September 30th, 2010
03:36 AM GMT
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East Cork, Ireland (CNN) – The issue of ghost estates in Ireland is more than empty houses. It's a symbol of the country's descent from the Celtic Tiger leading the European charge of prosperity to a broken state, crippled by what most would agree was a universal greed: greed of consumers, developers and those who Irish people blame the most, the banks.

I moved to England from Ireland 10 years ago, just as the building boom was really taking off. I left a small coastal community of just over 5,000 people, and on each return visit I was amazed and somewhat aghast at new developments nestled within the town.

The old fairground and amusement center made way for a block of brightly colored apartments. The field where my friends and I used to hang out as children was freshly paved with a new development. Even the building which used to house our convent school was rumored to be next in line for conversion into seafront apartments.

This money never came and the building now lies unoccupied. One look and it's visible that the grounds remain unattended, with grass shoots sprouting from some parts of the roof.

It's this overindulgence –- this viewpoint that property equaled money –- that drove the Irish property market. Cian O'Callaghan, one of the authors of the only official reports into ghost estates, told me that during the boom the few voices that questioned this flood of housing were systematically accused of “standing in the way of progress.”

In other words, the Irish people seemed to view this building trend as a means of traveling to modernity. Rows of bright shiny houses with two bathrooms, front and rear gardens and a garage would show the world that Ireland was no longer the poor man of Europe. Ireland was taking its place amongst the developed world and its people would benefit from the fruits of its success.

People now living in ghost estates were, not surprisingly, reluctant to talk about the experience of living in a half-finished development. But I met an interesting character who shed more light on an already tragic situation. This man was a council tenant on a ghost estate where the council had taken over about a dozen empty homes.

He takes care of his severely disabled daughter in a two-story house. Moving his daughter up and down the stairs was proving difficult and he pleaded with the council authorities to rehouse him into a bungalow.

“It's a disgrace,” he kept saying. “Not five miles down the road there are rows of empty houses, all unoccupied and with all the thousands of unoccupied houses in the country, the council tells me there are no bungalows available.”

I traveled to the estate he told me about in a neighboring village and sure enough, there was a fenced part of an existing estate with rows of bungalows and signs threatening: “Danger. Keep out.”

In a radius of 10 miles from the town of Middleton, which is featured in my report, I must have counted at least a dozen ghost estates. In some, there were a few rows of houses occupied. One entire estate of 78 houses, which appeared almost ready for occupancy, was now fenced off. The developer had gone bust. Roads and lighting had not been finished. However, advertising signs of future planned developments next to ghost estates remain: A sign that had not the money run dry, the appetite for development would have continued. Now the land earmarked for future building lies empty and overgrown.

The question is, will Ireland ever be at a point to resurrect these plans on its quest for progression?

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. NationOfArtists

    You should look up filmmaker Frank Kelly, of Scarlet Crescent Productions in Drogheda. They had a reading of his play/screenplay "Ghoster" recently in Dublin about this very issue. He wrote it two years ago but it remains an important part of the contemporary Irish climate.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:13 am |
  2. Robert

    Property development quickly became a blight on the Irish landscape. I lived there for 7 years during the peak of the boom and left just as the bust began in 2008. The houses that were built across Ireland were done with no respect for the landscape they were built in and, even though they were attractive enough in their own right, looked out of place, especially in the smaller midland towns.

    There were many voices cautioning the government about unscrupulous development and the fact that far too large a proportion of the economy was invested in construction, but they did not listen. The government was also warned about reckless spending and advised to plan for the slump that would inevitably come – this advice was also ignored.

    Hopefully Ireland will recover. More importantly, I hope they learn to manage their growth better, to ensure there is a sustainable future for the country.

    September 30, 2010 at 7:35 am |
  3. Jennifer

    I left Ireland 12 years ago and have worked in (yes, banking!) in Zurich, Paris and London during this time, my dream home will always to be own a house with a view of Dalkey island and Killiney beach in South County Dublin – still an unaffordable luxury. Let's speak about Ireland with some sense of support and pride, we all knew what we were doing and there is a great sense of solidarity and accountability to overcome this. Let's not jump on the bandwagon of pessism and misery which is..easier !

