The Minister of State for Planning, Ciaran Cuffe, has confirmed that developers and landowners may be compelled to demolish partly-completed developments.

His comments follow this week's statement by the chief executive of NAMA, Brendan McDonagh, that sending in the bulldozers could be unavoidable.

Minister Cuffe, a professional planner, addressed the Irish Planning Institute's conference in Tullamore today.

He said that before solutions can be agreed on how to deal with the 'ghost estates', the extent and scale of the problem must be identified. He also said that differences should be made between the various types of incomplete estates, which range from finished but unsold units to abandoned, half-finished developments with no occupants.

The Minister said the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is currently examining the potential for a more accurate means of estimating the scale and distribution of unfinished and or vacant housing developments nationwide in conjunction with local authorities and other stakeholders.

He added that the department is also currently preparing a policy paper which aims to identify the necessary responses and to explore how they can be tackled in a co-ordinated and pro-active manner.

'I do believe that selective demolitions will be a necessary part of the tasks required to tackle the legacy of one of the more unsavoury aspects of Ireland's building boom,' Minister Cuffe said.

'The irony is that it was more of an absence of planning rather than bad planning that generated the wrong kind of buildings in the wrong places,' he added.

Earlier this week, NAMA boss Brendan McDonagh told an Oireachtas Joint Committee that while this could be a difficult decision, knocking down certain developments may be unavoidable, despite the move incurring costs.

Meanwhile, the rural-link organisation that represents the interests of groups in disadvantaged areas has said the Government must give first preference to new community housing and development projects before any decision is made to demolish houses in ghost estates.

At today's planning conference, Leitrim County Planning Officer Ciaran Tracey also said that attracting people to live in hundreds of vacant houses in the county is a bigger issue that the possibility of demolishing them in the years to come, if NAMA chooses to go ahead with such a policy.