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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 15 Jun 2021

Vol. 1008 No. 4

Pyrite and Mica Redress Issues: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— during the Celtic Tiger building boom, light touch building regulation, poor oversight of construction products and reckless practice by some developers, builders and suppliers have left thousands of homeowners with significant building defects;

— in Donegal, Mayo and Clare, thousands of homeowners continue to be affected by defective blocks containing mica and pyrite;

— in June 2017, the Report of the Expert Panel on Concrete Blocks identified that thousands of homes in Donegal, and hundreds of homes in Mayo, were in need of remediation from mica and pyrite defective blocks;

— in 2020, the Government introduced the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme, to be administered through Donegal and Mayo County Councils, providing 90 per cent of the costs of remediation;

— during the course of 2021, it became clear to homeowners in Donegal and Mayo that the scheme was not fit for purpose and in many cases would only provide 70 per cent of the costs of remediation, or less; and

— homeowners in Clare, and other counties affected by defective blocks, have yet to be included in this scheme; and

agrees that:

— homeowners, who purchased or built their homes in good faith, should not be liable for the costs of remediation caused by the incompetence, negligence or deliberate non-compliance of others;

— the Government must immediately amend Statutory Instrument No. 25 of 2020, to provide those affected by defective blocks in Donegal, Mayo, Clare and other affected counties with 100 per cent redress, including remediation, storage and temporary accommodation costs; and

— the Government must also ensure that those responsible for the manufacture of defective blocks are held to account, and that industry contributes to the overall cost of remediating defective properties.”

The Minister will be aware that thousands of people from counties Donegal, Mayo, Clare and Sligo have come here to the centre of power and made their positions on this matter very clear. This motion follows the visit of Deputy McDonald to the affected families in Donegal just over a week ago. The families said they would be protesting on Tuesday, 15 June, when the Dáil returned after its recess. They asked the Deputy to put their case front and centre on that day, as Leader of the Opposition. That is how this motion came about. It reflects the demands of families in Donegal, Mayo, Clare and Sligo.

The motion calls for 100% redress that is fully funded. That would provide equality between the families in Donegal and Mayo and families in Dublin and north Leinster. More than 2,000 families in Dublin and north Leinster have availed of the fully funded pyrite remediation scheme. It is right that the scheme was fully funded. I ask the Minister, in his comments today, not to make a comparison between the cost of the pyrite remediation scheme and the cost of the defective concrete block scheme. Such a comparison is utterly offensive to people. It is the equivalent of two people drowning, one of whom is told they will be saved because they are not too hard on the diesel for the helicopter while the other person, who is far out at sea, is told they will be left to drown because we cannot afford the diesel. That would be unheard of and I ask the Minister not to make those sorts of comparisons today. These people are in exactly the same situation.

The people we represent did nothing wrong. They were victims of an era of light-touch regulation, self-regulation and no regulation during the Celtic tiger period, just like the families in Dublin and north Leinster. They are looking to be treated the same. That is our appeal to the Minister.

I also note the proposed amendment to the motion that adds Sligo into the narrative, which is fine. There is also an amendment that refers to a public inquiry, which is also absolutely fine. We want to focus our motion on 100% redress but we welcome the additions from our colleagues in the House and we can support those amendments.

I also understand the Government will not be opposing this motion, which is welcome news. There are people who are now heading home to Donegal, Mayo, Clare and other counties with hope in their hearts. We also hope they can get a good night's sleep for the first time in a long time. We were speaking to those families and many of them said it is a weight off their shoulders that the Government is signing up to a motion that calls for 100% redress. Let us be clear what is happening here. This is the democratically elected Parliament of the people and it will, it appears, this evening pass a motion calling clearly for 100% redress. I ask the Minister to urgently go about the process of implementing the desire and wishes of this Parliament, to work in partnership with the campaign groups to come to a 100% funded scheme to ensure that people will not be out huge amounts of money to make their homes safe. That is the call.

I have repeatedly raised this issue with the Minister over the past year through parliamentary questions and in this forum. Our requests to review the scheme were repeatedly put back. We were told it was too early. I welcome the fact that in recent times the Minister has accepted that this scheme is utterly unfit for purpose. I welcome the fact that the Government has agreed not to oppose this motion and it accepts that the desire of our Parliament is for a 100% funded scheme.

We ask the Minister to ensure the scheme is implemented urgently and as soon as possible in partnership with groups in Donegal and Mayo. We also ask that the families affected in Clare and Sligo are added to the scheme. Other families might also need to be added to the scheme. That is the challenge. We want to work with the Minister. The truth is that none of the public representatives in Donegal, no matter which political party they represent or who they are - they all know their neighbours - wanted this to happen and they all want to support their neighbours. I reach across and ask that we make this a fully funded scheme. Let us create equality between the east and west of Ireland. Let us work together to get this right, give people hope and show those young people who came out to the protest that when things are wrong, they can stand up, work with the political system and make change. It would give people faith and belief. That is my appeal to the Minister.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht agus as an deis labhairt ar an ábhar seo tráthnóna inniu sa Dáil. Is ábhar é atá ag cur isteach go mór ar theaghlaigh ar fud mo cheantair féin i nDún na nGall. Tá úinéirí tí scriosta de bharr an scannail míoca agus piríte. Seasaim agus tréaslaím leo ar fad. Bhí mé bródúil a bheith i mo sheasamh leo taobh amuigh de gheataí na Dála ag an mórshiúl ar ar thaisteal na mílte daoine as Dún na nGall go dtí Baile Átha Cliath níos luaithe inniu. Tá sé náireach go bhfuil sé fágtha ag na daoine seo a dtithe a fhágáil, a gcuid saol briste, agus a n-áiteanna cónaithe goidte chun teacht thart chomh fada le Baile Átha Cliath lena nglór a bheith cloiste. Fad is atáimid inár suí ag déanamh an plé seo anocht tá na tithe seo ag titim as a chéile. Caithfear cuidiú leo agus cúiteamh 100% atá ceart agus cóir a thabhairt dóibh.

