Survival of Gaeltacht under threat due to housing shortage

A public meeting has heard how housing is one of the biggest threats to the survival of the Irish language and that the rise in holiday homes in Gaeltacht areas is creating difficulties for native speakers when it comes to finding somewhere to live.

A meeting was held recently in Annagry to discuss housing related issues facing the local community.

Participants highlighted what they believe to be the factors contributing to the lack of housing stock in the area. The issues raised included a lack of social housing, problems with the planning system and high percentages of holiday homes.


A member of the Irish language activist group, Misneach Thír Chonaill, organised the event. He explained that locals are frustrated as young people and families are relocating out of the Gaeltacht due to the lack of housing in the area.

Speaking to The Donegal News he said: “There are too many obstacles for people from the area wanting to live there.

“We got messages from so many young people who couldn’t be at the meeting because they were forced to move out of the area.”

He explained how the meeting was attended by people from across the community that have united in their vision for the area.

“We want the people of the Donegal Gaeltacht to live in the Donegal Gaeltacht,” he said.

Elsewhere, Chairperson of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Anna Ní Ghallachair, from Arranmore, described how when she visited the Rosses area in the summer and went for a short drive, she noticed a significant number of sale agreed signs on houses in the area.

“It would be interesting to know if they are holiday homes or not, there are obviously people selling houses but the question is who is buying them.”


She further explained that the issue does not lie with holiday homes, but holiday homes that are left vacant.

A new vacant homes charge was announced earlier this week as part of budget 2023. Properties that are left empty for more than 30 days a year will see a levy of three times the annual local property tax.

Ní Ghallachair welcomed the charge and explained that it will effectively raise awareness of vacant properties.

“I’m sure that there are people with holiday homes or vacant homes in the Gaeltacht, to whom it doesn’t even occur that there is a problem,” she said.

According to Ms Ní Ghallachair, problems with the availability of housing in Gaeltacht areas began to emerge following the pandemic.

“In Údarás we were quite excited at some of the positive changes that were accelerated by the lockdown, young people returned home, and some rural areas were able to put together a football team for the first time in years.

“Many of those who returned home were of course living with their parents but it meant that they were working very well paid jobs while living in the Gaeltacht and contributing to the economy and the social fabric of their area, and some of them decided to stay permanently and see about getting a home of their own,” she said.

Gteic hubs

Údarás na Gaeltachta has set up over 30 Gteic hubs in Gaeltacht areas to help facilitate remote working and encourage rural regeneration.

The office spaces come fully equipped with access to high speed internet.

“Everything else has been put in place but there is a concern that at the end of all that people don’t have a place to live,” she said.

During a recent meeting of the Údarás na Gaeltachta board in the Waterford Gaeltacht, a local delegation expressed their concern surrounding the growing number of holiday homes in the Déise Gaeltacht.

“It was mentioned to us in the Waterford Gaeltacht that a surprisingly large percentage of holiday homes were occupied for only one week in the year.

“People who come to holiday homes on a regular basis contribute to the economy whereas people who have a home that they only visit once a year for a short period contribute relatively little.

“Údarás na Gaeltachta and the people of the Gaeltacht in no way object to holiday homes or tourism, the real issue is that there is no alternative for locals.”

Misneach Thír Chonaill have previously run a poster campaign in the area highlighting that over 40% of houses in the Donegal Gaeltacht are either lying vacant or being used as holiday homes.

These figures were obtained from the 2016 census, so they could increase significantly when figures from the 2022 census are released by the CSO.

Údarás are currently working with Donegal County Council and doing a survey of vacant homes in the county.

There are fears that because young families are struggling to settle in Gaeltacht regions, this could cause a decline in Irish speakers. This in turn has implications for the Irish colleges explained Ní Ghallachair.

“If the Irish colleges haven’t got enough Mná Tí, if younger people aren’t there to take over in hosting the students,

“Then that has implications for the Irish language not just in the Gaeltacht but nationally as well,” she said.

Irish language organisation Conradh na Gaeilge have also published a set of recommendations for a national plan for housing and planning in the Gaeltacht.

Ability to speak Irish

Róisín Ní Chinnéide, the organisation’s West and Gaeltacht co-ordinator explained that one of the key recommendations is that there is an independent language impact assessment put in place.

“This would include assessing if the resident has an ability to speak Irish, if Irish is spoken in the home and how it would contribute to Irish being spoken in the community,” she said.

Conradh na Gaeilge are currently seeking a policy directive from the Minister for Housing, that would allow for people who are native to that Gaeltacht or have a sufficient level of Irish to be treated as if they have a local housing need.

“People from the Gaeltacht are in competition, with someone who is looking to build a holiday home.

“They might not have the same amount of money so if they are treated as having a local housing need then it will be easier for them to get the planning,” she said.

A working group has been established by the Department of Housing and Conradh na Gaeilge are seeking representation in the group, as an organisation representing local Gaeltacht communities.

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