Anger over O’Brien’s response to problem in own constituency compared to Clare
THE founder of the Clare Pyrite Action Group has expressed outrage at the fact the Housing Minister highlighted the presence of defective concrete blocks in homes here as far back as 2012, but has still not extended redress to this county.
Darragh O’Brien was a senator at the time. The Fianna Fáil member raised the presence of pyrite in homes in Clare during a Seanad debate on a failed Bill aimed at extending the time-frame for homeowners to take legal actions.
There is also anger at how the minister has promptly responded to reports of pyrite issues in his own constituency, without visiting affected homes in Clare.
Dr Martina Cleary said that in light of his official knowledge, the fact that the minister has still not extended the Defective Concrete Blocks Scheme to Clare is deeply shocking. “Minister O’Brien is on record, nine years ago, talking about pyrite in Clare homes and still hasn’t allowed us access to the scheme,” she told The Champion.
“We have been working alongside Clare County Council for a year to prove our situation and we’ve been fobbed off with a farcical time-frame for a decision from the minister. It’s outrageous and discriminatory.”
Dr Cleary was particularly angry at the fact that minister visited a number of homes in his own constituency where concerns have been raised over defective blocks, before fulfilling a promise to come to see the situation in this county.
RTÉ reported that Minister O’Brien went to Skerries on July 2 and took away materials from affected homes for testing.
The Crusheen woman outlined serious concerns over the difference in treatment of homeowners in Clare and those in the minister’s constituency of Dublin-Fingal. “We have been campaigning actively for nearly a year now, including having this matter raised several times on the floors of the Oireachtas and Seanad, and there has been no direct or comparative response to homeowners in this county by the minister,” she said.
“In early July, six homeowners in his own constituency announced they have unexplained cracking in their homes and he immediately visited them.
“He also brought additional resources from the Department to bear to immediately address their concerns. This included actually taking away blocks himself to be tested.”
Dr Cleary also provided The Champion with a copy of a statement issued by the Department in response to the situation in Skerries in North County Dublin.
“In relation to a number of properties in Skerries, built in 1990, which are having issues with cracking and external blockwork, Fingal County Council Building Control Section has met with representatives from the Department of Housing, their Structural Consulting Engineers and the property owners on site,” it stated.
“Fingal County Council is providing assistance both technical and professional to all parties.
“The Structural Engineering Consultant, who is employed by the Dept [sic] of Housing, is to carry out further investigations, testing and analysis in order to prepare a report on the matter for the Dept of Housing.”
The difference in treatment of homeowners on opposite sides of the country was strongly condemned by Dr Cleary.
“We are seeing here completely different and preferential treatment of the homeowners in his own constituency,” she said.
“No such actions or resources were put in place in the treatment of those impacted here. Instead, we had to lobby our Council for months, and then the Council here had to put in place a Survey Grant to pay for the Core testing of five houses (€35,000).
“This was €7,000 each per home tested, which will be deducted from any grant extended, so the cost is borne by the homeowner.
“In addition, the Council here had to also pay for surveys of their own holdings, so we are looking at a bill of tens of thousands up front to try to make a case for extension of a Grant to this county. All of this was bypassed and fast tracked in his own constituency.”
The Council oversaw testing of the five sample Clare properties as part of a report requested by the Department of Housing which was submitted at the end of July.
The authority asked the Department to extend the Defective Concrete Blocks Scheme to Clare and to increase the grant from 90 to 100% of costs. It also called for a Local Property Tax (LPT) waiver for homeowners.
“The council have done all they can for us so far,” said Dr Cleary.
“The minister now has everything he needs to make a decision on extending the scheme. Given what he said in 2012, as well as the evidence he now has, he has no more excuses.”
The action group founder also said members in Clare are still seeking to meet the minister.
“We have also asked for a meeting with the Minister when he visits Clare in August, through our representative Fianna Fáil TD and Senator, but no confirmation on whether Darragh O’Brien will even meet with us has been given,” she said.
In relation to a beleaguered working group, set up by the minister to review the grant scheme, after a huge protest in Dublin, Dr Cleary expressed further frustration.
Last week, two Mayo homeowners resigned from it, taking the number who have left to five. The Department has said it will find two other homeowners from Mayo to replace those who have left.
“The wheels have already come off the bus, its veered right over the cliff and is heading for the bottom of the quarry – but no, they still think they can ask people to engage in a process that the Department and its grant administrators derailed themselves,” Dr Cleary said.
While it is now nine years since the possibility of pyrite in Clare homes was raised in the houses of the Oireachtas, the scale of the problem only came to light over the last year.
Dr Cleary told her story to The Champion and launched an appeal for others with defective blocks to come forward. To-date, 72 people have done so.
Speaking in the Seanad in 2012, Darragh O’Brien said research suggested that up to 70,000 homes nationally could be affected by pyrite.
At that time, he was speaking in support of a move to help homeowners by extending the statute of limitations on legal actions.
“There is some evidence that this problem is not confined to the east coast,” he told the upper house. “I have heard reports of cases in Mayo and Clare.”
In 2013, the Pyrite Remediation Scheme was set up for certain counties where homes had defective materials in hardcore floor slabs.
The Defective Concrete Blocks Scheme, for those with pyrite and mica, was opened in 2020 for Mayo and Donegal only. It was established after years of lobbying by homeowners and their representatives, who have since been calling for an increase in the grant and its extension to homeowners in other counties.