by Jim Savage
Entire families in the southern Irish city of Cork are sharing one-bedroom dwellings while over 3,200 people are stuck on council-accommodation waiting lists and an estimated 440 public-housing units remain unoccupied for want of repair. The repair bill for public housing is in the region of IR£50 million.
Last year in Cork, the corporation built just 830 new homes. Worse still, many of the 3,000 plus on the housing list have been waiting for more than ten years, while the city corporation complains that the government has only allocated funding for the building of 1,000 homes up to 2003.
With inadequate public provision and the cost of private housing soaring well out of the reach of most first-time buyers, to say that people are falling over one another in an increasingly desperate search for somewhere to live is an understatement.
This writer recently spoke to a woman with two children, both of whom are on medical inhalers: "My little boy is sick at the moment and I'm sick too. I'm convinced that it's because we are all in the same room. It cannot be healthy," she said.
Although the woman's husband is employed, his wages are insufficient to get a mortgage.
Another man, separated from his wife, was desperate to find a home so that his three children could visit him. Meanwhile he sleeps in his van.
Neither of the people I spoke to wanted their names revealed for fear that it would prejudice their chances of eventually getting a house.
The simple truth is that there are growing numbers of people, earning reasonable incomes, who are not able to afford to buy their own home because of escalating house prices. As a result, more and more people relying on local councils to provide them with homes.
Throughout Ireland, the number of those awaiting council accommodation has more than doubled in the last decade, from 23,000 last year to 48,000 this year -- a figure which is expected to rise as high as 60,000.
There are now fears that the situation could further deteriorate following the announcement that Irish local authorities are to set aside some of their housing stock for returning emigrants.
This tragedy, which is hitting young people and single-income families particularly hard, though even relatively high earners are finding themselves in difficulty, says much about the real nature of development under the so-called 'Celtic tiger' economy.
The inadequacy of the public house-building programme is further highlighted by the fact that just over 2,000 council homes were built last year throughout the 26 counties. Meanwhile the scandal of growing numbers of men, women and children being forced to sleep rough in cities and towns throughout the land remains a dreadful blight on Ireland's claims to be a civilised society.
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