Sinn Fein splash

Dereliction of duty

Walk around Cork city and it’s easy to see the derelict sites and buildings. But why are these very public eyesores so difficult to clean up? In a special report, Eoin English asks who is responsible? Is enough being done? And he lifts the lid on the city’s 10 most infamous sites.

Eoin English



it was their photo of a disused property on the northside of Cork city that helped spark a national conversation about the scandal and scale of dereliction in Ireland.

As work finally starts on repairs to that vacant detached house off Blarney Street, and as the Government finally announces the detail of its Town Centre First policy which aims to tackle vacancy, combat dereliction and breathe new life into town centres, campaigners Frank O’Connor and Jude Sherry, say they are heartened by the signs of progress and the policy initiatives.

Frank O'Connor and Jude Sherry of anois looking at a derelict heritage building (approx 250 years old), Old Market Place off Blarney St., Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

But the devil is in the detail, they warn, amid concerns that there is still a long way to go before Ireland has a comprehensive, holistic and strategic approach to end the scourge of long-term vacancy and dereliction.

The couple, who run a sustainability consultancy, Anois, began to focus on dereliction shortly after their return from Amsterdam to live and work in Cork in 2018.

Both cities are built on marshes, both are steeped in maritime heritage but they say their long walks through Cork City during the various Covid lockdowns proved to them that only one of the cities appeared to value its heritage.

“So we tried to start a conversation about dereliction, to shine a light on the issue, to challenge it and to offer examples of what’s possible, to say it doesn't have to be this way, that it can be different,” Frank says.

“We want Cork to be more liveable, more beautiful with more homes but we felt the city was close to a tipping point - that if dereliction got any worse, that we could lose the battle.

“I posted the first tweet in June 2020 and it started this conversation. I’m pleased it happened, and delighted it is now national, and we are delighted with the support, because we wanted change.”

They knew change would take time, Jude says.

“But this has shown that other people feel the same. Two people alone can’t solve this. As citizens, we all need to say this is an issue for us,” she says.

What is a derelict site?

A site which detracts, or is likely to detract, to a material degree from the amenity, character or appearance of land in the neighbourhood .... because of: structures which are in a ruinous, derelict or dangerous condition, or the neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition of the land or of structures on it, or the presence, deposit or collection of litter, rubbish, debris or waste.

Derelict Sites Act,1990

From that first photo posted on Twitter in June 2020, grew a thread featuring more than 300 derelict, vacant and boarded-up properties across Cork city, which in turn inspired similar threads from like-minded people in towns and cities around the country.

Those in local authorities charged with tackling dereliction say the tweets don’t reflect the complexities involved in each of the individual cases or the amount of work that is going on to address it.

They also say that some of the wishful thinking expressed in the tweets - suggesting that this property could be a craft centre, or that that property could be a home - are just too simplistic, and take no account of funding availability or public consultation. But Frank and Jude defend their strategy.

“We used the definition of dereliction as it is in the legislation. We looked at international research methodologies and applied those here,” Frank says.

Woman WFH

Just this week, the An Bord Pleanala gave approval to Cork City Council to compulsorily acquire the four buildings from 62-65 North Main St.. Pictures: Larry Cummins and Damien Storan


“We didn’t underestimate the problem. In fact, we left out a few hundred properties.

“We were cautious in how we approached this. We understand that it’s provocative to highlight dereliction in a city we love.”

And Jude says while there have been some welcome local and national policy moves in recent months, existing legislation, if fully used, could yield significant results, even in the short term.

City Hall officials insist that it’s just not that simple, and that they are doing everything within the existing legislation, and with the available resources to tackle the problem.
While Frank and Jude claim that there are more than 340 derelict properties within two kilometres of Cork city, official figures show there are 95 sites on the city’s derelict sites register (DSR).Banks and financial institutions need to be part of the solution so that those who want to take on the renovation of a vacant or derelict property, especially first-time buyers, can get a mortgage or finance, Jude says.

Woman WFH

A derelict site at Kyrl's Quay, Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.


Fuller enforcement of the derelict sites levy legislation is required, red-tape around complex site and property ownership issues need to be removed, compulsory sale orders should be considered, and more consideration for ‘meanwhile use’ to make better use of long-term vacant or derelict sites should also be part of a holistic solution, they say.

“This ‘meanwhile use’ could bring a lot of vacant properties into use. But we need to take a far more strategic approach to this - individual measures on their own won’t work,” Frank says.

Councils could also become more proactive towards the owners of these buildings, they could better promote and explain the available grants, they could demystify some of the regulations, they could take on some of the work themselves in partnership with willing owners, and they could help others willing to take on such buildings and their repairs to navigate what they say is a complex system, they say.

They welcomed the council’s pilot study in the city’s Marsh area and said they hope it’s successful and extended.

“If the message is sent out that vacancy and dereliction is no longer tolerable, it will send a message to property and building owners that they need to bring them back into use, and that will snowball, and could lead to a cultural change,” Jude says.


Cork's ten longest standing derelict sites

Sinn Fein splash

icon 42 Cornmarket St

Added to DSR: 1993

Owner: Subulter Investments Ltd., The Loft, Cornmarket Street, Cork

Market Value: €150,000

Status: In use as a car park. Council says it would be difficult to justify applying to Bord Pleanala for compulsory acquisition because of the difficulty in proving the site meets the definition of dereliction under the Derelict Sites Act 1990.

