PLANS to demolish 40 ghost estates in Ireland have been described as a kick in the teeth by a charity in Britain.
The Aisling Return to Ireland Project has criticised the Irish Government’s plans saying it has spent the last 10 years lobbying politicians for the use of empty housing in Ireland as a means of supporting its resettlement project.
But it says calls to support some of Britain’s most vulnerable and destitute Irish have fallen on deaf ears.
The charity’s proposal is one that was echoed by President Michael D Higgins last year in an interview with The Irish Post.
Speaking in June 2012 the Irish President suggested that ghost estates could be used to provide free holiday accommodation for those who contributed financially to Ireland but are now among the most marginalised in Britain.
Alex McDonnell, founder of the Aisling Return to Ireland Project, said: “We have seen these estates the length and breadth of the country on our regular return to Ireland trips and it is so frustrating to see all this wasted property when there is so much need elsewhere.
“We have been trying to get the Irish Government to support a resettlement project which would require only a small amount of property and very little funding but would make a huge difference to many Irish exiles here in Britain desperate to go home safely and with support.”
He added: “We have had virtually no response although we have met with senior officers in government departments including Environment, Social Welfare, Health and Foreign Affairs.”
The Irish Government plans to demolish around 40 ghost estates across Ireland next year, the details of which were revealed in the Annual Progress Report.
A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, which has responsibility for housing, said only properties that were uninhabitable or not commercially viable would be torn down.
“We are not talking about completed houses here, but those that would have just the foundation or one or two walls built,” he said.
“They are houses that have no prospect of being completed. The bulk is also likely to be in private ownership, so it may be that owners are seeking to return the land itself to agricultural use.”
Sheila Bailey, CEO of the Ireland Fund of Great Britain, said site safety was a priority for charities considering the use of ghost estate housing for vulnerable Irish people returning home.
“It may seem attractive in the short term but they could be exposing themselves to financial risk with the upkeep of these buildings,” she said.
“A lot of these sites are inherently unsafe. It is not the business of a charity, in my opinion, to invest charitable funds making such sites safe for an alternate use.”
But Aisling’s Alex McDonnell believes minimal funding from the Irish Government could turn uninhabitable houses into a lifeline for Irish people with no other means of returning home.
“The state of completion or otherwise begs the question why they could not be made completed by the people who would be discouraged from emigration if there was useful work to do at home,” he said.
“I think this is not only a waste of bricks and mortar but also a wasted opportunity.”
He added: “I thought that during the Gathering we might be able to move things forward and we wrote to the Taoiseach, met some TDs, resubmitted our development plan.
“But the year is nearly over now and I guess the news that they would rather spend money pulling down houses than provide accommodation for returning emigrants is the answer to our questions. “
Speaking to The Irish Post in June of last year President Michael D Higgins said it was time to create opportunities for Irish people to come home for periods of time.
“There are many people who would like to come to Ireland for a short while and the estates that are being Namafied in Ireland… if they were being put into a good condition and just enabled people to visit for the summer,” he said.