Housing and how it is provided remains a vital issue across the city of Dublin today. Where and how we should provide housing for a changing population are some of the most pressing issues facing the city. Housing builds community and it develops a sense of place for these communities. As the current challenges in housing show, building houses is more than just an adequate number of rooms. It is one of the main ways that the city’s population retains a sense of itself.

2018 marks the 120th anniversary of the birth of Herbert George Simms. Through his work with Dublin Corporation, Simms was responsible for some of the most elegant and highest quality housing that remains in Dublin city to the present day. From Cabra, Crumlin and in the heart of the city, Simms’ work and vision for Dublin are still present. Their presence is not just about housing, but fostering communities.

To recall his work, and in light of the significant challlenges that face housing in the present, this set of events will draw together some of the main ideas about Simms’ work in and legacy for Dublin city. Through seminars, oral histories and visual representation, the conference will examine Simms’ legacy to the city of Dublin, assess his contribution to the development of communities across Dublin and provide a lens through which to view current contexts.

We are seeking contributions from all to help remember the work of Simms but particularly from:

  • Residents of Simms-designed housing
  • Architectural historians
  • Geographers
  • Planners
  • Local history groups
  • Photographers
  • Poets and other artists
  • Housing policy workers
  • Community workers

Email: simmsdublin@gmail.com

Twitter: @Simms120

Conference committee:

Mary Broe, PhD candidate, Maynooth University

Donal Fallon, Historian in Residence, Dublin City Council

Erika Hanna, Department of History, University of Bristol

Rhona McCord, Contemporary Irish History, TCD

Eoin O’Mahony, School of Geography, UCD (chair)

Paul Reynolds, Stoneybatter History Group

Proinnsias Breathnach

This is a revised and expanded version of the original piece with the above title published here, which contained a couple of errors.


The recent World Economic Forum at Davos brought the tax treatment of multinational firms operating in Ireland once more into the spotlight.  While there is much criticism of Ireland’s low corporation tax rate of 12.5%, the real issue is the way in which huge flows of revenue are allowed to pass through Ireland without being subject to any taxation at all.  An examination of the returns for 2016 filed by two major multinational firms which have bases in Ireland, Facebook and Google, helps to throw light on this controversy.

In that year, Facebook Ireland’s declared pretax profits amounted to an extraordinarily low 1.4% of revenues of €12.6bn.  This contrasts very starkly with Facebook’s total global profit rate of a whopping 45.3%, based on returns filed with the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).  Thus, while Facebook Ireland accounted for over half (50.5%) of Facebook’s global revenues, its share of the firm’s global profits was just 1.5%.

In 2016 Google Ireland’s pretax profit came to a very modest 5.1% on revenues of €26.3bn.  This was less than one fifth of the company’s global profit rate of 26.8%. Google Ireland accounted for almost one third of Google’s total global sales, but just six per cent of global profits.

The very low relative profitability of the Irish operations of these two companies is attributable almost entirely to the royalties they are required to pay to the overseas branch of the company which holds the rights to the company’s global intellectual property (IP) i.e. rights over patents, brand images, etc.

These branches are located in the Cayman Islands (Facebook) and Bermuda (Google).  These are essentially brass-plate entities with virtually zero costs, so the royalties they receive are converted almost entirely into profits which are added to the bottom lines of their respective parent companies.

The returns which Facebook and Google make to the Companies Registration Office in Ireland do not detail these royalty payments.  Instead they are combined with various other cost elements in a single general/administrative costs category which, on its own, consumes 70% of Google Ireland’s revenues, with this figure rising to no less than 96% in the case of Facebook Ireland.

It is noteworthy that there is a much more detailed costs breakdown in the returns these firms’ parent companies make to the SEC.  One may ask why a similar breakdown is not required in their Irish returns which serve to hide royalty payments from public scrutiny.  There is no evidence here of the transparency which the Irish government routinely claims is a feature of the Irish corporation tax system.

However, one can get an idea of the scale of royalty payments being made by these firms by asking what level of profits their Irish operations would have made if their profit rate matched that achieved at global level.  This is justified by the high proportion of their global revenues accounted for by Ireland and the fact that there is no reason for expecting the non-royalty costs of the Irish operations to be substantially different from the non-Irish operations.

If Facebook’s and Google’s Irish operations had profit rates on a par with their global returns, between them they would have generated combined profits of €12.7bn in 2016, over eight times their declared profits.  If they paid corporation tax on this at the standard rate of 12.5%, the yield to the Irish government would have been €1.6bn, compared with the €193 millions actually paid.

In the past, royalties were generally charged where firms licensed technology or brand names to independent third parties, with the price involved being determined by commercial negotiation.  The development of in-house technology was considered a cost item similar to labour or transport costs and charged to the accounts accordingly.

However, multinational firms have increasingly employed the practice of charging overseas subsidiaries for the use of the firms’ own technologies in the form of royalties.  As firms can arbitrarily set the charges involved, this became a useful way of moving profits, disguised as royalties, from one jurisdiction to another.

