Respond! College holds Graduation Ceremony for Healthcare Support Class 2017

32Respond! College held a graduation ceremony for Level 5 Health Service Skills and Healthcare Support Students on the 29th September 2017 at Johns College, the Folly, Waterford.  50 mature students from Waterford, Kilkenny and Portlaoise and received their QQI Level 5 major and minor awards in Healthcare. Mayor Reinhardt and Respond! CEO Declan Dunne were both in attendance.34

48The Healthcare programmes was delivered by Respond! College in 2016-2017, and the programmes were part funded in Kilkenny by Carlow Kilkenny ETB and in Waterford by Waterford Area Partnership. The students are now qualified carers and some of them are already using their qualifications in paid employment.


Programme Leader Sarah Barron said:

“We are very proud of all our students who worked very hard throughout the year and deserve this great day of celebration. This programme really shows what can happen when the community pulls together. We are very grateful to all those who part funded the programmes, without whom it would not of been possible.”

40The students are looking forward to their careers as qualified carers as holding the Health Service Skills and Healthcare Support Certificate is now a prerequisite for entry/advancement within the caring profession. Respond! College’s teaching philosophy means that the students’ life experiences, both personal and professional, is highly valued and this becomes the centre point of the entire learning process. This allowed students to share knowledge, skills and experience in ways that were mutually beneficial.”

Posted: September 2017






Get Ireland building again: can we reform our way out of crisis? – article by Paul Melia

Brid McGrath Respond! Head of Policy pictured in for article by Paul Melia in the Sunday Independent 24th September 2017

Ireland has plenty of land, but we’re not building on it. Environment editor Paul Melia asks if restructuring the way we tax land and property could solve the housing crisis

Bríd McGrath, head of social policy with housing body Respond! Photo: Justin Farrelly

Bríd McGrath, Head of Social Policy Respond! Photo: Justin Farrelly

In 1957, aged just 18, Galwegian Peter Walsh travelled with the first-ever Irish team to enter the WorldSkills competition in Madrid for skilled tradesmen.The carpenter and joiner took first place, and was presented with his winning trophy by General Franco.

Over the following years, he received awards from the President of Italy and the UK’s Prince Philip for his work, and in 1970 he established his housebuilding firm, Peter Walsh Construction.

Today, the 78-year-old works a 70-hour week. Despite his pedigree, and demand for homes, business has never been so bad.

“It’s the worst it’s ever been in Galway,” he says. “We specialise in building on a person’s own site. Until 2007, we used to build up to 10 houses a year, and then the world came to an end.”

His firm builds anything from an extension to a bespoke home. It also offers four extendable house types, each with an A3 energy rating, solar panels and wood pellet stove. He is insured, tax compliant and on the Construction Industry Register.

But despite doing everything right, there’s little business to be had.

“We can build a three-bedroom bungalow for €165,000, plus site works, but people don’t have the money, it’s as simple as that. We could price an extension, but the client can’t get the money from the bank. We live in hope.”

It seems perverse that in the midst of a housing crisis that a company with a track record like Peter’s is struggling.

Scant supply, soaring prices

At least 25,000 new homes are needed every year to meet pent-up demand, and in 2016 just under 15,000 units were connected to the ESB network, the metric used to assess new supply coming on stream. Some 18,000 are forecast by year-end, but given the low rate of delivery over recent years, the real requirement is probably far higher.

Chair of the Housing Agency, Conor Skehan, says that a large part of the problem is the lack of homes coming on to the market.

“One of the things people aren’t picking up on is the difference between a shortage of houses and a shortage of houses for sale. Transactions are impeded by negative equity, and that prevents churn, where people downsize and move and free up family homes. There’s 20,000 to 30,000 transactions not taking place because of that.”

He says the issue of mortgage arrears needs to be dealt with, to help people in difficult situations but also to free up homes.

The lack of supply – whether through new build, utilising existing stock or converting commercial units or older buildings for residential – has resulted in soaring prices.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) says house prices have risen by 12.3pc in the year to July. National monthly rents now average €1,017, 14pc higher than the peak of the boom. That’s an extra €63 per month, more than €750 a year in after-tax income. But there are other issues too, and plenty of good ideas out there to help solve this crisis.

Among the concerns include the Government’s take on the cost of a new home through VAT and development levies. Regulations around utilising commercial buildings play a part, as does the cost of finance.

But most agree that at the heart of the crisis is land.

There is no shortage. Some 17,434 hectares of zoned and serviced lands are available across the country, which could enable delivery of more than 410,000 homes.

The hoarding factor

But there is nothing to force landowners to utilise their sites, despite the necessary services including power and water all being in place, and provided at the taxpayer’s expense.

State bad bank NAMA has said that developers are hoarding, noting earlier this year it had sold sites capable of delivering 50,000 units. Only 3,000 are being built.

DIT housing lecturer Dr Lorcan Sirr says our attitude needs to change.

“Land is a finite resource, and the sooner we realise that owning it is a privilege and that holding it should be a liability then the sooner we’ll be able to reform our dysfunctional system of housing delivery,” he says.

The Government is planning to introduce a vacant site levy from January 2018, although the first bills won’t be levied until 12 months later. It will oblige owners to pay an annual 3pc levy based on the market value of the site.

But head of social policy with approved housing body Respond!, Bríd McGrath, says this is unlikely to release new sites.

“You’re still quids in with the vacant site levy at 3pc, because land is increasing in value well above 3pc. If it was an accumulator tax – if it was 2pc above rising values – it would make a difference,” she says.

Most agree the solution is a complete restructuring of how we tax land and property.

The site tax solution

Chairman of O’Mahony Pike architects, James Pike, says a site-value tax is needed to replace commercial rates and the local property tax (LPT).

This idea was cited both in the Troika deal, and in the 2011 Programme for Government. But instead of introducing a system based on land values, a quick fix was decided upon – the LPT, based on the value of the house.

The Smart Taxes group, of which Pike is a member, says a site-value tax is fairer.

“If you get a block of land in a town or city centre, the land more or less has the same value, but valuing the buildings may be more difficult,” he says.

“With taxing the land you incentivise use of vacant sites and you incentivise making maximum use of buildings. Existing residents who benefit from, for example, a Luas line would pay, and not just new developments.

“That would spread the load but you also wouldn’t need to charge development levies. Because the local authority would have guaranteed incomes, it could borrow long-term for infrastructure instead of charging upfront.

“It might take five years to get a better system, but it would be worth it.”

Engaging the State

Given the market’s failure to deliver homes, many argue the State must now step into the breach, utilising its massive landbank.

Karl Deeter, of Irish Mortgage Brokers, suggests that sites be released for social and affordable housing schemes, or private homes, in return for equity. Developers would have little cause for complaint.

“On a vacant site (in Dublin city centre), you could build an eight-storey building with 75pc of the building rented at 20pc below market, and for the rest you have a guaranteed upward-only rent review of 2pc a year,” he says.

“If we do it on a build to sell, or build to rent, we share the profits..

“We need to flood the land market. People want to talk about the law of the jungle, but you can’t be a lion, and when a rhino comes along you complain.”

Affordability is by far the biggest issue. Under Central Bank lending rules, to buy a home costing €350,000 – considered ‘affordable’ in the ­capital – an income of €90,000 a year is required.

Builders suggest that VAT adds around €40,000 to the cost, but if the rate fell from 13.5pc to 9pc, it would reduce the price per unit by €10,000. Development levies should also fall.

The concern from Government is that any cuts would not be passed on to buyers, but Construction Industry Federation boss Tom Parlon says it must act.

“The Government has to ask if it can afford to take €40,000 (in VAT) from each unit? Can the local authority take €15,000 (in levies)? If Government swallowed the accusation they were bailing out developers, it would stop this from getting worse.

