More than 65,000 houses have been left empty for five years or more as the country grapples with the deepest housing crisis in its history.
Startling figures from Census 2016 reveal that more than two years' supply of houses and apartments have been lying idle since at least 2011, and that a total of 183,000 vacant units are in our towns and cities where demand is highest.
An analysis of the data reveals that tens of thousands are located in the heart of our urban areas, and not in isolated pockets of rural Ireland with little or no demand.
Some 31,000 units are vacant in Dublin city alone of which almost 6,000 have been empty for five years or more. In Galway city, there are more than 2,800 of which 700 are empty since at least 2011, and in Cork city there are almost 4,300, with almost 1,200 empty for more than 60 months.
Much of the housing demand identified by the Housing Agency could be met by renovating or upgrading vacant properties in these cities. But there are also swathes of property which could be brought back into use in important towns to help boost regional development and ease pressure on prices and soaring rents in the main cities.
The Housing Agency says 1,443 homes are needed in Ennis, Co Clare, to meet projected population growth out to 2020. Some 4,292 are identified as empty. Sligo needs 1,111 units, but 1,270 are vacant. Clonmel in Tipperary requires 579, but 612 have been identified as vacant.
In the cities, among the reasons why so many properties are vacant is due to the "financialisation of housing", experts said, where investors bought expensive homes as an investment. Among the highest vacancy rates in the capital is around Ballsbridge, where 321 homes are vacant, 52 for five or more years. Property prices have risen almost 10pc in the last 12 months.
In rural areas, among the reasons include owners being in nursing homes, passing away, issues over probate or a lack of demand. Some units may be undergoing renovation, being sold or rented, however, more research is needed.
The Government has made efforts to address the vacant homes crisis, including the introduction of the 'Repair and Lease' scheme where property owners are provided with grant aid to renovate properties which are leased back to the State. Some €140m is budgeted out to 2021 for 3,500 units. There is also a €50m 'Buy and Renew' scheme being piloted, where local authorities or housing bodies will purchase the property. Additional funding for both schemes will be made available if demand exceeds proposed budgets.
The Government's Vacant Homes strategy, due to be published in the coming weeks, will also target areas of highest housing demand and create an Empty Homes Office to work with local authorities to identify and bring properties back into use. Councils will be allocated extra staff to assist, and penalties for owners of unused properties are also proposed.
"A number of targeted measures to bring these properties back into use are under consideration, looking at various options that involve a carrot and stick approach," a source said. "The State needs to ensure that we are proactively making efforts to get properties back into the market."
DIT lecturer Lorcan Sirr said the Government's Repair and Lease scheme was welcomed, but that existing stock needed to be used. "This is the low hanging fruit. It will take three to four years for homes to be built on State lands, this could have an impact in 12 months."