Vacant home officers not recruited in 13 local authorities by Government deadline

Posts considered vital to Coalition plan of housing huge numbers of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in State

Only 18 of the 31 local authorities in the State succeeded in establishing a full-time vacant home officer by the end-of-June deadline imposed by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien.

The Minister disclosed, in response to a parliamentary question, that 13 councils have yet to appoint a full-time officer.

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The 13 councils which have not completed the process are Cork County, Donegal, Carlow, Galway city, Kerry, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Offaly, Sligo, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.

The establishment of such posts is seen as essential in the Government’s plan to make vacant properties available in the coming months to help accommodate the huge upsurge in refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived in the State in 2022.

With the State struggling to find even emergency accommodation for refugees and people seeking international protection, a special meeting of the Cabinet in late April decided that repurposing of properties would help meet the challenge.

Some 89 of these vacant buildings (former religious or education properties, former hotels and former hospitals) were identified as capable of immediately offering accommodation to up to 5,355 people by International Protection Accommodation Services.

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In addition to 30,245 people who have sought accommodation in the Republic after fleeing the war in Ukraine, there has also been an unprecedented surge in the number of people from other countries arriving seeking international protection. So far this year, there have been 7,500 people seeking international protection with new arrivals coming at a rate of 266 per week.

The challenge facing the Government is laid bare by the long run-in period required to make sites suitable for human habitation. The tented village at Gormanston which provides emergency accommodation was intended to accommodate 320 people but is operating at limited capacity catering for only 60 people at present. Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman has said it is hoped it will be operating at full capacity as soon as possible.

Pledged accommodation

Five sites have been identified for the initial phase of the planned 500 modular homes — which will supply temporary accommodation. They are scheduled to be completed by November with modular buildings on a further 15 sites being completed in 2023.

There has been some good news on pledged accommodation, according to Mr O’Gorman’s spokesman who said that the figure has increased to near 3,000 people in pledged accommodation as of the first week in August, compared to about 2,200 only three weeks ago.

The department also hopes hotel capacity will begin to increase in September as the tourist season ends. Most student accommodation will not be available after August, meaning alternative accommodation will have to be found for 4,500 people.

Mr O’Gorman, in a recent reply to a parliamentary question, set out the diverse measures employed to find accommodation. He said more than 400 contracts had been drawn up to secure 25,000 beds in hotels, guest houses and B&Bs, hostels, self-catering accommodation and certain other repurposed settings.

He said additional capacity was also being pursued through accommodation pledged by the general public, State-owned or private properties which may be suitable for short-term accommodation, accommodation belonging to voluntary bodies, religious order properties and local authority facilities.

“I appreciate that the standard of accommodation provided varies due to constraints on supply in this challenging environment,” he said.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times