I welcome the opportunity to speak this evening on this important motion for homeowners and families who have been devastated by the mica and pyrite scandal in Mayo, Clare and my home county of Donegal. I commend the homeowners and families concerned on their tenacity and fortitude. We saw thousands of them earlier who made that long journey to Dublin to send a clear message to the Government that the current redress scheme is simply not fit for purpose and immediate action must be taken to right this wrong. I extend my sympathy and solidarity to those homeowners and families.

This scandal has exacted a heavy toll on many of those affected, not only financially but also mentally, emotionally and even physically. That they have mounted such an effective campaign despite those difficulties is testament to their determination. It should never have come to this. The Government must do the right thing now and deliver a 100% redress scheme.

I have spoken to and heard from families who have experienced the gradual erosion of their homes, the slow creep and growth of cracks along the walls, and the plaster falling from walls and ceilings into their children's bedrooms. They have experienced the crumbling of bricks and gables. Put simply, their homes are falling apart. As one homeowner put it, his home is crumbling like Weetabix. That is not an exaggeration but a perfect description of the living reality of all those who have witnessed it. We know that many of those homes are simply no longer safe. I cannot describe the impact this continues to have on the affected homeowners and their families. They have poured their hard-earned money, savings and hopes for their futures into their homes.

On 15 June, an 11-year-old from Donegal wrote to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I had the pleasure of chatting with her at the demonstration today. She is an excellent writer. She expressed the reality that she and her family face eloquently and succinctly. In an extract from that letter, she stated:

Our house is affected by mica. In my bedroom, we had to move my bed because the plaster was falling off my wall and onto my pillows. It is so sad that the house we are living in is crumbling. It is so unfair that the Government is doing nothing.

For any child, their house should be their sanctuary. It should be the place in which they feel safest and where memories are made. This scandal has left children growing up in homes that are falling apart and dangerous. They are growing up in the crumbling surroundings of a scandal that has left their parents stressed, distressed and despairing for the future. No child deserves that, nor does any parent or family. I have heard from parents who find a quiet moment away from the eyes and ears of their children by going for a drive or sitting in their car and crying under the stress of their ordeal so as not to alarm or worry their children.

The financial impact cannot be overstated but we can describe it. For many families, the homes can no longer be lived in because parents fear for the safety of their children. They have had no option but to leave their homes, a devastating but unavoidable decision. They have been forced to rent as they seek alternative accommodation. Mortgage repayments must also be paid on their crumbling homes.

They then faced the uphill task of accessing the current scheme, which was introduced in 2020. The immediate challenge is the cost for the structural engineering report needed to prove eligibility, which itself can cost up to €6,000. That cost, which is considerable, locks many families out of the scheme from the start. Others have sought loans from the banks just to prove that their homes are affected by mica as the cracks widen and the blocks crumble.

Those who manage to jump the first hurdle face even greater costs as they approach the second one. What is routinely and inaccurately described as a 90% redress scheme in many cases proves to be 70% redress, and often even less. The remaining costs are huge, in some instances upwards of €100,000 and equivalent to a second mortgage.

The scheme is not fit for purpose and there is no debate about that. Unless it is replaced, the repercussions for these families are grave. Equality is also at stake, with homes affected by pyrite in Dublin and north Leinster having rightly received 100% redress through a similar scheme. Let us, therefore, be honest and frank. Not only can the Government put in place a scheme that provides 100% redress to those affected, it must put in place that scheme of 100% redress for those families.

This motion calls on the Government to provide those affected by defective blocks in Donegal, Mayo, Clare and other counties with 100% redress, nothing less. That is what is required. It must ensure that those who are responsible, that is, the developers, builders and suppliers, are held to account with a contribution extracted from the industry towards the remediation.

I want to finish by commending the homeowners and families for their determination, fortitude and strength. I call on every Teachta Dála to support this motion and on the Minister to act. Do not give false hope where there is none. Give a commitment today on what his party leader refused to do and support the principle of 100% and the principle of equality. Please lift that burden off these families, who are weighed down by this nightmare with which they have been living for so many years.

I welcome the opportunity to advocate for this Bill put forward by my party on what can only be described as a horrid situation for any homeowner to suffer. Locally, the Clare Pyrite-Mica Action Group gathered and protested in Ennis yesterday. I attended that protest and spoke to some of the people who have been affected by defective blocks. They have literally watched their homes and sense of future, security and shelter crumble before their eyes over the past few years because of light-touch regulations during the construction boom. I commend the chairperson, Dr. Martina Cleary, and all the members, who even in their despair mobilised themselves and did great work on this issue, including during the restrictions which must also be noted.

These people, whose hard-earned money was invested into their homes, have been denied any clarity about who, if anyone, will accept responsibility for the State-sponsored shoddy workmanship that has led to nationwide scandal. In my county of Clare, a relatively small initial sample of only five houses were tested and have proven that it is pyrite. Even more worrying is the fact that the initial sample included homes scattered at five far-flung locations across the county, which has led people to suspect that the issue is widespread and far-reaching. That is five, however, when we know that more than 50 households have come forward. These houses were built between 1981 and 2007. Since then, we know that 55 houses have been logged as having defective blocks. A further 35 have more recently been identified.

