At the inaugural meeting of Clare County Council’s Social Development SPC, Dermot Hayes, a representative of the social inclusion sector called for a housing crisis to be declared so that Government funding could be drawn down to address needs in the county.

Director of service, Liam Conneally updated the SPC on housing statistics for 2016, including 95 acquisitions, 1,056 Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) leases; 456 Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) tenancies and 274 short-term leases of private properties.

He said the council has received funding approval from the Dept. of Environment to build 10 units in Feakle; 6 units in Clonlara and 10 units in Quilty. Mr Conneally said work remains to be done on a proposed scheme of 21 houses in Shannon at Tullyglass before this goes to the planning process. With a four-stage approval process to be navigated, there is a lengthy lead-in time of around two years before a sod can be turned. Mr Conneally confirmed that none of these schemes will commence in 2017, but will start in 2018.

This prompted an intervention from social inclusion representative Dermot Hayes who proceeded to call on Clare County Council to declare a housing crisis in the county. Mr Hayes based his assertion on the fact that there are 2,500 social housing applicants on the waiting list and more than 20 families in emergency accommodation. He also claimed particular issues with Traveller accommodation have resulted in more than 40 children under 14 living without access to running water or sanitation.

Describing schemes such as HAP and RAS as short-term solutions, Dermot Hayes said that while he was impressed with some figures cited by Liam Conneally, this isn’t anywhere near enough to address the housing need in County Clare. Mr Hayes called on the local authority to declare a housing crisis in Clare. By doing so, he claimed the Government will have to provide additional funding. Describing housing in Clare as “in serious crisis”, Mr Hayes said some people are living in precarious situations. The Traveller issue alone is disgraceful, he said.

In a written statement, Dermot Hayes said the social inclusion college of Clare Public Participation Network wishes the council to put together a housing plan to address the current situation. He also demanded that “future plans do not depend on private, profit-driven, landlords to provide for basic human needs.” He believes that a forum, such as that being put together for rural development, is necessary so there can be a concentration of effort to sort out the housing situation. Calling for the immediate provision of emergency sanitation and waste disposal services for Travellers living by the roadside, Mr Hayes said the council should address this community’s long-term housing needs as an urgent priority.

In response, committee chairman Cllr Gerry Flynn said the SPC’s remit is specific to the formation and review of policy matters. “We all know there is a national housing crisis and Clare is no different from any other part of the country. I agree that we have a housing crisis in Clare County Council but equally there is a crisis in the private sector. Thankfully we have some money to engage with the private sector otherwise many people would be left without a roof over their heads.”.

Cllr Tom McNamara also acknowledged the national housing crisis and said he could see no benefit in Clare County Council making any declaration to that effect. He insisted that the housing crisis needs long-term solutions and said it’s important that the SPC sets out targets for meeting housing needs over the next 5 to 10 years and putting these proposals to the Department of Environment for funding. “We cannot solve the problem overnight,” said Cllr McNamara.

Liam Conneally agreed with Cllr McNamara’s analysis and commented that the national housing crisis “is a manifestation of a dysfunctional private housing market” but also includes the fact that social houses were not built by local authorities for the last number of years. According to Mr Conneally one reason for that withdrawal was that the private sector had largely satisfied demand for housing units, leaving local authorities to build only a small number of housing schemes resulting in reduced capacity. Over the last six months this has changed and Mr Conneally said he believes that solutions cannot just come from the public sector but the private house building market will have to become profitable again in order to engage the interest of builders and developers.

Referring to the Government’s ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ strategy, Mr Conneally said this is about addressing the issues raised by Dermot Hayes. He added that the local authority is using its emergency accommodation provision to put a roof over the heads of homeless people and said this is a priority in terms of the council’s social housing agenda.

In conclusion Mr Conneally said, “I am not saying that the units we are providing will solve the housing crisis overnight, it won’t. This is going to take some time and it will need the private property sector to provide part of the solution.”