in 1973/4 – for the creation of a public property price register – was finally realised. This has been a revolutionary development for transparency in this country where property dealings have long been the source of wealth, status and in some cases, shenanigans.
But the Kenny Report isn’t just notable for its recommendation for transparent public registers – it also had recommendations for the acquisition of private land for public use, recommendations which boiled down to paying no more than a 25% premium on the current value of the land. Some of you might feel there is something unfair about farmers whose agricultural land is worth €5-20,000 an acre, generally €8-12,000 at present, getting paid €100,000-plus an acre. When the only reason for the increased value is the State putting something of public value on the land. It is a subject that has been discussed on here before – here and here, for example.
In September 2012, the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty seemingly asked every Departmental minister to provide details of private land acquired using the public purse in 2010 and 2011. The question to each minister was the same – “if he will provide a list of the payments made by the State to private land owners in 2010 and 2011 to acquire land for use in the public capital programme” You will find all the questions and answers here, you need look at questions with the title “Capital Expenditure”
In light of Minister for Health James Reilly’s current difficulties with the property in Balbriggan, you might be interested to know that the question to Minister Reilly has been referred to the Health Services Executive for a response which apparently hasn’t yet been received. Minister Reilly replied “Management of the Health Service Executive property portfolio is a service matter. Therefore your question has been referred to the Executive for direct reply. No payments have been made by my Department or the agencies under its remit to private land owners in 2010 and 2011 to acquire land for use in the Public Capital Programme.”
We seem to be still awaiting details from Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar’s spending, and Transport is likely to be a major buyer of land.
Minister for Education Ruari Quinn has today provided his Department’s list, shown at the top of this blogpost. There are two multi-million euro payments in 2010. But for 2011, it now seems that some Departments of government won’t even provide details, claiming it is “commercially confidential”. So now apparently, when tens of millions of our money is being used to enrich certain landowners we can’t even get basic details. And with the hullabaloo in Balbriggan, we might be forgiven for wondering about the identity of those selfsame landowners, and for asking if there are political aspects to any of the purchases.
Why is the question so pertinent now? Surely when we are enduring such austerity and facing much more, when we are pursuing most households in the State to cough up €100 for the household charge, surely to God, we are not at the same time creating millionaires out of private land owners whose land – mostly agricultural land – would be worth a fraction of what the State generally pays. Surely to God…