Mike Allen: Most of the debate on NAMA, both from the left and the right, has concentrated on questions of nationalisation or good bank/bad bank strategies. Several commentators have stated that ‘the left’ thinks that NAMA should have a social remit – but you would have to look very hard to find anyone actually arguing it, let along saying what this would mean.
Focus Ireland entered the debate over the weekend, arguing that NAMA must have a ‘social dividend’, and in particular that ‘social objectives’ need to be recognised in the legislation that governs the new agency. There are broad arguments that can sustain this case (about the need to link social and economic objectives), but the real issue is more pressing: NAMA is about to become the owner of a vast property portfolio of land and housing.
The vacant housing, which is the distressed assets of developers, can be used to salvage a vestige of equality from the tail end of the housing boom. The land is a crucial asset in ensuring that the next wave of housing development proceeds on a more equitable and sustainable (in all its meanings) manner - for, despite the current collapse, Ireland will need more new homes over the next decade.
Focus Ireland’s contribution drew on earlier work by the Irish Council of Social Housing. Beyond calling for the ‘social dividend’, Focus proposes that there should be a full audit of the potential social value of homes and land which come under NAMA control, that appropriate housing and land should be transferred to Local Authorities, that there should be a ’Land Management Strategy’, and that a special unit in the Department of Environment should act as the holding body for this.
We will have to wait until Thursday to find out whether these considerations penetrated to the Cabinet Table but even if they did not, there is the summer to bring this argument much more to the fore.
Mike Allen is Director of Advocacy with Focus Ireland.