July 2011

Commentary on the current housing crisis in Ireland has placed significant emphasis on what are often perceived as peculiarly Irish problems of clientelism, cronyism, localism and poor regulation leading to the overextension and subsequent collapse of the property market and a massive oversupply of housing. Comparison with the parallel experience of overinflated housing markets and subsequent collapse in Spain may in this context prove insightful.

The bullet-points summary below is adapted from an article in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research published in December 2010– Garcia, M. (2010) The Breakdown of the Spanish Urban Growth Model: Social and Territorial Effects of the Global Crisis.


  • Europeanisation and globalisation led to an average yearly growth rate of GDP of 3.5% between 1994 and 2007;
  • This period of economic boom was accompanied by a high rate of in-migration, with foreign migrants concentrated in Madrid and along the Mediterranean coast, where the labour market was expanding;
  • EU funds supported the modernisation of transportation infrastructure, improving accessibility across the country and reducing disparities between richer and poorer regions;
  • Population increase due to a 1970s housing boom, coupled with high net in-migration, trends of declining average household size and increased disposable incomes,  contributed to a high demand for housing, particularly owner-occupied housing in suburban locations;
  • The housing boom was fuelled by the unprecedented availability of cheap credit from international markets;
  • Optimism combined with fear of future price increases encouraged housing acquisition and led to a rapid rise in the level of private debt;
  • The rate of housing development exceeded the rate of population growth in many Spanish cities throughout the 2001-2008 period;
  • The housing boom was facilitated by government incentives for both developers and house buyers;
  • Second homes and speculative investments accounted for a very significant proportion of the housing market;
  • A segmented housing market developed strengthening social inequalities with problems of affordability for young aspirant home owners in particular;
  • Local and regional administrations actively made land available for development, irrespective of spatial plans, with a view to increasing the local tax base;
  • The level of oversupply in 2010 amounted to approximately 1 million housing units, 600,000 of which are newly constructed;
  • Levels of unemployment in the construction sector are around 30%;


While there are striking similarities, there are key differences in the response to the crisis by government and the banking sector. In particular, Spanish banks have taken an active role in the property market, selling houses at discounted prices and developed innovative mechanisms to restructure the mortgage debt of households whose employment circumstances have deteriorated.


It would appear that there is significant potential for cross-national learning between Ireland and Spain, both in terms of disentangling local, European and global causal factors (in as much as this is possible or useful) and in terms of coming up with solutions and ways forward. We cannot fully understand post-crisis Ireland without an appreciation of similar experiences elsewhere.


Cormac Walsh

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) have just released the results from the 2009 National Travel Survey. This survey was undertaken as part of the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) which covers a number of additional secific social interest topics each quarter.

Information was collected from 7,245 households nationwide and represents one of the most detailed household studies of travel patterns ever undertake in the state. A total of 7,221 adults completed a “24 hour diary” and included information on number of journeys made; reason for making each journey; mode(s) of transport used; the time each journey commenced and ended; the duration of each journey and distance travelled.

The survey provides results on the following categories:

  • Weekly Travel Patterns
  • Why People Travel
  • How People Travel
  • Distance Travelled
  • Duration of Journeys
  • When & How Fast People Travel
  • Variations in Travel by Distance
  • Travel by ILO Status
  • Public Transport, Vehicle Ownership/Usage & Driving Licences
  • Travel and Age

Full access to the results are available on the CSO website – click here

Over at AIRO we have pulled some of the main findings together in an interactive table (See here).


The All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) has just launched a new Crime Mapping toolkit on its website. This is the first time that recorded crime incidents and offences have been made readily available in an interactive and easy to use mapping interface in Ireland. The data on the mapping toolkit has been sourced through the CSO and An Garda Síochána and originally comes from the PULSE system. It is hoped that the AIRO project will receive further updates once new data has been released by the CSO.

What data is available?

The toolkit has two main sets of data available to users – a very detailed set of crime categories at the Garda Division level and then a trimmed down set available at the much more detailed Garda Station spatial scale. The crime categories are based on the Irish Crime Classification System (ICCS). The CSO have also released a publication on Interpreting Crime Statistics, this is worth reading and outlines the many challenges involved in the proper interpretation of crime statistics.

At the Garda Division level (28 across the country with 6 in Dublin) the information available is very detailed with 57 crime categories classified under 14 themes such as Homicide, Sexual Offences, Kidnapping, Controlled Drug Offences, Robbery, Burglary or Public Order Offences. Each theme is then further sub-divided into more detailed categories. For instance, Public Order Offences contain six crime categories – Disorderly conduct, Trespass offences, Liquor licensing offences, Prostitution offences, Regulated betting/money, collection trading offences and Social code offences (n.e.c). Although the data available here is very detailed and relates to quite specific crime categories it is only available at a broad spatial scale, counties Cavan and Monaghan for instance comprise a single Garda Division. This data is available from 2004 on a quarterly basis.

