‘Practically impossible’: Properties to rent in Gaeltacht areas as rare as ‘fairy dust’

Irish speakers wishing to raise families in the Gaeltacht face having to leave their communities due to housing crisis

Young Irish speakers who wish to raise their children speaking Irish in the Gaeltacht, where the language is already vulnerable, are facing the prospect of having to leave their communities due to an acute housing shortage.

Ruth Ní Mhurchú, a language planning officer in An Daingean (Dingle) in the Kerry Gaeltacht, said properties are extremely scarce and difficult to find.

“They are like fairy dust,” she said.

Ms Ní Mhurchú, who is originally from Cork but who has roots in the Corca Dhuibhne Kerry Gaeltacht, said it is “practically impossible” to find a place to rent in an area where second homes are left vacant for much of the year or else serve only as expensive short-term rental properties.

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“People want to rear their children with Irish in the Gaeltacht but it’s just not possible for them to do so,” she said.

“There can be no language plan without housing for the people who are speaking the language. If they have nowhere to live where are they supposed to go?”

“One of my cousins is living in a mobile home in a field and she’s been living back there her entire life,” she said.

“I don’t have any land to build on but [for me] trying to find a place to rent would be the biggest issue. I wanted to move into a place with some people who are working in the area and it was just impossible. All of my friends are staying at home with their parents. They are all in their mid-to-late 20s. It is very, very common.”

Ms Ní Mhurchú was in Dublin to take part in a demonstration at Leinster House on Wednesday to highlight the housing crisis in Gaeltacht areas.

Restrictive planning policies, a lack of clarity over local authority planning responsibility for Gaeltacht areas and the linguistic insecurity of already vulnerable Irish-speaking communities have led to demands for the Government to publish Gaeltacht planning guidelines, drafts of which have been promised since 2021.

Campaigners are calling for Gaeltacht development agency Údarás na Gaeltachta to be given clear functions in relation to housing in Gaeltacht areas and the incorporation of language planning into planning rules.

Language rights activist Donncha Ó hÉallaithe said the campaign was “very disappointed” that the promised planning guidelines have not yet been issued.

“There are major planning issues in the Gaeltacht. It is very difficult for people from the Gaeltacht to get planning permission even if it is on their own land,” he said.

“One of the biggest problems for young people is the county council telling them they don’t have a housing need – even if they are living with their parents.”

“Telling someone in their late 20s or early 30s who are trying to settle down and raise a family, that they don’t have a housing need is a bit ridiculous in this day and age.”

“The next generation of young parents who are native Irish speakers and who would like to bring up their children through Irish in the Gaeltacht are being lost,” he said.

Commenting on a recent meeting held in An Cheathrú Rua over the arrival of a small number of asylum applicants to a local hotel, Mr Ó hÉallaithe said it was “quite extraordinary” to hear people using English to say that they were opposing asylum seekers coming into An Cheathrú Rua “because of the threat to the Irish language”.

“The Irish language is being used in this case as an excuse for opposing these people and really, the issue of housing in the Gaeltacht is not due to asylum seekers. We have a major problem with housing due to the policies of the various departments, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Roinn na Gaeltachta, and county councils.”

Wednesday’s demonstration was supported by community groups including: Conradh na Gaeilge, an Meitheal Náisiúnta Pleanála Teanga, BÁNÚ, An Dream Dearg, the Union of Students in Ireland, the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union of Ireland and CATU Ireland.

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