Let us consider the backdrop against which these constituents' concerns were rising. The initial scheme, which included only homeowners in counties Donegal and Mayo, was only offering 90% of redress costs. It has come to light that they are not even receiving the 90% and are burdened with, in some cases, up to 30% of the cost. This is absolute madness, especially considering that this was not the experience for those homeowners on the east. The Government in Dublin simply has not been listening and has not been getting the message.

On closer inspection, the scheme is not fit for purpose. The scheme, in its current form, excludes the most vulnerable homeowners impacted as it expects homeowners to be able to come up with 10% of the overall reconstruction costs from the outset. These homeowners bought or built their homes in good faith and should not be liable for the cost of remediation caused by the incompetency, negligence or deliberate non-compliance of others, end of story.

Imagine having invested your life savings in a big, beautiful house at the tail end of the Celtic tiger and taking out a mammoth mortgage to secure this forever home. Now, imagine the walls are starting to fall down around you ten years down the line. Imagine having to move out because this building, the very security of a roof over one's head, is no longer safe to raise a family in, and when we are in the midst of a housing crisis. Imagine one's county is not even included in the approved areas that will be able to recoup the devastating cost of this structural damage. Not only will they have to fight tooth and nail for recognition that their home is actually part of a much wider network of buildings that need significant reconstruction, they are also being asked to come up with 10% of the overall cost on top of their mortgage repayments for a building they technically cannot even occupy. That is on top of the rental of an alternate premises.

Sinn Féin's Bill, on the other hand, is putting forward policy that will offer 100% redress for all homeowners of defective block houses, regardless of location, without the unrealistic expectation of them to come up with some of the cost themselves. Homeowners are not to blame and should not be footing even part of the Bill.

I call Deputy Cronin to conclude.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Go raibh maith agat freisin to all the people who travelled to Dublin today to protest against the lack of action on their cause and brought their protest to their capital city.

I am delighted to speak on the Sinn Féin motion. Wherever a dodgy block is sold or big bucks are to be made off the backs of the home buyer, home builder or worker, immediate redress is required. Full and immediate redress is the only way to address the wrongs inflicted and the damage done to people living with the effects of the greed that characterises housing in Ireland. It is not only in Donegal; this matters everywhere. It matters in north Kildare, Mayo and Clare or wherever damage shows its ugly face. This damage is not just to buildings but to families, communities, mental health, financial health and people's sense of feeling safe in their own homes, which they built, bought and paid for and which, through no fault of their own, are disintegrating around them.

It is not just mica or pyrite that caused this crisis but the housing culture and its greed, dysfunction and lack of respect for the citizen. It is a culture where builders, developers and politicians took one of the most basic and powerful human needs we have - the need for a home - and reduced it to a commodity and a scheme for profit with the regulation of "Whatever you are having yourself". Big bucks could be made and corners cut along with deals with the boom-is-getting-boomier devil.

They say bad housing is designed and built by people who know they will never have to live in it. Dangerous housing, the soul destroying housing of mica and pyrite, was given to us by the State-wide housing culture of "Sure look, we will get away with it". And they did, with their shoddy materials, worse work and shocking finish, and people lined up to hand over their life savings for the privilege of a 30-year mortgage.

For years now at our Ard-Fheiseanna, comrades from counties Mayo, Clare and Donegal, in particular, have shared their stories with us about light-touch regulation and the devastation it brought to their lives. Over the years, skirting boards, tiles, lights, wooden presses, slates and doors were falling in around them along with their spirits, marriages, bank balances and peace of mind.

Sinn Féin calls for full redress for the families affected here. We must cast a cold eye on the housing culture then, and by and large, the same housing culture now. The absence of a philosophy of housing beyond markets and profit is destroying our State and society. It gives us penthouses alongside tent cities, cheek by jowl. Parents and children are living on takeaways and their nerves in bed and breakfast accommodation. Mica and pyrite are simply a symptom of a social and political disease where there is no respect for the citizen. Profit is venerated and citizens are exploited. The only cure is new thinking and a new Government. In Sinn Féin, we have that thinking and when the people decide, we will be that Government. The families affected cannot wait another second, however.

I am pleased that the Government is not going to vote against our motion. I ask the Government to support it, thereby supporting our people. We must mind all our people, whatever county they live in, and not abandon them. In housing, the people out there must know that the people in here are on their side.

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Calleary. I welcome this important debate. Decent people who bought a house in good faith, in which to live and raise their family in their local community, have found themselves in an impossible situation through no fault of their own. Crumbling walls have turned bright dreams into darkness. Mica is a blight on these communities and it has devastated lives. I want a scheme that works for these ordinary homeowners by providing a very clear pathway out of this scourge.

Níl an Rialtas i gcoinne an rúin seo ach is fiú a rá nach réiteoidh rún Dála an fhadhb seo agus ní shocróidh sé fiú teach amháin. Is iad comhoibriú agus tiomantas a réiteoidh rudaí. Oibreoimid le gach aon gheallsealbhóir ar réitigh phraiticiúla agus bhuail mé inniu le hionadaithe na gclann atá buailte maidir leis sin.

Earlier today, I met members of the Mica Action Group. I want to advise colleagues of the course of action that I, as Minister, have taken in the past number of months. Indeed, going back to last year, one of the first events I attended as Minister was in Buncrana in Donegal last August, where I encouraged residents to engage with the scheme that had been agreed and put in place the previous January. I mentioned to residents at that meeting that my experience of previous remediation schemes was that they evolve and we only learn from them once people start engaging with them.

