NINETY-eight properties managed by the Office of Public Works are sitting vacant around the country.
These include several important historic properties – including two adjoining period houses on O’Connell Street in Dublin – that are being allowed to fall into disrepair.
Nearly two-thirds of the vacant properties are former garda stations, most of which were deemed surplus to requirements by the gardaí late last year.
A single rented property is also vacant, but the government is set to escape from its €112,500-a-year lease for that building on Dublin’s Clare Street in January 2020.
Two sites – beside the ports in Rosslare and Dublin to deal with Brexit – have also just been bought by the OPW and will come into use depending on when and if Britain exits the European Union.
The largest number of vacant properties is in Co Cork, where 19 lie idle including nine houses, eight former garda stations and two former offices.
Former agricultural offices in Clonakilty and an unused social welfare office in Cobh are being considered respectively for an alternative State use and for a community project.
The eight empty garda stations are in Rathduff, Knocknagree, Goleen, Adrigole, Ballyfeard, Ballygurteen, McCurtain Street, and St Luke’s on the Ballyhooley Road.
“Alternative State use” is being considered for the barracks in Rathduff but the other seven have been deemed surplus to requirements and will be sold.
Seven former coastguard cottages in Crosshaven are also empty and are currently “being prepared for disposal” , the Office of Public Works said.
Those seven houses – according to Dáil transcriptions – were supposed to have been auctioned in early 2017 but remain in State hands.
According to official records, four of the properties have not been used since “pre-1983″.
Local Fianna Fáil councillor Audrey Buckley said the OPW needs to get these homes back into use. She said: “Some of these have been empty for between 30 and 35 years and they would make nice homes for people.
They are small inside and would need a lot of work but they should be back up and running as houses.
“One thing in the area is there are quite a few elderly people living in large houses that they cannot afford to heat. This could give them a good option to downsize to something more suitable.”
Most valuable properties
The most valuable empty properties are in Dublin, an investigation by Noteworthy, TheJournal.ie’s investigative journalism platform has found.
These include a former departmental headquarters, two adjoining houses on the city’s main street, two properties on Castle Street, and a former debtors’ prison.
Hawkins House – often considered as among the capital’s ugliest buildings – has only been empty since staff from the Department of Health decamped to new headquarters in the middle of last year.
The OPW said “options [were] being considered” for the property.
Two historic houses on O’Connell Street, which had been used as a garda station until a few years ago, remain unused and are falling into disrepair.
The OPW said the buildings had been in use by gardaí, but not as a station, until 2018 and that they were now considering their options for them.
Another historic building – which is a protected structure – has been all but abandoned by the State on Halston Street in the north inner city for decades.
It was originally built as a debtors’ prison and has been described as suffering from “major conservation problems” by An Taisce.
In a damning report on its condition, An Taisce said: “Most of the external fabric remains, but there are obvious signs of deterioration such as slipped slates, vegetation growth, broken windows and vandalism.
There is no immediate danger of collapse but condition is such that unless urgent remedial works are carried out the building will sharply deteriorate.
In a statement, the OPW said they were looking at “alternative State use” for the property.
However, parliamentary questions from 13 years ago reveal the OPW gave more or less the same answer back then.
In 2006, Minister Tom Parlon told the late TD Tony Gregory: “The Office is currently actively studying several options for the future use of the building and a decision is expected to be made in the new year.”
The debtors’ prison is not the only valuable vacant site owned by the OPW in Dublin. They also have two adjoining properties at 10 and 11 Castle Street, close to Dublin Castle.
One of the properties has no building on it while the other has what appears to be a shed or lock-up.
Both are heavily graffitied but the Office of Public Works said they were being retained for “strategic purposes” even though they have not been used since 1999, according to Oireachtas records.
Idle for a decade
Eleven years ago, the State bought a former ESB site in Enfield, Co Meath. It had been on the market at the time for in excess of €2 million.
It has lain idle ever since apart from temporary use as a parking area for the gardaí. It is finally being transferred to the local council for use as a community facility.
Caroline Lynch, a former local councillor who repeatedly raised questions at Meath County Council about the property, said: “It’s been a very long process and it has been vacant for so long.
“The OPW are the slowest State agency that I’ve ever come across but at least finally it is going to be put to good use.”
If you can’t see the graphic above, click here.
Another building in Drogheda, Co Louth, has become something of a blight in the town and came into State ownership more than a decade ago.
Once a guesthouse, the 200-year-old property at 62/63 West Street is now a sorry sight on one of the town’s most visible streets.
