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Councillor Pat Burke has raised questions as to why Mountshannon House has remained empty for 19 years when it was sold to create social housing.

Anger as property earmarked for social housing lies empty for 19 years

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A LANDMARK property in Mountshannon has lain idle for 19 years, with no progress on plans for sheltered accommodation, in a situation branded by a local councillor as “shocking” and “a disgrace”.

The status of Mountshannon House was raised by Councillor Pat Burke who said that “a major mistake” had been made when the property was sold, by the local authority, in 2002. The meeting of the Killaloe Municipal District was told that Respond Voluntary Housing Association had purchased the building with a view to creating homes for the elderly and those with special needs under the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS). In response to Councillor Burke’s query, the council outlined how the purchase had been financed by a loan raised by the local authority. A written reply noted that the accommodation scheme has not progressed to-date, and that Respond remains responsible for the building’s maintenance and upkeep “as they own the house with Clare County Council having a charge on the property”.

“I’m shocked that Respond bought this property, funded by a loan that the council raised, and that there is no progress since 2002,” said Councillor Burke. “Imagine the house lying idle all that time. It’s a disgrace. How did the voluntary agency think it would be suitable for housing? How long more will it sit there, idle? We give out about private individuals who own vacant properties, but in this case, Clare County Council itself has an interest in one. It’s shameful that this house is lying idle. Can it be off-loaded or sold? Every time I drive past I’m shocked that it’s been empty this long. It’s a fine property.”

The motion was seconded by Councillor Joe Cooney who noted that Councillor Burke has raised the issue in the past. “I’m very disappointed with this response,” he said. “The building has gone into bad disrepair and is becoming derelict at a time when we are trying, as a council, to tackle that issue. Who is ultimately responsible? This is an unbelievable situation and something needs to be done.”

Cathaoirleach Councillor Pat Hayes said he was supportive of his colleagues. “I’d like to know what the loan amount was and what is left to pay,” he said. “It’s an absolute disgrace. Why hasn’t it been used for social housing?”

Director of Services Ann Haugh described the situation as “a significant legacy issue that pre-dates many of us”. “In October 2019, we brought Respond back to the table with a view to regularising the loan issue and we need to advance the matter under the CAS scheme,” she said. “Respond were to discuss the issue with the department and revert with updated proposals. We are still awaiting more details from Respond.”

Ms Haugh undertook to get the financial details requested. “It’s an issue we are conscious of,” she told councillors. “It hasn’t disappeared off the radar. We do need to make sure that any housing plan meets local need. Otherwise, we may need to re-examine and regularise the loan situation.”

Councillor Burke acknowledged the situation pre-dates many councillors’ and officials’ time on the authority. “A major mistake was made here,” he said. “It’s beyond me why this building was considered suitable and a loan provided. It’s not good enough, in my opinion to have this situation.”

Councillor Hayes said he recalled attempts made previously to off-load the property.

In a written response, the council outlined that following a meeting with Respond in 2019, plans had been received for ten accommodation units. It added that further information is required before submission to the department and that the council is awaiting a response from Respond.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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