Dáil debates

Tuesday, 4 October 2022

Defective Concrete Products Levy: Motion [Private Members]


9:50 pm

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent) | Oireachtas source

This issue goes back quite a while. The necessity to pursue the quarries, or at least investigate pursuing the quarries, has been obvious to every fair-minded person in the House and country for a long time. Nobody could but be moved by the plight of the mica homeowners and something clearly had to be done for them. One thing I took from my very limited meetings with them and their appearance before committees was their sense of injustice that they have suffered so much and there was apparently no attempt being made by the State to pursue the quarries.

Some had, of course, made attempts individually, but it is very difficult to pursue some of these companies for a variety of reasons. The quarrying sector is not renowned for being a home for shrinking violets. There was great difficulty in pursuing some of them. Some of these companies are huge and have access to the most expensive legal representation that can be provided and used that to fight these cases.

They expected that the State might step into their shoes and take a case. In a way, the legislation kind of provides for that because any single case is obligated to the Minister. In theory, the Minister is pursuing the case. At the time the legislation was brought through the House last summer, I proposed amendments that would at least require the Minister to come back before the House and state how many cases were continued, how many new cases were initiated and what the procedure was for looking at whether there was a case against a quarry. However, the Government did not bother even looking at those amendments. The way that legislation was rammed through the House without even looking at how we, as a society, might recover at least some of the money it is going to cost to put these unfortunate people back in the position they should have been had somebody not supplied them with defective concrete blocks, and done so for profit, was an incredibly arrogant act by the Government.

I do not envy the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, is here tonight, because this is within the remit of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage who has been all over this. He is being spoken about quite a lot as a leader at the moment, and a potential leader of Fianna Fáil. During Leader's Question in the Dáil last October, he said he was working extensively with Paul Gallagher SC, the Attorney General, to ensure those who are liable can be held to account and that he believes those who are responsible should contribute towards remediation and can contribute towards it. He went on to say, "I have engaged intensively with the Attorney General on this matter and he is working on mechanisms to ensure wrongdoing and liability on the part of quarries and other parties are fully penalised." In November, he announced in a press release the contours of the scheme and said that a senior counsel would be appointed to look into the role of the industry and regulations in generating this controversy.

Fast forward seven months to June, when the general heads of the Bill came before the committee and the Minister's acting assistant secretary was a witness. Civil servants are not to blame for the actions of their Ministers. Whatever about collective Cabinet and Government responsibility, the acting assistant secretary had to say that not only had no one been appointed, there were no terms of reference drawn up. She said it was an urgent matter and the Department would get right onto it, but that we needed to pass the Bill first.

It is now October. Through all of this the clock is ticking, because for any civil action to recover, there is a limited period of time within which one can do so, which is after the date of knowledge. From the time people realise their houses are affected by pyrite, there is a limited period of time within which a case can be taken. Twelve months after the Minister told the House about his extensive discussions with the Attorney General, nothing has been done. There have been no terms of reference or senior counsel, but what we have is a concrete levy which, in those circumstances, is unconscionable. That we will seek to recover this money from ordinary people is wrong.


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