Tuesday, 11 June 2019
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Defective Building Materials
39. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the justification for allocating €20 million in funding for homeowners affected by MICA in County Donegal as part of the MICA redress scheme; his views on whether €20 million is sufficient to address the outstanding structural issues facing homeowners due to MICA; if further funding will be allocated to ensure there is no funding shortfall for any family in need; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23872/19]
I am seeking clarification as to how the Government came up with the figure of €20 million for the mica redress scheme and whether the figure is sufficient to address the housing needs of all those affected. Was this tokenistic, given that it was announced during local elections? Anyone can tell the Government that €20 million is insufficient. An estimated 4,600 homes, most of which are in County Donegal, are affected by mica. Taking that into account, a large portion of those are not even taking up the scheme. It is good news that the scheme will be delivered but how will the funds be made available and will those funds meet the redress needs of all those affected?
In October 2018, the Government approved in principle the development of a grant scheme of financial assistance to support affected homeowners in counties Donegal and Mayo to carry out the necessary remediation works to dwellings that have been damaged due to defective concrete blocks. This followed on from the work carried out by the expert panel on concrete blocks established by my Department in 2016.
Last month, agreement was reached with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to allocate €20 million to a scheme for this purpose from within the €2.4 billion housing budget for 2019. The full terms and conditions of the scheme will be finalised over the coming weeks, again in consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. This process will take account of the engagement that my Department is currently having with both Donegal and Mayo County Councils on the arrangements for the scheme. On completion of this work, it is intended to revert to Government on the matter.
The ultimate costs of the scheme will be determined by the scheme's final agreed terms and conditions and will, of course, also depend on the number of applications made under the scheme and the extent of the damage to be remediated in each individual house ultimately approved for grant assistance. The €20 million earmarked for the scheme in 2019 is an initial allocation to support its early phase of operation. Funding for future years will be agreed on an annual basis as part of the normal Estimates process.
As the Deputy is aware, I have met regularly with the mica action group over the past couple of years. We have talked through this process on numerous occasions and I always explained that, similar to the pyrite scheme, there will be an initial allocation of money to get the scheme up and running and to deal with houses deserving of priority. Further money will be drawn down as the years progress. That is exactly what is happening.
Nobody is saying that €20 million will fix all the houses. We wish it would, but we know, as does the Deputy, that it will not. Every house will cost a different amount to fix based on the standard protocol and an engineer's assessment and agreement and we will work through that. The scheme will need additional funding and that is part of the process and those funds will be drawn down in the time ahead.
We are sincerely committed to this scheme. This was not just a local election issue, it was announced last October. The people with whom we dealt on a regular basis needed to know, once and for all, could a scheme be done and we told those people it could last October. They accepted it would take a little time to bring the scheme forward.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. The scheme has been announced but its terms and conditions have not yet been finalised. When can people expect the actual work to be carried out on their houses? That will be significant because the houses are deteriorating further as time drags on so it will end up costing more. When will actual work start? It seems as if there are still many procedural issues to be sorted out. It could easily be this time next year before any work has actually been carried out on the ground and no one wants that.
The Deputy asks a fair question. We told the mica action group when we last met in Donegal that we had a target of this July to start fixing houses. It looks now as if that will not happen until the autumn. I do not see any reason why we cannot work out all the procedures and start fixing houses then.
There have been a couple of meetings between Mayo and Donegal County Councils and officials from the Department since we announced the clarification. All sides have agreed to move this as quickly as we possibly can because, naturally, we all want to step in and start fixing houses. I see no reason why the procedures and all the rest of it cannot be put to bed in the weeks ahead and it will be for the Government then to give the final sign-off. We should be able to fix houses in the autumn. I put my hands up and admit that is a number of months later than we anticipated when I formally met the group in Donegal most recently. At that time, we were hoping to start work in June or July. It now looks like it will start in the autumn. Hopefully we will start then and we can move on.
What about people who cannot afford the balance of the cost of remediation works? I understand that the scheme will pick up 90% of the cost but what about people who cannot afford to bridge the gap? Will the scheme accommodate those people? Is the order in which houses will be remediated to be based on the deterioration of the house rather than whether someone can afford to deal with it or not? That will be critical. People have already paid a lot of money and may not be able to afford the balance of the cost of remediation.
Deputy Pringle will understand that the scheme is not yet fully finalised; that will happen in the weeks ahead. Those who are most in need will be helped first and that is the logical way to approach this. We have been in some of these houses and we know how bad they are. The full cost of remediation works will not be met under the scheme but Donegal and Mayo local authorities said they will work with the Department to try and ensure this option will suit most people. We will try and deal with it when the scheme is finalised in the weeks ahead. We recognise the issues and have chosen this form of scheme to get started as quickly as possible. The Minister and I gave a commitment to develop a scheme that would start fixing houses as quickly as possible and that is what we are trying to do.