TENSIONS between campaigners and political representatives have ratcheted up significantly this week, as the Oireachtas moves to finalise the Bill to underpin a new grant for those with defective blocks.
On Tuesday, Clare’s government TDs, Deputies Cathal Crowe and Joe Carey, voted in favour a proposal to allow just two hours to finalise the draft law. The move has angered local campaigners who had sought 80 amendments. Campaigners themselves, meanwhile, came in for criticism from some members of the local authority. The Clare Pyrite Action Group (CPAG) along with campaigners in Limerick, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal, challenged councillors to declare their support for the amendments. A poster was then circulated on social media with an X through the faces of those who had not responded by the deadline.
Councillor Gerry Flynn, one of two Clare councillors who didn’t respond, described the approach as “totally out of order”. “We are parish pump, we don’t sit at the Cabinet table,” he said. “Our job is to support the group and we have done this collectively, in a unified fashion. I put in a motion myself on the issue and I chair the Social Directorate Committee, which includes Housing and we have written to the Department and discussed this many times. Our Director, Anne Haugh, has done everything possible on this issue. Our Cathaoirleach, Tony O’Brien, sent a statement on our behalf to CPAG and I wholeheartedly support it. Councillors will not be found wanting. Some councillors have been on social media with cheap shots, but I find these tactics a bit disgusting and I believe CPAG should be apologising to councillors.”
Clare Fianna Fáil councillors meanwhile sent a joint reply affirming their support and calling on the Oireachtas “to ensure this legislation is fit for purpose”. The response also took the action groups to task. “The tone of the email was not appreciated by the councillors; rather than offer us a constructive process of sharing information about pyrite, its impact, and their concerns as to the deficits within the legislation to provide redress, we were instead told to support you, or else we would be named and shamed for the failure to do so,” it said.
On foot of the same email from the action groups, Independent Councillor Ian Lynch wrote to each of the constituency’s four TDs appealing to them to use their power to amend the Bill. Before going to print on Wednesday, The Champion was unable to reach Councillor Liam Grant, who was also identified by the action groups as failing to respond to them.
In the Dáil on Tuesday, Deputy Michael McNamara was the only Clare TD to oppose moves to allocate just two hours to the defective blocks bill. Deputy Violet Anne Wynne was not present. The vote was carried by 66 votes to 61, in a move that campaigners warned ignores their concerns.
Against that backdrop, the CPAG is join a new political party, made up of campaigners in 13 counties. In a statement, the CPAG confirmed its intention to join forces with the ‘United Action Groups’.
“If they, our current representatives, will not change the system that has put tens of thousands of people in this shocking situation, then we together, will change the system itself,” the statement said. “We will clean it out from the ground up, of the corruption, cronyism, collusion and Cover-Up, that has allowed this scandal to happen. It is not only defective materials in our homes that are rotten. It’s every weak link in the system that has allowed and continues to allow this to happen. It is time to fix this ourselves right down to the foundations.”
The statement described the limited time-frame for debate as “a deliberate attempt to railroad through the biggest grant scheme in State history, without any oversight, or examination”.
“The Government are attempting here to pass into legislation a scheme worth almost €3 billion (and that is just the start), without scrutiny,” the statement said. “With every measure possible put in place to avoid scrutiny of the fact it will not work for the people. It is designed to service big industry and Government. To ensure neither are ever held to account for what has happened here.”
It described the Bill, as it stands, as an attempt at covering up the scale of the defective blocks issue. “Cover-Up, of a very different kind is all homeowners will be offered when it comes to fixing their homes. Cheap and unproven solutions, placed on dodgy foundations,” the statement concluded. “Half measures that will leave us all trapped in this nightmare for decades, with no end in sight.”
Asked by The Champion if the CPAG would be ready to field at least one candidate, in the event of a snap General Election, Dr Cleary said: “We’re going to have to, we have no choice.”
In a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, Fine Gael members of Clare County Council confirmed their support for CPAG and defended their track record.
“At every opportunity local councillors have been supportive of the Clare Pyrite Action Group therefore the tone of the email received came as a surprise; we would have expected to receive some constructive proposals in relation to how the flaws in the legislation could be addressed to deliver a more equitable redress scheme and further information about pyrite, the impact it has on dwellings etc, yet instead we were told to support CPAG or else we would be named and
shamed,” FG members said. They also insisted that they “fully support” affected homeowners and would welcome a briefing on their views of the updated grant scheme. The FG members called on Oireachtas members to ensure the legislation if fit for purpose.
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.