FIGURES released from Census 2006 have shown that Mayo has one of the highest vacancy rates of housing units in the State, at a staggering 24.4 per cent. It means that almost a quarter of the county’s entire housing stock of 58,717 is vacant – with many of the houses being used as holiday homes.
Only counties Kerry, Donegal and Leitrim have a higher rate of empty housing stock at 24.8, 27 and 29.3 per cent respectively.
The total population of Mayo is 123,839, but what is clear from the census results is that a significant percentage of the county’s home-owners do not reside permanently in the county.
In the census breakdown of figures, there are four categories that fall under unoccupied permanent housing units: residents temporarily absent; vacant house; vacant flat; and holiday-home.
The figures for Mayo are: absent 736; vacant house 9,136; vacant flat 946; and holiday-home 4,216. Many of the empty houses are located in parts of the county that are known as tourist attractions with entire estates in some towns and villages remaining vacant for most of the year.
The huge increase in property speculation is also reflected in the Census figures with the number of vacant houses increasingly substantially in the last five years.
On the day of the 2002 census, it was estimated that there were just over 140,000 houses vacant across Ireland. In the subsequent five years, this figure increased by over 50 per cent, to about 230,000.
According to Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer of An Taisce, the figures for vacant houses are “startling” for the area around Westport while the picturesque village of Cong is “another emerging second-home cluster”.
“It is a significant concern as to what happens when a village is swamped by holiday-homes,” said Mr Lumley.
“During the summer, the influx of tourists and second-home owners can create a burden on services such as the sewerage system.”
Labour Party councillor Keith Martin, based in Westport, said that while it is “tragic” to have empty houses in an area, “in the majority of cases, the houses are rented and the money is earned by local people”.
Dharragh Hunt, member of lobby group Irish Rural Link, said: “There is a real problem of social isolation in rural areas and, if half of the ten houses neighbouring you are empty, it’ll create even more of a sense of isolation.”
The Economic Social Research Institute (ESRI) did a study on empty houses in Ireland in May 2005 and found that, traditionally, the country has had a high vacancy rate; the fact explained by emigration where houses were left when the people moved to Britain or the US.
Although there is a tradition of homes abandoned because of poverty and emigration – and the emigrants holding onto their homes, hoping to someday return – what is clear from the census figures is that the majority of Mayo’s
vacant houses are holiday-homes, second homes or investment properties; empty not because of poverty and emigration, but because of wealth.
© Western People