The use of royalties in this way has a long history.  However, in the past royalties were mainly used to transfer untaxed revenues from Third World countries to hide the true level of multinational profits in these countries which in some cases were  astronomically high.

Up to recently, the main device used by multinationals for shifting profits between jurisdictions was to locate different stages of an overall production process in different countries, with one stage located in a low-tax jurisdiction.  By manipulating the prices charged for the movement of inputs and outputs between subsidiaries (so-called “transfer prices”), the bulk of the profits could be concentrated in the low-tax country, from which they were then extracted.

This has long been recognised as a feature of foreign investment in Ireland.  Such is the size of the foreign sector in Ireland that, in 2015, outflows of direct investment income (i.e. multinational profits) amounted to 23% of Ireland’s GDP.

The use of royalties as an alternative method of concealed profit shifting has grown dramatically in recent years, as multinational firms have developed accounting techniques for doing this without legal transgression.  It allows firms to avoid any tax at all on large portions of their global revenues, and is particularly important for services firms such as Facebook and Google which do not have the kinds of production systems which facilitate transfer-price manipulation of the type described above.

Multinational firms in services sectors such as internet services, software and financial services now account for one half of exports from Ireland.  Their rapid growth has been paralleled by a sharp rise in outflows of royalties from the country.  In 1998, the outflow of direct investment income (multinational profits) was three times greater than the outflow of payments for royalties and licences.  By 2016, the direct investment outflow was almost four times greater (in current terms) than in 1998 while the royalties outflow had increased almost 13-fold.  Thus, in 2016, the royalty outflow was 20% greater than that for direct investment income.

Between them, the outflow of royalties and investment income from Ireland amounted to €126bn in 2016.  This equates to almost one half of total GDP.  Multinational firms paid around €6bn in corporation tax in the same year. This indicates the scale of magnitude of the flow through Ireland of multinational profits which pay little or no tax en route.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the larger EU member states which are the source of most of this untaxed income wish to introduce measures which will allow them to obtain their fair share of tax on this income.  However, the EU’s proposals for a common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB) seek only to redistribute the profits currently declared within the EU by multinational companies.  As the Facebook and Google examples show, these represent only a small fraction of the real level of profitability of these firms’ activities in the Union. However, because of the high level of concentration in Ireland of these declared profits, redistribution under the CCCTB proposals seems likely to have a significant negative impact on Ireland’s corporation tax revenues.

The OECD’s proposals to tackle tax base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) by multinational firms include the targetting of the global misallocation of profits generated by intangibles (i.e. the intellectual property on which royalties are based).  If successfully implemented, these proposals could lead to substantially increased tax revenues for EU member states, including Ireland.  However, there is considerable opposition to the proposals, and the prospects of their being implemented in any meaningful way in the foreseeable future are remote.

Anticipating slow progress in the development of the BEPS proposals, the European Commission is now proposing the imposition of a tax on the EU revenues of firms operating specifically in the digital economy, which are seen as the leading practitioners of profit shifting out of the Union.  This is presented as an interim measure pending the working out of more long-term arrangements for the effective taxation of global firms.  In this respect, the EC has recently suggested the EU might go it alone in taxing these firms on the basis of allocating to each member state a share of the firms’ global profit corresponding to that state’s share of global revenues.

Ireland has opposed the proposed “digital tax” on the grounds that it would reduce Ireland’s attractiveness as a location for multinational investment while offering litte counterbalancing compensation in terms of digital tax revenue due to the small size of the Irish market for digital sales.  However, the prospect has been raised of those countries advocating the tax (including the four largest post-Brexit economies – Germany, France, Italy and Spain) implementing it as a separate grouping, should unanimity among EU member states not be forthcoming on the issue.

The fact remains that Ireland currently acts as a major facilitator allowing multinational firms to avoid taxes which could contribute significantly to the revenues of other EU member states.  The argument that closing off these tax avoidance practices could undermine Ireland’s attractiveness as a location of multinational investment is alarmist.  These firms need a European base and Ireland has been performing more than satisfactorily in this respect in many ways other than in relation to corporate tax arrangements.

Ireland has been a major beneficiary of revenues transferred to Ireland from fellow EU member states since 1973.  Being part of an economic community involves give as well as take.  It therefore behooves the Irish government to support the EC’s attempts to secure a fair tax return from the profits being made by multinational firms within the EU.




Symposium: Housing in Ireland:  Philosophy, Policies and Results.

Trinity Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, in association with the Centre for Faith and Justice

Joly Theatre, Westland Row, Trinity College, 5-7 pm Wednesday 29 November


This Symposium will provide a critical analysis of:

  • Alternative philosophical approaches to housing
  • The policies currently being pursued
  • The results : affordability and new homes


Sinead Kelly,  Maynooth University

“Neo-liberalism and its Impact on Housing Systems”

Margaret Burns, CFJ

“The Right to Housing: What is the Issue?”

P.J.  Drudy, Trinity College

“Market Failure: Out of Reach House Prices and Rents”

Fr. Peter McVerry SJ, CFJ

“Homelessness : Have we Lost our sense of Outrage?”

