Sinn Féin housing spokesperson says major changes needed to make redress system fit for purpose, writes Fiona McGarry
THE Sinn Féin housing spokesperson has insisted there must be “no distinction in terms of geography” for Clare homeowners looking to the defective grant scheme for those with defective blocks.
Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, who has just published a detailed account of the plight facing thousands of people living in defective homes, told The Champion that the soundings on redress for Clare homeowners are “positive”.
He cautioned, however, that major changes to the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme are needed before it is fit for purpose.
He also insisted that homeowners across the State must be treated equally, regardless of where they live, or the cause of the problems with their homes.
Defects outlines the legacy of frenzied construction activity, much of it in the Celtic Tiger years, combined with a weak regulatory regime and buyers desperate for a foot on the property ladder.
It also traces the emergence of the crisis around pyrite and mica, which looks set to require the demolition of hundreds, if not thousands, of homes around the country.
In relation to the ongoing campaign to allow Clare homeowners to avail of the grant scheme, Deputy Ó Broin said: “I’m hearing positive soundings, that the likely inclusion of the families is something that the Minister is going to be making a decision on very soon.
— Clare Pyrite Action (@ClarePyrite) September 4, 2021
“I know he was down with the families along with a number of his government colleagues. And look, the sooner that decision is made, the better.”
As a parallel process to improve the scheme also draws to a close, and the focus moves to increasing the level of the grant from 90 to 100%, Deputy Ó Broin outlined the challenge facing Clare homeowners.
“There’s a double battle here,” he said. “One is to get homeowners in Clare and Limerick, and Sligo and maybe … Tipperary … included. But the scheme also has to be fit for purpose and when the working group was made to conclude its work at the end of July, there was a strong disagreement.
“It looked like the departmental officials were going to make a series of recommendations to the Minister that didn’t satisfy the very justifiable demands of the homeowners. And therefore they took a pause for August and are going to go back now to try and resolve it.
“The demands are very simple. If the homeowners who are affected by defects in Priory Hall are affected by pyrite in Dublin and Meath and other Leinster counties got 100%, redress, so should everybody else. There can be no distinction in terms of geography or type of defects.”
The Dublin Mid-West TD said that as well as increasing the grant, there are other pressing problems that must be ironed out in the scheme, including the streamlining of applications for remediation.
“It’s not just about 100% redress, it’s also about ensuring there’s a proper State-backed guarantee,” he said. “So, if you only have to get the outer leaf of the home done now, you have enough of a guarantee to know that if pyrite or mica effected block emerges inside the structure of the home, you can get that dealt with at a later stage.
“We also need to make sure that that some of the other inadequacies of the current scheme are addressed. I mean, it makes no sense that every individual homeowner has to go off and contract a material supplier and a joiner and a bricklayer and all the rest of it.
“The original pyrite scheme was all centralised [within] the Housing Agency… So we need something similar, whatever the final mechanics are.”
Deputy Ó Broin’s book presents a range of case studies on the impact of defective building materials and standards. The issue of fire safety risks in complexes including Brú na Sionna in Shannon is dealt with in detail, and the SF Housing Spokesperson said Budget 2022 must offer a lifeline to affected homeowners.
“For the hard working people in there, they should not have to put their hand in a pocket to pay ten, 15 or €20,000 to fix the fire safety defects, or other structural problems that are there,” Deputy Ó Broin said.
“We urgently need a scheme in Budget 2022 to address that. There is a group that the minister set up and they started meeting in March of this year. They were meant to have their work completed by the summer, they haven’t done it yet.
“That was meant to feed into the Budget for those kind of Celtic Tiger for safety and water ingress defects. It would be an absolute scandal if the hard working people who live in Brú na Sionna, and all of the other similar developments, are left having to foot those bills.
“So we need to see action on the defective block scheme – and we’re going to see that it quite soon – but likewise, we need to see action on a redress scheme.”
Deputy Ó Broin pledged that his party will continue to hold the government to account.
“With any other product that you buy, if you take it home, you find it the defective, what do you do? You go back to the shop the next day, and you have it replaced or you get a refund.
“Well, if that’s the case for everything else, it should absolutely be the case for the single biggest purchase of your life, which is your family home. And until that type of a redress scheme is in place, many of us will continue to raise these issues with this government.”