We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

A derelict house decorated with fake painted windows in Ireland. Alamy Stock Photo

Analysis 'In a housing crisis, this government is leaving thousands of buildings to rot'

A grim indictment of Ireland’s political policies is the scale of dereliction of buildings throughout the country, writes Dr Frank O’Connor.

IRELAND, WE HAVE an ideology problem, and everybody knows it. How have we come to a point in our history that we have so severely underinvested in almost everything that matters: housing, health, energy, food, skills, transport and liveability, the list goes on?

This is to the serious detriment of society, nature, and culture. It is costing lives and traumatising multiple generations.

What stronger indicators are there of a broken social contract than hundreds of thousands, from young to old, living in insecure accommodation and in fear of homelessness? Renter anxiety is at an all-time high since the government ended the six-month ‘no fault eviction ban’. A tsunami of evictions has been predicted.

Derelict Ireland

After decades of living overseas, my partner Jude Sherry and I returned to live in Ireland in November 2018, basing ourselves in Cork city centre. We both have a background in design, education and sustainability so while we fell in love with the city, and in particular the friendliness of the people, we were absolutely shocked by the neglect manifesting itself through the decaying heritage, the housing and homelessness crisis, and the widespread vacancy and dereliction.

We quickly realised that Cork City was not alone, this was a national issue.

We were equally dismayed by what looked like societal acceptance – the normalisation of dereliction and homelessness. This was presented through sayings such as “that’s the way things are”, so we knew we had to do something about it.

We strongly believe that we, the people, have the power to change things so we decided to challenge the narrative that dereliction is normal. In June 2020, after 18 months of research, we started a conversation called #DerelictIreland on dereliction using Twitter as a way of curating it. 

It has since become a powerful way to document the numerous buildings neglected and allowed to fall to ruin throughout the country. Although #DerelictIreland is a microcosm of the housing emergency it is a visually glaring element, which has significant negative impacts on society, from mental health to community cohesiveness and environmental destruction to name but a few.

Documenting dereliction

This daily dose of dereliction using images and videos has challenged the false narratives and revealed the reality of this state-enabled vandalism. When people started to respond to the campaign, they looked around and realised the levels of vacancy and dereliction in their local village, town or city were not normal. There is now a growing realisation that that dereliction has been costing them and their communities.

The #DerelictIreland conversation has now grown into a self-organising, de-centralised grassroots movement of people across the country.

This community has shared tens of thousands of images and videos, all with a story, all reinforcing the need to change direction. Each post demonstrates that #DerelictIreland is an epidemic, enabled by years of poor policy making and weak policy implementation.

This national movement continues to catch the eye of national and international media as well as politicians. This people’s power has resulted in a reframing of dereliction and a suite of policy changes, all connected through the hashtag #DerelictIreland.

When we do nothing about the horrendous vacancy and dereliction throughout the country, we are missing a unique opportunity to provide homes at a lower cost and lower carbon output than a new build. We have over 188,000 vacant and derelict homes spread across the country. The highest rates of unused homes are where we should be encouraging everyone from 8- to 80-year-olds to live, in our town and city centres.

Not good enough

Have no doubt that we are participating in a humanitarian crisis. Rather than being the poster child of global economics, Ireland is operating like a developing country. Every part of the system is creaking and #DerelictIreland is just one visual representation of this.

So how did we get to this point in our history? We can blame recent external factors such as global supply issues and the war in Ukraine. We can blame our past; being colonised and the Catholic Church, but the reality is we allowed the “markets will solve everything” and “profit is king” approaches to undermine Irish society.

And while this was happening, we lost sight of our duty of care to the vulnerable in society. You only have to look at our abysmal records on providing childcare and healthcare – how we’ve failed in the care of the elderly in society, forced to wait on trolleys for endless hours, or how Travellers have been treated and refugees too in Direct Provision. Surely it is time to speak up and demand change?

This is a story of policy failures by successive Irish governments. The housing emergency is not a shock. We can point to many reasons; vested interest, ignorance, incompetence, and apathy to name just a few. However, fundamentally it comes down to our government’s value system, which is rooted in neoliberalism – the belief that free-market capitalism is a tide that will lift all boats. Those in power seem to believe that homes are a privilege and not a human right. It’s safe to say now that this ideology has been proven to be a destructive force in the fight against inequality.


If the government wanted quick solutions to this housing crisis, they could bring in emergency measures to ensure habitable vacant homes are immediately made available for rent. Following in the footsteps of Amsterdam’s, Barcelona’s, and Portugal’s Compulsory Rental Orders.

And yes, private property is always a tricky conversation in Ireland, however, the Constitution allows the state to put social justice and the common good above private property rights.

With an impending societal catastrophe, there surely is no better time to deliver on this and the ideals of our proclamation: “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally”.

While successive governments have ripped up the social contract they could as easily repair it now if they wanted to. It’s time for a mass movement of policy, protest, and practice to bring this change about. In the short-term, we demand a national emergency is called, with a reinstatement of the eviction ban and the State purchasing of all landlord properties that are being sold. A ban on Airbnb of full homes should also be implemented and all the vacant homes brought back into use and enforcement of the vacancy and dereliction levies.

In the medium term, a state building company should be started to build and renovate social and affordable homes. In the long term, we need radical changes in our governance at the national and local levels, and we need a new value system and a cultural transformation. We need to give people an option other than going destitute or emigrating. Or do we expect them to be forever enslaved to a system that simply doesn’t care and doesn’t justify its status as a Republic?

Dr Frank O’Connor is the director of the global design agency anois, set up with Jude Sherry to create value through systems design for sustainability, circularity, responsibility, equality and social justice. For more, see


Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Dr Frank O’Connor
Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel