No council in the country applied for extra dedicated staff to tackle the scourge of vacant homes and buildings despite funding being available for the roles.
As the Irish Examiner reports, of the 31 local authorities, 30 have just one dedicated vacant homes officer even though a single staff member is not regarded as sufficient for the workload, particularly in larger councils.
The need for more housing to be made available has been thrown into sharp focus particularly over the weekend with the Government’s lifting of the eviction ban.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has estimated, based on metered electricity consumption, that one in 25 homes nationwide is vacant.
After last year’s census, the CSO said there were nearly 167,000 vacant houses and apartments. Of those, 48,500 homes vacant in 2016 were still vacant in 2022, while 23,500 were vacant in 2011, 2016, and 2022.
Last month, when Local Government Minister Kieran O’Donnell was told that Cork County Council had just one vacant homes officer, he said the local authority needed to “get the finger out” and apply for more staff where needed.
The matter had been raised with him by Cork East Fine Gael TD David Stanton.
Mr Stanton said it is “absolutely astounding” that all the councils across the country have not applied for extra vacancy officers. He has received confirmation from Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien that none have made the case for funding.
A €150 million injection into the urban regeneration and development fund for local authorities to tackle vacant and derelict buildings in their areas was announced last month.
It means councils will have funds to identify buildings in their communities that are vacant, buy them, and do them up. The fund applies to homes and commercial properties.
Once the newly-restored building is sold or rented, the money generated will then be put back into the €150m fund, allowing councils to be able to keep tackling the problem without being financially on the hook themselves.
Mr Stanton said it is perplexing that councils are not availing of the extra funds for more vacancy officers. He said:
"I don’t want to hang local authorities out to dry but it seems baffling that not one of the 31 [local authorities in Ireland] have made a case for more.
“This suggests there is maybe a breakdown in communications between the Department and councils. They have to come together to resolve it. Everywhere you go in the country, you see towns blighted by vacancy and dereliction.”