Fianna Fáil and Labour call for Nama to get extra powers to build houses

Sinn Féin says new semi-State company for housing would be ‘very foolish’

Senior Government figures have discussed setting up a new housing corporation that would be able to act as a developer of State-funded homes. Photograph: Getty Images

Senior Government figures have discussed setting up a new housing corporation that would be able to act as a developer of State-funded homes. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A number of parties have called on the Government to give the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) more powers to build housing instead of establishing a new semi-State company.

Fianna Fáil and Labour called for Nama to get additional powers, while Sinn Féin said a new semi-State would be “very foolish”.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe confirmed a report in Thursday’s Irish Times that the Government was considering establishing a new semi-State to drive house-building across the country.

Other parties – such as the Social Democrats and the Greens – gave this a cautious welcome, although the Greens said councils should not be overlooked when it comes to building social and affordable housing.

Senior Government figures have discussed setting up a new housing corporation that would be able to act as a developer of State-funded homes. It would take some powers off local authorities, similar to how Irish Water was established, and drive a far greater State intervention in the housing market.

It could also be put off the State’s balance sheet, like other semi-States such as the ESB, to raise its own capital.

Mr Donohoe confirmed this approach was being considered by the Government and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy. Mr Murphy is currently reviewing the Government’s signature Rebuilding Ireland strategy.

“It’s one of an array of issues and options that I’m discussing with Minister Murphy at the moment,” Mr Donohoe said. “I’m talking to the Minister on a daily basis in relation to options that are open to us to respond to the needs that our citizens have in the area of housing.

Options

“I’m certain of two things: we are making some progress in terms of the availability of more homes, but I can also see on a daily basis that we need to make more.

“We’ll discuss a number of options, and those options will be embedded into the budgetary process.”

Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen said Nama’s remit should be widened instead of creating a new “semi-State monolith”. He said this would be “misguided” and expressed unease about councils losing some powers.

“Local authorities are not the ones holding up the delivery of social housing. The responsibility for this lies with the overbearing four-stage approval process that each local authority has to go through with the Department of Housing.”

He also said Nama could borrow off balance sheet.

Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin called on the Government to increase funding for social housing and to speed up “bureaucratic approval”, tendering, procurement and delivery processes for construction.

“Before a brick is laid there is an 18- to 24-month approval and tendering process. That needs to be slashed down to six months.”

Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan also said Nama could provide the foundation for a future semi-State. Labour had proposed turning Nama into the “National Housing Development and Finance Agency” to build social and affordable homes.

Green Party spokesman Malcolm Noonan said that any new system should not duplicate the work of local government, and said the State does not have the time to set up another “unwieldy structure like Irish Water”.

The Greens had previously proposed a National Housing Authority to work with councils.

Dedicated agency

Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats said she wanted to see further detail on the Government’s idea.

“The Social Democrats have proposed a dedicated agency to co-ordinate with local authorities to ensure the urgent delivery of houses. It would also have a wider remit to secure the best policy outcomes in terms of sustainable communities.

“A dedicated co-ordinating agency would be efficient because of the economies of scale and in-house expertise it would develop. It would also mean that our future housing needs are met in a properly planned and thought out way, including developments of different sizes with good social mixes, as well as a mix of tenures and house type.”