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Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Deputy Darragh O'Brien speaks with people affected by Pyrite in their homes during his visit to the home of Mary and Seamus Hanley of Drumline, Newmarket on Fergus last August. Photograph by John Kelly

Minister insists bar not raised for Clare access to blocks scheme

THE Minister for Housing has insisted that the bar has not been raised for Clare in terms of access to the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme, writes Fiona McGarry.

However, Darragh O’Brien is likely to face intense questioning when he meets the county’s Oireachtas members in Dublin this Thursday, January 27.

Ahead of the meeting, Minister O’Brien issued a written assurance to Senator Martin Conway, who raised serious concerns over the level of detail being sought by the Department, as follow-up to a report submitted by the local authority last July.

“It must be noted that the bar for entry for eligibility for inclusion into the scheme has not been raised by officials from my Department,” the letter stated.

Speaking to The Champion, Senator Conway said he did not doubt the Minister’s sincerity in wanting to support Clare homeowners.

He noted, however, that it is now six months since Darragh O’Brien visited homeowners in this county.

“It is very regrettable that we still don’t know the story for Clare,” said the Fine Gael senator.

“On the Minister’s visit last August, we were very much given the impression that a decision would be made within weeks. Now, we’re six months down the road and that matter still hasn’t been put to bed.”

The Ennistymon-based senator was particularly critical of the delays in assessing the report sent by the Council at the Department’s request.

There was considerable disquiet over a request, sent by the Department on December 6, requesting proof of a causal link between the presence of pyrite in Clare homes and the damage confirmed by an expert report.

“The to-ing and fro-ing between the Department and the Council is very frustrating given the fact that it’s one arm of the State engaging with another,” he said.

“This is a small nation and both the Department and the Council are publicly-funded. We need to have an absolute date and deadline for resolving this.”

“I will be asking the Minister for a commitment in terms of that date. I do believe he is sincere and wants to help Clare homeowners.

“People are suffering and it’s not fair and it’s not right. Our job as Oireachtas members is to stand up for the people of Clare.”

In his letter to Senator Conway, Minister O’Brien outlined the time-frame of communications – in writing and in-person – dating back to October 2020, between the Council and his Department in relation to defective blocks in Clare homes.

“It must be reiterated,” the Minister’s letter said, “[that] the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant scheme was informed by the report of an Expert Panel which was published in 2017 which involved extensive research, investigations and analysis.

“Any consideration of extension to the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme would, in the first instance, require the relevant local authority to conduct the same rigorous analysis as that carried out in Donegal and Mayo and second, clarify the quantum of affected houses.”

The letter noted what is described as “gaps in evidential data”, which the Council is currently addressing and said that the Department is eager to progress this matter “as expeditiously as possible”.

Last week, Clare County Council confirmed that it submitted an interim response to the Department on December 22.

“The response contained the technical response to issues raised in the correspondence and advised of further testing being undertaken to satisfy the Department of the linkage between the deterioration of the blockwork and the confirmed presence of pyrite in the samples,” a spokesperson said.

“These tests are ongoing with results due by the end of February. Once these results are available a follow up response will issue to the Department.”

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