    September 30, 2010 at 8:51 am |
  4. paininthedong

    I listened in some disbelief to Morning Ireland this morning, where Brian Lenihan blamed everyone and everything, bar himself, for this mess that the country finds itself in. If I remember correctly he said people were delusional, implying he was the only one with a level head, but was mad as hell listening to him and may have got that wrong.
    Maybe I am one of those delusional people so maybe he could set me straight?
    Explain to me minister...
    How the hell was Seanie’s personal lending vehicle of strategic importance to the Irish taxpayer? Is this because YOU went to a meeting with a group of bankers (those bastions of honesty and upstanding citizenship), without proper advisors. Maybe, instead of bringing your make-up artists with you it would have been of more use to maybe bring an economist, perhaps a lawyer to give advice (you obviously haven’t been practising, or are you just as incompetent at that profession).
    Is it not because of your actions that this country is now fighting an economic war with the bond markets, being attacked by those that you have bailed out by providing this ‘blanket’ guarantee. Trying to squeeze as much as possible out of a tiny country……….ISN’T THIS YOUR FAULT!
    What if you had left Anglo Fail? Well we wouldn’t have a 34 billion debt. 34 billion…. think about that for a minute. We also have a 24.1 billion pension reserve fund. That’s a hell of a lot of money with which to launch a ‘wee few’ capital projects. Imagine, being able to employ a good proportion of the half a million unemployed people for a few years. All of those TAX receipts… NONE of those pesky social welfare payments… You might even be able to pay the auld Public Service workers, who are somewhat overpaid considering the state of the services they provide by the way. Not only that, but those same markets the country is at war with would have a hell of a different outlook if Ireland Inc. still had a performing domestic economy.
    Now Brians (Lenihan and Cowen), consider we are paying 7% on the loans that the government are taking out to run the country. We need to borrow 33% of GDP (GDP estimated at 200 billion for 2010) thats ~70 billion. At 7% interest? One wonders exactly whose side you guys are on?
    Here is my observation. Maybe the people of the country can decide whether I am delusional:
    Some definitions:
    TREASON: “In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more serious acts of betrayal of one’s sovereign or nation. Outside legal spheres, the word “traitor” may also be used to describe a person who betrays (or is accused of betraying) their own political party, nation, family, friends, ethnic group, team, religion, social class, or other group to which they may belong.
    CRIME: Modern societies generally regard crimes as offences against the public or the state (wikipedia)
    A crime is an act which offends strong and defined states of the collective conscience, because the only characteristics common to all crimes, which are or have been recognized as such, are the following:
    (a) A crime offends sentiments which are found among all normal individuals of any given society;
    (b) These sentiments are strong ;
    (c) These sentiments are defined.
    I am no solicitor, but I think that the thin ice you are standing on is due only to the fact that your party have been in power for quite a period down the years and do seem to favour deregulation or at least light-touch regulation and as a result there probably are no definitions of sentiment covering the offensive actions you have taken in the books.
    For your actions on that day in September 2008 you deserve to be put in the same bracket as Seanie (he also was a bit delusional for a while, might still be), and deserve the same punishment for selling the country out to the morons who believed that some muppet like Seanie could make magic.
    It’s time you and Brian Cowen, indeed all of Fianna Failed, cleared Seanie Fitz’s pubic hairs out of your mouths and admitted that the hole the country is in today is YOUR fault, NO-ONE ELSE’S.
    It was your incompetent actions 2 years ago that landed us in this mess.
    Or...... Am I the delusional one?

    Yours in disbelief (or maybe delusion)

    September 30, 2010 at 9:14 am |
  5. marc

    Stop attacking my country...look at all the other stinking cesspits full of out of control feral kids across London and Paris and many other cities and the vast sea of red ink that the UK s drowning in...Yes Ireland s a mess , but it has been a mess before and it will recover....We are not like Greece and the other unfortunates that bear the acronym "PIGGS " WE have a strong and healthy export sector, indigenous and otherwise and a well educated population and our country has not been lost to the unbridled plague of immigration from immigrant populations with no loyalty to the country that blights many other European countries. Do not wish for our collapse as even tho we are small we still employ people in other countries and being an island will not prevent contagion to Britain and other "healthy" countries

    September 30, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  6. M.Berry

    Its really funny to see the Irish peasants wailing now , land ,land ,land, like the Bull McCabe. A fixation in the heart of the peasant. See what happens when peasants are given too much leeway. even now people are eying cheap property wondering if they can make a killing. Well, its another Darwinian Story, survival of the economic fittest......Oh I sold everything in 2006 as it was so evident it was a bubble.....

    September 30, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  7. matthew

    Ireland had 15 years of economic boom, not due to their own endeavours, but due to british, french, german, and dutch cash. EU CASH.

    The EU pumped millions in grants into Ireland, which was one of the poorest countries in the EU in the 1970'S, and the boom was the outcome. Now the bubble has burst. But, unlike before, the EU has other prioriy nations to give funding, notably eastern europe and greece.

