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?



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