More than 300,000 houses are lying empty around the country – three times the official estimate, academics claimed today.
The scale of vacant housing – equivalent to half of all homes in Dublin - could be enough to meet demand for years to come.
The figure was worked out by the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis (Nirsa), based at NUI Maynooth, which advises the Government.
It is up to three times the estimate from Housing Minister Michael Finneran, who last week told the Cabinet there were between 100,000 and 140,000 houses lying empty.
The construction industry suggested it was 40,000.
Professor Rob Kitchin, director of Nirsa, said he decided to accurately calculate the extent of empty housing because official figures do not exist - only estimates.
Along with colleagues, he used the GeoDirectory (Ireland’s national address database), the 2006 census and Department of Environment figures based on ESB connection points.
They concluded that 302,625 houses are not inhabited, including properties for rent or for sale, homes not on the market for various reasons as well as abandoned houses.
The figure does not include the estimated 49,000 holiday homes around the State.
Prof Kitchin said the scale of available housing should turn the construction industry away from housing and towards infrastructure, particularly where needed in broadband, energy supply, roads and public transport.
“I would say there is a few years worth of housing supply there,” he said.
“Particularly in the rural counties where there is a huge oversupply of housing.”
But he added there were questions about whether the surplus housing was in areas where it was needed when the economy begins growing again.
“The higher rates of vacancy tend to be in the counties that don’t have large towns,” he said.
“So there is 30% vacancy in Leitrim, while the midlands-west counties have higher rates of vacancy than, say, Dublin which has the lowest at just under 10%.”
It is believed there are around 200 so-called ’Ghost estates’ – developments built over the past few years that remain unsold – among the overall empty housing stock.
Mr Finneran said he wanted to see some used to put a roof over the 56,000 people currently on local authority housing waiting lists.
The Department of Environment said the figure of between 100,000 and 140,000 empty houses came from a report on the construction industry by DKM consultants for the Government.