Tuesday, 23 May 2017
I raise this issue on my behalf and that of Senator Rose Conway-Walsh from Mayo because the families affected are in Donegal and Mayo. Some 18 months ago the Government of the day, which was led by the Minister of State's party, announced the establishment of an expert panel. This panel was to examine the crisis facing a large number of families in Donegal and Mayo in respect of the failure of the concrete blockwork in their homes as a result of the presence of mica, or pyrite as is the case in Mayo. It was to report by 31 May 2016. Here we are a full year after that deadline and that report has still not been published. The families who are crying out for help and assistance still have not received any.
Let me spell out the issues. Regularly, families come to me and other public representatives in County Donegal. They tell us about the dilemma of having a gable or other wall in their house that could fall in on top of their families. That is their reality. If they spend money now fixing and repairing it, they will not get money back through a redress scheme, so they are forced to delay and wait. Some of those families have spent money which they will never get back - money they did not have. Some have gotten a loan while some have used their family's education fund.
This is a failure of the State, of building control legislation and to ensure compression tests guaranteed that the blockwork, the core product in the family home in Ireland, was sound. It was an utter failure of State regulation right through. These families have been failed utterly. I plead with the Minister of State and her Government to publish this report and put in place a redress scheme so that these families have a solution to this devastating crisis. I have met people, grown men, in tears in their own kitchens. Can the Minister of State imagine the heartbreak? The biggest purchase of people's lives is their family home. They are devastated because of the failure of this State to protect their interests and to ensure that those blocks were sound and that the building controls standards were enforced properly. Now they are left with crumbling homes. I cannot urge the Minister of State enough that this needs to be sorted out urgently. People cannot wait any longer.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. I will reply to some of the issues the Deputy has raised after I read this reply from the Minister.
At the outset, I acknowledge the very difficult and distressing situation that certain home owners in Donegal and Mayo are facing as a result of damage to the structural integrity of their homes. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, firmly believes that the parties responsible for the poor workmanship and-or the supply of defective materials should face up to their responsibilities and take appropriate action to provide remedies for the affected house owners. An expert panel on concrete blocks was established in the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in 2016 to investigate the problems that have emerged in the concrete blocks of certain dwellings in Donegal and Mayo. The membership of the panel on concrete blocks was formally announced on 6 April 2016 following the announcement of the chairperson, Mr. Dennis McCarthy, on 1 February 2016.
The panel had the following terms of reference: to identify, in so far as it is possible, the numbers of private dwellings which appear to be affected by defects in the blockwork in the counties of Donegal and Mayo; to carry out a desktop study, which would include a consultation process with affected home owners, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals, testing laboratories, industry stakeholders and other relevant parties to establish the nature of the problem in the affected dwellings; to outline a range of technical options for remediation and the means by which those technical options could be applied; and to submit a report within six months.The expert panel on concrete blocks has met on 12 occasions since it was first established. A similar number of meetings have taken place with key stakeholders, including affected home owners, elected members of Donegal County Council, local authority officials, industry bodies, academics, public representatives and other interested parties. A substantial volume of information has been provided by affected home owners in both counties, as well as by Donegal County Council. Additional information has also been provided through the consultation process. The panel has concluded its meetings and is in the process of finalising its report, which is undergoing legal proofing. I understand this will be completed shortly. I fully appreciate and understand the urgency of this matter for the affected home owners. The Minister will continue to monitor progress closely. It is equally important for the affected home owners that the final part of the process with regard to the report is completed thoroughly. In this regard, the Minister will await the outcome of the panel’s report before considering what further actions may be required to assist the parties directly involved to reach a satisfactory resolution to the problems that have emerged in the two counties.
The language used in the Minister of State's reply does not tally with the Government's actions. How can it take the best part of five months to legally proof a document? I understand this report was concluded at the beginning of this year. It is not acceptable that five months have been spent legally proofing it. A year has passed since this document was supposed to be published. Families have been faced with impossible choices during that time. This is a real crisis. Senators will recall that the Government rightly responded to the pyrite crisis faced by families in Dublin and north Leinster by putting a redress scheme in place. Such a scheme is urgently needed by families in counties Donegal and Mayo. It is shocking that it has taken so long to legally proof these documents. I ask the Minister of State to convey to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that people in County Donegal are angry because the Government has failed to get this sorted out and done. I urge the Minister of State to get this report published as soon as possible so that a redress scheme can be put in place for these families.
Like everyone else, I have seen the TV programmes depicting people's homes crumbling around them. Other people, including those who built the blocks, those who built the homes and the county councils that took part in the process of planning these homes, are responsible here. It is not only the Government that is responsible. I understand the Senator's frustration. As I have said in the Dáil Chamber, it is about time this report was given to the relevant people. The reasons these people should get some redress need to come out now. I will relay all the messages outlined by the Senator to the Minister. A great deal of consultation was done and there were many meetings as part of the in-depth process of identifying the needs of home owners and seeing what structural damage had been caused to their homes. All of this took some time. I agree with the Senator that it is time to get on with this process so that the report can be launched. I understand the Minister intends to have the report finished within a number of weeks. This could mean four weeks or it could mean six weeks. I will relay the Senator's message to the Minister and make sure he gets an answer.