Senator Ged Nash said the building has been unused for more than a generation and had been purchased by the State as part of the ill-fated decentralisation plan for government departments announced by Minister Charlie McCreevy in 2003.
It was part of a portfolio of properties built up in the area that were meant to house the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection when it was supposed to move lock, stock, and barrel from Dublin.
Senator Nash said: “The OPW committed to carrying out a review in 2017 but we are still awaiting news of that.
“The building was given a lick of paint last year for the Fleadh Cheoil but hasn’t been touched since. Louth County Council has developed a Westgate vision for this area of the town, which has become quite dilapidated and which the Celtic Tiger unfortunately bypassed.
The Office of Public Works need to get the finger out and deliver on the review they promised in 2017 because this is a very positive plan for the area.
In a statement, the OPW said they were preparing to transfer the property to Louth County Council.
Half a dozen other buildings around the State also lie idle, some for many years.
A building on Cecil Street in Limerick has been unused since 2014 but is now being transferred alongside another vacant property on Mallow Street to Limerick City and County Council.
A government building on the Kells Road in Navan has been vacant since 2006, according to Oireachtas records.
The OPW said this was being handed over to Meath County Council. The building had to be abandoned after a safety order saw Department of Agriculture staff forced to move out: it has been burnt out at least once and has in the past been a magnet for anti-social behaviour in the town.
In Dundalk, a former employment exchange is lying idle since 2003. It is however, after over a decade and a half of dereliction, to be transformed into 27 homes by an approved housing body with the project due to begin next year.
The OPW also owns a vacant property in Ardmore, Co Waterford. It was used to store material for an old Decca mast, a navigation system that has been made redundant by technology.
A spokesman said: “The property does not have its own access to the public road and can only be accessed via the front driveway of a private property, which had previously been sold … or by adjoining lands.
“The property is in effect land locked and is probably only of value to two or three property/land owners whose sites about the property.”
The bulk of the idle buildings are former garda stations, located all across Ireland, and the vast majority of which were shut in 2012 and 2013 as part of an operational review of policing.
Their future had been uncertain since an interim report of the Policing Authority recommended six stations for re-opening on a pilot basis: Ballinspittle in Cork, Bawnboy in Cavan, Donard in Wicklow, Leighlinbridge in Carlow, and Rush and Stepaside in Dublin.
The closure of Stepaside had been particularly controversial and was the subject of fierce lobbying by Minister for Transport Shane Ross, in whose constituency it is.
While that review of policing was under way, the Office of Public Works had been asked not to dispose of any more garda stations in State ownership.
In December 2018, the second review was published clearing the way for disposal of 47 of the former garda stations.
The OPW said: “[We are] now processing these properties in accordance with [our] disposal policy.”
The return on garda stations that have sold so far has been poor with the sale of 43 former barracks yielding just €3.29 million, or an average of €76,697.
One station in Crossakiel, Co Meath, yielded just €6,000 when it was sold, while the biggest transaction was the €260,000 paid for the station on Mallow Road in Cork.
Some of the garda stations that still lie idle are deteriorating rapidly, with some like Kill of the Grange in Dublin empty since 2007. Another in Stradone, Co Cavan, has been vacant since 2002.
The Office of Public Works said its policy for property disposal first involved identifying if the building or land was required for a suitable or alternative State use by government departments or the wider public sector.
After that, the OPW would then consider disposing of the property on the open market “if and when conditions prevail” to generate revenue for the expenditure.
It also said as a last option it would consider community involvement subject to detailed written submissions from local groups who could provide assurance they could insure, maintain and manage the property.
The OPW has purchased 12 new properties on behalf of the State over the past three years, according to records obtained under Freedom of Information legislation.
In Wexford, it paid out €1.6 million this year for the former Renault Site near Rosslare Harbour as part of Brexit contingency plans.
Near Dublin Port, it purchased the ‘Molloy and Sherry’ site on Promenade Road for €3.95 million this year.
The Office of Public Works has refused access to valuation reports for those two properties saying they would disclose positions to be taken by the government or the OPW.
That decision has been appealed by Noteworthy.
Separately, they have also bought 10 other properties around the country for other uses. This includes €1.35 million for a car park in Sligo, €2.7 million for a government office in Navan, Co Meath, and €4.3 million for a property on Mountshannon Road in Dublin.
The OPW has also refused access to valuation reports relating to all 10 of those purchases – that decision is being appealed as well.
Would you like to know more?
Would you like to read more about empty State buildings in Ireland?
Through Noteworthy, we are looking to fund a larger investigation which would find out how just much vacant land is owned by the State through the HSE, local authorities, government departments and other public bodies.
Help support that project here – all contributions are welcome.