The Taoiseach has admitted that Government has sometimes been too quick to say things can’t be done when it comes to the housing crisis.
Leo Varadkar told reporters the crisis is ‘holding us back’ as a country and he wants to inject a new 'can-do attitude' into the building of new homes.
He admitted that the housing crisis is an emergency for the country and said he will work to see construction getting underway on the 70,000 homes that have already been granted planning permission in Ireland but are still lying idle.
“I think sometimes in Government we are too willing to say that things can’t be done because of the public finances or because of state aid rules or because of the Constitution or because of something else,” he said.
“I know we need to accept that, when it comes to housing, we need to turn the corner on housing.
“It is an emergency. It is affecting people in so many different ways and it is holding us back as a country.”
Mr Varadkar said the Government has “lots of levers” at it's disposal to respond to the crisis, noting that the issue now is ‘making sure we use the right ones’.
“Obviously, there are financial levers,” he said. “Grants, Government spending, Government investment and things that can be done on the tax side that we need to examine.
“Also, there are legislative levers then as well. For example, planning law reform to make sure that things get through planning permissions quickly.”
Government figures published in June revealed that between planning permission had been granted for 70,000 and 80,000 homes in Ireland that have yet to be commenced.
Some 40,000 of those permissions are in Dublin – around four years’ worth of housing supply in the capital.
Many of the uncommented permissions relate to apartments – with builders claiming that constructing apartment blocks isn't financially viable in many cases.
The Taoiseach said the State should intervene if that is the case.
“We need to examine that and make sure that it is the truth but if it is the truth then Government needs to step in,” he said.
“Croí Cónaithe is one method by which we can plug the viability gap. I often say that there are, I think, about 70,000 planning permissions out there for new homes, mostly apartment – but they are not activated, they are not being built.
“I want to see them under construction.”
He said Government would use a carrot-and-stick approach with builders who are not commencing planning permissions.
“The carrot, for example, is programmes like Croí Cónaithe where the government will intervene and help pat-fund or part-finance the building of new apartments,” he said.
“LDA (Land Development Agency) can do things as well for example; the agency can pre-purchase apartments and homes for social and affordable housing and that can be bankable, it can help developers to build.”
Figures released earlier this month show Irish rents have surged four-and-a-half times faster than those in Europe over the last decade.
Over the same period, house prices have surged 55% in Ireland and 50% in the EU.
Meanwhile, homelessness remains at record levels across the country.