Tuesday, 11 June 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Defective Building Materials
45. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the details of the mica redress scheme; the date in 2019 from which homes will begin to be repaired under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23824/19]
81. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the status of the mica redress scheme; if his officials have met Donegal County Council to discuss the details of same; if there is a confirmed commencement date of same; when he expects houseowners can begin to apply to the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23823/19]
This relates to the progress in the mica redress scheme for homeowners in counties Donegal and Mayo, which has been shockingly slow. We still have not seen the detail of any scheme, despite the fact that we have been expecting for months an outline of the terms and conditions and the applications. I am asking for a clear update on the current position and the timeline for the scheme's opening for houses to be remedied.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 81 together.
An expert panel on concrete blocks was established by my Department in 2016 and its terms of reference were focused on the investigation of the problems that have emerged in the concrete blockwork of certain dwellings in counties Donegal and Mayo. The report of the expert panel was published in 2017 and included eight recommendations, which my Department has been actively progressing with the relevant stakeholders.
In October 2018, the Government approved in principle the development of a grant scheme of financial assistance to support affected homeowners in the counties of Donegal and Mayo to carry out the necessary remediation works to dwellings that have been damaged due to defective concrete blocks. Last month, agreement was reached with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to allocate €20 million to it for 2019. Funding for future years will be agreed annually as part of the normal Estimates process, as we discussed earlier today. 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 having with both Donegal and Mayo county councils. In this regard, officials from my Department met both local authority teams last week to discuss implementation arrangements for the scheme in both Donegal and Mayo. The meetings were very productive and further engagement will take place over the coming weeks. On completion of this work, it is intended to revert to the Government on the matter.
Ahead of that work being completed, I cannot be definitive on the date on which the scheme will open for applications. However, the aim will be to complete the outstanding work without delay in order to ensure that the scheme can get underway as early as possible in the autumn.
I have a couple of more seconds-----
I will make a note and remind you in future. I am conscious the Deputy was not here earlier when I spoke to Deputy Pringle on the matter. We recognise that this is taking longer than any of us would like to get up and running, but it is important that we get it right. The Deputy is familiar with this. At every meeting we had with local residents, we explained the importance of getting-----
In fairness, Deputy McConalogue has kept abreast of these discussions for the past two years, unlike his colleague on the front benches. He understands how serious this is for homeowners and they know how important it is that we get this right. We have had to get the engineering and standard assessment parts right, and that is all in place. We are trying to get this up and running as quickly as possible. It looks like it will be the autumn. I told the residents last year that we had hoped to have been fixing houses by now but we are a few months behind. We should be in a position to fix houses by the autumn.
The response is very disappointing, and the pace of progress and development in the redress scheme has been frustrating for the homeowners across Donegal whose houses are affected. Before the local elections, I asked the Minister and Minister of State on many occasions when this was going before the Cabinet. Both I and the homeowner representatives in Donegal expected the terms and conditions of the full scheme to go before the Cabinet. We expected the workings of the scheme to be approved so it could be opened for applications. What we got a few weeks ago was no more than what we got before, except homeowners on this occasion were told the contribution ratio would be 90:10 between the Government and the homeowners. There was no more detail than that. The Minister of State said the officials would meet officials in Donegal. What has been going on for the past number of months?
I was of the view that that was happening and that this was being thrashed out in full detail, yet here we are now with nothing more than what one get on the back of an envelope. We do not have any detail. We are getting general expectations and hopes in regard to something starting in the autumn. We were told homes would begin to be fixed at the start of this year. Will the Minister of State please tell us if there is any detail because we do not see any?
When we met all the residents on the Mica Action Group on a number of occasions, we all agreed that the entire process they are going through is most frustrating. Nobody wants to be in a home that has been affected by these products, and this has been going on for a number of years, but they also clearly understood the importance of it. We got this right through all the different stages. The Government does not intervene in every situation when someone's home is in a state of disrepair. In this case, a decision was made last October to confirm to everybody in Donegal and Mayo that the Government would intervene and bring forward a scheme. Much work has been done on that scheme since that time. The Deputy is familiar with that. A number of attempts were made to get this dealt with at Cabinet and different issues took over. Brexit and so on might delayed matters somewhat. We are a few months behind where we would like to be but the residents concerned know a scheme is coming forward. They sat with us on many occasions.
Regarding the full details, there has been ongoing engagement with Donegal and Mayo county councils. We made it clear to the Deputy on a number of occasions that this scheme would be administered at a local level in Donegal and Mayo to reach out to people in a clearer way but also to keep costs down and to learn from the pyrite scheme. That element is being ironed out. The scheme will be finalised in the coming weeks and we will be in a position to start the work on the houses in the autumn. The Deputy might not like that but, thankfully, we will be able to help people from the autumn.
The key aspect that has moved progress along at different times in respect of the redress scheme has been the imminence of elections. The initial expert panel was announced in December 2015, a couple of months before the February 2016 general election. What we saw after that was dilly-dallying. The chairman of the expert panel was not appointed until March or April. The panel itself was not appointed until summer 2016, which is after the date the expert panel said initially it would have reported. Once the Government received the report, it sat on Ministers' desks for months before it was published. Last October, when it looked as though there might be a general election, a scheme was committed to in advance of the budget. A couple of weeks before the local elections we received further confirmation that there would be a scheme but instead of the terms and conditions being published, we were told that officials from the Department would travel to meet Donegal County Council staff to discuss the detail of the scheme. Today, we still do not know the detail of the scheme. We are being asked now to accept that houses will be fixed in the autumn. I sincerely hope they will be but the foot-dragging on this has to stop.
I want to be very clear on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and myself. When a Government intervenes to fix people's homes with taxpayers' money the process takes a little time because we have to go through many procedures to do that. We also have to make sure that we fix the houses properly and in a safe manner to ensure people feel safe in their homes again. We met those in the Mica Action Group who are affected in 2016, 2017 and 2018. It was just after an election when I met them first so, please, do not tell me this is election-related. That is silly talk that the Deputy's Front Bench colleague also continues with.
-----the reason it was announced in the budget was Deputy McConalogue and many others stressed that it would need to be in the budget or they would not believe it would happen. The Deputy should not tell me it was because of elections when it was something he was demanding. It was important that we signalled at budget time that this scheme would happen. The homeowners wanted to know that. We gave a commitment that we would do that. It is fair to say we are a few months behind. I would be the first to admit that but this scheme will happen.