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Minister Darragh O'Brien at the home of Mary and Seámus Hanley in Drumline in August 2021.

Frustration as Minister avoids Clare questions on pyrite scheme

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DESPITE new proposals on redress for homeowners with defective concrete blocks, there is still no clarity on when Clare will gain access to the scheme, or on what terms.

At the request of the Clare Pyrite Action Group (CPAG) answers have been sought by three Clare TDs.

The responses they have received have been described by the group’s founder, Dr Martina Cleary as “completing ignoring the questions and the pyrite issue in Clare”.

Earlier this month The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) published proposals for the remediation of eight different dwelling types, including those in estates one one-off houses.

Options range from full demolition and rebuilding to partial repair options. Significantly, the SCSI proposed grant support based on building costs for 2022. Previously, homeowners raised concerns about the difficulty in meeting eligibility for the revised Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.

They also voiced concerns that homeowners who did quality would be left with large shortfalls on their costs. Following with the analysis, Dr Cleary asked Deputies Joe Carey, Cathal Crowe and Michael McNamara to get clarity on several issues including whether or not Clare was considered as part of the SCSI report.

Four questions were tabled by Deputy Crowe. These focused on whether or not Clare was considered by the SCSI and whether testing in this county was completed in accordance with the nationally accepted IS465 standard.

The Fianna Fáil member also asked why there was no Clare representative on the Working Group set up last year to review the grant scheme.

Minister Darragh O’Brien’s response outlined the time-frame since it received an application from Clare County Council last July seeking access to the scheme.

The reply also noted “that samples from five other properties are now being tested in accordance with the I.S. 465 protocol”.

It added: “If evidence of pyrite induced expansion is evident within the blockwork samples taken from these homes and the necessary causative link to the damage within the homes is established my Department should be in a position to recommend to Government that an extension of the scheme to Clare would be legislated for.”

As to the time-frame for admitting Clare to the scheme, the Minister said, “The extension of the scheme to other local authority areas was considered as part of wider deliberations on the Scheme by Government. I, as Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, may, with Government approval, extend the scheme beyond the counties of Donegal and Mayo to additional counties, where the evidence supports such an extension.”

On the lack of Clare representation on the Working Group, Minister O’Brien said: “It was considered that homeowners from Donegal and Mayo, who made up 50% of the working group, could adequately represent the views of homeowners who may be affected, regardless of their location. However, it was not the role or responsibility of these homeowner representatives to advocate on behalf of Clare specifically, for inclusion into the existing scheme.”

In response to similar questions from Deputies McNamara and Carey, Minister O’Brien provided a virtually identical reply.

“At no stage does Minister O’Brien actually answer the question on whether or not the SCSI report took Clare into account,” Dr Cleary said.

“He complete avoids those questions. This is highly frustrating. I’ve contacted the council and the SCSI and nobody seems to be able to clarity this.”
The SCSI carried out the research after being asked by the Department of Housing to provide an independent analysis of the potential costs involved, following changes to the scheme last November.

The report is based on the parameters of the Government’s Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme announced on November 30 2021 and the terms of reference of the report, which building regulations apply, exclusion of foundations.

The findings from the SCSI analysis are being examined by the Working Group, which will make recommendations to Minister O’Brien.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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