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Deputies Joe Carey and Cathal Crowe pictured with Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O'Brien and Senator Timmy Dooley last year. The Clare TDs differ on the question of pre-legislative scutiny of the new defective blocks grant. Photograph by John Kelly

Scrutiny issue of new blocks grant proves politically divisive


INTENSIVE efforts to ensure consultation on the new defective concrete blocks grant, which is to cover this county, have resulted in an agreement to hear from affected homeowners before legislation is finalised.

The announcement from the Housing Committee falls short of full pre-legislative scrutiny (PLS), which had been sought by campaign groups, including that in Clare. However, it will mean that members of Clare Pyrite Action Group (CPAG) are likely to get the opportunity to address the committee next week. It also means the legislation can be fast-tracked.

The move follows a request by Deputy Joe Carey and two party colleagues to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing to engage in a PLS process.

“With Deputy Kieran O’Donnell from Limerick and Deputy Joe McHugh from Donegal, I have written to the Chair of the Housing Committee seeking PLS,” Deputy Carey confirmed. “I have also asked Minister Darragh O’Brien to facilitate a full briefing for the Clare Pyrite Action Group (CPAG) on the new Bill. Only Mayo and Donegal representatives have been briefed so far. Clare should be front and centre.”

Deputy Carey welcomed Tuesday’s announcement that Clare is to be included in the updated grant and gave credit to CPAG, Clare County Council and consultant engineer Simon Beale.

“They have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt the damage caused by pyrite in Clare,” he said. “The next step is to get a scheme that is fit for purpose.”

While Deputy Cathal Crowe also called for consultation, he stopped short of backing CPAG calls for PLS, warning that it could create further delays.

“The Cabinet sign-off indicates a follow through on a government commitment to provide redress for Clare homeowners but there are further stages ahead, including the preparation of legislation to give effect to redress,” he said.

“I know that many homeowners want to see the terms of redress improved and I think it’s important that every effort is made to consult with them to ensure that when the redress applications are live, that the best terms possible are offered.”

The Fianna Fáil member also called for those responsible for manufacturing and selling defective blocks to be held to account.

“It’s also vital that the government continue to pursue the concrete block manufacturers that sold these defective blocks,” he said.

“A parallel legal process must get underway to ensure that these companies pay a significant penalty for the damage that their defective blocks have caused.”

Senator Timmy Dooley described Clare’s inclusion in the scheme as “a first step and a welcome one”.

“I commend all of the work done to-date by the action group and the Council,” he said.

“Of course, it’s important to remember that this is only the heads of the bill. As we’ve said all along, the devil is in the detail. Clearly, there are a number of concerns. I welcome the fact that Clare is getting equal access, but there will be issues to be addressed.”

Speaking in the Seanad on Tuesday, Senator Martin Conway said: “The Cabinet decision is a welcome one. We look forward to the legislation, which I am sure there will be much debate around, because this is going to be a very costly exercise reflective of terribly poor regulatory oversight in the decades passed.

“We must welcome that there is proper and more robust regulatory oversight and inspection of properties in today’s world. I hope history will not repeat itself and we will have learned from the mistakes of the past.”

In response to a query from The Champion, Council CEO Pat Dowling said: “Clare County Council welcomes the inclusion of County Clare in the defective concrete block redress scheme.

“The Council wishes to acknowledge the Clare Pyrite Action Group (CPAG); Oireachtas members and Councillors; the Department officials; Simon Beale Consulting Engineer; and especially our own team in Housing who worked collaboratively to secure access to this scheme for impacted homeowners.”

Mr Dowling also pledged that the authority will continue to work with the affected owners in administration of the scheme.

The Bill underpinning the new grant is to be published next week. It follows a huge national protest in Dublin last June, after which a working group was set up involving representatives from Mayo and Donegal, the only two counties which were covered under the previous scheme.

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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