Dáil debates

Tuesday, 4 October 2022

Defective Concrete Products Levy: Motion [Private Members]


10:10 pm

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

I listened carefully to the Minister for Finance. He said the Government has a duty to homeowners living with defective homes. That will come as a great surprise to those homeowners because they have been living with defective homes for over 11 years. They have been campaigning for action from Government. How many homeowners in Donegal have received their full grant amount in those 11 years? It is 14. In Mayo it is zero. In Clare it is zero. How many apartment owners with fire safety or structural defects, or duplex owners, or homeowners, have received any remediation compensation from the State? The answer is zero. That is not a sign of a duty to homeowners. The Minister for Finance also said there was a duty to taxpayers. Maybe I am wrong but if we had tackled this back when the problem first arose, back when the construction industry had an excess of labour, materials were cheaper and we desperately needed to stimulate the economy in 2011, 2012 and 2013, it would not have cost us a fraction of what it is going to cost us now. By delaying action, the last Government and the present one have increased both the emotional impact on the families and the financial impact on the State.

The Minster for Finance is right that Sinn Féin is committing more. In fact, the €200 million figure I quoted is what we would have in Exchequer funding year on year to tackle that. The reason for that is we must compensate for the fact that after ten years of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments in one form or another, these homes have yet to be remediated. On the cost variations, the Minister is right there are different variations. He is quoting departmental figures and we are quoting the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, which has a real-time tracking index. If the Department has an independent analysis with independent data then the Minister should publish it and I would be more than happy to compare it to the information we get from the SCSI to see which is more accurate. With the greatest respect to the Minister of State, the Finance Bill is not going to give us that detail and it would require the Department that has undertaken that study to publish it.

What was most interesting to me about the Minister for Finance's comments is that he did not respond to the three central criticisms of his scheme. He is right that industry must pay. The Minister is also right to say we disagree with him on the details, because he has the details wrong. The first thing is the Government levy is too high, as designed, at 10%. It is too narrowly-focused on one section of industry, which means it will have a disproportionate impact on its costs. Lastly, it is a levy on products. Those three fundamental design flaws in what the Government is proposing are why the entire Opposition is saying the Government has got this wrong. The other thing the Minister for Finance or the Minister of State failed to acknowledge is what they might have to say to the homeowner in Mayo or Donegal who will already have to pay €30,000, €40,000, €50,000 or €60,000 of their own money to fill the gap between an inadequate remediation scheme and the full cost. Now the Government is saying those homeowners must pay an extra 10% for the blocks for the home. That is a fact and the Government has yet to address it. The Government has not mentioned the impact on buyers either. Whether it is €1,000, €2,000, €3,000 or €4,000, that is money buyers cannot pay.

The Minister of State knows what is happening with small- and medium-sized building contractors in his constituency. I talk to contractors throughout the counties of Ireland. They cannot currently develop small- and medium-sized building projects because they cannot match viability requirements. An extra 10% on their core building product will push them even further over the edge and the Minister of State knows that as well as I do, even if he will not admit it here. Our proposal is more sensible. I never said it was risk-free or easy but by broadening the scope of who it applies the levy to, our proposal would be sharing the burden across a greater stretch of industry. By ensuring to focus on profits, and especially those of large corporations, our proposal would ensure those that are most able to pay absorb that cost. I will name two such companies. One of the interesting things in Cairn Homes' annual report published earlier this year is that it says construction sector inflation for the company increased by 6% last year but that because it was so profitable, with a 44% increase in profits to €57 million last year, it did not have to pass that on to the purchasers. Similarly, Cement Roadstone Holdings, CRH, has a level of profitability that is enormous and it too can shoulder the burden. Why name those two companies? CRH is directly linked to defects in Mayo and Cairn Homes is indirectly linked to defects in Belmayne, where families are still struggling with huge bills.

I do not believe this Government is going to pursue those directly responsible for defects, be they quarries, block manufacturers, developers, or others, through the courts. If it does I will welcome it but I will not hold my breath. The Government has got the design of this wrong. Its own backbenchers are telling it so. All we are asking is that it accept this. The Government should work with Opposition in the finance committee to put in place a mechanism to supplement the very significant State expenditure we must see in the coming years to remediate all these properties with a levy that makes sense, does not punish owners of defective homes, buyers and first-time buyers and does not push small- and medium-sized building contractors further over the edge. The Minister of State knows it is the right thing to do.

Even if his line Minister does not, the Minister of State knows and his colleagues do. Please, listen to what we have to say. Abandon this badly designed levy and work with us to put something in place that will ensure industry pays its fair share in the right way without further hurting homeowners.


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