State-owned companies are sitting on vast land-banks that could be built on to resolve the housing crisis, Simon Coveney has said.
The Housing Minister warned publicly-owned bodies they have to “play their part” in helping to bring an end to misery for tens of thousands of families struggling to find a home.
Mr Coveney told a parliamentary watchdog Irish Rail in particular has huge sites that will never be used for railways – often in the centre of towns and cities throughout the country.
“Other agencies of the state and state-owned companies need to play their part in supplying land banks to local authorities to be able to build homes,” he told the specially established Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness.
“Irish Rail is probably the best example of that.
“If you look at Limerick, Cork in particular and Athlone, there are very strategic and very large land banks often in city centres that are never going to be used really for commercial rail in the future.”
Mr Coveney also said he would like to see the State buying up existing properties – particularly houses lying empty country-wide to be used for badly-needed social homes.
A report last month by the Housing Agency estimated that almost a quarter of a million houses lie empty across Ireland – nearly 40,000 of them in Dublin.
There are up to 130,000 people on social housing waiting lists across the country.
Mr Coveney said the government’s “aspiration” is to build 35,600 new social homes over the coming four years.
A special taskforce could be set up to look for “bargains” in vacant properties currently under the control of banks or languishing on estate agent books to plug a shortfall, he told the committee.
“I absolutely think one of the ways of getting an immediate increase in (housing) stock is to simple acquire – the preference is to acquire vacant properties,” he added.
Mr Coveney said rapid-build accommodation on or near college campuses would also take some of the 25,000 students out of privately-rented homes, freeing them up for families.