A damning report commissioned by the Department of the Environment published yesterday shows that in excess of 2,800 'Ghost Estates' comprising of over 43,000 unfinished and finished houses and apartments are currently a blot on Ireland's landscape.
The Northwest and the West have been identified as the worst in terms of empty units in relation to the county population. Among the worst-affected areas are Sligo, Leitrim, Longford and Roscommon.
Sligo has over 1,000 homes lying vacant.
The number of 'ghost estates' in neighbouring counties sees Donegal with 133, Mayo with 129, Roscommon with 118 and Leitrim with the smallest population has 96.
Unoccupied buildings in ghost estates pose serious safety risks, especially to children, because sewers have been left open, water is contaminated and building sites are not secured properly.
It ultimately means taxpayers will be forced to pay the bill for the mess caused by developers and the banks.
The various states of completion of the ghost developments has been quantified for the first time, with some having finished and occupied apartment blocks and houses, while others are partially constructed or have vacant plots where building has yet to begin.
A “high-level expert group” is to be established to devise plans for the “completion or resolution” of the unfinished estates was also by Minister of State for Housing Michael Finneran and Minister for Planning Ciarán Cuffe.
Several options will be studied including the total demolition of some estates.
Mr Finneran conceded that the bonds that had been lodged with local authorities by developers would not be adequate to finish most estates.
Some of the units would be used for long-term leasing by local authorities for social housing, he said. Some 2,500 units had already been secured under the scheme this year, he added.
Tax incentives introduced by the Government in the late 90's led to a proliferation of unneeded housing developments.
The main tax relief which created "ghost estates" was the Rural Renewal Relief, which was introduced in 1998 by then minister for finance Charlie McCreevy. It granted tax incentives on the construction of rented and owner-occupied accommodation in Leitrim, Longford and parts of Sligo, Cavan and Roscommon.
The Minister for the Environment John Gormley (Green) refused to comment on the survey last night, or to discuss what might be done with the estates, saying it was a matter for Minister of State for Planning Ciarán Cuffe.