Opposition criticises 'absolute scandal' of 3,600 empty homes
There has been stinging Opposition criticism after revelations that more than 3,600 council-owned homes are vacant despite the ongoing housing crisis.
The situation has been branded as "an absolute scandal" as the Government was called upon to insist that local authorities bring idle homes back into use.
The Irish Independent revealed the figures from the National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC), which also showed it takes an average of seven months to re-let a property after a tenant moves out or passes away.
The highest vacancy rates are in Leitrim (5.86pc), Longford (4.78pc) and Donegal (4.39pc). Dublin City Council (DCC) had a rate of 4.39pc.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it's an "absolute scandal".
Speaking on RTÉ Radio, he blamed the maintenance departments of councils being run-down and delays due to the houses being part of redevelopment plans, particularly in Dublin.
Labour TD Jan O'Sullivan said the vacancy rates are "totally unacceptable" and called on Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy to "take control of this situation".
She said no council should be allowed to leave properties vacant for any prolonged period of time while there are almost 10,000 people in emergency accommodation.
Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O'Brien said the turnaround times in returning voids to use is too long and claimed there's "red tape" in proceeding with regeneration plans, which is "not acceptable", given the homeless figures.
A Department of Housing statement said the number of empty properties change on a daily basis and this is expected in the management of more than 130,000 homes.
It said that the NOAC report highlighted "a positive overall trend in reducing the levels of vacant social housing stock and the average re-letting times".
The department insisted it encourages councils to return vacant properties to use as quickly as possible and it provides funding to do so.
It said it approved funding for some 1,470 properties this year alone.
Dublin City Council (DCC) argued that its vacancy rate is actually lower than set out in the NOAC report.
A DCC statement said the returns requested by NOAC refer to all properties in a local authority's ownership.
In their case it meant large numbers of properties in regeneration projects, which are awaiting demolition or are being transferred to Approved Housing Bodies, are included in the figures. It said that there were just 367 void properties at the end of July 2018. That's a rate of less than 1.5pc of buildings that aren't part of regeneration areas.