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Plea not to allow block blame distract from main purpose

“LIGHT touch regulation” has been blamed for the crisis caused by defective concrete blocks in several counties including Clare. 
At a meeting of the Clare Pyrite Action Group last Friday, Senator Martin Conway said “cost-cutting”, on the part of some in the construction sector, had also contributed to the worsening problem.
“It’s nobody’s fault in this room,” he told the 80 people present. “It’s as a result of light touch regulation that governments over the years are responsible for, particularly in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, when there was no proper engineering regulation, examinations, no proper reporting.
“This type of situation happened because developers, builders, and suppliers were in a situation where they were cost cutting to make as much money as possible. It’s even going back further than the early ‘90s.
“The sad reality is that people in this room have been devastated. Their homes have been devastated. The duty on this generation of politicians, as far as I’m concerned, is to make this right.”
Among the homeowners who gathered at Treacy’s West County Hotel was Dan Moloney from Kilkishen. His home is severely impacted by pyrite.
“Are the government going to go after these people that manufactured the blocks that are causing our houses to crumble?” he asked the Oireachtas members present.
Responding, Senator Timmy Dooley cautioned against diverting away from the campaign to get access to the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.
“Let’s not look around right now to find out who’s to blame or who’s ultimately going to be taken to court,” the Fianna Fail member said.
“Most people who come to me say, ‘That’s for ye to sort out later’. The primary focus is to get Clare into a scheme that works, get the one in Donegal improved to a point that it’s effective and meets the needs, and get you back on a plan to get your house sorted…
“[Minister] Darragh O’Brien said down at Mary Hanley’s house that he had asked the Attorney General to look at what legal route the State can go to target the companies that produced the blocks that have this defective material in them.
“That’s a long term thing and that’s going to be fought out in the courts.”
The Mountshannon native said that while the main focus is to get Clare approved for the grant scheme, that does not mean those involved will avoid their responsibilities.
“We don’t want to see these people effectively get away with it,” he insisted.
“They’re very big companies. I named the culprit in the senate and no paper would carry it because they were afraid [of] the company concerned. I’m not going to mention it here. We’ve got to be careful, focus on getting it right for you and then Plan B – go after them, in so far as we can. 
“There is [also] a view that for people who have mortgages, should the bank be making a contribution? Probably. Some of insurance companies? Probably. We’ve done it in the past… But that’s for another day.”
In response to Mr Moloney’s suggestion that the can is being kicked down the road on the issue, Senator Martin Conway cautioned against getting sidetracked.
“If we start a double conversation about the insurance companies, the banks and so on, we’re going to muddy the waters, and hand the initiative to officials within the Department of Housing,” he said.
“This is a two-pronged approach. The first approach is to get ye the scheme. The second approach is up to the government to chase all of these people.
“In my view, the only way the State is going to get its money back is by putting a levy on these companies going forward. To be quite honest, a lot of companies involved in the ‘90s, their companies have gone bust and they’ve set up in different entities.”
Councillor Joe Cooney, who was among a number of local authority members present, agreed that politicians must work for the people on the issue. He took issue, however, with some of the remarks made by his Fine Gael party colleague, Senator Conway.
“I am disappointed to hear developers and builders got in to make fast money and get out,” the Killaloe district chairperson said. “That’s not the situation and I don’t want that going out of here tonight. They bought the materials in good faith, in all fairness. I’d like that to be corrected and left that way.
“They put up homes for people and it’s great to have developers and builders out there building homes. We all see at the moment the way the trade has gone and we have to be very careful.”

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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