SEVERAL councillors sought clarity from the executive following a report in last Monday’s Irish Examiner which stated that the Minister of state for local government Kieran O’Donnell questioned Cork County Council’s failure to apply for more vacant property officers, despite funding being available.
The debate was initiated by Fine Gael councillor Anthony Barry at last Monday’s full council meeting after a motion to suspend standing orders was agreed upon.
Cllr Barry said he was concerned by the report in the newspaper.
“About a year and a half ago, both Cllr John Paul O’Shea and I raised this issue, and we were guaranteed by the minister and the department that funding would be made available if a strong case was made by the local authority,” he said.
Cllr Barry said the issue of vacancy and dereliction needs to be dealt with.
“I just want clarification from the executive on what the situation is and what we are doing to ensure we get more vacant housing officers if the resources are available to us.
“This issue needs to be dealt with. In Cork, outside of hotel properties, there is an excess of 12,000 properties vacant as of the last census in 2022.
“This is seriously unacceptable.”
Fine Gael councillor John Paul O’Shea echoed his colleagues sentiments.
“My understanding is that we went from one vacant homes officer to two. We don’t have clarity if those vacant home officers are full time or not. As a local authority we must deal with vacancy.
“It is important that we have a vacant homes officer for each division. We want three full time vacant homes officers working in the divisions.”
“I want an explanation from the executive why the funding hasn’t been sought,” said Fianna Fáil councillor Seamus McGrath.
“We have made huge strides in setting up the Property Activation and Regeneration Unit [PARU] which is focused on this issue of vacancy across our towns. I think vacant properties have a huge role to play in the housing shortage.
“Even if only a small percentage of them became available, it would make a huge impact on the housing shortage. We need a fuller debate on this, and we need to revisit it,” he added.
Fianna Fáil councillor Frank O’Flynn said the easiest and cheapest way to bring back houses is through the vacant houses and derelict sites in towns and villages.
The Deputy Chief Executive of Cork County Council, James Fogarty said the article was a bit overstated in what it said.
“I am not aware what the chief executive has looked for from the department. I know for a fact the chief executive wrote to the department about the allocation of one vacant housing officer and did get some results,” he said.
Mr Fogarty said the issue needs a multi-skilled set of people working together.
“We have set up a new unit specifically to deal with this.
“There are 4.5 people working in Property Activation and Regeneration Unit [PARU] with housing to try and tackle this.
“This needs a multi-skilled set of people working together. It is not as simple as some people would lead you to believe.
“We have done everything in our powers to bring this forward. A vacant housing officer by themselves isn’t going to sort this out.”
It was agreed that the deputy chief executive will relay the comments from the councillors to the CEO Mr Tim Lucey and the matter will be revisited at a later date.