Sinn Fein splash

icon Site adjacent to 34 South Main St

Added to DSR: 1998

Owner: Cork City Council

Market Value: €95,230

Status: Its future is also being considered as part of the wider urban regeneration plans for Bishop Lucey Park and the South Main St area, announced last July.

Sinn Fein splash

icon 50, Grand Parade

Added to DSR: March 2000

Owner: Model Investment Partnership

Market Value: €200,000

Status: Its future is also being considered as part of the wider urban regeneration plans for Bishop Lucey Park and the South Main St area, announced last July.

Sinn Fein splash

icon 19, South Terrace

Added to DSR: January 2001

Owner: UCC, Building & Estates, College Road, Cork

Market Value: €180,000

Status: Part of a site earmarked for UCC’s proposed new business school

Sinn Fein splash

icon Site at Broad Lane, Blackpool

Added to DSR: September 2003

Owner: Kieran O’Shea

Market Value: €85,000

Status: A derelict warehouse in a residential area. Six planning applications have been granted on the site, none progressed.

Sinn Fein splash

icon 44 Cornmarket Street

Added to DSR: September 2003

Owner: Cork City Council

Market Value: €300,000

Status: The former Paintwell building, it is one of three adjoining sites (the two others are also on the DSR), which are to be offered for sale by the council.

Sinn Fein splash

icon 'Summerville', Winter's Hill

Added to DSR: November 2005

Owner: Trustees of Iona Basketball Club, care of Barry C Galvin and Sons Solicitors. Sold in recent years to a developer.

Market Value: €80,000

Status: Planning was granted last July for a residential scheme on the site at 49-51 Blarney Street and Winter's Hill.

Sinn Fein splash

icon 6A & 7, John Redmond Street

Added to DSR: May 2008

Owner: Cork City Council

Market Value: €220,000

Status: In the shadow of Shandon, one of these properties was the original reading room of the Butter Exchange Band. Their future is being considered in the context of a wider regeneration plan for the nearby Butter Exchange building as a job creation hub announced last September.

Sinn Fein splash

iconSite at South Douglas Road

Added to DSR: June 2009

Owner: Unidentified

Market Value: €400,000

Status: Not clear

Sinn Fein splash

icon Site at Broad Lane, Blackpool

Added to DSR: September 2013

Owner: Kieran O'Shea

Market Value: €90,000

Status: Will be targeted as part of the Marsh area dereliction pilot project

To acquire, or not to acquire - that it the question

once a property is added to the DSR, local authorities can consider applying to Bord Pleanala for approval to acquire the property. They must follow a detailed seven-step process before applying to acquire the site. It is a long, complex and at times, a costly process, involving hundreds of man hours, and even when every step is followed to the letter of the law, there is still no guarantee that compulsory acquisition will be approved.

Step 1

Once a property has been declared derelict and identified for acquisition, the local authority must prepare a business case, with instructions and approval required to acquire, with investigation of title, ownership and mapping required. This process takes a minimum of six weeks.

Step 2

A notice of intention to acquire the property is formally issued by the council chief executive. This notice is sent to each owner, lessee and occupier of the property, the notice is published in a newspaper, allowing one month for people to lodge an objection. This process normally takes five weeks.

Step 3

If an objection is received, the local authority must submit the application of acquire the property to Bord Pleanala for consent. Those who deal with the issue on the frontline say there is no clear guidance on the basis for objections. The local authority must make its submission to the Bord within a month of the objections.

Step 4

The Bord assigns an inspector to consider the case. This usually involves a site visit, and an assessment of the file on the property which details the council’s interactions with the owners, and a list of everything it has done to try to resolve the issue, before CPO was considered. Even at this stage, the Bord provides another opportunity for further submissions from objectors, which are considered when the inspector prepares their report. The Bord aims to make a determination on such cases within 18-weeks. The Bord can give consent for the acquisition, or it can refuse. It if refuses, the local authority has to go back to the square one.

Step 5

Even if the Bord consents to acquisition of a property under the derelict sites process, and if no objections are received, the local authority still doesn’t own the site. It only has consent to move to the next stage. The council must then issue a Notice of Vesting, which requires the council to again notify each owner/lessee/occupier, and to publish the notice in a newspaper. Again, the outcome of this stage can be challenged. A Bord’s decision to grant consent can also be challenged by way of a judicial review within 14 days of the publication of the vesting order.

Step 6

In cases where a legal challenge is not mounted, the formal or legal taking possession of the property occurs 21 days after the publication of the vesting notice. The land is then deemed vested and the local authority can enter it and take possession.The optimistic timescale from Step 1 to Step 6 is 10-months.

Step 7

It is at this point that compensation for the landowner is discussed.  That is determined by a valuation of the property, usually linked to the date of vesting. The relevant parties then have 12 months from the date of vesting to make a claim for compensation. If the amount cannot be agreed between the various parties, arbitration may be required, again adding to the time scale of what has already been a long and complex process.It is only at this stage that the local authority can start the process of possibly disposing of the property.

This in itself is another lengthy process governed by statutory procedures. 

Irish Examiner Longread

Copyright Irish Examiner

If you enjoyed this immersive read, you may also like these