“A much bigger political hump will be this time next year, when the parties are going for election, and we have an increased number of homeless people and rents are going up.”

But there are tax breaks and incentives which could be used to increase supply.

“We hear about under-occupancy of properties,” says Karl Deeter. “If a lot of these houses had backyards, we could give a planning exemption to build a 70 square metre home provided it meets certain criteria. The owner could rent out the house under the rent-a-room system, where they would get €14,000-a-year tax free.”

The Government plans to build 47,000 social houses by 2021 under a €5.35bn package outlined in its Rebuilding Ireland strategy announced last year. Housing bodies and others suggest the approvals process needs to be quicker, and warn that the cost of securing some social units is too high.

Under the Part V process, up to 10pc of units in a development must be offered to the local authority as social housing. In recent weeks, it emerged that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council was told that a social apartment in a Dalkey scheme would cost €520,000.

“Instead of taking property, we should take land instead,” Lorcan Sirr says. “And also, your planning permissions will expire if the land isn’t handed over within six months. Why would you buy houses when you can build them yourself for €200,000? I think that could be a game-changer.”

The affordability question

The big gap is catering for families or individuals in the €35,000 to €75,000 income bracket who don’t qualify for social housing, but struggle to secure reasonably-priced accommodation.

With assets of more than €13bn, there is a role for credit unions to finance housing, particularly affordable rental, and achieve a steady return over time. There is no logical reason why the garda credit union couldn’t build homes for its members.

James Pike, who is also a board member of the Túath Housing Association, says it has proposed a ‘rent and save’ scheme. The State leases the land, and gets 10pc of rental income. Rents would be 80pc below market rates, and index-linked to provide certainty.

Because it would be low-cost, well-managed housing, it would also be occupied, providing certainty to investors. A small portion could be sold to fund development. Tenants could buy their units over time.

“Affordable homes will never be provided by the private sector. For a fund operating in a precarious stock market, it’s a steady 3pc,” he says.

Planner Tom Phillips, who is also chair of Property Industry Ireland, says while there is a fast-track planning system in place for schemes of 100 units or more, other reforms are needed. “There is nothing in legislation which requires local authorities to respond (to the developer). It’s open ended,” Phillips says. “The local authority may never respond, despite the builder having tight timeframes, and that adds to costs.”

In addition, standards are interpreted in different ways by different planning authorities, adding to delays.

Funding remains an issue, particularly for smaller builders keen to deliver 20 to 50 units a year. Action is needed on this. Banks also appear reluctant to lend for one-off homes or smaller projects, impacting on builders like Peter Walsh. With around two-thirds of houses in Dublin being suitable for families, higher densities are also needed.

But the low-hanging fruit, without doubt, are the 180,000 vacant homes dotted across the State. Even bringing 10pc on stream would have an impact.

Tom Phillips also points to the benefit of employing town architects, which has helped transform Westport in Mayo, and could be used in areas including Limerick city, Youghal and Boyle which have enormous potential to re-use existing buildings as homes.

The construction industry says the internal layout of protected buildings should be capable of being altered to provide homes, which is currently banned. There can also be too much red tape around converting commercial units to homes. There is potential for 4,000 units in Dublin alone, and a one-stop-shop for necessary approvals around planning, fire and disabled access is needed.

But there are also unexplored opportunities including worker housing for those employed in a city for a number of days before returning home.

There’s vocational housing, for nurses, gardaí and teachers, and housing for the aged which is largely ignored here. Delivering all three would help free up family-sized homes.

Conor Skehan says the most important thing now is not to get in the way of delivery by introducing new policies.

“We’re at the classic year four of a five-year cycle. This is always when panic sets in. The reality on the ground is the long, slow slog of permissions is in and they are being built. Well-intentioned interventions create uncertainty, so don’t change the goalposts. The recovery has started. The short-term solution is don’t get in people’s way.”

Tom Phillips agrees.

“There are plenty of policies, but it needs a bit of umph to get it going.”