Rory Hearne, Maynooth University

“New Inequalities in Irish Housing”

Daithi Downey, Dublin City Council

“Sustainablility, Affordability and Choice: Towards a Cost Rental and Unitary Rental System”

Cian O’Callaghan and Philip Lawton, Trinity College

“The Challenge and Opportunities of Vacant Space : Unfinished Legacy of the Property Crash”

The controversy concerning the boundary between Cork City and County and whether the two should be merged is the inevitable outcome of longstanding defects in Ireland’s local government system.  Failure to address these defects means that such controversies will continue to recur in the future.

The two main problems are the lack of a regional tier of government in Ireland and the territorial configuration of local authorities.

As regards the latter, Ireland inherited from Britain the current system which separates urban centres from their surrounding rural hinterlands.  This creates difficulties where urban centres provide public services (e.g. education, health and transport services) which extend into these hinterlands.   More immediately, problems arise where population growth causes urban centres to expand beyond their legal boundaries and overspill into adjoining jurisdictions.  These problems are exacerbated by the increasing tendency of commercial activities such as retailing, warehousing, factories and offices to locate on the fringes of urban areas.

As a result, these activities are frequently located in the jurisdictions of adjoining county councils to which they pay commercial rates.  Since these rates are a major source of local government funding, not surprisingly there is resistance on the part of county councils to attempts by town and city councils to extend their boundaries to encompass the commerical activities in question.

The absence of any provision in legislation for periodic reviews and adjustment of urban boundaries, combined with the inability of the Irish political process to take hard decisions, means that boundary adjustments have been a rare occurrence. This explains why there has been no extension of Cork City’s boundary since 1965.  In the intervening period, the population of the city’s built-up area lying outside the city boundary grew from just 3,000 in 1966 to 83,000 in 2016.

This situation does not arise in continental European countries where the municipalities which constitute the basic unit of local government embrace both urban centres and their rural hinterlands.  The latter basically comprise those zones from which the centres draw commuting workers, weekly shoppers and those attending second level education.  This is a much more sensible arrangement than that which prevails in Ireland.  The combination of urban centre and hinterland represents a “natural” unit as regards planning and the provision of services.  There is no artificial division between the two which would require, but may not receive, regular adjustment.

Continental European countries also have a regional tier of government which is responsible for functions with a regional scope such as hospitals, higher education institutions, regional economic development and transport planning.  Municipalities, by contrast, are responsible for everyday local services such as primary and secondary education, social and environmental services, and primary healthcare.  These regions are normally based on the major regional cities and their hinterlands.  In this case the hinterlands comprise the zones from which clients are drawn to avail of the higher level services provided by the central cities, such as specialist health care, shops and professional services.

Ireland has no regional tier of government.  For those who argue that Ireland is too small for this, it is worth pointing out that Denmark, which is just 60% the size of the Republic of Ireland, is divided into five popularly-elected regional councils which were created as recently as 2007.  In Ireland, local government is now based exclusively on the counties, which are too big for effective municipal government and too small to have a regional remit (with the possible exception of Cork).  The Irish counties were all created in the Middle Ages, and have little relevance to the modern structure of the economy and population.

Ireland is unique in the developed world in not having carried out a profound reform of its local government structure in the last 100 years.  Ireland should abolish the counties as administrative units and replace them with the local/municipal and regional structures which obtain elsewhere and work well.  This does not necessarily entail the destruction of the strong county identity which most Irish people possess.  Other countries have been able to preserve these historical identities in conjunction with administrative reform which focuses on more efficient planning and provision of services for the population at large.

In the case of Cork, the choice should not be between merging the city and county councils or keeping them separate.  Cork City provides both regional services serving the entire county and more localised services serving its immediate hinterland.  The former functions should be transferred to the County Council, acting as a regional entity, and the latter retained by the City Council, acting as a municipal entity.  At the same time, the municipal functions carried out by the County Council should be devolved to the county’s main towns, such as Youghal, Mallow and Skibbereen, along with their adjacent hinterlands.

Analysis of commuting patterns conducted in the Maynooth University Geography Department indicates that a municipal district focused on Cork City and defined along European lines would be much more extensive than the expanded boundary proposed by the Cork Expert Advisory Report.  It would extend to Kinsale in the south, Coachford to the west, Grenagh to the north and Carrigtohill to the east.  The rest of the county would be divided into eleven municipal districts focused on the county’s main towns.  In some cases the hinterlands of these towns extend into neighbouring counties.

Ireland’s system of local government is long overdue major reform.  The fact that this has not occurred is linked to the very limited range of functions performed at this level in Ireland compared with other European countries.  As a result, local government lacks the status required to impel the central state to take serious action to address its profound structural defects.  In this respect, badly-needed change in the territorial configuration of local government should go hand-in-hand with wide-ranging devolution of functions to the local and regional levels.

Proinnsias Breathnach

A version of this paper appeared in the Irish Examiner on August 18 last.

