Over 300 State-controlled sites lie vacant amid housing crisis

HSE is the worst offender, with 137 unused buildings or vacant land parcels

The 141-acre Thornton Hall site was the largest vacant site controlled by the State found in the course of our research. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The 141-acre Thornton Hall site was the largest vacant site controlled by the State found in the course of our research. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

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At least 334 sites or buildings controlled by the Government are lying idle across the Republic.

Research by The Irish Times shows that bodies falling under the control of Government departments are sitting on vast swathes of land – 141 acres in one case – some of which has been unused for more than 30 years.

The worst offender is the Health Service Executive, which is holding 137 unused buildings or vacant land parcels in its portfolio.

The other 197 sites are shared between bodies controlled by nine different Government departments. The properties and land include Garda stations, courthouses, military barracks and customs posts located on the Border between the North and the Republic.

Additionally, sites from Fianna Fáil’s failed decentralistion policy appear on the list of vacant properties. The various decentralisation sites dotted around the country add up to 48 acres.

Furthermore, while a total of 334 parcels of land were found in the course of the research, it is possible that this doesn’t represent the full picture. For example, two sites with a total value of €79 million, owned by Horse Racing Ireland, under the control of the Department of Agriculture, emerged recently as vacant. These two sites were not disclosed to The Irish Times in the course of this investigation.

The research comes amid a backdrop of rising house prices leading to tightening affordability.

“Given the fact that housing is the defining crisis of our time, it’s absolutely shocking that the State itself has so many unoccupied buildings and unoccupied land,” said Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín, who has pursued parliamentary questions on the issue.

The National Economic and Social Council (Nesc) recently recommended that the State look to land it already owns such as former docks and rail depots as it seeks to solve the housing crisis.

In its report, the Government advisory body described land in public ownership as the “most critical resource” available to the State, noting that a “substantial amount” of such land is located in cities and towns.

The research carried out by The Irish Times backs up that assertion, with significant parcels of land identified in prime locations in Cork and Kerry, as well as Dublin.

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