Staff Treasure Hunt – September 2017

Staff from all over the country took part in a team building day in September 2017 at our offices in Dublin. The day included a treasure hunt which had staff constructing planes,  searching for ‘treasure’ and taking the long way home (if you got lost).

Congratulations to Team ‘Power Rangers’ and to everyone who took part, and also thank you to those who stayed behind to hold the fort.

Special thank you to Liam, Barbara, Tina, Fiona and Eric for organising this very successful fun filled team building day.



Posted: September 2017

Intergenerational Group visit Wexford Wildlife Reserve

Intergenerational Group day trip to Wexford Wildfowl Reserve Sept 2017The Intergenerational Group meet and work together on a specific project each year. This project is run on a yearly basis in cooperation with Respond! St Brigid’s and Manor Youth Centre.

This year, the group are hoping to work on a Family Tree Project.  This Project will see the group work with Paul Brent ( tutor ) over the coming weeks.

The  group meet once a week for two hours where we talk about times past and present. The main objective of the Intergenerational Group is to build relationships, understanding and respect between older adults and young children.

In previous year some of the groups activities included karaoke, bingo and ‘Museum for the Day’ which is an activity where the older adults bring in items from the past and the children have to guess what the items were used for.

In September 2017 the group travelled to Wexford Wildfowl Reserve where a great day was had by all

Posted by Eleanor Gaffney September 2017



Residents in Waterford complete training in CPR & AED

DifibRespond! secured a grant from the WWETB to have 10 residents trained in CPR & AED. Respond! had AED machines available at Johns College and Airmount and ‘recruited’ 5 residents from John’s College and 5 from Airmount to complete the training.

DSCN4632The AED machine in John’s College has been located in a communal area and the AED machine in Airmount is in the Head office has been relocated for easy access by both staff and residents in the event of an emergency.

DSCN4633Congrats to residents from John’s College and Airmount on completing their training in CPR & AED Great work well done to all.

The more people who are trained the better equipped we will be to deal with an emergency

Posted by Eleanor Gaffney : September 2017

Respond! Johns College win a prestigious ICSH Community Housing Awards 2017.

Respond! Johns College Waterford wins the ICSH Award for the category ‘Housing for Older People’ at the prestigious Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH) Community Housing Awards 2017.

20170927_230213These awards showcase the best in housing for older people, homeless projects, housing for people with disabilities, housing for families, regeneration, collaboration initiatives, community integration and housing management. Twenty five housing schemes were shortlisted under these seven categories. Nine awards were given in total.

Respond! were shortlisted for two.

  1. Johns College has been shortlisted for Housing for Older People video here
  2. The Family Hub, High Park, Homeless Projects video here

Well done to the many people, for all the hard work and dedication, for bringing this and all our projects to life.

ICSH-CHAAwards2017RespondHousing270917The ICSH Community Housing Awards, sponsored by Allianz, is a biennial competition that celebrates excellence within the social housing sector, showcasing housing quality, innovation and partnership. The awards serve to demonstrate that good housing is the cornerstone to building diverse, sustainable and inclusive communities.

20170927_233107Dr Donal McManus, Chief Executive of the ICSH said that against the backdrop of acute housing need and increasing homelessness, the 2017 awards help shine a light on the exceptional work that is ongoing throughout the country.

“These projects Awarded are very much local responses to local housing need and they reflect the diversity and innovative work of housing associations, housing cooperatives and local authorities across the country. The entries and winners for the 2017 Biennial Community Housing awards are some of the highest quality since the awards began in 2003. And the spread of entries and shortlisted projects from new builds to regeneration and the re-use of vacant properties are a strong signal of what can be achieved for people in need of social housing”.

IMG_4373The category winners were announced and presented with their awards at the ICSH National Social Housing Conference on 27th September 2017 in the Limerick Strand Hotel.