The overwhelming sense you get when you read the newly published ‘Ireland 2040: Our Plan – The Draft National Planning Framework’ (NPF) is – haven’t I read all this before somewhere? At least as far back as the 1997 Sustainable Development Strategy, Irish officialdom has thoroughly excelled at composing convincing paeans to smart, sustainable planning. The trouble is, nobody has been listening, resulting in a yawning implementation gap between rhetoric and reality.

As we prepare to go once more into the breach, the dominance of Dublin and the steadily accumulated legacy of haphazard development sprawl, does not bode well for the successful implementation of the NPF. Strategic planning never emerges onto a blank slate where new policies can be easily established. Instead, they are unfurled across inherited and deeply contested spaces which create their own path dependencies. For Ireland, it is hard to contemplate a more inauspicious starting point for a fresh attempt at national spatial planning. Sigmund Freud once apparently said that the Irish are impervious to psychoanalysis. Perhaps, as argued by Norwegian planning scholar Tore Sager, it is time to apply his concept of ‘parapraxis’ to understand the planning dysfunction and ultimate consequences which arise from continuously failed communication.

Back in 2002 when the draft NPF’s predecessor, the National Spatial Strategy (NSS), was first published, it was immediately met with a wave of derision from competing political interests. This time round, the draft strategy has studiously sought to avoid such partisan conflict and the bitter spatial politics of winners and losers. The generally muted political and underwhelmed media reaction to its publication is testament to how successful it has been in this task. This depoliticisation has largely been achieved through repeating general truisms on sustainable planning principles (high quality urban placemaking, infill/brownfield regeneration, compact urban growth, integrated communities, promoting sustainable transport modes etc.), which nobody seriously disagrees with, and delegating much of the actual decision-making to the three new regional assemblies via proposed Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSESs).

Gone are the ‘Gateways’ and ‘Hubs’ of the NSS, replaced instead with a general commentary on Ireland’s five main cities and a vague objective of achieving ‘regional parity’ in population growth. Given past experience and the current make-up of the Dáil, obfuscation is perhaps an understandable tactic. Indeed, a noticeable feature of the draft strategy is the almost complete absence of maps – now substituted with the current fashion for infographics.

So after decades of failed attempts at national planning, will this time be different? One important distinction from previous attempts is that the draft NPF is proposed to be placed on a statutory footing and overseen, quasi-independently, by the new Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) – a key recommendation of the Mahon Tribunal. It is also proposed to align the NPF with a new ten-year National Investment Plan (NIP). The absence of a strong coordinated relationship to a long-term capital investment programme for physical infrastructure was one of the major criticisms of the NSS and contributed, in no small part, to its ignoring in practice.

The potential of public lands to support NPF implementation is acknowledged with consideration to be given to the merits of introducing a new ‘National Land Development Agency’ (NAMA?) with enhanced compulsory purchase powers to unlock brownfield urban regeneration sites. The previously mothballed Gateway Innovation Fund will now be replaced with a competitive bid-based ‘National Smart Growth Initiative’ to leverage public and private investment. Funding will be available for both urban and rural areas, which is in clear recognition of the theme that runs throughout the strategy of the need to strengthen rural towns and villages and to counteract the corrosive effects of population haemorrhaging through urban-generated rural housing sprawl.

Interestingly, in a subtle language departure from the 2005 Rural Housing Guidelines, and most likely an implicit recognition of recent councillor agitation over European court rulings in respect of ‘locals only’ housing policies and fears of a free-for-all, the draft NPF floats the concept ‘demonstrable economic need’ as an alternative to ‘local housing need’ as the relevant siting criteria for one-off rural housing. Although no clarity is provided as to what exactly constitutes a ‘demonstrable economic need’, this policy is to be applied, in principle, to the commuter hinterlands (or Functional Urban Areas) of all cities and towns greater than 10,000 population. Again, no maps are provided but the OECD defined Functional Urban Areas (>15% commuting) for each of the five cities is proposed which, given Ireland’s far-flung commuter catchments, could affect very wide geographical areas.

The process of identifying rural housing demand is also to be supported by an officiously titled ‘Housing Needs Demand Assessment’ (HNDA) model, the methodology for which is to be prescribed in future planning guidelines. However, in layman’s terms, it effectively means the better use of standardised data collection and evidenced-informed methods to understand and project local housing policies. This is most likely a clear acknowledgement of the current housing data debacle. In cloaking the politically toxic issue in soothing technocratic jargon, the draft NPF skilfully dodges a bullet, for now. There is no doubt that, if the wider policies espoused in the strategy are to be successful, this nettle must be grasped. The ability of the draft NPF to navigate this hornets’ nest, withstand the inevitable political onslaught, avoid a fudge and bring about radical policy change will be a major litmus test.

In keeping with the 2015 Planning Policy Statement, the draft strategy is replete with time-honoured sustainable planning principles and references to currently in vogue EU policy vernacular, such as the ‘circular bioeconomy’. One innocuous-sounding provision is that accessibility between key urban centres will be enhanced only after regional cities, such as Cork and Limerick, have reached a sufficient population mass, as: “[i]nvestment in connectivity first without urban consolidation measures will likely worsen the current trends towards sprawl.” (p.123). Given the highly ambitious population growth targets (50-60%) for each of the regional cities, which would take significant time and investment to achieve, it will be telling if this policy can outlast the clarion calls for new motorways, such as the M20 recently prioritised by the Taoiseach.