The second set of data on the tool is available at a much more detailed spatial scale with information available for 704 Garda stations across the country. For instance, within county Clare data is available for 24 different Garda stations.  Due to the sensitive nature of crime data and potential confidentiality issues when mapping at such a micro spatial scale the level of detail available is far more generalised. Following strict data protection protocols the CSO have only been able to make station level data available for 10 different aggregated categories – Attempts/Threats to Murder, Assaults, and Harassments; Dangerous or Negligent Acts; Robbery, Extortion and Hijacking Offences; Burglary and Related Offences; Theft and Related Offences; Fraud, Deception and Related Offences; Controlled Drug Offences; Weapons and Explosives Offences; Damage to Property and to the Environment; Public Order and other Social Code Offences. Crime data on particularly sensitive offences such as Homicide, Sexual Offences and Kidnapping have been excluded at the station level in order to protect individual rights to privacy. This data is available from 2004 on an annual basis.

To gain access to the Crime Mapping toolkit users must initially be registered on the AIRO website (click here to register). Once registered, users can get access to the toolkit under Crime in the Mapping Modules section of the site.

The mapping Interface will initially open at the Garda Division level, crime categories can be changed by clicking on the Select Crime Data tab. To load the Garda Office level data users are required to click the Change Geography tab and select Station. This will load all Garda Stations and associated data. Users can also zoom to specific stations in areas of interest by using the Zoom to District or Division.

This is the first attempt at making Irish crime data available in a mapped format. Hopefully it will lead to further enhancements and more detailed data becoming available further down the line.

There are a number of really interesting initiative going on in other countries – it’s worth checking out the following links to see what is available elsewhere:

Building Safer Communities (USA): This portal is dedicated to helping law enforcement agencies provide the public with valuable information about crime activity by neighbourhood. The aim of the site is to assist police departments in reducing crime through a better informed citizenry. www.crimemapping.com

Police.UK (UK): This website provides helpful information about crime and policing in local areas. You enter a postcode, town, village or street name and get access to street-level crime maps and data, as well as details of your local policing team and beat meetings. http://www.police.uk/

Justin Gleeson

The All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) has just launched a new interactive mapping tool for the Greater Dublin Area. The tool provides detailed information, including the latest 2011 census data, at the ED level for Dublin City, Fingal, South Dublin, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. Log on to www.airo.ie and go to Mapping Module/Regional to load the tool.

With the preliminary results of Census 2011 we can start to undertake some longitudinal analysis of the headline data.  Clearly a key component of the present crisis has been overdevelopment and the subsequent property crash. At a national level, whilst population increased by over a million people between 1991 and 2011 (1,055,550, 29.9%), and households increased by c.680,000[*1] (61.6%), the number of houses built in the same period was at least 869,949 (76.7% increase) (actually more given that some housing was replacement for stock that has subsequently become obsolete).  What this means is that whilst the population and households rose dramatically, house building managed to run ahead of household demand.  And if average household size had not been consistently falling between 1991 and 2011 from 3.46 to c. 2.7, then the level of oversupply would be significantly higher than it presently is.

One of the areas that has come under scrutiny with respect to the property crash has been the Upper Shannon Renewal Scheme area. This scheme, started in June 1998, provided tax relief or incentive allowances for development and covered Co. Cavan, west of the River Erne, all of counties Leitrim and Longford, north Co. Roscommon, east and south Co. Sligo.  Figures 1 provides data on vacancy including holiday homes, housing stock, % vacant stock for 1991, 1996, 2002, 2006 and 2011, and population and household change 1991-2011 for these five counties and the state.  Figures 2-4 graph these data and Figure 5 is house building per annum 1970-2009.  The data aren’t ideal, in that the vacancy rate includes holiday homes, but they still give a good impression of what has happened[*2].

What the data reveal is that development in these counties, like the state as a whole, ran way ahead of population/household growth and other forms of demand (holiday/second home), especially from 2002 onwards as the Upper Shannon scheme worked to accelerate construction activity.  This led to the strange phenomena of increasing population/households, increasing housing stock and increasing levels of vacancy (to over 20% for all 5 counties; base vacancy is usually expected to be between 3-6% in a normal housing market).  In Leitrim, for example, the county in the state with the highest level of overall vacancy (30.4%), housing stock grew faster (8,155; 81%) than population growth (6,477; 25.6%), and nearly twice that of household growth (4,432; 53.7%) and vacancy consequently grew by 3,733 (205%) from 1,820 to 5,553 units.  Roscommon and Sligo similarly built more houses than the population grew, let alone households.  All five counties show a marked increase in the housing vacancy level.  Even allowing for obsolescence and replacement, and demand for holiday homes, it is clear that housing was being built in excess of demand and in response to the tax incentives (as clearly illustrated by Figure 5).  The result is a significant oversupply of stock and a helping hand in the collapse of the banks (see Figure 6 for vacancy levels per ED).

