The modular homes for Ukrainians farce

If you go to, the country’s largest property website, and search for homes anywhere in Ireland with a maximum price of €275,000, then you won’t find much in Dublin. You will, however, find plenty of homes outside the capital for that price or lower: There’s a five bedroom, six bathroom home in Tipperary for that price. There’s a four bedroom semi detached home in Portlaoise. Another four bed semi detached in Virginia, County Cavan. If you can be flexible with where in the country you want to go, there’s no shortage of decent houses at that price.

All of which makes the following slightly difficult to understand:

The State ordered 700 units for Ukrainian refugees in December before enough suitable locations for them had been confirmed. The Office of Public Works (OPW) subsequently warned that 10 additional sites needed to be “quickly sourced” so that it could be “assured of delivering the target number of units”, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act.

It is unclear whether enough sites have since been identified, with the Government saying only that it was “confident” there were “sufficient number of sites under review to accommodate the 700 units”, when asked last week….

….. The last publicly available estimate is €140 million for the first 500 homes.

Five hundred into one hundred and forty million leaves you with an average price, for each of the modular homes ordered by the state, of €280,000. This seems inordinately high, given that one of the primary attractions of modular homes is the lower cost for building materials and the speed with which they can be constructed. All of the homes I mention above, by contrast, are traditional brick and mortar constructions.

Further, one might expect the cost for the modular homes for Ukrainians to be lower given that in theory most of them would be constructed on land already owned by the state. There’s no built in site acquisition cost, or at least there shouldn’t be in most cases. Further again, one might expect that these modular homes are not of the luxury, four bedroom variety, but are intended to be small and functional. And even further, there’s the matter of economies of scale: The state is buying in bulk, and one might expect it to receive something of a discount as a result. Two hundred and eighty grand per unit seems, at least on the face of it, to be an absolutely astounding unit cost for a project that is supposed to be at least in part attractive because of its lower costs.

That’s before we get into the meat of the story, which is about the usual Irish scenario where one arm of Government is entirely ignorant of what the other arm is doing: Thus we have arrived at the scenario where the state has acquired all these homes, and has nowhere to build them. This is incompetence of the most fundamental level: A normal person, buying a modular home, would long since have identified where the thing was going.

The delays that this will cause are, if anything, understated by the Irish Times report above: Even modular homes need water supply, and electricity supply, and internet connection, and sewerage, and access roads, and transportation links, and everything else we associate with modern living. Each home will have to be connected up to myriad different services. Had the state known in advance where the homes were going, this work could have been done in advance – or at least much of it could have been done. Now, we’re likely going to be in the situation where the homes sit in storage while five or six Government departments figure out the answer to basic questions between them.

It is easy (and of course, partially correct) to blame standard civil service incompetence for a situation like this: A delayed, overly expensive, farcical mess of a project is what we should by now to have come to expect from anything managed by Ireland’s state managerial class – just look at the Children’s Hospital. But really, in this case, the Government must take full blame. This is what Ministers are for – it is their job to co-ordinate their departments at the highest level and ensure that a “whole of Government” effort takes place.

This should have been, on paper, one of the easier projects for Government to deliver: It has the money. The country has the expertise to build and deliver these homes at relatively low cost. The state has the land to put them on. That it has turned into an mess on this scale is a symptom of the present Government’s increasing inability to manage even the most basic tasks of public administration. Really, there should be resignations. There won’t be, but there should be.

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