What is interesting about this provision, however, is that it is a recognition that future population growth, rather than being merely an input to planning, is also an outcome and we can choose to effect it through targeted implementation measures. Nevertheless, bending future population growth towards NPF ideals, where the four cities outside Dublin are proposed grow by more than twice as much to 2040 as they did over the past 25 years, would be a monumental feat, requiring rigorous prioritisation stretching beyond short-term political horizons and spelled out in advance through definite targets. It also requires prohibiting growth elsewhere. Such notions are almost completely alien in Irish political culture and would demand, not just radical changes in policies, but an unlikely paradigm shift in perceptions.

Of more fundamental significance are the rationalities disguising the real political aims being pursued in the draft NPF. The strategy is fully reflective of the current economic consensus forged around corporate wellbeing and capturing globally mobile FDI flows as the primary driver of national economic growth, particularly in the knowledge and digital economy, internationally traded services etc. A well-worn path in an attempt to achieve this, is through the reworking of planning and governance spaces and promoting the competitive advantage of urban regions as locational nodes for transnational capital investment in the global marketplace.

Through rescaling Ireland into three new city regions, the draft NPF, for the first time, explicitly translates national industrial policy into a parallel spatial strategy. The ESRI forecasts of future population growth of 1 million people to 2040 (+20%), including 550,000 new homes and 660,000 new jobs, are unproblematically accepted as fact, to which planning and society must accommodate, despite how uncertain and prone to error such projections are. In keeping with the overall neoliberal approach to spatial governance, the assumption is that the benefits of growth will trickle-down to underpin the achievement of broader social, spatial and environmental goals in relatively uncontroversial ways.

Consequently, the draft NPF vision is ineluctably bound up in present perceptions, perspectives and views with an overweening emphasis on growth, devoid of any critical thought about the future. In the case of climate change, for example, we know that absolute reductions in global carbon emissions of 80% is required by 2050 in order to meet the IPCC’s stabilisation target. What type of society and economy does that look like? How can this be achieved and is it compatible with growing the population by one million people? One thing is clear. It’s a completely different kind of economy and society from the one we have at the moment which drives itself forward by emitting more and more carbon.

Instead, the draft NPF seeks to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable through the identification of ‘win-win-win’ approaches which do not foresee any inherent contradictions between policies or the need for trade-offs i.e. nothing really fundamentally has to change. For example, our major airports are to be expanded, inter-urban roads are to be improved with average journey speed of 90kph (i.e. new motorways) and the sacred cow of carbon intensive and polluting agricultural productivism is to be ring-fenced such that all future emission reductions will almost exclusively fall on transport and energy – a jaw-droppingly unrealistic goal. Smarter Travel policy, which targeted aggressive reductions in car commuting, is quietly dropped in favour of the equally far-fetched electrification of ‘transport fleets’. Again, to avoid ceaseless political rancor,  future renewable energy production is to be significantly pushed offshore through the use of expensive and unproven technologies, necessitating major grid investments, while promoting Ireland as a global location for data centres, which are voracious energy consumers.

Realism, not growthism, is the principle which should guide the NPF. If the history of national planning worldwide has thought us one thing, it is that it has failed almost every time it has been tried. This should come as no surprise as, in an uncertain world, there is no such thing as total control of the object of governance. If we accept the likelihood of failure from the outset, then it is necessary to adopt a satisficing approach as an alternative to blind utopianism.  The scientific evidence that 21st Century humanity has entered the increasingly unstable Anthropocene epoch is ever more alarming.  As Brendan Gleeson writes in his recent book ‘The Urban Condition’, the coming century will be marked by a world increasingly in planetary overshoot; population and per capita consumption are increasing; global competition for Earth’s shrinking biocapacity is intensifying and sea level rise, mass migrations, resource shortages, famines, species extinction, energy insecurity and attendant geopolitical tension and economic breakdowns threaten the relationships between cities and their distant hinterlands even as cities become humanity’s major habitat. A resilient, adaptive society – capable of resisting external shocks, maintaining people’s livelihoods and living within our ecological means – is the only goal we should be aiming for.

Gavin Daly

This event might be of interest to some:

The primary aim of this conference is to highlight and seek solutions to the national housing and homelessness crisis as it relates to availability and affordability of housing as it impacts on South Dublin County. In doing so we hope to provide clarity with regard to the existing housing context, identify barriers to the resolution of the housing crisis, both at a policy and implementation level, and make policy and implementation recommendations that will enable central and local government to deliver its housing targets. The conference will also act to strengthen the capacity of the SDCPPN to contribute to housing strategy at local government level. A number of housing experts will provide the context of the national and local housing policy and implementation issues, and offer solutions to the crisis. We will hold parallel workshops aimed at offering the space for individuals to express their solutions as the SDCPPN develop a position on housing which can be referenced in the relevant arenas within South Dublin County Council.

