Housing Minister Simon Coveney has pledged local authorities will significantly ramp up their housing construction after just building 72 units last year.

His commitment came as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed yesterday that it was a “scandal” that there were empty houses in local authority stock given the housing emergency.

Opposition TDs also argued 100,000 families had “rotted” on social housing lists for 15 years but that the Government’s new housing strategy was just a “bow to developers” and their demands.

Mr Coveney said efforts to tackle the homelessness and housing crisis was now the Government’s “number one priority”.

Up to two thirds of new social housing units would be built by local authorities, he told RTÉ, after Taoiseach Enda Kenny earlier could not answer in the Dáil how many authorities might build.

Mr Coveney also revealed that just 72 housing units were built by all local authorities last year.

This number would eventually be ramped up to 12,000, he said, when the annual target of 25,000 new units a year are possibly met by 2019.

The Government also intends to meet the EU’s statistics unit, Eurostat, in the coming weeks to assess how Ireland can fund social housing units ‘off balance sheet’ through a special structure under the watch of the National Treasury Management Agency. It is estimated that this method would allow a build of 5,000 social housing units, which would not officially go down as part of the Government’s spending figures.

Mr Martin noted that the numbers of homeless families presenting had jumped from eight per month in 2012 to 70 a month this year.

He also criticised local authorities for failing to build enough homes and called for a new agency to be put on a statutory footing to oversee the new strategy.

“It is a scandal that there are any empty houses in local authority housing stock given the emergency.”

But Mr Coveney says a unit in his department will oversee the strategy.

People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett claimed the plan was a bow to developers: “For the more than 100,000 families and households rotting on housing lists for 15 years and longer and the thousands of families suffering the cruelty and hardship of homelessness, I regret to give my opinion that this document is an incredible disappointment.”

Meanwhile, Tom Parlon, director general at Construction Industry Federation (CIF) also claimed developers were “excluded” from the housing plan.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School, Mr Parlon said the Government had been “inclined to exclude the construction industry because of the blame that they chose to give the industry”.

He called for a statutory register to get rid of “cowboy builders” and said CIF has been working with the Department of Environment to root out builders who do not meet the proper standards.

Mr Parlon said the ambitiousness of the housing plan was “very good” but “at least five years too late”.

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