A SPECIFIC social housing policy is a necessity if island communities are to survive, according to Cllr Declan Hurley.
The independent councillor raised the issue of the acute shortage of permanent social housing with the Council executive at a meeting of the West Cork Municipal District in Dunmanway recently.
Although a lot West Cork’s inhabited islands have a considerable number of second, or holiday, homes, Cllr Hurley said the lack of available for housing for people seeking to relocate to an island is limited to the point of almost being non-existent.
The councillor said it is an ongoing issue and he called for the adoption of a specific policy to make sure social housing is incorporated into the Council’s housing programme.
Instead of random one-off acquisitions, or developments, he said the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government should include housing development on islands as a regular feature of the programme if there is to be any hope of retraining population numbers, and safeguarding the future of West Cork’s island communities.
Cllr Hurley said he previously raised the issue with Cork County Council in 2017 and was told that the Council could only work within the department’s ‘current framework.’
But – having regard to the great strides that the county Council is making in terms of meeting its housing targets in the last three or four years – he said the time was right to make the West Cork islands a priority.
He said the main issue is the availability of affordable housing that can be occupied on a year-round basis. ‘If we were to provide housing, and implement an ongoing social housing programme, we could attract more permanent residents,’ said Cllr Hurley.
He agreed that the cost of living, or at the very least the cost of housing building, on an island is, on average, 40% higher than it is on the mainland; and that these increased costs affects all aspects of house building – from transport costs to paying for skilled construction works to travel to and stay on the island during construction.
‘Island communities are striving to maintain and develop their future, so the very least the new government could do is to meet them half-way with real social housing policies because if they lose their population, they lose their services.’
Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) said the issue had been discussed before at their inter-agency meetings and he suggested: ‘We should take the plunge and commit to building a couple of houses on an ongoing basis.
‘If we had a specific housing plan for the islands,’ he added, ‘I have no doubt that more people would go and live on some of our bigger islands.’
Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) suggested that a national housing policy for inhabited island could draw support from the repair and lease scheme, which would lend itself to renovating older, derelict, houses and bring them back to good use. And he reminded the Council executive that 42 people on the choice based letting scheme had expressed an interest in social housing on the islands.
Cllr Karen Coakley (FG) suggested: ‘We need to look at the islands differently because they are different – people want to move to the islands but there are no houses there. We should be doing everything we can to support housing building in these communities.’
Although it might be ‘easier to build 50 in Bantry than one or two on an island,’ Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy suggested: ‘We must consider it.’