09:30am – Registration and Refreshments

10:00am – Chair Anna Lee – Welcome note

10:05am – Aiden Lloyd – setting the context

10:30am – Simon Brooke – National Housing Policy

11:00am – South Dublin County Council – Strategy to deliver social housing in South Dublin, including challenges and constraints

11:30am – Orla Hegarty – Solutions to Affordability

12:00pm – The workshops

    • Social housing
    • Traveller accommodation
    • Disability and Housing Needs
    • Homelessness
13:00pm – Lunch
13:45pm – Feedback from workshops by Siobhan Lynam

14:30pm – Rory Hearne – Housing Approaches and Rebuilding Ireland

15:00pm – Panel discussion with Simon Brooke, Orla Hegarty, Rory Hearne with Q&A

15:30pm – Final comments and closing

A message from Niamh Moore-Cherry, President of the Geographical Society of Ireland:

“It is with sadness that I am letting you know that Prof Anne Buttimer died this morning, July 15. She had been receiving treatment over the last few months in St Vincent’s hospital Dublin but passed away at home. I was privileged to have been able to visit her yesterday to give her the UCC alumni award 2016 that was received on her behalf at the Conference of Irish Geographers this year.

Her legacy in Ireland and beyond will be longlasting. A service will be held at Belfield Church, UCD before she is brought home to Cork for her Funeral Mass and burial. Details will be announced.

May she rest in peace.”

In memory of Prof Buttimer (1938-2017) here is a copy of the chapter about her life and work from ‘Key Thinkers on Space and Place’ (Sage, 2010) PDF

Letter to Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy.

Dear Minister Eoghan Murphy,

We, the undersigned academics and policy experts, recognise, along with other housing experts, homelessness charities, and most politicians, that Ireland is experiencing a housing crisis on a scale never seen before.[1] Homelessness figures continue to rise, while rents have increased by over 40% nationally since 2011, and housing conditions worsen for more and more of the population. The response from government thus far has been wholly inadequate. The evidence strongly shows that treating housing as a commodity has exacerbated homelessness, prevented the building of sufficient numbers of affordable houses, and stoked inflation in house prices and rents. The current housing crisis demands extraordinary emergency measures. To this end, in solidarity with the Inner City Helping Homeless and Irish Housing Network, we support the six demands below.

Current government solutions through ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ overly rely on the private sector to deliver affordable housing, despite our past record of failing to deliver housing through the private sector. During the Celtic Tiger years, tax incentives for developers increased housing supply to excessive proportions. According to the 2011 Census, there were 289,451 vacant units nationally;[2] in terms of oversupply, there were at least 110,000 units.[3] This approach, rather than making housing more affordable, has resulted in housing price increases of between 300% and 400% in different parts of the country.[4] As the government did not provide sustainable long-term policies to deliver a stable social housing supply, as was the was the case for countries such as Denmark and Austria, [5] when Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), created to deliver social housing, collapsed during the crash no alternatives were set in place.[6] Meanwhile, the private rental sector remained underdeveloped and poorly regulated. The result is that Ireland has now some of the worst tenant rights of any country in Europe.[7] The series of housing crises in Ireland[8] have only been significantly exacerbated by the government response to the crisis.[9]

Cumulatively, as a society, Ireland is steadily moving from treating housing as a basic need and right to treating housing as a commodity. However, international evidence clearly shows that government policies that treat housing as a commodity have led to growing wealth inequality, housing insecurity and human rights abuses.[10] In 2017, a report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Housing to the Human Rights Council concluded that “rather than treating housing as a commodity valued primarily as an asset for the accumulation of wealth [governments must] reclaim housing as a social good, and thus ensure the human right to a place to live in security and dignity”.[11] We, the undersigned, urge the government to: to acknowledge the current housing crisis, change its housing policies and treat housing as a societal good, and to provide affordable housing to all to benefit Irish society as a whole.

Sincerely yours,

Irish Academics and Policy Experts Supporting Housing Justice


Dr Véronique Altglas, Lecturer in Sociology, School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr. Patrick Bresnihan, Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Michael Byrne, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, University College Dublin

Dr Patrick Collins, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway

Prof Linda Connolly, Director, Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute

Dr Laurence Cox, Sr Lecturer in Sociology, Maynooth University

Dr Nessa Cronin, Centre for Irish Studies and Associate Director, Moore Institute, NUI Galway

Ciarán Cuffe, Programme Chair, Masters Programme in Urban Regeneration & Development, School of Transport Engineering, Environment & Planning, Dublin Institute of Technology

Professor Anna Davies, Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Dr  Sharae Deckard, Lecturer in World Literature, School of English, Drama and Film,  at University College Dublin

Dr Jessica Doyle, Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University

Samantha Dunne, MA, South Dublin County Public Partnership Network Coordinator

Dr Claire Edwards, University College Cork

Dr Frances Fahy, Head of Geography, Sr Lecturer, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway

Dr Eugene Farrell, Lecturer, Physical Geography and Director, MSc Programme ‘Coastal and Marine Environments’, NUI Galway; Member, Ryan Institute for Environmental, Marine and Energy Research, and President, Irish Geomorphology Group

Dr Eoin Flaherty, Asst Prof, School of Sociology, University College Dublin

Dr Ronan Foley, Sr Lecturer, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Alistair Fraser, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Paula Gilligan, Dept of Humanities, Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dún Laoghaire

Dr Leonie Hannan, Queen’s University, Belfast

Dr Rory Hearne, Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute

Dr Nuala Johnson MRIA, Queen’s University Belfast

Prof Gerry Kearns, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Prof Rob Kitchin, Maynooth University

Dr M. Satish Kumar, FRGS, RCS, FHEA, Director of Internationalisation, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr David Landy, Department of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Joe Larragy, Lecturer in Social Policy, Maynooth University

Dr Philip Lawton, Lecturer in Human Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Steve Loyal, School of Sociology, University College Dublin

Dr Kevin Lynch, Lecturer in Geography, National University of Ireland Galway

Dr Mark Maguire, Department of Anthropology, Maynooth University

Dr Lidia Manzo, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Chandana Mathur, Maynooth University

Dr Mary McAuliffe,Gender Studies, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice

Prof Aoife McLysaght, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Alan Mee, Lecturer in Urban Design, School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, University College Dublin

Dr Julien Mercille, Assoc Prof, University College Dublin

Assoc Prof Niamh Moore-Cherry, School of Geography, University College Dublin

Dr John Morrissey, Associate Director, Moore Institute for Humanities, NUI Galway

Dr Anne Mulhall,  University College Dublin

Prof Enda Murphy, University College Dublin

Dr Michelle Norris, University College Dublin

Prof John O’Brennan, Maynooth University

Dr Cormac O’Brien, Asst Prof, School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin

Dr Cian O’Callaghan, Asst Prof of Urban Geography, School of Natural Sciences,Trinity College Dublin

Dr Féilim Ó hAdhmaill, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork

Dr Eoin O’Mahoney, Geographer

Dr Jacqui O’Riordan, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork

Dr Michael Punch, School of Sociology, University College Dublin

Dr. Declan Redmond, School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, University College Dublin

Dr John Reynolds, Department of Law, Maynooth University

Prof Jan Rigby, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Silvia Ross, University College Cork

Dr Rory Rowan, Department of Geography, University of Zurich

Meabh Savage, PhD candidate in Equality Studies, University College Dublin

Dr Helen Shaw, Maynooth University

Dr Henry Silke, School of Culture and Communication, University of Limerick

Dr Karen Smith, Lecturer in Equality Studies, University College Dublin

Prof Ulf Strohmayer, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway

Prof Karen Till, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Sander van Lanen, Lecturer in Geography, National University of Ireland Galway

If you are an academic and would like to join this petition, please contact Prof Karen Till at karenetill@gmail.com


Demands of the Inner City Helping Homeless and the Irish Housing Network below:
1. Emergency Accommodation Independent Review: An independent human rights and care review of all emergency housing, from private to charity and state run, must be conducted immediately.
2. Emergency Accommodation as a Centre of Care: Ensure that all Emergency Accommodation facilities have 24-hr access, with a fully funded response team, including wrap around supports, that focuses on: mental health, security and privacy for all residents. In addition, full and enforceable complaint procedures must be available and implemented.
3. No to Family Hubs. Warehousing families is not a solution. Instead we demand the creation of safe and affordable homes, not hubs, for those experiencing homelessness and/or housing crises.
4. No Evictions and Security of Tenure: We demand the end of economic evictions, as well as request security of tenure and housing rights, including affordable rents, for all currently in the private rental market.
5. Build and Buy Social Housing: To provide longer-term stable communities and cities, social housing must be provided. To this end, 183,000 empty houses should be transformed to social housing, and portfolios purchased from NAMA. In addition, new social housing must be planned and built at a reasonable rate.
6. Mortgages Write Down. For those in mortgage distress in their single family homes, negative equity should be cancelled.



[1] Healy, T., & Goldrick-Kelly, P. (2017). Ireland’s Housing Emergency-Time for a Game Changer. Nevin Economic Research Institute Working Paper, (41).

[2] Of the 289,451 vacant units, 168,427 were vacant houses, 61,629 vacant apartments and 59,395 vacant holiday homes. 2011 Census data available at: http://www.cso.ie/en/census/.

[3] Although the oversupply had reduced to 77,00 units by 2016, these units are mostly not located in places where housing is needed.

[4] Kitchin, R., Gleeson, J., Keaveney, K., & O’Callaghan, C. (2010). A haunted landscape: housing and ghost estates in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) Working Paper59.

[5] Norris, M., & Byrne, M. (2017). Housing Market Volatility, Stability and Social Rented Housing: comparing Austria and Ireland during the global financial crisis (UCD Geary working papers No. 201705).

