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Call for action to tackle homelessness as figures show 198,000 homes lie empty

The government has defended itself as new figures confirm almost 200,000 houses remain empty around the country during a homelessness crisis.

In the Dail, Labour leader Brendan Howlin accused Fine Gael of "pulling rubber levers" which were having no effect on opening up more homes to families in chronic need.

Homelessness is the "crushing issue of our time" and the minority government's lack of progress in tackling it is causing alarm, he said.

"We can't in good conscience allow a situation to stand where there are 27 vacant homes for every person in emergency accommodation," Mr Howlin said.

"We need to identify them - why are they vacant? Can we bring them back (into use)? Can we incentivise those who own them to bring them back?

"That is the sort of concrete measures we need."

Earlier, homelessness charity Simon Communities said 198,358 homes lie empty in Ireland.

There are currently 7,167 men, women and children languishing in emergency accommodation, many without proper facilities to even cook a family meal.

The latest figures show almost 13% of Ireland's total housing stock is unoccupied - twice normal levels in other countries.

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton defended the government's record, saying "very active work" was ongoing to build more houses and bring more empty homes back into use.

"No one in government denies we have a very serious problem in housing and a huge effort is being focused against strict timelines on action in this area and we are open to other suggestions as well," he told the Dail.

Mr Bruton said a vacant housing register should be up and running "within weeks" while a series of initiatives aimed at building thousands of new social housing units are either under way or in the pipeline.

But Simon Communities said the status quo is unacceptable.

It released figures which show:

:: In Cork there are 269 adults living in emergency accommodation, while there are 21,287 empty homes.

:: In Dublin, there are 3,247 adults in emergency accommodation and 35,293 empty homes.

:: In Limerick there are 252 adults living in emergency accommodation and 8,463 empty homes.

Niamh Randall, spokeswoman for the charity, said it was "shocking" there are so many people without homes and, at the same time, so many homes without people.

"The use of Compulsory Purchase Orders and the introduction of Compulsory Leasing Orders (CLOs) should be considered given the devastating scale of the housing and homeless crisis," she said.

"CLOs would enable local authorities to seek permission to force a lease on the owner of an empty property and then undertake refurbishment costs to make the property ready for letting.

"The property could then be used as social housing and the rent paid could potentially be used to offset the cost of refurbishment."

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