Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter for all the latest new and updates.

Become a member

Membership of Type allows unlimited access to our online library. Join to support new research and writing on the design of the built environment.

You can read more about membership here.

Become a member

Already a member? Login to your account to avail of unlimited downloads.

Will you answer #DerelictIreland’s call?

Jude Sherry and Dr Frank O’Connor


Present Tense

From its once accepted status to its current media spotlight, the issue of urban decay has shifted our perspective of the built environment. This article delves into a project that began with a single tweet, challenging societal norms around dereliction in Ireland while suggesting a blueprint for sustainable urban spaces and the reuse of vacant properties.

'#DerelictIreland' - image courtesy of anois

The harsh reality is that dereliction has cost lives and traumatised multiple generations for decades in Ireland ...

From dereliction being a non-subject in Ireland, and considered normal, there has now been continuous media coverage for over two years, to the point that the story has also been featured regularly in international outlets, covering a wide range of aspects including its scale, impacts (including it significant impact on Ireland’s housing emergency), and untapped potential and solutions, of which there are many proven options waiting to be implemented with the right cultural and political will.

Starting with a single tweet on 24 June 2020, our emergent systems design approach of protest, practice, and policy not only started a national conversation, it also changed how we collectively view dereliction. A daily dose of dereliction for one entire year (focusing on a 2km radius of Cork city centre) was combined with a first of its kind, and largest study of, dereliction in Ireland – all based on publicly available information. This resulted in the self-funded This is Derelict Ireland report that debunked ten common myths of dereliction, which quickly got people looking up and questioning what they were seeing. There was a societal realisation that Ireland had been conditioned to accept this unnecessary waste and vandalism for too long. It was finally time to end this ridiculous epidemic.

Image courtesy of anois

What emerged next was transformational. Dotted across the country, grassroots, self-organising communities formed. Their purpose is to shine a light, challenge and show there are alternatives to this epidemic. Our first festival of dereliction, held in Cork city, sparked off a flurry of other activities including dereliction-inspired art, music, poetry, and conferences. Meanwhile, our anois agency submission to the Houses of Oireachtas offered a toolbox of practical policy solutions, based on international best practice, made national headline television news. This work inspired a series of policy changes, including a vacant homes tax (VHT), which the government had said they would never introduce, as well as stricter enforcement of the Derelict Sites Register 1990, new ‘Croí Cónaithe’ renovation grants, updates to the 'Fair Deal' scheme, as well as planning exemptions for commercial to residential conversion.

Now this is all very positive, but it does raise many unanswered questions. The harsh reality is that dereliction has cost lives and traumatised multiple generations for decades in Ireland – you could argue since the foundation of the state and well before. Yet, it should never have been let get to this point.

Take for example housing. We are currently experiencing our worst ever housing crisis. Tackling dereliction provides a unique opportunity to provide homes in high-demand locations at lower costs, lower carbon emmisions, and the use of less materials than new-build homes.

There have been estimates of over 160,000 vacant houses from the CSO [1] and 22,000 derelict houses by Geodirectory, spread right across the country. The highest rates of unused houses, where we should be encouraging everyone from an eight to eighty-year-old to live, are in our towns and city centres. Take for example towns like Wexford, where one in every five homes lie empty. This does not account for the large amount of vacant and derelict commercial properties, again many of which make up the historic streetscape of our towns and cities. If renovated, these would be more sustainable and less expensive than new-build homes, and crucially, they would help transform our urban centres – all the while maintaining our unique built heritage. Yet, we have largely ignored them as a meaningful part of the solution to the housing crisis.

We started this conversation in June 2020. The media took it on, communities responded, then the policy makers. Dereliction is no longer accepted as being normal in a functioning and healthy society. Now we need the built environment professionals (e.g. architects, designers, planners, estate agents, surveyors, developers, builders, etc.) to make this more sustainable approach a desirable reality. Their leadership and expertise can play a crucial role in ending this epidemic of dereliction and ensuring vacancy is kept at acceptable levels (given that vacancy is the gateway to dereliction). In doing so, they need to challenge the prevailing rhetoric that traditional buildings are energy inefficient, too expensive, too small, and that urban living is unattractive by proving that these myths are not true. Simply, the most sustainable building is the one that already exists. Bringing existing properties back to into occupation would be transformative to our urban environments.

'Odlums' - image courtesy of anois

Professionals need to innovate around material choice and construction methods, in particular in areas such as adaptability and repurposing to ensure buildings are climate-ready and prepared for ongoing and future material shortages and cost inflation. They need to create a culture change that ensure our heritage is protected for future generations – its value goes far beyond a balance sheet. This will include ending violent demolitions that not only destroy valuable buildings, but also destroy the resources within, which at a minimum (if the building can’t be saved) need to be salvaged and repurposed. As a community, we need to make urban living the most attractive and affordable option, where the public realm is prioritised so that urban spaces can act as communal living spaces, as is common across Europe.

The challenge has been set.

The opportunities are immense.

Just imagine if our villages, towns, and cities are revitalised so that everyone from an eight to eighty-year-old can rest, play, and work.

Professionals need to innovate around material choice and construction methods, in particular in areas such as adaptability and repurposing to ensure buildings are climate-ready and prepared for ongoing and future material shortages and cost inflation.

Present Tense is an article series aimed at uncovering perspectives and opinions from experts in their respective fields on the key issues/opportunities facing Ireland's built environment. For all enquiries and potential contributors, please contact

Present Tense is supported by the Arts Council through the Architecture Project Award Round 2 2022.


  1. 'Census 2022: Preliminary results - housing’, CSO, 2023. Available at:


Jude Sherry & Dr Frank O’Connor

Jude Sherry & Dr Frank O’Connor are thought leaders in systems design for sustainability. Founding directors of anois, the multi-award-winning duo take an experimental immersive approach to challenge current unethical and unsustainable systems through policy, practice and protest. Based out of Cork City, Ireland they have over 50 years’ combined experience.


Website by Good as Gold.