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Minister Darragh O'Brien met homeowners affected by pyrite on August 27, 2021. Photograph by John Kelly

Why are we still waiting?

Pyrite Action Group still waiting on a decision six weeks after Housing Minister’s assurances

ANGER at the delay in providing State support to Clare homeowners whose properties have seriously defective concrete blocks will be voiced at a meeting in Ennis on Friday.
Members of the Clare Pyrite Action Group have invited all public representatives to attend the gathering at Treacy’s West County Hotel. The event will take place six weeks to the day that the Housing Minister assured homeowners that a decision on their access to The Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme would be made “in a matter of weeks”.
“Our homes will fall down around us if we’re waiting much longer,” said the group’s founder, Dr Martina Cleary.
“On his visit to Clare on August 27, Minister Darragh O’Brien promised that an answer on whether County Clare would have access to the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme, would be “in a matter of weeks”. It is now six weeks since that promise, and we are still waiting. We need immediate access.”
Clare’s Fianna Fáil TD, meanwhile, has issued an assurance that access will be granted “ahead of Christmas”. That timeline means that affected homeowners will be waiting considerably longer than the minister led them to believe when he met them in Clare.
“It is vital that a redress scheme in Clare is approved in the quickest possible time – they took several years to devise and implement in other counties and we should learn from mistakes that have been made,” Deputy Crowe said.
Meanwhile, Dr Cleary also confirmed that the Clare action group will not be attending a second national rally in Dublin. That event, also scheduled for Friday, will see homeowners protest over a recent Working Group report, which seems to stop short of a recommendation to raise the level of the grant from 90 to 100% in all cases.
Clare homeowners did attend a major protest in the capital in June. Since then, Dr Cleary has expressed concerns that this county was not included in the Working Group tasked with reviewing the grant scheme. She has also been critical of a shift in focus to defects caused by mica, while the issue in Clare, like that in Mayo, is caused by pyrite.
“We won’t be attending the protest because our priority is the situation in this county and that should be the priority of our public representatives,” Dr Cleary said.
“We didn’t get details of the Working Group’s report. We have been excluded. We’ve only had hearsay details so how could we protest over the report?
“This meeting in Ennis is an opportunity for homeowners to meet our politicians and representatives and to see what their position is in relation to access to the scheme and any proposed changes to it.”
Earlier this week, in advance of the Dublin protest, Clare Oireachtas and council members were contacted directly by the Donegal Mica Action Group, seeking support.
The move is something which Dr Cleary expressed surprise over.
“There has been a process of exclusion and non-consultation with the Working Group but they are contacting our politicians,” she said. “What kind of strategy is that?”
A formal invitation to Clare’s representatives said the rally will be “peaceful and dignified”.
“This is the most significant grassroots movement to emerge from Rural Ireland since the Land League, and we want every part of Ireland to feel and be part of it,” the email said.
The invitation was accompanied by a letter of support from The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and Reverend Philip Poots of Inishowen.
The invitation described the protest as “much more important than any future Bank Holiday” and said it is “Mica D-day”.
“We want to see banners saying ‘Fine Gael for 100% Redress’, ‘Fianna Fáil for 100% Redress’ and ‘Greens for 100% Redress’ alongside such banners from Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, People B4 Profit, Social Democrats, Independents4Change and the Socialist Party,” the email stated.
“Though this crisis has its epicentre in Rural Ireland, this has a knock on effect in Urban Ireland in terms of demand for and therefore prices for homes to rent and buy in the Capital and other cities.
“We must never allow the people of any part of this island to be treated like Second Class citizens again.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Crowe said he met the Housing Minister to seek assurances that any changes emerging from the review of the scheme currently operational for counties Donegal and Mayo would be applied to this county, once it is opened to homeowners here.
“I have met with Minister Darragh O’Brien, as a follow-up to his visit to Clare to meet with the Clare Pyrite Action Group,” he said.
“Minister O’Brien assures me that the review of the redress scheme currently operational in Mayo and Donegal will very shortly conclude and any benefits that are accrued following the conclusion will also pass on to homeowners in Clare.
“I am confident that a redress scheme will be up and running in Clare before Christmas and I believe that they will benefit from the immense effort being made for improved redress, up to 100%, in Donegal and Mayo. It is vital that a redress scheme in Clare is approved in the quickest possible time – they took several years to devise and implement in other counties and we should learn from mistakes that have been made.”
The Meelick man said he has particular concerns about how homes over the pace at which homes are deteriorating, and warned that delaying the grant will worsen the situation for many.
“In particular, I am concerned to see houses once considered to be Category 2 properties (i.e. could be repaired) have now deteriorated to the point where they are now Category 4 properties (i.e. requiring demolition). Any procrastination in having a scheme operational in Clare will cause prolonged anguish for the homeowners but will also prove more costly to the taxpayer.”
Deputy Crowe said he also backs calls for legal action by the State against those who supplied defective material.
“I am asking Minister O’Brien to initiate legal action against the quarries and block manufacturers who sold defective blocks in … Clare and beyond,” he confirmed.
“I think this action needs to be treated as a separate issue from the redress scheme. If the two are intertwined, it will most likely lead to further delays in redress.A separate legal process needs to get underway. Some of these companies continue to trade very profitably and it’s only right that they too should have to pay some compensation.”
In July, Clare County Council submitted a detailed report to the Department of Housing to make the case for the extension of the grant to this county.
As well as asking that Clare homeowners be given access to the grant, the authority asked that the scheme would be increased to 100% redress.

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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