At the end of February this year, very particular concerns were raised with me, through the Mica Action Group in Donegal and pyrite and defective block groups in Mayo, about how the scheme was operating for them. Members opposite, as well as members of the previous Government, had initially welcomed the scheme in good faith. Now we must look at how we can change that scheme to ensure it works for people, their homes and their families. When I met the groups virtually at the end of February, I asked them, particularly the groups from Donegal, to make a submission to me highlighting the issues they had. Those issues cover many aspects, as raised by Deputies, such as upfront costs, caps, grants and all the other elements of the scheme. The submission I requested was sent to me on 29 April. In May, I met with Deputies opposite, colleagues from both Donegal and Mayo and the various groups. I gave a commitment to work through the issues raised and seek to improve the scheme.

I agree with Deputy Mac Lochlainn that it is not helpful to compare one scheme versus another. If anything, mica in blocks is far worse than the pyrite problems my constituents and other homeowners in Leinster have experienced. I visited homes in Donegal last year that were crumbling. Just before last weekend, the Taoiseach also visited homeowners and met with groups, in a very open and honest way. I acknowledge that the Leader of the Opposition has done the same. I am not about throwing political charges at people on this issue. Everybody wants to work earnestly to resolve it. Thousands of people have come up to Dublin today, representatives of whom I met this afternoon in Leinster House. I proposed to them and to homeowners in Mayo that we set up a time-bound working group. This follows discussions I had over the weekend with the group, which continued on Sunday and into Monday. The objective is to work through the specific issues that have been highlighted, with a deadline of 31 July.

We all know there is a very significant cost to the Exchequer in addressing this issue. That is just a fact. I believe changes are needed to the scheme and those changes will have the effect of increasing the cost. We need to quantify that cost, as was done when the initial scheme was put in place last January. From talking to people in Mayo, Donegal and other counties that could potentially be affected, not just today but over recent months, I know the impact this is having on their lives. I want to say very clearly to people that I, as Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Taoiseach, the Cabinet and all my colleagues in government are committed to making changes to the scheme to ensure it works. There is a large body of work in this. Thousands of homes are affected and how we go about the work, either by remediating or replacing those homes, will in itself be a major task. We have a pyrite remediation scheme in regard to infill that has taken nearly ten years to remediate 2,000 homes. That shows the scale of the issue and what needs to be done as we scale up the scheme. We also need to look to the expertise we have within the Housing Agency.

I said to residents today that my proposal is that there be no red lines and we have a full and open discussion to go through the issues. The most important aspect is that we work through and agree solutions, with the residents in the room and involved in the discussions on a time-bound basis. Eamonn Jackson, Michael Doherty, Eileen Doherty and Paddy Diver told me today that, in regard to the original scheme, they felt they did not have a part in the construction of it. To be fair, it was only by engaging with that scheme that the issues became clear. There is a large commitment from the State in general in regard to the cost, but we also need to look at those who were responsible and those who have responsibility, such as the insurers, producers and lenders. Many of the homes that will be remediated and brought back to full value by the State are the assets of lenders. People are still paying mortgages on them. There is a whole aspect to look at in this regard but I do not want it to delay the changes we need to make to the scheme.

I made my proposal in good faith to residents today. In fact, I made it on Sunday. The initial response has been positive. I am committed to working with them and with Deputies opposite of all parties and none. We need to be focused and time-bound in our discussions and ensure we have a scheme that works for people. That is what I, as Minister, am committed to doing.

I stand proudly to support this motion and thank Deputies Mac Lochlainn and Conway-Walsh for putting it forward. I acknowledge the Minister's work on this issue in recent months and over the past number of days in particular. It is important that his huge effort and great personal commitment to the matter give results for homeowners. We in this House and the Minister do not have time for delays. Homeowners, their families and their communities do not have time. We need a scheme that begins to deliver without any further delay. Homeowners' lives are broken. For every crumbling block, there is a crumbling life. I spoke to homeowners this evening who have been campaigning on this issue for nearly ten years. I commend all of those involved. Their courage in telling their stories stands in contrast to the lack of courage and the behaviour of quarry owners and various agencies that have left homeowners abandoned in this.

The motion commits to a scheme of 100% redress and that is what must be delivered. Priority must be given to homeowners but we cannot ignore the rental sector. To ignore those houses would mean being left with a decimated rental stock. There are other areas of home ownership that are excluded from the current scheme and they must also be addressed. We must have a mechanism to include homeowners in other counties, particularly County Sligo. The process for rolling out the scheme needs to be addressed and made much easier. The role of the Pyrite Resolution Board and its experience in running the current scheme should be incorporated within local authorities. There must be agreement on a communal and shared cost per square foot. In assessing applications, local authorities are using a model that is very different from the reality in terms of current building costs. Those costs have increased by 30% since February and many applications that were submitted at that time are going out of date. We need a State guarantee around building because builders will not engage with the scheme in that aspect. We also need to follow up on a State inquiry as to why those who caused this problem are getting away with it. If they are still getting away with it, that needs to be resolved urgently, without any further delay.

The first scheme had the basis of a good system but its roll-out, the lack of commitment to it from local authorities and the detail of it, which did not involve homeowners, made it a scheme that is not working. I welcome the Minister's inclusion of homeowners on this occasion. We must ensure they own the scheme and that it delivers for their families and communities and will take away the trauma of their daily lives in houses with pyrite and mica. I acknowledge the trauma it is causing people, forcing them to leave bedrooms at night because of draughts and sleep in sitting rooms, or even forcing them to leave their homes.

When they leave their homes to have them repaired, they must be given compensation for the rental costs.

I wish the Minster well with this. Residents in counties Mayo, Sligo and Donegal were sold defective blocks. They will not be sold a pup in relation to this scheme. I ask that the Minister to stand with them, because I certainly will.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this important motion. There are many people watching this evening whose houses have been affected by the mica scandal and I pledge to them my solidarity and that of Sinn Féin. Also watching will be people from north County Dublin whose houses have been affected by pyrite or whose apartments have been affected by defects. I reassure them that we stand with them.

