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Irish Government criticised by British charity over ghost estate demolition plans

ghost estates1-n
One of Ireland’s ghost estates

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.

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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.

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Siobhan Breatnach
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Siobhán Breatnach is the Editor-in-Chief of The Irish Post. You can follow her on Twitter @SBreatnach

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One comment on “Irish Government criticised by British charity over ghost estate demolition plans”

  1. Aidan Connolly

    While recently perusing the UK governments open data site (data.gov.uk), I came across the data set on those people who had died in the UK without leaving a will and with no obvious next-of-kin. Of particular interest to me were the Irish amongst that set. Of approximately 10,000 cases since 1998 around 500 hundred were Irish - that's around 5%. Wikipedia states that around 1% of the UK population is Irish born according to the 2001 census so, if you are Irish in the UK you are 500% more likely to die intestate and without a next-of-kin than average. I suspect that this statistic hides many sad personal stories which will never see the light of day. The average age of those who died intestate was 77.2 years which was pretty much exactly the same as it was for the rest of the UK's population. Poverty leads to shorter lives so we can assume that generally speaking these Irish weren't poorer than average, they were just lonelier.
    One can only wonder at the stories these people took with them to the grave. Did they run away from home, did they suffer abuse as children and in later on in life find it impossible to share their lives with others? We will never know. Over 75% were classified as bachelor, spinster or single compared to average UK rates for this age group of only 20%. Of course there is some causality at play here since being single increases the probability of one dying intestate. However, the data does give one food for thought.
    There is a gender divide as well with Irish men in the UK more than twice as likely to die intestate as Irish women. Further research is needed to compare this to the Irish and UK rates.
    For those emigrating to the UK back in the 1950s, it was not as easy to stay in touch with family and friends back home. Travel was more expensive, relatively speaking, and the telecommunications infrastructure was poorer. When people left Ireland the links (for many) with their homeland gradually eroded with time.
    While having ubiquitous communication channels has negative side effects, such as the distraction it brings and its tendency to demand immediate attention, it nonetheless has helped people to stay in touch with their loved ones as well as finding kinship and support outside their immediate social group when necessary.
    Normally, here in Idiro (www.idiro.com) we focus on leveraging the commercial opportunities that understanding human networks can bring. However, the real life stories behind these networks are hidden from us and one can only speculate as to what the myriad of reasons that cause human networks to disintegrate. However, on a social level, when networks breakdown it invariably leads to a more fragmented and lonelier world. It is to be hoped that the experience of emigrants today is a much more positive one than that of their predecessors and that, thanks to technology, people can now reach out and stay in touch with the world.

    As a postscript, I think it would be great if the Irish government and our public bodies made a concerted and organised effort to make their data available to the public so that we can analyse and understand it and, ultimately, contribute to a more efficient and informed governance of this country.

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