Elaine Loughlin: How many derelict buildings are there in the State? The Government doesn't know

Refurbishing and renovating derelict and vacant buildings around the country is supposed to be a key plank of the State's housing strategy yet the Government has no idea how many of these vacant buildings exist
Elaine Loughlin: How many derelict buildings are there in the State? The Government doesn't know

Elaine Loughlin: Bringing buildings back into use would sort out the eyesores that every Tidy Towns committee frets over, but more importantly it would provide solid homes for so many families.

How can the Government expect to finally tackle the housing crisis when it doesn't even know what it's dealing with?

Time and time again, we have been told  refurbishing and renovating derelict and vacant buildings will be a key part of getting us out of the almighty mess.

It's a mess that has done untold damage to the children and their parents forced into emergency accommodation; it has put young renters under significant financial stress and has prevented others from even daring to dream of owning their own home.

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien is devising a way out of the crisis without relying on any centrally gathered information when it comes to vacant homes. File picture: Niall Carson/PA
Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien is devising a way out of the crisis without relying on any centrally gathered information when it comes to vacant homes. File picture: Niall Carson/PA

But a significant element of this Government's yet-to-be-published long-term housing plan is not based on official statistics. 

In fact, Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien is devising a way out of the crisis without relying on any centrally gathered information when it comes to vacant homes.

Despite this, the plan has been fully costed, we have been told.

It is five years now since the €6bn Rebuilding Ireland action plan, which included the pie-in-the-sky promise to supply 25,000 homes each year by 2020, was launched.

The last government also rolled out three specific measures targeted at empty homes, including the Repair and Lease scheme, which sounded very convincing at the time.

The GeoView directory Q4 2020 report, which lists addresses in the State using data from An Post, found 92,251 vacant addresses in Ireland, representing 4.6% of building stock. File picture Dan Linehan
The GeoView directory Q4 2020 report, which lists addresses in the State using data from An Post, found 92,251 vacant addresses in Ireland, representing 4.6% of building stock. File picture Dan Linehan

By March of this year, just 1,672 of the 5,600 homes promised via the three schemes set up to bring vacant properties back into use had been delivered. In other words, the Government has missed its own targets by 70%.

Rebuilding Ireland will be scrapped soon as Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien comes up with his own, already delayed, Housing for All plan. It's now expected the plan, which had a July publication date, will be ready in late August or maybe September.

No rush really, we only have 62,000 people on the social housing waiting list at a time when property price inflation accelerated to 5.5% in May, the fastest level of growth seen in two-and-a-half years.

But back to what should be the quick-fix fixer-uppers.

In response to a recent parliamentary question, Junior Minister Peter Burke confirmed the Department of Housing does not "hold data on the amount of derelict and housing units in the State".

Without reliable accurate statistics, we can't even accuse Mr O'Brien of coming up with a back-of-the-envelope plan for housing, as there are no numbers to quickly tot up.

Social Democrats TD Cian O'Callaghan, who received the information, expressed surprise that such a major part of the Government's plans for housing is not based on official statistics.

"They should at least have their own view, even if it's an estimation, the fact they don't have anything isn't a good starting point," he told the Irish Examiner's political correspondent Aoife Moore.

Vacant Homes Action Plan

While each of the 31 local authorities has prepared a Vacant Homes Action Plan, it seems none of them have a clear grasp on the number of properties that could be a significant asset to a Government that desperately needs to deliver on housing.

By March of this year, just 1,672 of the 5,600 homes promised via the three schemes set up to bring vacant properties back into use had been delivered.
By March of this year, just 1,672 of the 5,600 homes promised via the three schemes set up to bring vacant properties back into use had been delivered.

In a bid to collate the data, Mayo County Council developed the vacanthomes.ie website on behalf of the local government sector.

It's an online portal that allows individuals to anonymously log possible vacant properties and alert local authorities, who can then follow up with the owners to see whether the house can be re-used quickly.

Just 5,875 properties have so far been logged on the website nationally.

This is nowhere near even the most cautious estimates.

The 2016 Census found there were 183,000 vacant dwellings in the country on the night of the census. This did not include holiday homes but also does not take into account the fact that some people may simply not have been home that night. 

92,251 vacant addresses

The GeoView directory Q4 2020 report, which lists addresses in the State using data from An Post, found 92,251 vacant addresses in Ireland, representing 4.6% of building stock, which is probably more accurate.

Either way, the online portal, which currently is the closest thing to an official Government tally, is a fair few houses off the mark.

Instead of working from the data, aimlessly throwing money at the issue – which has not worked up until now – seems to be the main plan of action from the Government.

Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys recently announced €15m in funding under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme to 'renovate derelict and vacant buildings' in our town centres. File picture: Brian Lougheed
Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys recently announced €15m in funding under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme to 'renovate derelict and vacant buildings' in our town centres. File picture: Brian Lougheed

But again we can only guess that this is the strategy as a year into power we have yet to see an actual long-term plan on housing published.

Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys recently announced €15m in funding under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme to "renovate derelict and vacant buildings" in our town centres.

Speaking in Drogheda last week, Ms Humphreys said: "We've spent a lot of money in terms of the Department of Rural and Community Development in investing in our town centres and investing in the public realm.

"Towns up and down the country are now a very attractive option for young people to come and live and to raise a family. That's what we want to see, we want to support them in doing that and there's a real move towards living out of the city. I think that will take the pressure off the cities and I think it's certainly something that I will continue to support."

Doing up dilapidated buildings that are a blight on every town and village across the country, makes sense.

Bringing buildings back into use would sort out the eyesores that every Tidy Towns committee frets over, but more importantly it would provide solid homes for so many families. 

What doesn't make sense is the fact that the Government has no idea how many of these vacant buildings exist.

Did you know?

Áras an Uachtaráin. File picture
Áras an Uachtaráin. File picture

It's 100 years since last lord lieutenant of Ireland Lord FitzAlan was appointed.

The lord lieutenant was the representative of the English monarch and resided in the Viceregal Lodge, now Áras an Uachtaráin. The last lord lieutenant oversaw the implementation of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and the establishment of two home rule parliaments on the island of Ireland between 1921 and 1922.

Political headlines throughout history

Éamon de Valera.
Éamon de Valera.

July 31, 1947: The Soviet Union blocked Ireland's entry into the United Nations. "If Russia, which attacked Finland, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania can be regarded as qualifying as a peace-loving nation, it is difficult to see how a nation which kept the peace and scrupulously fulfilled all its obligations as a member of the League of Nations can rightly be regarded as non-qualifying," taoiseach Éamon de Valera said in interview with the New York Times after being denied membership of the UN for a second time.

July 28, 1957:

The Carlisle Monument in Phoenix Park was blown up by Republicans. George Frederick Howard, the seventh Earl of Carlisle, was the chief secretary from 1835 to 1841 and went on to be appointed the lord lieutenant twice. He was the only Irish viceroy honoured with a statue.

July 31, 1968: The halfpenny is withdrawn from circulation.

The Cork Examiner front page on August 1, 1975, the day after the Miami Showband were murdered.
The Cork Examiner front page on August 1, 1975, the day after the Miami Showband were murdered.

July 31, 1975: Three members of the Miami Showband were killed by the Ulster Volunteer Force. A front page piece in the Cork Examiner reported that it fell to Mrs Pat Lenia, mother-in-law of lead singer Fran O'Toole, to break the news to his wife Valerie.

hen finance minister Brian Lenihan at Government Buildings in September 2009 after he introduced the National Asset Management Bill 2009 to the Dáil. Picture: Billy Higgins
hen finance minister Brian Lenihan at Government Buildings in September 2009 after he introduced the National Asset Management Bill 2009 to the Dáil. Picture: Billy Higgins

July 30, 2009: Dubbed the biggest gamble for the country's economic recovery, then finance minister Brian Lenihan published the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) legislation to allow the State take ownership of €90bn of the riskiest property and development loans on the country's bank sheets at knockdown prices.

July 31, 2017: In an interview with the Irish Examiner, then leader of the opposition Micheál Martin opened the door on going into Government with Fine Gael, saying he "hasn't ruled anything in or out". It came after then-Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes told the Glenties summer school that a grand coalition would be the only way forward after the next election.

The political week ahead

There are no Oireachtas committee meetings scheduled for this week as we get closer to the August silly season when politics tends to shut up shop completely. However, there are still a few bits and pieces happening.

Tuesday: The Dáil, Seanad and committees may all be on holiday, but ministers have yet to get a rest as they gather for the weekly Cabinet meeting. Top of the agenda will be the various Covid restrictions and whether the number of guests allowed to attend weddings should be increased from 50 to 100 from next month. Education Minister Norma Foley has also promised that schools will reopen and the final updated guidelines on this are also being worked out.

Tuesday: Greyhound Racing Ireland (GRI) will launch a report highlighting what it says is the significant contribution made by the greyhound industry to the Irish exchequer and rural employment. It should make for interesting reading given the repeated criticism from Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns and others over the amount of State funding the sector receives each year.

Wednesday: The Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Mental Health is launching its interim report on Covid-19 and its effects on mental health services in the community.

Wednesday: A pre-inquest hearing into the Stardust tragedy will take place this week, starting on Wednesday.

Tuesday-Friday: Rural Minister Heather Humphreys continues her whistle-stop tour of the country and will be in West Cork, Kerry, Clare, Galway and the islands. This week's events include a virtual citizenship ceremony.

Friday: With €12bn spent by the State on public procurement each year, Sinn Féin spokesperson on public expenditure and reform Mairéad Farrell is to publish a report on the issue.

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