The mica, pyrite and apartment-defect scandals are a legacy of the light-touch building regulation which has existed for far too long in this State. Indeed, as recent years have seen reduced sizes for apartments and the sanctioning of co-living, I am reminded that this light-touch regulation still exists. It is as if we have learned nothing. Across north County Dublin, particularly in Rush and Lusk, but also, as the Minister will be aware, elsewhere in the north of the county, houses have been literally destroyed by pyrite while apartments have been crippled by latent defects. There are those whose houses are undergoing remediation but there are others who cannot sell their houses because there is pyrite in the infill and while that does not affect the structure, they cannot get a search to verify this. These are people who bought what would traditionally be known as "starter homes" and are now outgrowing those homes, but they are stuck where they are and their lives are in limbo. I urge the Minster to take a look at that situation and would be very happy to work with him on it. I have constituents, and they are constituents of the Minister as well, who have emigrated because of this. They were trapped in their homes and felt they had no option. They have let their houses and emigrated. To see one's home reduced to rubble or for it to be condemned as unsafe for one's kids or grandkids to be in is just shocking, and that is before we even mention the hundreds of thousands of euro people have spent just to try to keep their homes right.

In the case of the houses in County Donegal, I am told the root cause of this is provision of defective blocks from quarries. These people are still operating and that must be absolutely infuriating, just as it is for myself and the Minister's constituents who see the builders who built their homes getting away scot-free and now building new developments just across the road. Imagine how heartbreaking that must be for people. I commend the strength and the dignity of the people affected in counties Donegal and Mayo for how they have conducted themselves throughout their campaign. They are a credit to their counties and to their families. They are an example to all of those people who have been wronged as to what can be done if people pull together with a common cause and a stated common aim. I have seen the same strength across north County Dublin in those people who have campaigned for redress for the victims of pyrite and for those affected by the latent defects scandal. The legacy of light-touch regulation is being faced in family homes across the State. While it is not right to compare schemes, and we should not do that, the experience for families is scarily similar. People talk of lying in bed at night listening to their houses crumbling around them. That is the experience these families have had and the impact on the lives of the residents is scarily similar.

I commend the people of County Donegal and I commend this motion. I ask the Minister that he not simply not oppose the motion but actively support it.

I too commend Deputy Mac Lochlainn and Deputy Doherty for bringing forward this motion. It is timely and very important. I extend my solidarity to the people of County Donegal who came in such great numbers today and commend them for everything they have gone through to fight their corner.

It is clear the scheme in place is not fit for purpose. Deputy O'Reilly referenced how the experience of building, creating and investing in one's own home, full of hope and plans for the future, only to see that literally crumble around one is devastating. I do not know any of the people involved but I can see from the footage, and from speaking to people today, what it means to them. I know about the experience of living with pyrite from my own constituents in Meath East, particularly in areas like Ashbourne, Dunboyne and Dunshaughlin. They fought their own battle, took it to the High Court, failed there and went the political route so a scheme would be put in place for them. I am sure every one of them would say it must be a 100% scheme. The scheme must be fit for purpose. It is no addition if people cannot get on the first step of the ladder to it, if they cannot get access to it. I draw the comparison as well between the cost of the initial test, as it appears to be in County Donegal, versus the visual test for the pyrite scheme. The damage that is done is quite obvious.

To follow up on Deputy O'Reilly's points, there are a number of issues still outstanding with the pyrite scheme. From dealing with people in my own constituency, there are issues with estates where pyrite is only now becoming apparent after the deadline of December 2013. I know of one particular case where a lady encouraged her mother to buy the house next door for practical reasons, only for it to have pyrite and for them to have to appeal, and to go into the process is a difficulty. There is an issue with the caps on the rent, and the scheme in County Donegal must include that element of supporting the rent, but there is also a pressure to move out after the money is used. The concerns I am hearing from people on that is that they must almost take it or leave it, as far as the quality of the work done is concerned; they have no recourse in relation to it and find themselves in a difficult position.

There are, therefore, a number of elements that must be resolved with the pyrite scheme and I encourage the Minister to look at them. Deputy O'Reilly and others addressed the specific root cause of mica and pyrite all across the country. That is still there and must be addressed. I commend the motion and again thank the Deputies for bringing it forward.

Deputy Ellis is next but he is not here. I call Deputy Duncan Smith.

I open my contribution by paying tribute to the thousands of homeowners, family members, friends, community activists and community leaders who demonstrated so strongly and positively in Dublin today. I also commend the proposers of the motion, and Sinn Féin for dedicating their Private Members' time to this very important issue. It strikes a chord with any Deputy who represents a constituency that has been affected by pyrite because there are many similarities to the that crisis.

The housing crisis in general has many faces and casts many a long shadow. In this Chamber and in committees we have been talking about affordability, homelessness, land prices, public housing, land use and social housing provision but there is another face of the housing crisis, namely, the issue of construction defects. It has manifested itself in the pyrite crisis and with the work done by the Construction Defects Alliance, which works on behalf of apartment owners. It is estimated up to 100,000 apartments suffer from defects in construction and it costs an average of maybe €15,000 each to repair them.

We also have this crisis, the mica crisis, which first came into view in 2013, the very year the pyrite remediation scheme got up and running. I commend the work of a number of Teachtaí Dála, including my predecessor Brendan Ryan, who did an awful lot of work to ensure the pyrite remediation scheme got up and running early enough in the lifetime of that Government at a time when there was very little money around. That scheme is still going. This is not easy. It is not easy for the homeowners to go through what they have to go through and they are still going through it. However, it is working, it is getting homes remediated and it is getting people back into their homes.

