Thursday, 7 October 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Defective Building Materials
I thank the Deputy for raising this very important matter. The story he has told is replicating itself with thousands of families across the country. I hope I can provide, by way of background, where we are now and assure the Deputy that the Government is working tirelessly to try to resolve this matter on behalf of families.
The Department is not familiar with the specific details of the case but there are a number of broader points to be made. It may be useful for the Deputy to forward the exact details of the case involved to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, who would be eager to assist in any way he can.
The first trip taken by the Minister when he took office was to Donegal for the launch of the current scheme. He saw first-hand the impact of mica and how important it was to give homeowners who have bought or built in good faith real hope and a path forward. They have done nothing wrong but simply worked hard to buy their own home only to see it turn into a nightmare. They deserve our full support. The scheme was designed by the previous Government and signed off in January 2020. It is all too clear now that the scheme is not working as intended and needs to be overhauled to help those homeowners.
In response to concerns expressed by homeowners and a unanimous Dáil motion on the matter, culminating in the June protest march, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, established a time-bound working group to consider the concerns being raised. The first meeting of the group was held onWednesday, 30 June 2021, with the terms of reference agreed. In total, eight meetings took place over the life of the group and numerous breakout sessions were also facilitated.
At the request of the homeowner representatives, it was agreed to extend the timeframe of the working group from the end of July to the end of September. Throughout August, the Department facilitated the homeowners' intensive engagement with the Housing Agency to flesh out the matter in greater detail. The last meeting of the working group took place on Wednesday, 29 September, with the Minister, Deputy O'Brien. He commended the effort of volunteer homeowners and the leadership role they have taken for their communities to help reach agreement on these matters.
The family representatives were disappointed with the output of the group but it fleshed out the matters involved and it will help ensure a fully informed Cabinet decision on any changes. Their views have been heard loud and clear. A final output report arising from the engagement of the working group has been commissioned and published on the Department's website, which includes Engineers Ireland correspondence, the homeowners' final position paper and the Department's observations.
Following the conclusion of the working group report, and building on a cross-party Dáil motion of June 2021, the Minister wrote to each Opposition spokesperson on housing to seek their views and input into potential changes to the scheme. The Minister has previously sought their views on major documents, such as Housing for All, and has accepted Opposition amendments on legislation, such as the Land Development Agency and Affordable Housing Acts. It should be noted that the main Opposition party did not once mention defective concrete blocks as part of its submission to Housing for All, so the letter to them on Monday was an opportunity, once again, for them to submit their views. Any responses will be considered as part of designing an improved scheme.
The Minister will now, along with the Taoiseach, Tånaiste and the Ministers for the environment, Deputy Eamon Ryan, Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, with input from the Attorney General, consider proposals that can then be presented to Cabinet. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, intends to bring a memorandum to Cabinet in the coming weeks.
There are three key principles that will inform any changes to the scheme, that is, that they are timely, reasonable and consistent. They should be timely in the sense that since there are ongoing risks associated with the most damaged homes, a short-term solution to address this important work will be required to implement any changes and the work must be done in the most efficient and effective way. There must be reasonable, evidence-based solutions. These solutions must be justified from an engineering perspective and the costs for undertaking remediation works should be quantified. There should be a safety net for homeowners undertaking remediation should they require further work to be done on their home. The key test for remediation is that the home can be sold in future and any changes must achieve this. The changes must be consistent in that each homeowner should receive the same support for the same solution, there should be consistency within each county, and between counties, and engineers need to be clear on the criteria for assessing options and clear on the regulations that apply. I again thank the Ceann Comhairle for the additional time.