    Ireland will not see the amount of EU grants that it has done in the past, and without this cash, they do not have the means nor the know how to create economic prosperity on a scale similar to the 90's

    Ireland should prepare itself for 15 years of economic stagnation. It is the reality.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  8. Maria

    My country is in a bad shape due to builders & banks greed & social welfare wasting money. Money was spent on things like if you were unemplyed & got a bitch puppy social welfare would pay for the operation so that your bitch wont be having all these little puppies!!! There are many families who just did not benifit from the boom and for whatever reason needed help from the state which is ok. Now families that had huge houses etc that spend all they had eacn week are wondering how to live on so little!!
    I say welcome tio the real world.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  9. Peter

    With respect Jennifer, you don't have to live here ! It's easy to talk about "bigging" up the country from a safe distance.

    The reality is that until we have a new Government, who will hopefully force out the truth of what went on and face up to what needs to be done, the doom & gloom will continue. NAMA is only keeping these ghost estates in limbo at a false market price, whereas we need to take the hit of selling the houses at prices people will buy them at. People scoffed when Iceland imploded, but 2 years down the road, they are in a far better place than we are. There was an honesty there, that we can only dream about.

    Like so many other facets of life, you can't move on until there is closure, and while this poisonous government remains, we cannot hope to move on.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  10. Mark

    These developments aren't maintained, usually don't have utilities, and attract "vermin" of different sorts: vandals who smash and burn; the homeless (drug addicts, winoes, gypsies, etc.) who squat in empty buildings; rats and other field animals who shelter in buildings and enjoy the heat of the few occupied buildings; gangs who headquarter where the police rarely go; "fly tippers" who dump refuse in the developments; kids looking for somewhere to party and shag; weekend mechanics who work on their cars and leave behind used oil and tires, and broken parts, etc. It's a bit like Europe after the collapse of the Roman empire, which left a vacuum that was filled with lawlessness, chaos and misery for nearly a 1,000 years.

    September 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  11. Paula

    About the question that finishes this article...Yes, Ireland will be able to do that and more, It's a great nation and has done it before

    September 30, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  12. Ken

    Just returned from outside Dublin and I was, like the author, surprised to still see a HUGE sign wanting property to sell – as if there's anyone able to buy. Figure the sign owners just don't have the money to take it down ...

    September 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  13. Pietro

    ...hmm! there seems to be a lot of unfair comments above. From what I can remember a lot of people from many countries came to Ireland and did very well out of the boom! In Ireland defence, I just want to say that Ireland is a fantastic and modern country, the Irish people are friendly hard working and fun loving. They now have a mountain to climb so why not support their efforts with some good will and encouragement

    September 30, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  14. Steve Thompson

    Ireland sounds like Detroit, Michigan. The city plans to demolish 10,000 empty homes in the next 3 years to rid the city of an inventory of abandoned and foreclosed upon homes. There are over 1200 homes for sale at under $10000 in neighbourhoods that still look quite liveable. For further information on Detroit real estate see:

    September 30, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  15. Brendan

    Having been abroad for the last 17 years, the changes I noticed on my unfortunately infrequent returns were shocking. Retail parks being built on what I would call bogland; housing estates on farmland; new cars everywhere. What bothered me most about the building over there (as a civil engineer) was the quality of workmanship – roadworks were completed with resurfacing which settled almost immediately, potholes after the first winter. these roads are now the unmaintained asset of a bankrupt county council. There is a massive element of greed there, mostly on behalf on contractors to maximise their profits by minimising costs.
    And the new cars, to be seen parked on the drive of every new house, almost like a status symbol rather than a mode of transport, mostly bought on credit. I read some statistics recently that said the top selling car this summer in Ireland was a BMW 520d, far outselling the runner up, a more sober Toyota Yaris. Similarly, Galway races had a record number of visitors in July, with a record number of those visitors arriving by helicopter. Are the people who profited during the boom still spending their winnings?
    What Mr.Lenihan apparently failed to mention during his radio interview was how much VRT was collected on those record car sales in the "glory years" – I assume he didn't issue a VRT receipt with a Government Warning in small print on the bottom "Credit may damage your health", instead just ringing the thousands per transaction through the tills.
    The Government blame the people, the people blame the banks, the banks had free reign to be as sub-prime as they wished, but they in turn were being driven by International Governments (not just the Irish one) to loan freely.
    In my opinion, the sector of society to have come through mostly unscathed are of my parents generation, the 60- and 70-somethings who remained cautious with their spending, didn't feel the need to upgrade to that new house with the en-suite & laundry room, who now get a pension so supplement their years of watching the pennies, who now get a medical card & free travel, and drive that well-used car because they don't need to prove anything.
    Unfortunately some of this generation have been ruined by bailing out their offspring – or may still be – Ireland remains far away from the rutted & potholed road to recovery.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:37 am |
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