Dozens of pubs long closed to customers are to be turned into homes under a scheme aimed at boosting much needed housing and reducing the number of vacant properties.
Last year, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien set his sights on using disused premises around the country to help counter the deepening housing crisis, without disrupting the built fabric of rural towns and villages.
The unused properties can be altered into living quarters without planning permission under the scheme.
Figures to be published on Monday, show 53 pubs have applied for the exemption scheme over a 10-month period. They account for one-fifth of all commercial premises that applied for the scheme.
The former drinking establishments are expected to ultimately provide 169 housing units.
“In recent years towns and villages have regrettably seen pubs close their doors for the last time,” said Mr O’Brien. “But these exemptions are helping to provide housing, including ‘over the shop’ living in once-vacant spaces. These conversions are also helping to revitalise our town centres.”
The pubs that have applied for the scheme are spread across 24 local authority areas although Co Mayo has by far the largest take-up with 12 individual properties. Figures indicate the county has seen a quarter of its public houses close since 2005.
“The reality is that a lot of these pubs are not going to come back into use,” said Tom Gilligan, director of services at Mayo County Council and a vocal advocate of property renovation through vacanthomes.ie.
“And what’s the point of having a derelict, vacant building there? It’s all about bringing people back into our towns and villages.”
The Irish landscape is peppered with shuttered locals. Research published by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland last summer showed 21 per cent of the country’s stock (1,829) had closed between 2005 and 2021. Most counties saw a decline of more than 10 per cent.
“There is a number of reasons for the closures, including changing demographics and consumer trends,” said Brian Foley of the Vintners Federation of Ireland. “Forty years ago Listowel [Co Kerry] had over 50 pubs, now it has 17.”
However, while they are disappearing, their visual role in Irish streetscapes is not necessarily under threat. Launching the scheme last February, the Minister pointed to a key provision that building exteriors could not be altered.
“There is no fear that residents might have about there being major changes to the footprint of these areas,” he said. A Department of Housing spokesman said local authorities were advised to put appropriate monitoring and inspection arrangements in place to ensure compliance.
Other conditions include that the pub must have been closed for business for at least two years to prevent inadvertently encouraging them to do so. The initiative is limited to nine home units per premises.
The pub conversions are an extension of the pre-existing Planning and Development Regulations and will remain in place until 2025. They also cover “above shop” renovations in commercial premises which have been open to applications since 2018.
To date, overall figures show an intention for the provision of 2,066 homes under the scheme.