Links to presentations which took place at the conference can be found here

Posted: Sept 2017

Creativity Counts – Westland Art Group to Exhibit at Opera Festival

DSCN4078Westlands Art Group have been accepted to exhibit their paintings during the County Wexford Opera Festival 2017. The festival runs from 19th October to 5th November this year.

Wexford Mental Health Association are delighted to include our residents art in their exhibition, showcasing their wonderful creative talent.

Below are some examples of the art being exhibited by our talented residents.


Posted: August 2017 by Older Persons Resident Support Work Eleanor Gaffney


Killure Grove Sports Day


Ellen and Sydney playing hola hoop.

Killure Grove residents enjoyed a sports day and family picnic on 9th August 2017.  Families had a great day of sports and relaxation.

DSCN4560The families enjoyed their picnics in the glorious sunshine where they got to show, their skills of home made produce which everyone enjoyed.


DSCN4574The children played team games and relays, they were awarded medals and certificates for their participation.

There was a fantastic atmosphere when the Parents also took part in the ever eventful sack race Participants from left to right are Leo, Banjo the dog, Edwina, Maggie, Sandi, Helen. Well done to Edwina won the race

Congratulations also to Harley, also pictured, for winner of the Connect 4 competition and to everyone who took part in the fun filled day.

Posted August 2017: by Residents Support Worker Caroline Haran

Pride of Place – Mountrath

Mountrath Pride of PlaceThere was a great buzz in Mounrath in July for the judging of the All Island Pride of Place. The estate has been nominated by Laois County Council for the competition. The estate comprises of Local Authority, Cluid housing, Private and Respond! housing. It is a positive example of an integrated estate working together with a lot of support from Laois Partnership.

Mountrath 4Mountrath 3Well done to all the residents supported by Resident Support Worker Jason Delaney.

Roll on December when the results will be announced.

Posted: August 2017

Minister announces 59 new social homes for Athy

170728_T1_123Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy today joined with local representative Deputy Martin Heydon and Respond Housing to announce the development of 59 new social homes in Athy, Co. Kildare.

Respond is planning a new 35-unit development alongside one of our existing estates in Athy. Flinter´s Field will have 12 x 2-bed, 18 x 3-bed and 5 x 4-bed family homes for those on the social housing list in Kildare. Our existing Flinter’s Place estate has 44 family homes and the new adjoining estate will expand the community as the residents in Flinter´s Field can avail of the services in existing active community building.

170728_T1_005Part VIII planning was recently granted by Kildare County Council who are providing the site to Respond Housing so now we can commence preparation of the tender documentation for construction. It is planned that we will be on site in Quarter 1 of 2018 with completion and families in their new homes in Quarter 2 of 2019.

170728_T1_036Also in Athy, Respond is planning to finish the Gallow Hill estate with 24 new social homes. 16 x 3-bed and 8 x 4-bed homes are to be built on the site. Respond is finalising arrangements to bring this development onstream. It is intended that construction will commence in Gallow Hill in September of this year with the completion date set in Quarter 3 of 2018.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said:

“This development is an example of how we can unlock the potential of state owned land. 59 new families will move into new homes across both sites and I welcome the work of Respond and Kildare County Council.”

170728_T1_137Declan Dunne, CEO of Respond Housing said:

“We are delighted to progress these projects which will see 59 families in permanent homes of their own in the second half of 2019. Respond is significantly ramping up our pipeline of social housing projects in order to help deliver the scale of housing that Ireland so dearly needs.

170728_T1_131We are grateful to Kildare County Council for their support on these projects and in particular for the land to develop Flinter´s Field. We will continue to vigorously pursue and identify sites and suitable projects for social housing in order to help alleviate Ireland’s current housing and homelessness crisis.”

Deputy Martin Heydon said:

“I’m delighted that progress is being made on the delivery on social housing for South Kildare families in Flinters Field and Gallowshill, Athy. I will continue to work with Respond!, Kildare County Council and the Department to ensure these badly needed units are delivered as soon as possible”

170728_T1_001These developments will bring Respond’s housing in county Kildare to 221 homes when completed.