Dáil debates

Tuesday, 4 October 2022

Defective Concrete Products Levy: Motion [Private Members]


8:10 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I move:

"That Dáil Éireann: believes that:
— the Defective Concrete Products Levy being proposed by the Government is badly designed and unacceptable; and

— it means that the people in homes with defects, and first-time buyers, will foot the bill through increased house prices, as has been recognised by the Economic and Social Research Institute;
notes the assertion by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland that this will add €4,000 to the price of a house; and

calls on the Government to:
— hold those most responsible for defects to account; and

— introduce a defects levy focused on the banks, profits of big developers and those who were responsible for the defects."

As the House knows, tonight tens of thousands of people - homeowners, private rental tenants and social rental tenants - will sleep in defective homes. We now have defective blocks in 13 counties across the State. According to an independent report commissioned by the Government, we also have as many as 100,000 apartments, duplexes and houses with significant fire safety, balcony and water ingress defects.

The problem is that the party of the current Minister for Finance has always been exceptionally slow to respond. It took several years of campaigning by homeowners affected by pyrite in Leinster before we eventually got a pyrite scheme. It took several years and one death in Priory Hall before Fine Gael moved to redress those issues. It took much longer and greater campaigning by homeowners in Donegal, Mayo, Clare and elsewhere, as well the Construction Defects Alliance, before we finally got some movement on those areas as well.

The problem, of course, is that there are still very significant issues with defective blocks. The relevant legislation is not fit for purpose and needs to change. We have not yet had sight of a scheme for people with apartments, duplexes and homes affected by wider Celtic tiger era defects. In fact, the recent announcement by the Minister for Housing, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, indicates that there may be no scheme for those homeowners until the middle or latter end of next year, with no possibility of redress funding until 2024 at the earliest.

While many people were looking to budget 2023 for greater progress, there was deep disappointment. One of the small facts that was missed in much of the budget debate is that the Government’s own contribution to funding for defects has only been increased by €5 million and there is, as I said, no scheme for others.

On top of that, the Government has taken an eminently sensible idea and is making an absolute mess of it.

Sinn Féin has always said, and will continue to say tonight, that industry has to make a contribution towards the cost of remediation. On the basis of the estimates of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and those of the independent report on building defects, we could be looking at a figure of €4 billion to €5 billion for remediation alone. Therefore, industry, particularly those most responsible, has to pay. The problem, however, is that the Government is applying a very high levy to a very narrow section of the construction industry and to products. That will result in very significant increases, particularly for those who already have to pay extra to remediate their own homes in Donegal, Mayo and elsewhere and those who are building their own homes, who are responsible for 20% of all new home completions. Regarding small and medium-sized building contractors, who both Ministers know are already struggling to remain viable, an extra 10% on the price of core materials will push them over the edge and some out of business.

The problem is that it does not have to be like this. There are better ways to approach this levy. Based on our knowledge of other jurisdictions, we have long argued that a levy should be applied much more broadly, not to one sector or group of products but right across industry, from quarries and block manufacturers to construction companies. Second, it should focus on profits. It should focus, in particular, on those companies and corporations with very significant and growing profits that have the ability to pay and absorb the increased cost without passing it on to the consumer.

The Government completely leaves out construction companies and ignores banks, both of which contributed to the crisis and are profiting from it. There has been no discussion of non-life-insurance industries. We firmly believe it is possible to construct an industry contribution, a scheme, through legislation and negotiation with industry that would allow for a significant amount of additional revenue on top of the €200 million we believe the Government should be putting towards the remediation of defects annually, not the €65 million committed to by the Government for next year. In particular, the focus should be on those who should and can pay and who, if the Government acted appropriately, would pay.

There is a better way to do this. I am aware that the Minister for Finance is both reasonable and intelligent, so he should please not introduce a levy that will force homeowners in Donegal, Mayo and Clare to pay an extra 10% on top of the gap he has already left them with, amounting to tens of thousands of euro. He should not have struggling buyers, including first-time buyers, footing the bill, and he should not jeopardise small and medium-sized building contractors. He should listen to our advice, take on board our proposals and work with us and the industry to have a fair system to ensure the latter pays 100% of the redress cost for all homeowners and tenants living in defective buildings across the State.


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