A CORK couple are determined to tackle the blight of dereliction in the city centre.
Frank O’ Connor is an artist and designer. He returned to Cork in 2018 after many years of living abroad with his partner Jude Sherry. After arriving in Cork, they struggled to find accommodation while noticing the spread of derelict buildings across the country.
Frank and Jude walk across Cork city every day to try to document the dereliction of buildings. In addition, they try to educate people about the issue.
‘’The reason we focused on dereliction is we moved back from Amsterdam in 2018 [and] we were struck by the housing crisis, the homeless crisis, the high vacancy levels, the entire dereliction, close to the decaying heritage. And we decided after initial research, to spend our time focusing on dereliction because dereliction touches a lot of our work,’’ says Frank.
They have written a report called ‘Derelict Ireland’, which analyses data for private and public properties.
‘’We covered about 450 properties in a year. That was a conservative estimate..the scale is crazy.’’
They have been involved in social justice activism and equality and sustainability in Ireland and abroad.
‘’Our work has spanned all kinds of stuff, everything from products to urban environments.’’
They have focused their activism on dereliction since returning to Cork. They believe that it’s a vast waste, and it’s a massive opportunity for society.
‘’[Dereliction] affects people’s lives and access to the home. So we decided that dereliction was something tangible, and we also felt it has become normalised in Ireland,’’ says Frank.
‘’Everyone had come to a point where they accepted dereliction, which was quite shocking for us, coming from Amsterdam.
‘’If you have kids, why should they walk past the dereliction every day? It’s such an eyesore. And such a waste for society.’’
Where he lived in the Netherlands, Frank says there’s a solid system to prevent it.
‘’Back in the 70s and 80s, there was a lot of dereliction in Amsterdam. And at the time, people went out in the street and kept protesting. So finally, the government did something about it. So since then, there have been a whole series of measures introduced... including vacancy taxes, custodian approaches.’’
"The Dutch recognise the value of having no dereliction and the value of heritage like the building right behind me here, the Butter Exchange, which is... an empty building. It’s not just that it’s decaying, the heritage associated with this building is huge. And we have to appreciate and understand the value of our heritage.’’
The couple’s next target is to change the Government policy regarding the dereliction of houses.
‘’We presented our policy recommendations to the Government, and one of those things we’re looking for is to look at the vacancy tax; we’re looking for a custodian approach.’’
‘’There are talks about bringing in a vacancy tax, but it’s a very, very slow process.’’
Jude said that artists are crying out for spaces in cities like Cork.
‘’We have so many people contacting us, from filmmakers, artists, and sportspeople, all types of people, even startups looking for spaces, that that lack of ability to find somewhere to innovate and trial damages our local economy.’’
One example Jude cites is the Butter Exchange building in Shandon which was built in 1849.
‘’It historically set the price of butter globally across the whole world to Cork butter at the time was the best quality butter, and it lasted the longest out of any butter produced in the world. So this became the leading global area for butter.’’
The building fell into disrepair after being used as a crafts centre a number of years ago.
Cork City Council and Recreate Shandon are currently working on proposals to turn the building into an enterprise and community hub.
- See www.echolive.ie for a video of Frank and Jude walking through the city