How a trawl of Government departments’ property portfolios for housing fell far short of expectations

Each department replied following a review of vacant properties under their remit

Last December, the Department of Housing contacted every other Government department asking them to comb their property portfolios for anything that could be used residentially as part of the Coalition’s flagship Housing for All plan.

However, the results fell far short of expectations, with many departments and agencies offering very few properties, or none at all. At a Cabinet meeting in June, Ministers were sent back to the drawing board after the initial trawl failed to identify a “significant number” of properties, according to briefing notes given to Cabinet at the time.

But just what was offered to the Department of Housing, and how did it fall short?

Department of Agriculture

An official wrote that following a review of its property portfolio, “we have identified two former Harbour Master houses which are vacant”. The houses are located at Killybegs in Co Donegal and Ros an Mhíl, Galway. “They are in a poor state of repair but not derelict,” the official wrote, saying the department intended to sell them this year.


Department of Defence

The Department indicated it would be transferring St Bricin’s, the Defence Forces medical facility, to the LDA, and the former Columb Barracks. Negotiations are ongoing over the future of Cathal Brugha barracks.

Department of Education

Ultimately two properties were identified, along with some held by Education and Training Boards, but the department also warned that its portfolio was aimed at providing education and “it is highly unlikely that any of its current property holdings are suitable for residential use”.

Department of Enterprise

The department owns no property – officials said IDA Ireland might have holdings “which could potentially feature” but was also likely to be under consideration for the Ukrainian humanitarian response.

It warned that while IDA was engaged with the Land Development Agency (LDA), many of its properties were warehouses or on industrial estates and “our understanding is that few of the IDA sites could feasibly be put to use for housing purposes (less than a handful it seems)”.

Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications

Several large tracts of land controlled by bodies operating under the department are due to transfer to the LDA, including Cork Docklands, lands at Inchicore and the Digital Hub Development Agency.

Department of Finance

While the department had nothing to offer on behalf of itself or almost all bodies that operate under it, the Central Bank said it was considering selling its Sandyford Cash Centre complex, which is spread across 37 acres in Dublin and zoned for residential development. It is in talks with the LDA about the site.

Department of Foreign Affairs

Iveagh House told officials in the Custom House that its offices were provided by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and that “none of our buildings are unoccupied or could be made available for residential development”.

Department of Further and Higher Education

Despite the extensive university and college campuses around the country, just one site of 12 acres was identified for potential housing development, in Letterkenny IT. However, officials noted the zoning for the area – while under review – was for strategic community opportunities. It also noted that several roadways depicted on a master plan for the site “do not yet exist”, and that the lands were landlocked.

Department of Health

The HSE, the department said, was engaging with the LDA on its list of vacant properties which it said it offered to the LDA if not needed for healthcare purposes. However, while there was ongoing engagement on a number of properties, following another review the HSE reported “no further properties available for housing have been identified at this stage”.

Department of Justice

The department sent an extensive list of properties which it had also identified in response to the effort to find accommodation for Ukrainian refugees. It included the site for the stalled super prison at Thornton Hall, the Traffic Court Building in Smithfield Square and almost 120 “married quarters” – residential buildings traditionally linked to Garda stations around the country. However, officials warned many would not be suitable on security grounds if they still formed part of an existing Garda station, and many were not habitable.

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

The OPW, which operates under the department, has transferred some sites to the LDA and is engaging with them on more that have been identified for future housing development, including the former Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum.

Department of Rural and Community Development

Officials were told it “does not own any property that would be suitable for residential development”.

Department of Social Protection

All its buildings are owned or leased from OPW apart from its head office, Áras Mhic Dhiarmada, which the department said was “not a candidate for selling or for housing”.

Department of the Taoiseach

In response to the request, the Department of Housing was told neither it nor bodies under its aegis own any property.

Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media

Fáilte Ireland flagged two vacant commercial properties which were “not considered residential and are not zoned”, adding “neither are considered habitable in their existing state”.

Údarás na Gaeltachta detailed its extensive property portfolio, outlining how it was subject to some limitations that mean it may not lend itself to development. Its property portfolio is “vital for the creation of jobs” in Gaeltacht areas, it wrote, and it was conducting a review of its holdings to assess its suitability. Two sites in particular at An Spidéal in Galway and An Rinn in Waterford were to be developed, but Údaras flagged several factors to be considered, including the language impact of the scheme and that 100 per cent of the housing developed “be subject to an Irish-language condition” – meaning planning conditions would require purchasers to be Irish speakers. It also detailed seven former residential units which had been converted to offices and were now “in disrepair and uninhabitable”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times