THE housing minister has been accused of being “obsessed” with curbing funding for homeowners affected by pyrite, while failing to properly pursue those responsible for the crisis.
Deputy Michael McNamara said that Minister Darragh O’Brien seemed excessively concerned that homeowners would not profit from the scheme, in cases where they chose to downsize, but was less bothered when it came to properly pursuing the quarries that supplied the defective material.
He added that while the minister had rushed new legislation through the Oireachtas to extend the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme, there was now no sense of urgency in terms of giving access to homeowners in Clare.
The Scariff TD spoke to The Champion on foot of a response to a Parliamentary Question (PQ) he tabled to Minister O’Brien. While Deputy McNamara sought “clarification and transparency” in relation to the timeline for access for Clare homeowners, no precise date was provided.
The minister’s response stated that work on regulations to set out grant rates, damage threshold and other matters is now underway, and that stakeholders will be consulted on them this month. The reply added that the Enhanced Grant Scheme will open “as soon as possible thereafter”.
“The legislation was rushed through last year in the space of an afternoon, without any provision or legal safeguard to ensure that the quarries responsible for supplying defective blocks would be properly pursued,” the Independent TD said.
“The Bill was signed into law last July and since then, a full Dáil term has passed with no sign of progress. Now, we’re told that there are draft regulations being drawn up. All the while, construction inflation continues to rise and the cost of rebuilding is increasing. On the one hand, the minister acted as if the situation was an emergency to get the legislation rushed through, and on the other hand, there appears now to be no urgency or progress whatsoever.”
Deputy McNamara also took issue with the response to a question over funding for those who want to right size their homes to address their current needs. The response outlined that homeowners may rebuild smaller homes “subject to any planning requirement”, but added that “the grant may be revised downwards if a smaller home is being built”.
Where someone opts to rebuild a larger home, they will have to cover the additional costs. “When it comes to downsizing, there should, naturally, be no suggestion of homeowners profiting from the grant,” Deputy McNamara said.
“However, where someone decides to build a smaller home, they should be fully covered by the grant. Many of the homes involved were built in a particular era and homeowner’s needs have changed in many cases. They shouldn’t have to suffer a financial loss or put their hands in their pockets because they cannot afford to do so. Many people are at a stage where they will not get another mortgage.”
Deputy McNamara said the minister’s approach to homeowners was at odds with attitude taken towards the quarries.
“The minister seems to be obsessed with the idea of a moral hazard arising in relation to what homeowners get from the scheme and that there is no abuse of State funds,” he said.
“On the other hand, there is only a very poor attempt to recoup the cost of the scheme from the quarries and reduce the burden on the State. The general levy on quarries will apply to all of them, not just those who actually produced and supplied defective material. Ultimately, the levy will be passed on to tax payers and homeowners.”
The PQ response said the enhanced scheme “will be commenced in early 2023”. It outlined that “once a valid application is lodged with Clare County Council and once a dwelling has met the damage threshold for entry to the scheme, which threshold is to be specified in the Regulations, the Housing Agency will arrange for assessment, sampling testing and categorisation of the dwelling on a priority basis in accordance with the national standard IS 465 and thereafter determine the appropriate remediation option and grant amount”.
On the question of the acceptability of report from private consultants in determining the damage to properties, the response stated that the ultimate arbiter will be the Housing Agency.
“..A Building Condition Assessment report to determine the level of damage to a dwelling can be completed building professional engaged by a dwelling owner, which must be submitted to the relevant local authority, who in turn sends it to the Housing Agency for assessment,” the minister outlined.
“The Housing Agency will assess the Building Condition Assessment report to determine if the dwelling has met the damage threshold. The Housing Agency will notify the local authority of its decision.”
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 The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 065 6864146.