THE possibility that a major public building has defective concrete blocks has been raised in the Dáil by a local TD, who said that if this proves to be the case, it will put Clare “to the top of the list” in terms of government support.
Deputy Cathal Crowe made an impassioned plea for Clare homeowners affected by pyrite and/mica to be given equal access to redress scheme and a Local Property Tax (LPT) exemption, currently only available in Donegal and Mayo. Addressing the Minister for Finance, he was sharply critical of the scope of the existing Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme, which offers a maximum of 90% of remediation costs to homeowners in those two counties.
“I am of the view that a major public building in a certain county has pyrite in it,” Deputy Crowe told the chamber. “Many people hope it does not. I hope it does for the simple reason it will advance the cause of County Clare. It will ensure we are no longer laggards and we will be going to the top of the list. I hope that is proven because in every Irish property from the traditional cottages of the 1800s, the cornerstone was where the building got its strength. In County Clare, they are cracking from the cornerstone up. You can put your hands through the gaps. If they are not dealt with, these buildings will collapse like that apartment in Miami, Florida last week in which lives were lost.”
Speaking during a Topical Issues debate, Deputy Crowe insisted that the people of Clare should not be “the poor relations” in terms of access to redress and an LPT waiver. “If an initiative is under way in counties Donegal and Mayo whereby those affected by pyrite will not pay local property tax this year or for five subsequent years, I do not see why Clare homeowners should lose out,” he said. “I ask the Minister for Finance to look favourably on my request that a similar scheme of exemption would operate for those in County Clare who have confirmed pyrite in their homes.”
In response Minister Paschal Donohoe acknowledged “the huge stress and anxiety” experienced by affected homeowners. He outlined that the LPT exemption is only available to those who have been accepted onto the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme but noted that the Department of Housing is reviewing that.
“The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is currently looking at the Government’s broader response to the issue of pyrite,” he said. “Part of that review will be the breadth of the defective concrete block grant scheme. I am going to raise with the Minister the issue the Deputy has raised here. I know the Deputy will press for his constituents to be included in this scheme and thereby be in a position to access the local property tax exemption. As he said, while the exemption from local property tax is but a small contribution to the challenges those homeowners have lived with for so long, it is nonetheless important for us to give it. It is important that we recognise that the properties affected by pyrite have been affected fundamentally and have not been a home in the way these families and homeowners would want.”
Deputy Crowe thanked the minister for his reply, but asserted that there is
something “fundamentally wrong” with the existing redress scheme. “I cannot for the life of me fathom why there is not a nationwide scheme for this,” he said. “It is conceivable in any county that when someone built a house in the 1980s or 1990s, that person drove over the border with a pick-up truck, brought 300 or 400 concrete blocks and used them in the construction of a house. People do not source materials only from within their own county. This goes around the country. The remediation scheme also needs to be a nationwide scheme, not county by county.
“People in County Clare want a redress scheme more than anything and that will be coming very quickly. It should not be as cumbersome, however. The scheme in counties Donegal and Mayo took years to devise and implement and now we are seeing it is again coming up short. People are also somewhat aggrieved. I know some of this falls under the remit of the Minister, Deputy O’Brien. I appreciate that. I have been speaking to him almost daily lately.” Minister Donohoe noted that a working group tasked with reporting on the Defective Concrete Blocks Scheme by the end of July could produce some responses to some issues raised.
“The working group that is being led by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will be working hard to come forward with comprehensive proposals in the coming weeks to respond to the issues raised by Deputy Crowe,” the minister said.