Varadkar denies plan to use NAMA in social housing scheme without proper planning

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has denied claims he made up plans to potentially use NAMA to help build social housing without any detailed planning taking place, saying the issue has been "under consideration" for a number of months.

On Thursday, in an off-script moment during his keynote speech during Fine Gael's pre-Dáil think-in which caught a number of ministers off-guard, Mr Varadkar said he wants to use the State property group to potentially fund developers to build badly needed social housing.

The move was immediately called into question due to the complete lack of detail on what such a policy would involve, how much it will cost, how many homes could be built and the length of time the plan would last.

The confusion was further added to by the fact Mr Varadkar did not take part in any media opportunities yesterday, while Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy's spokespeople declined requests to speak to journalists about the move.

Education Minister Richard Bruton, who spoke on behalf of the Government at a media event on Thursday evening, was also unable to provide any clarity on what the policy will specifically involve.

However, asked if the potential policy was made up and revealed without any detailed planning taking place at a media briefing on Friday, Mr Varadkar insisted significant research has already taken place and that the NAMA social housing initiative has been discussed within Government for a number of months.

"It is something that has been under consideration for quite some time, a couple of months. The first person to suggest it to me was Michael Noonan, the former finance minister.

"I spoke to Minister Murphy and Minister Donohoe about it, who have both been engaging with NAMA for the past number of months. We hope to make a decision on it in a few weeks…It will obviously require a Government decision.

"But if you think about it, NAMA will more or less complete its remit in the next couple of months and pay off the remainder of the senior debt.

"They will have done what they were set up to do and at the same time they are a body with money and experience in finance and development - they have already been doing that for developers who owe money to NAMA.

"They also have some land they would be entitled to and there are people working there with a lot of experience in finance and building . It does seem to be a very logical idea," Mr Varadkar said.

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