CLARE campaigners have voiced concern at the amount of time available to address an Oireachtas committee this Thursday afternoon on the bill underpinning the new defective concrete blocks grant.
Last Tuesday, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien confirmed that homeowners in Clare and Limerick are to be given access to the revised scheme.
The legislation to activate the grant will come before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing on Thursday, via a mechanism that has been described as “accelerated scrutiny”.
This falls short of full Pre-Legislative Scrutiny (PLS), which had been sought by homeowners’ groups including the Clare Pyrite Action Group (CPAG). However, it is seen by some as a compromise position, in that it reduces the likelihood of delays in passing the legislation before the summer recess.
The Housing Committee will sit from 1pm to 8pm on Thursday to discuss the Remediation of Dwellings Damaged by Defective Concrete Blocks Bill 2022.
The founder of the CPAG, Dr Martina Cleary, has been invited, along with action group members from Mayo and Donegal, but she has expressed reservations about the time given to prepare, as well as the speaking time allowed.
“Three action groups are included in a session from 1pm to 3pm, but have been given no more than five minutes each to make the case for what is the biggest grant in State history,” she said.
“The rest of the time will be given over to questioning of us and our expert witnesses.”
Dr Cleary also took issue with the timeframe between a briefing for CPAG members and the deadline for submitting documentation to the Oireachtas committee.
“I received an invitation last Friday evening from the committee,” she outlined. “This gave a deadline of Monday at midday to provide our documents. We hadn’t even had our briefing from the Department at that stage. We didn’t have that briefing until Monday at 10am. By the time that was over, we were left with 40 minutes to meet the deadline.”
In a letter seen by The Champion, Dr Cleary told the committee of the CPAG’s predicament, and confirmed that its submission could not be sent until Wednesday.
“… the timelines given on submissions, particularly for County Clare have placed us at a distinct disadvantage,” she wrote.
“We are receiving our first homeowner briefing on the contents of this Bill almost a week after the briefing given to Mayo and Donegal, on Tuesday 14th June in Sligo. Logistically, this allows us only two full working days to prepare, including gathering any witness statements or participation.
“We have also been excluded from all Working Group and follow on Homeowner Forum negotiations over the past year. This accelerated PLS process offers far too little time to address issues of concern arising for this county.”
Dr Cleary told The Champion the CPAG had been “left in limbo” as it waited for the Bill to be published and searched, at short notice, for expert witnesses.
Deputy Cathal Crowe expressed his own dissatisfaction with the time allowed for input from Clare. He said he believed that a week-long PLS process could have achieved a huge amount.
“I’m a member of the Oireachtas committee on Children and we had a 14-month process Mother and Baby Institutions Payments Scheme Bill 2022, but that boiled down to around 40 hours of PLS,” he outlined.
“If the Housing Committee sat for eight hours a day on the blocks Bill, it could achieve the same level of PLS in one week. I am surprised that only one afternoon has been allowed for scrutiny. Homeowners in Mayo and Donegal have already had opportunities to engage on this issue. Clare is only now being brought into the fold.”
The Fianna Fáil TD said that if there is dissatisfaction with Thursday’s proceedings, he will be calling for more consultation. “A lot could have been done in a full week, enabling consultation and keeping to timelines,” he said.
Deputy Joe Carey, who along with party colleagues, wrote to the Housing Committee seeking a PLS process said the six-hour session would provide “the best of both worlds”.
“The committee unanimously agreed to proceed with the sessions on Thursday and to give the chance to stakeholders to give their views,” he said.
“The objective is to pass the legislation before the summer and there will be a number of further stages and opportunities for changes. It’s a very serious issue. Huge work has been done by CPAG, the expert engineer and the Council and people need access soon to the grant.”
On Thursday afternoon, the Housing Committee will hear, between 3pm and 5.30pm from representatives from Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland (SCSI), Engineers Ireland and Paul Forde, Chair, Expert Working Group. From 6pm to 8pm, it will hear from Officials from Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) and representatives from The Housing Agency.