The majority of 108 unoccupied properties and sites in the Office of Public Works (OPW) portfolio have been vacant since at least 2013, while a small number have lain unused for almost half a century.
The Minister of State for the OPW, Patrick O’Donovan, has disclosed there are 70 vacant buildings in the OPW portfolio and 38 unused sites.
Some 47 of the vacant properties are Garda stations and residences, closed in 2012 and 2013 as part of the austerity programme of the Fine Gael and Labour coalition.
The information was supplied to People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett in response to a parliamentary question. He described the existence of such a large portfolio of empty properties as “shameful”.
He said on Sunday that in the face of such an acute housing and accommodation crisis, it was an “utter disgrace that the State could be sitting on so much empty property and for so long”.
“There needs to be urgent action taken by the Ministers to bring all these properties into use either for housing or for the community,” he said.
Mr O’Donovan, in his response to the parliamentary question, said there was a stay put on the disposing of vacated Garda stations for most of the last decade. They include five stations in Co Limerick, four each in Counties Roscommon, Cork and Donegal, as well as the former Dalkey and Deans Grange stations in south Dublin.
“OPW was under instruction not to dispose of these properties for much of the intervening time while a review of closed Garda stations was conducted,” he said.
After a decade of lying idle, most of the former Garda stations were now being considered for transfer to local authorities or for sale. A total of 20 are described as being prepared for disposal by auction or sale during 2022 or 2023.
Some of the other properties have been vacant for decades. Four coastguard cottages in Crosshaven, Co Cork have been vacant since “pre 1983”. A further three cottages on that site have become vacant between 1995 and 2005.
The OPW response said the entire site would be transferred to Cork County Council for a social housing scheme “subject to final planning being granted”.
A site in Ballintra, Co Donegal has been vacant since 1971 while the former meteorological station in Mullingar, Co Westmeath has been vacant since 1974. The OPW has said there were title issues to be resolved before disposal (of the site) could be planned.
There are two former customs properties at Burnfoot, Co Donegal and Carrickcarnan, Co Louth. The building that housed the old debtors’ prison at Halston Street in Dublin has been unused for 16 years. Property at 10-11 Castle Street in Dublin city centre has been vacant since 1999. The OPW said it was being “retained for strategic purposes”.
Mr Boyd-Barrett said he was shocked by the number of vacant properties and the length they were vacant.
“In the face of an absolutely dire housing crisis where huge numbers of people are in emergency accommodation or have nowhere to live, it is absolutely disgraceful that the OPW could be sitting on this amount of empty property, some of which at least could be used for public housing.
“It is also utterly disgraceful when many voluntary and community and sports organisations are looking for space to operate and can’t find it. There are empty buildings that could be suitable for them,” he said.
According to Mr O’Donovan, the OPW said that as a matter of policy, no property or site could be disposed of until there was certainty there was no alternative State use for that property.
It said that in 2021, the OPW engaged with the Department of Rural and Community Development to discuss the use of the former Garda stations and provided a list of vacated properties.
“To date, the OPW has not been made aware by the department that any of the properties have been deemed suitable for community use or regional hubs.
“In addition, a list of vacant properties and sites has been provided to the departments managing the humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine,” he said.