People will point out differences between the mica and pyrite crises. There are two differences. The first is a difference of geography because the pyrite crisis is mainly a greater Dublin region matter and that relating to mica affects Donegal, north-west Mayo and, perhaps, parts of Clare. There is also a difference in scale, as the mica crisis is greater than the pyrite crisis in terms of number of homes affected and the structural damage evident. The Minister and we, as Deputies, know from our work locally that there is such an invasive nature to remediating homes that have been affected by pyrite. It is not an easy job. You have to go in and rip out the centre of a house. The house will remain standing, however, and can be redecorated to go back as it was before. In the case of mica, the structural problem affects the entirety of the house and involves an entire rebuild. The principles of these crises are the same, however, and, in the case of homes affected by pyrite, the State held up its hands when homeowners were let down with the biggest purchase they would make in their life. It is not only the biggest financial commitment but one that involves such emotional investment. People are buying homes in which they will live and in which they may raise families, create memories and grow old. People invested in that but the State let them down because it did not have a sufficiently robust regulatory system for the standards of building equipment. It is what was acknowledged by the State with the pyrite crisis and the same principle applies with homes affected by mica. The State must acknowledge this and step in with a scheme.

There are people who are responsible for the poor and substandard quality of the blocks and everything else, and they must play a part. That will not come to the amount required to resolve the problem so the State will have to step in. That will hurt but it is the reality. Everything has a beginning. In the late 1980s, the State absolved itself of a standards system for building equipment. We had it up to 1988 but it was unwound and folded into Eolas and then Forbairt. It was never really replaced and when it came to the early 2000s - the Celtic tiger era when we threw up houses and apartments all over the place - we had no robust and trusted standard for anything related to building, whether it was countertops, rolled steel joists, timber, blocks or infill. That is how it happened. The State is at fault and it must listen to the people outside today. It must support a process of 100% redress.

This is not about cost but the principle and justice. What are we going to allow to happen? Will we allow these people have their houses and homes fall down around them so they will have to rebuild them all over again? There are financial and emotional considerations in this. It is pretty clear so how many more cases like Priory Hall do we need? How many cases of homes affected by pyrite and mica do we need? We have a precedent in the pyrite remediation scheme and we can improve and learn from it. We can get something up and running. We had that scheme when the country had no money to fix the pyrite problem and now the country is in a much healthier state, the Covid-19 pandemic notwithstanding. Our finances are in far ruder health.

There is a housing crisis relating to affordability, the provision of public housing or even with this matter of the remediation of construction defects for apartment owners and in homes affected by pyrite or mica. This must be covered by a solution. The State has a role to play here. I know the Minister and his Government are not opposing the motion but we need to see action. The scheme currently in place for remediation does not meet the standard required. The Government should look at the pyrite remediation scheme as a template and improve it so we can give these people some hope. They have had nearly a decade with no hope or answers.

Many of us have held a block in our hands and it seems like one of the strongest things one could ever hold. Holding a block in your hands and having it crumble by just exerting the force of your fingers on it is frightening if the roof over your children's heads is supported by blocks of the same kind. I hope we will see something from the Government that will provide comfort and some way out for the more than 5,000 homeowners affected by this.

I appreciate the Government is looking at this matter and the Minister is working on it. The fact it has taken this long to get to the point where we might have a 100% redress scheme is not in any way acceptable. The Government supported the 90% scheme as an acceptable measure until this point and it demonstrates complete disregard for people and the stress and anxiety they are under. We are talking about their homes.

I will comment on what the Tánaiste said about this recently. He said we must ask ourselves if it is reasonable to ask the taxpayer to fund the reconstruction of what are quite large houses in some cases. I say to the Tánaiste that we must ask ourselves instead if is reasonable for people to live in homes that are falling apart and unsafe through no fault of their own whatever. Is it reasonable that people are excluded from the redress scheme because they cannot afford to access it? It is a key point, as people may not have been able to meet the 10% balance and additional costs of the scheme; these people are in most need of assistance from the State, as they are on lower to middle incomes.

This scheme is unfair when compared with the pyrite remediation scheme. Another great injustice of the scheme has been that the only people who could avail of it are those with some additional resources, and very few people in this position had such resources. It is not just about the anxiety and stress caused by problems with mica but the fact that people have had to move from their homes. A number of people are paying mortgages and rent at the same time, along with all the other costs. When the Tánaiste asks if it is reasonable to ask the taxpayer to step in, we must ask if it is reasonable for children to go to sleep at night afraid that the house might fall in on them? Is it reasonable that people would put life savings and earnings into homes only to see them crumble? Is it reasonable that after all the problems we have had with building defects, including pyrite and fire safety issues along with mica, we still do not have the kind of independent testing and inspection for building sites and materials that we should have to ensure this can never happen again? Is it reasonable that the regulation of products from quarries has been so lax in the history of the State, leaving open the possibility of these kinds of building defects and defective materials? That is what caused this problem and pushed families through such major stress, worry and anxiety. Having this compounded by the financial difficulties because the redress scheme is insufficient is unacceptable.

We must bear in mind that a house is not just bricks and mortar, it is the place where the members of a family forge their hopes and dreams. It is where newborns are brought home and it is where the most important milestones for families are often celebrated. It is often the last place people are before being laid to rest.

As a councillor I dealt a lot with residents affected by pyrite and fire safety defects and heard their first-hand stories about how they were affected. Initially, when people saw a crack they hoped it was just a settlement crack but then, over time, they realised their worst nightmares were coming into play. At that point, people need full support rather than having to fight every step of the way to get support from the State.