[6] Hearne, R. (2011). Public Private Partnerships in Ireland: Failed Experiment or the Way Forward for the State. Manchester University Press.

[7] Sirr, L. (2014). Renting in Ireland: The Social, Voluntary and Private Sectors;. Mcgill-Queens University Press.

[8] Kitchin, R., Hearne, R., & O’Callaghan, C. (2015). Housing in Ireland: From crisis to crisis. http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/6313/1/RK-Housing-Ireland-77WP.pdf.

[9] Hearne, R. (2017) A home or a wealth generator? Inequality, financialization and the Irish housing crisis. TASC. https://www.tasc.ie/download/pdf/a_home_or_a_wealth_generator_inequality_financialisation_and_the_irish_housing_crisis.pdf.

[10] Aalbers, M. B. (2016). The financialization of housing: A political economy approach. Routledge; Fields, D., & Uffer, S. (2016). The financialisation of rental housing: A comparative analysis of New York City and Berlin. Urban Studies53 (7), 1486-1502; Marcuse, P., & Madden, D. (2016). In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis. Verso Books.

[11] Farha, L. (2017) Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. January 2017; available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/HousingIndex.aspx



new-urban-ruins-posterFull programme available here.newurbanruinsworkshopfinalprogr2602

Last month saw the publication of the latest government effort at an action plan for rural development.  Realising Our Rural Potential takes the now familiar glossy format of recent government action plans replete with 276 actions, slickly produced with accompanying promo video and, for sake of appearances, an official launch in the suitably rural location of Ballymahon’s (soon to be staffless) public library.


The plan places a welcome, and long overdue, emphasis on rejuvenating rural towns and villages which are recognised as essential lynchpins to sustain and improve the living and working environment of rural dwellers.

It is acknowledged that, as the populations of rural settlement centres have diminished, so too has the demand for and provisioning of essential services, hindering their capacity to compete for investment and employment opportunities. A new town and village renewal scheme is therefore proposed (a rehash of a scheme launched last August), at a cost of €12 million per annum, to encourage increased residential occupancy in over 600 town and village centres (€20,000 each!).

In these so-called ‘post-factual’ times, it is without any sense of irony, however, that the plan completely glosses over the inconvenient reality that it was the assiduous political commitment over successive decades for policies favouring unfettered suburban one-off housing sprawl that has done most to undermine and depopulate rural towns and villages.

Between 2001 and 2011, 104,058 one-off dwellings were constructed in rural areas, 85% within 5km of a town or village. Since 2011, a further 18,500 have been permitted. The level of cognitive dissonance on this issue is all the more striking when you consider that the final report of the Commission for Economic Development in Rural Areas (CEDRA), upon which the action plan is largely based, also makes the same glaring omission. The reality is that, nationally, over 70% of dwellings in defined rural areas are built outside settlement centres, and higher still in some counties.

This haemorrhaging of population is not deterministic but as a direct result of a sustained and deliberate policy intervention. As one insightful letter writer to The Irish Times noted, what is killing rural towns and villages is not population decline, but their irrelevance, as rural areas become progressively (r)urbanised and assimilated into the functional reaches of larger cities. No amount of fiscal incentives will reverse this trend in the absence of corresponding firm policy measures to restrict and reverse dispersed suburban housing in the countryside.

Of course, such an idea would be an anathema in Ireland against a backdrop of political short-termism and patronage. So instead, the action plan includes a rather insipid reference to increase delivery of small housing schemes in towns and villages as an alternative to one-off housing.

Aside from the umpteenth re-launch of the national broadband strategy, one of the more eye-catching objectives of the action plan is the highly misleading target to create 135,000 new jobs and increase by 40% Foreign Direct Investment in ‘rural Ireland’ by 2020.  Ensconced behind the attention-grabbing target is the actuality that the action plan opportunistically conflates ‘rural development’ with ‘regional development’ for the sake of appearances. What is, in fact, targeted is the creation of 135,000 jobs outside Dublin i.e. primarily in cities outside Dublin.

This sleight of hand epitomises the policy churning over successive decades on rural development issues in an effort to give the impression of doing something. As I have argued before, in a typical Irish solution to an Irish problem, in order to defer and displace the political strife that accompanies an implicitly urban-led national growth strategy, we have instead sanctioned the widespread (r)urbanisation of the countryside. Vague, populist and anachronistic concepts like ‘Rural Ireland’ and ‘Action Plans for Rural Development’ simply serve as a symbolic gesture to paper over and silence a more fundamental political discussion on the nature of urbanisation in Ireland – which is off-course the great taboo in Irish political discourse.

Our lack of collective memory is all the more alarming when you consider that almost twenty years ago the White Paper on Rural Development (still available on DAFF’s website) was published which contained all of the symbolic rhetoric of the current action plan (including, as today, a commitment to create a twenty-year spatial strategy to promote balanced regional development – sound familiar?). Unfortunately, this latest action plan is simply yet another episode of opportunism over strategy where we are failing to accurately conceive the true nature of the problem. No doubt twenty years hence we will be back having the same discussion again.

Gavin Daly


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