Figures reveal 56 council-owned houses lying vacant in first six months of this year

Over 3,500 council homes all over Ireland lay empty at the end of the first six months of this year, according to new figures.

That figure contrasts starkly with the State’s 31 councils having over 95,000 people on their housing waiting lists with over 70,0000 people availing of the Housing Assistance Payment and Rental Accommodation Scheme.

The vacant council figures were released under the Freedom of Information Act to Aontú leader and Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín.

Those figures showed Deputy Toibin's own county as having 56 council-owned houses lying vacant. Meath was not the worst offender.

Dublin City had 712, Limerick, 228; Wicklow, 175 and Kildare, 126. But that's hardly a badge of honour we want pinned on the Royal county collar.

Mr Tóibín said: "It is incredible that in the jaws of a national emergency in terms of housing that well over 3,000 local authority homes are lying empty.

"There are enough empty local authority homes in the State to house well over half the number of people who are homeless".

Deputy Toibin argues that the State is "failing significantly" in terms of renting and turning around these empty council houses adding that our local authorities were the biggest hoarder in terms of empty homes in Ireland.

In response, the Department of Housing said: "The most recent NOAC (The National Oversight and Audit Commission) report shows that the turnaround time for social homes in some counties has improved significantly."

The Department gave the example of Wexford County Council which reduced "its average re-letting time from 35.14 weeks in 2020 to 13.5 weeks in 2021.

"Local authorities will always have a level of vacancy in their housing stock, which will inevitably fluctuate over time as tenancy surrender and re-letting is an ongoing process.

The reasons for vacancy can also vary, and may include units which are marked for demolition and major regeneration or earmarked for sale, for example.

"The management and maintenance of local authority housing stock, including pre-letting repairs to vacant properties, is a matter for each individual local authority."

Also a matter for the local authority is the frustrating issue of private derelict and vacant sites. Towns across our county have houses that have been let fall into dereliction and decay seemingly without any plan or direction as to what to do with them.

Back in January of this year the need for action to tackle derelict properties in towns and villages was discussed by Trim councillors at their monthly meeting.

Cllr Trevor Golden pointed out that they are aware of sites in the district that have been derelict for many years, yet are not on the derelict sites register and that they needed to get moving on them. He had tabled a motion calling on the council to update the register of derelict sites in the district and present a report to councillors.

"There are properties in towns and villages that are not on the register, buildings boarded are up and there is anti-social behaviour. They are not safe.

“I would like to see action taken on a lot of these. Some buildings are derelict a good few number of years now."

He went on to say there are lots of reasons they can trot out why buildings are derelict but that when they get a report back from the council, they needed to formulate a plan as to how to deal with them.

And that is the crux of the problem, indeed any problem that concerns housing in Ireland. There is plenty of stats and reports on the dereliction and vacancy of private and social housing stock but far too little by way of actioning turnarounds and possession.

Our local authorities must get hands on in dealing with our empty dwellings, tracking down and engaging with property owners and turning these neglected spaces into opportunities for families to build lives and enhance communities.

Registers and lists are all well and good, boots on the ground making calls and decisions is what's needed now.

We have a housing emergency in this country, it needs to be treated as such.