Taoiseach says Nama could be 're-purposed' to help solve housing crisis
The Irish Government is considering redesigning the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) into a development agency for the state.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the move was a possible option to help solve the country's housing crisis.
The idea had been been mentioned previously but was dismissed by ministers.
However, speaking on Thursday at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, the Irish premier said the Government is "looking at the possibility of re-purposing Nama to develop lands on behalf of the state to step in where the private sector has failed."
Nama was set up to manage distressed assets on behalf of the state during the economic crisis. It is due to conclude its work in 2020.
Mr Varadkar said that the Government is determined to solve the housing crisis. He added that Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy will shortly announce changes to planning regulations "so we can make it more affordable to build apartments in our towns and cities and more affordable for people to buy them".
He also said that plans are already underway to increase the number of council houses and apartments to be built.
"The government very much understands the enormous stresses faced by families without a home and those struggling to buy a home," he said.
The Fine Gael leader also vowed that hard work and enterprise will be rewarded by reducing tax rates for middle income earners.
He said that the upcoming budget will benefit those on middle incomes who "pay the highest rates of tax on far too modest incomes".
"High taxes on the middle classes are a barrier to opportunity and to work. They are a cap on aspiration and there should be no cap on aspiration in the Republic we wish to build," he said.
No further details about the proposed tax cuts were revealed.
Mr Varadkar added that for the first time in 10 years the Government will publish a budget that will balance the books.
However, he warned that public spending increases will be "modest and sustainable" to "keep Ireland secure in a risky world".
He also vowed to help improve the health service, saying he backed the principles of universal health care, more community healthcare provisions, the separation of public and private practice and reduced expenses and charges for patients.
"(Health) Minister Simon Harris is working on how best to move forward with it and will publish a road map for implementation before year end. He has the full support of Government in doing so.
"It's worth pointing out that we are spending 15 billion euros this year. The biggest budget for health in the history of the state and one of the largest per head in the western world.
"As we invest more into health services, we must ensure more accountability for how this money benefits patients.
"There is no perfect health service in the world, but we certainly can have a vastly improved one," he said.
The Taoiseach also said his party is determined to restore morale within the garda and improve public confidence in the force following the resignation of Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan.
He said that the party knew what needed to be done in relation to the gardai and was in the process of doing it.
Another key priority for the Government "is to ensure that we rise to the challenge of Brexit," the Taoiseach said.
He added that the Government will continue "to act responsibly" in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Fein and the DUP have been unable to restore powersharing at Stormont.
"As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement we will encourage all parties to come together and provide the leadership and voice that the people of Northern Ireland need, now more than ever," said Mr Varadkar.