It is true that the State alone is not responsible. The State should be pursuing vigorously the suppliers of materials and builders who are responsible for this. It is also the case, however, that over the years the State has failed with regard to testing building materials and has a very lax regime in place. Until we have the kinds of regimes in place in other countries for testing building materials and carrying out independent inspections of building sites at every stage of the process, and for as long as we continue to rely on the industry to regulate itself for the most part, these sorts of issues will continue to emerge. They issues are devastating for individuals and families and create a massive financial burden for the State and taxpayer. It will cost more than €1 billion to address the mica issue and another €1 billion to correct fire safety defects in some 100,000 apartments constructed during the Celtic tiger years. The State has already paid out €160 million for pyrite remediation. This money would be much better spent elsewhere if we had proper regulation, testing and standards.

After the issues caused by pyrite, mica and fire safety defects, the State has not fully learned lessons with regard to building materials, regulations, and independent inspection and testing. One would have thought that after the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower and all the lives lost there, the State would at this point be very rigorous in its approach. I do not know why the Government has not moved to introduce the kinds of regulation and independent inspection regimes that are in place in other countries. Why at this point has the Government not learned these lessons? Why maintain the position where the taxpayer and State could potentially pay out these sums again in future? Why put families and individuals in that position, with the stress they suffer as a result?

I fully support the motion and I thank Sinn Féin for tabling it. It is good that the Government, under pressure from the protests and the campaigners, has become more supportive than it was in the past. If we do not bring inspections of building sites and the standards of building materials into line with those in other western European countries, we will continue to have these problems into the future. That must happen.

The protest today and the anger from the north west were really something to witness. I saw a lot of politicians trying to curry favour at it but many of the protestors were not very comfortable with their presence. This was mainly because these people have suffered under the legacy associated with the parties that oversaw the abuse of the system of building regulations in this country.

The 5,000 families affected by defective building blocks that contained mica, many of which were supplied in County Donegal by Cassidy Brothers builder providers, showed a lot anger, much of which was directed at the supplier. In a statement, the supplier has denied all wrongdoing and blames the issue entirely on the Government's lax regulations before 2013. To some degree, the company is right that lax regulations were at fault. However, that any supplier, builder or developer could claim it was not their responsibility is hilarious. Anybody who produces or sells goods has a responsibility to the consumer to know what the goods contain, what properties are in them and whether they are up to standard. The people I spoke to were also angry with Donegal County Council, which continues to use the same supplier, including for many of the council's social housing projects.

In the case of homes affected by pyrite, 100% of the remediation costs were paid. In the case of mica remediation, it is proposed to pay 90% of the costs. There have been attempts to make this a Donegal versus Dublin issue. We totally reject that. We support 100% redress for all those affected. We also support levying a tax on the profits of the building industry in the longer term. The issue is wider than Donegal, Mayo or, indeed, Dublin. It is estimated that 5,000 homes are affected in the north west from the use of mica. More than 2,000 homes affected by pyrite in Dublin have already been dealt with, at an average cost of €70,000.

A much wider and more pervasive issue exists, namely, the estimated 100,000 defective apartments caused by cost-cutting building practices in the Celtic tiger boom. A working group is looking at the wider problem with homes. The group's only remit with regard to a solution is the option of setting up a low-interest or zero-interest loan scheme for owners to fix the properties. It is estimated that the average cost could be €15,000 for each apartment, and possibly more. Interestingly, the group is chaired by Seamus Neely, who was the manager of Donegal County Council between 2010 and 2020 when many of these homes were built. The defects in these apartments are varied but mainly involve the absence of fire walls between apartments and other fire safety elements, with water egress and water coming into apartments because of defective piping or drains.

The root cause of all three sets of problems - pyrite, mica and apartment block issues - are the building regulations during the boom years. Essentially it was a system of self-regulation, light-touch regulation and self-certification with no oversight by the State and no real recourse for those affected or penalties for those guilty of building defective apartments or using defective materials. Builders and developers got certifiers to certify projects with no on-site inspections. When problems arose the legal position was that neither the builders nor the developers or those they hired to certify the homes could be held responsible. It is absolute lunacy. Many of the developers and builders who were responsible have since changed their names but are still operating as companies in the building industry. None faces punishments or actions as a result of the statute of limitations and their ability to blame the certification rules in place at the time.

In 2017, a Dáil committee recommended that "The mission statement of the Redress Scheme should be: 'Ordinary owners who purchased in good faith should not be liable for the costs of remediation caused by the incompetence, negligence or deliberate non-compliance of others'". We support that statement. Other demands included the establishment of a building standards and consumer protection agency to enforce building regulations, independent of developers and builders, and to make mandatory fire safety inspections of all building sites, and to extend the statute of limitations to run for years after the defects are first discovered.

A Dáil report from 2017 on this issue lists Priory Hall, Longboat Quay, Beacon South Quarter, Millfield Manor and Balgaddy as just some of the private and public housing developments affected. Poor design, shoddy workmanship and improper products resulted in badly built homes that were in breach of building and fire safety standards. Greed, dishonesty and incompetence left many homeowners and council tenants with poor quality homes and hefty repair bills. This could apply to the people of Donegal and Mayo today.

All of this was made possible by a weak regime of regulation and compliance in which self-certification and limited independent inspections were the order of the day. We do not yet know the full extent of this legacy. The key issue is that light-touch self-regulation is no regulation at all. What is to be done? It is not good enough for the Government not to oppose the Sinn Féin motion tonight. It must commit to the responsibility it has to the families who are affected, commit to 100% redress and pay for the tests in full. The Government should levy a tax on the profits of the building industry to pay for all of this, and it must learn lessons.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. To date, the Minister has lifted specifications on apartment sizes, has gifted public land to private developers and is creating strategic housing developments.