Figure 1: Vacancy, housing stock, population and household change, Upper Shannon Renewal counties 1991-2011


Growth in housing stock, Upper Shannon Renewal Scheme, 1991-2011

Figure 3: Growth in vacancy, including holiday homes, Upper Shannon Renewal Counties, 1991-2011

Figure 4: % vacant, Upper Shannon Renewal area, 1991-2011

Figure 5: House completions in the Upper Shannon Renewal area, 1970-2009, ESB connections, Source DECLG

Figure 6: 2011 housing vacancy by ED

Rob Kitchin

*1 we don’t as yet know the total number of permanent households as temporary absent and visitor data has not been released.  What we do have is the total number of housing units (2,004,175) and the total amount of vacant units (294,202).  If we take one away from the other, there were 1,709,973 units that usually have someone resident, which is usually within a few thousand of the reported household figure for Census night.

*2 there is also a slight discrepancy in the stock and vacancy rate data as reported in the CSO data in that 91, 96, 02 all exclude temporary absent properties in the stock figures; 06, 11 include such properties in the stock figures, but not in the vacancy figures – the difference to the stock and vacancy rate including and excluding temp absent properties is very marginal, c. 0.1-0.3%.  In other words, the figures 2-4 would appear all but identical if the slight alterations were undertaken to make the data fully compatible.

To follow on from yesterday’s post concerning the initial Census 2011 results with respect to housing vacancy.  In that post we included a table of data detailing housing unit numbers, vacancy levels and change between 2006-2011 by local authority.  In the Census 2011 preliminary report the CSO has provide two graphs (vacancy at county level, Figure 1 – see below, and increase in housing stock, Figure 3) and a maps of housing vacancy at ED level (Figure 2).  What these figures show is a marked geography to vacancy, with the five Upper Shannon Renewal Scheme counties of Cavan, Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon and Sligo, along with Kerry, Mayo, Donegal, Clare and Wexford, showing significant levels of vacancy (all over 20%). All of these counties had increases their vacancy rates of over 10%, with Donegal, Cavan, Roscommon, Leitrim, Kerry and Clare having increases of over 20%.

Holiday homes are a significant contributory factor to vacancy in for four of these counties.   We don’t have the 2011 figures yet, but in 2006 holiday homes as a percentage of all vacancy was 52% in Wexford,  43.5% in Donegal, 37% in Clare and 36.5% in Kerry (as evidenced by the high rates of vacancy along their coastal fringes – Figure 2).  So roughly between a third and a half of vacancy in these counties is accounted for by holiday homes.  In the other six counties, however, in 2006, holiday homes accounted for less than a third of all vacant houses (Cavan 12.9%, Leitrim 26.7%, Longford 7.4%, Roscommon 15.9%, Sligo 23.1% and Mayo 29.6%).  This pattern is unlikely to have altered much in the last five years.  In other words, other factors are at play in all ten counties.

Seven of the ten counties  increased their housing stock by over 15% between 2006-2011, with the except of Kerry, Mayo and Clare that increased by over 12% (Figure 3).  Only in Cavan (13.9%), Wexford (10.3%) and Longford (13.3%) did population increase exceed 10%.  In other words, house building was exceeding population growth in all these counties.  As Figure 4 shows, many EDs in these counties had decreases in population between 2006 and 2011 and there is a strong match to those EDs with very high levels of vacancy (Figure 2).  These are also the EDs with low population densities (Figure 5).  Issues such as migration and natural fluctuations (ratio of births to deaths) also contribute.  As Figure 6 shows, several of these counties have low rates of natural increase.

Given the decrease in population in some parts of these counties, and the low rates of growth elsewhere in them, the data suggest that there is a significant oversupply of housing stock in them that may take many years to fill given present demographics.  We’ll be able to work out the exact levels of oversupply per county and likely length to fill once the full census results are out next year and we have a bit more information.

There has been some confusion across discussion boards since the Census results were released as to what constitutes a vacant house, and whether these figures include houses that were simply vacant on the night of the census and also houses in unfinished estates.  The CSO state the following: “‘In identifying vacant dwellings, enumerators were instructed to look for signs that the dwelling was not  occupied e.g. no furniture, no cars outside, junk mail accumulating, overgrown garden etc., and to find out from neighbours whether it was vacant or not. It was not sufficient to classify a dwelling as vacant after one or two visits. Similar precautions were also taken before classifying holiday homes.  Dwellings under construction and derelict properties are not included in the count of vacant dwellings. In order to be classified as under construction, the dwelling had to be unfit for habitation because the roof, doors, windows or walls had not yet been built or installed.”

In other words, enumerators visited homes several times and talked to neighbours to see if the house was a primary residence of occupation.  If the house was temporarily vacant on census night it was recorded as such and these figures are not included in the vacancy rate (as per previous censuses).  Houses in unfinished estates were included unless they were at a stage of construction that precluded habitation.  In other words, the 10,000 under-construction houses in the DECLG unfinished estates survey, and one assumes the vast majority of the 10,000 near-finished houses, will not have been included.


Figure 1: Vacant dwellings as a percentage of total housing stock by county, 2011

Figure 2: Percentage of dwellings vacant in each Electoral Division, 2011


Figure 3: Percentage increase in the number of dwellings by county, 2006- 2011


Figure 4: Percentage change in the population of Electoral Divisions, 2006 - 2011

Figure 5: Population density per square kilometer of Electoral Divisions, 2011

Figure 6: Natural increase by County, 2006-2011

Rob Kitchin