Older people will be more reluctant to go into nursing homes following the Covid-19 pandemic, say civil servants, heaping further pressure on our housing system.
Civil servants have warned the new Housing Minister that a varied mix of houses should be built to allow the older generation to remain at home for as long as possible.
It comes in a week when HSE chief executive Paul Reid said Ireland should move away from nursing homes as these settings make it more difficult to protect people from outbreaks of illness.
As Darragh O'Brien takes up office as the new Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, he received a number of warnings about demographic change, as well as other issues like water supply, in briefing documents from officials.
All aspects of housing policy will need to respond to emerging demographic challenges ahead, the briefing cautions the minister.
And if Covid-19 has struck at the very reason for the existence of nursing homes then other alternatives will be needed.
"The ageing of our population represents a significant demographic and societal challenge, with the number of people over the age of 65 expected to reach 1.4 million by 2040," or nearly a quarter of the total population, the minister is told.
The document added: "Research shows that good quality, well connected, urban centres with a range and choice of housing tenures and types actively supports ageing in place.
"The issues raised regarding nursing homes during the Covid-19 crises are also relevant in this regard."
It notes that notwithstanding Covid-19, "the supply pipeline remains strong, with almost 50,000 new homes granted planning permission in the year to March 2020. On this basis, it is feasible that housing supply could increase to almost 30,000 homes per annum by 2022".
However, a lack of streamlined delivery is hitting the supply of safe, clean water across the country and service 'failure' is now threatened, civil servants warned.
There is a 'disconnect' in the local provision of water to consumers and businesses because an old and different arrangement was handed to Irish Water.
It uses a system of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to do so - a politically imposed bridging move to prevent large-scale redundancies in local authority water sections.
"While the agreements have worked effectively to get the utility up and running, the limitations of this way of working is now beginning to impact on service delivery," Mr O'Brien is bluntly told in the briefing document.
The mismatch in management and provision "is increasing the risks of service failure", senior civil servants have written.
It also reveals that a process is now under way to bring the SLA arrangements to an end next year.
These had been scheduled to run until 2025.
The department is engaged with Irish Water, the trade unions and the local government system on moving more quickly towards an integrated single public utility.
"There are significant issues to be resolved to achieve this objective," Mr O'Brien is told, with similar challenges "in relation to the holding of a referendum on water".
The three-party Programme for Government commits to referring the issue of constitutional recognition of a right to water to an Oireachtas committee.
In parallel with such "major transformation", Irish Water is also being separated from the parent Ervia Group. This will require legislation "and further significant organisational change," Mr O'Brien is told, raising the possibility of further dysfunction at least during the transition.