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Dublin: 19°C Saturday 12 June 2021

'I don't think we can solve the crisis without interfering with private property'

The Peter McVerry Trust are calling on the government to buy up empty private properties.

Minister Simon Coveney at the launch of the Peter McVerry Trust annual report
Minister Simon Coveney at the launch of the Peter McVerry Trust annual report
Image: Liz O'Malley

PETER MCVERRY HAS called on the government to start compulsorily purchasing empty homes to tackle our country’s housing problem.

“If we can do it when a motorway is being built, why can’t we do it to deal with our homelessness crisis?”

Speaking at the launch of the Peter McVerry Trust 2015 annual report, McVerry said that there were only two ways to make a meaningful difference to the levels of homelessness: to bring in legislation to link rents to the consumer price index, and to introduce a major programme of compulsory purchases.

The preliminary results from the census show that there are almost 260,000 vacant homes in Ireland, 61,204 of which are holiday homes. There were about 140,000 people on the social housing waiting list back in February.

McVerry said:

It is an affront to the thousands of people in homelessness that they should attempt to live their lives in emergency accommodation, B&Bs, and hotels while so many homes are allowed to lay empty across the state.

Government response

In response, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said that it was not as simple as buying up all the vacant properties and putting all of the people in them.

The problem is, a lot of the vacant properties are in places where there’s not a lot of housing demand. So if you look at counties like Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo and Donegal, there are some unfinished housing estates and there’s still a lot of vacant properties. But the real pressures are in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.


Coveney said that €17 million had been set aside for the Housing Agency to purchase empty houses in areas where people want to live. The target is to purchase around 1,600 properties.

Coveney said he had asked for the housing ministry because he “wanted to take on what many deem is a prickly political and human challenge”.


The Peter McVerry Trust dealt with 4,705 unique individuals, each of whom needed to access an average of two services provided by the trust. Of these, 171 individuals exited homelessness.

The number of individuals accessing their services increased 40% from last year.

McVerry said, “I began the forward for the Annual Report 2014 by saying: ‘In over 35 years of working with homeless people, I have never seen the situation as bad as it is today.’

“I spoke too soon; 2015 was much worse.”

Looking at the statistics for homelessness in July compared to December, there were:

  • 4,177 homeless adults – up from 3,625
  • 1,130 homeless families – up from 775
  • 2,348 homeless children – up from 1,616

Coveney said that he was firmly committed to tackling the housing problem, and that was why they had put together the housing action plan, Rebuilding Ireland, last month.

The plan commits almost €5.5 billion for 47,000 social housing units. The rapid house building programmes will produce 200 units by the end of this year, and a projected 800 by the end of next year.

“In many ways, the response by government over the last five years to this problem has not been good enough,” Coveney said. “I can give you all sorts of reasons why that’s been the case. But that is changing now.

There are some people who will quote statistics at you to say that the numbers of homeless per head of capita Dublin as a city compares quite favourably with other European cities. I don’t buy into any of that stuff.

Read: Nearly 100 families became homeless in Dublin in July

Read: Child homelessness has increased by 37% in six months

About the author:

Elizabeth O'Malley

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