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Councillor Shane Talty: “I think this is going to blow up into serious controversy when these Revenue letters arrive, the actual bills.”

Action pledged on dereliction ‘heartbreak’ in county Clare

HEARTBREAK is being suffered by those struggling to find a home, when so many properties are left vacant and derelict, a meeting of Clare County Council has heard. 

The comments came from Councillor Shane Talty in response to a motion tabled by Councillor Joe Killeen. The Ennistymon postmaster agreed with calls for stronger Council powers to use Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs).

“If your family are housed, you might not even see the derelict properties,” he said, “But, for families and young people, and older people for coming off an income cliff in their transition to retirement age, if you’re passing out these derelict properties every day, families are literally heartbroken and say, ‘Why can’t I get an opportunity to make a home and make a life for a family there’?”

Tabling the motion, Councillor Killeen said, “Every opportunity must be made to try and alleviate the situation by making more homes available. We must register our frustration at the number of houses that are both un-used and left in both vacant and in derelict state in our towns and villages.”

The motion was seconded by Councillor Cillian Murphy “I live in West Clare – Doonaha, out in Loop Head – and every day there are people who can’t find a place to rent,” he said.

“They can’t find a place to buy. I passed three houses yesterday on my walk with ‘For Sale’ signs, and I absolutely can tell you, every one of them will be bought as a holiday home. Until the State or the Council are given the wherewithal to step in and buy those properties, we really are going to be up against the wall.”

The attitude of those who allow their property to fall into dereliction was condemned by Councillor Joe Garrihy. “I can never get my head around why people leave houses to fall into dereliction, but it’s a mindset,” he said. “It’s very disturbing to think that mostly the people that own a house, it seems, don’t want anybody else to have one. That’s why this motion is so important and to the point.”

That view was countered by Councillor Pat O’Gorman who highlighted the challenges behind the issue. “Whether it is a will that’s not made whether it’s a fall-out between the family, there’s always a reason behind the shop or the house being left derelict,” he said. The Shannon area member was among those to commend the work of Council official Carmel Greene, who is tasked with addressing the problem. 

“I think people that would be involved in these family would only love to see Carmel coming and putting a CPO on [property], because it would solve a lot of the problems for the family, as well as for the town of the village,” he said. “I would be all for CPOs.”

Councillor Pat Daly urged the authority to look at the example set by the Cork town of Clonakilty where significant efforts have greatly used vacancy and dereliction rates. 

East Clare’s Councillor Pat Burke said some property owners “just don’t give two hoots”. “They’re a major issue in villages for tidy towns groups in my own village and I’m contacting people as far away as Cork, Longford, Wexford, Galway, that would nearly tell you that forgot they own them,” he said. “This kind of mentality is just shocking.”

Councillor Joe Cooney noted the incentives available to renovate empty houses. “A lot of different schemes are out there now which people can apply to to get funding to operate these buildings,” he said. “My belief is that over the next couple of years, there’s won’t be too many vacant or derelict buildings in towns or villages, with a fantastic work that’s going on.”

Councillor Johnny Flynn agreed that a lot of positive initiatives are underway and yielding results, especially in Ennis. 

Senior Executive Officer (SEO) Carmel Greene, noted that the Planning and Development Bill has now been passed. “Up to now, there hasn’t been a very strong arm of law to deal with vacant properties that are not derelict,” she said. “So it will be worth seeing what that will bring us.” Ms Green also looked forward to upcoming workshops, and a roadshow to meet applicants for grants. “Now, we have 35 live applications,” she said. “If you take that to their maximum, that could be an investment of about one-and-a-half million. So we will deal with them in a positive, proactive way.”

With regard the the reasons for dereliction, Ms Green said the matter is complex. 

“Some may just forget about them,” she said. “That is a fact. A person may have died 20 years ago and none of the family is interested. In one place there are 17 different family members, all claiming a piece of the property. I think the key reasons are the fear of the cost of doing something up when it’s particularly old property, but also some of the properties have debt that’s difficult to trace, because mortgages are now sold to various different parties. By the time you try and trace who actually has the debt on it, it takes quite some time.

“There are issues of family breakdown and very frequent issues with title. People are in nursing homes and the property may be part of the Fair Deal scheme. And there are people that have their own house and they don’t want to be a landlord on another property. It’s just not part of their plans.

A written response to the motion, from Director Liam Conneally outlined the legal powers on vacant and derelict properties and listed CPO activities in Ennis, Kilrush, Mountshannon and Cratloe. 

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