He has lifted height restrictions. He is allowing non-stop build-to-let, student accommodation and co-living with no oversight on how these strategic developments impact on communities, the environment and wildlife. Poor planning is turning a blind eye to the actions of the developers who frequently break rules and, I have heard, on occasion intimidate residents who oppose them. Housing policies in this State must be determined by the needs of ordinary people and families for a decent safe home and not in the interests of builders, developers, suppliers, the Construction Industry Federation and the friends of the Galway tent.

The protest that took place outside the convention centre today was the largest protest seen anywhere in the State since the onset of the pandemic. I stood with the people of Donegal and the north west and I listened to their stories. I listened to the speeches. The loudest cheer was for a speaker who congratulated people for their organisation, discipline and politeness but made the point that if they were forced to return, they might not be so polite the next time. That got the loudest cheer of the day. It is significant that the first major protest to have taken place outside a sitting of the Dáil in 15 months has been on the issue of housing. I suspect it is the first of many protests we will see in the months and years ahead on the housing crisis.

When Paul Brady sang:

For there's no place on earth just like

The homes of Donegal

he was referring to the famous warmth and welcome offered by the people of Donegal. He was not to know about the infamous mica and what it would do to destroy so many of the homes in Donegal. Of course, it is not just mica. It is a system that puts profit first and before people. It is profits for the manufacturers of the concrete blocks, profits for the builders and profits for the insurance industry. It is also about right-wing Governments. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments down through the years have championed light-touch regulation and the type of building regulation one would not see in the wild west. To be frank, they opened the door to this type of scandal taking place.

In one report this morning, I read that there should not be more than 1% of mica in a block. What was in some of the blocks in the homes of Donegal? Was it 1.25%, 1.5% or 2%? No. In some cases it was 17%. It is an absolute scandal. The result is that people's homes are crumbling around them. It is typical of capitalism. We save money in the short term but it ends up costing a whole lot more in the end.

The Government is under real pressure on this issue and is supporting the motion. I say to the people who travelled from Donegal today to put no trust in the Government. They should not let up the pressure until they have it in writing, signed, sealed and delivered, that 100% redress plus ancillary costs will be covered, which is the same as with the case of pyrite. If the Government states that others should be forced to pay, it should not be the people of Donegal. They should get 100% redress. If the Government goes after the building industry with a serious tax to help pay for this, it will have support from us. The people in Donegal must get 100% redress and not one cent less.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. I thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion and I acknowledge the number of people who travelled from Donegal, Mayo and Clare to be here today to voice their opinions. The biggest issue in all of what we are discussing is what went wrong. It is my view that the key issue is the lack of independent building control. Building control is under the remit of our local authorities but local authorities do not have the resources to deal effectively with building control. There is still an over-reliance on self-certification. We need a new model for building control. This makes sense when we see what it costs us to put right the wrongs of the past. We also see how unsuspecting families bought their homes in good faith and took out mortgages but have been left with a structurally defective home or a home that is not fit for habitation. They are paying a mortgage for a structurally defective home.

Another issue that comes to mind is the issue of mortgage protection and the insistence by the banks and mortgage providers that homeowners have structural defect insurance. This is a very pertinent issue to raise this evening. Where is the protection against structural defects in a new house where people have paid money for insurance? It was a prerequisite to getting a loan. It is still in place. Even in the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme, people still need to have a structural guarantee on the building. I have not heard much about this in the debate. If mortgage holders are paying for an insurance policy, it should be fit for purpose. It is very important that we get this sorted out as soon as possible, rather than people believing they have something that is of no use to them when they seek to get some protection from it. Since 2013, we have had the construction products regulation. Who monitors this, who controls it and who makes sure that what it says on the tin is activated and carried out properly?

We have just spoken about the situation with mica. There is also pyrite and issues with apartment blocks throughout the country and in the city which are defective and have to be put right. If we are to do anything on this it would be important for the Government, with our support, to bring forward and invest in a proper building control policy and to make sure every local authority has the necessary resources, not just tokenism and visiting 10% of properties being built. We must give building control to people who can control it independently. The resources put in place would reap dividends for the taxpayer for years to come.

It is very important that we do not continue in the same way. We have to learn from the past and we have to learn from the costs. This particular issue will cost a hell of lot of money and we should learn from this mistake. It is high time we took it by the scruff of the neck and invested money in building control. It is not spending money but investing money. If we do this, we will reap the rewards. We have self-regulation and everybody is providing a certificate but when that certificate is tested, it is found that nobody can stand behind it. This is the important issue. Whether someone is an architect, an engineer or a building control officer, it is very important that whatever is certified stands the test legally. The only way to do this is to have it done independently by local authorities.

I move amendment No. 2:

To insert the following after "and that industry contributes to the overall cost of remediating defective properties":

"— the Government must launch a full public investigation into how defective material was sold into the housing market in such quantity and for so long, and that those responsible are held to account.".

Tá mé buíoch as an rún seo atá os ár gcomhair inniu. I pay respect to the people of Donegal and Mayo who have come up to Dublin in their thousands today. It is a big thing for people to take a full day off work and travel hundreds of miles from their home towns to Dublin, spend the whole day here and head back. I know this because I have been involved in various campaigns on hospitals. It takes a massive amount of dedication. The campaign has done an awful lot of work to make sure today has happened and I pay respect to it. I understand why the frustration is there because people have been battling for years for justice with regard to their homes.

Families' lives have been absolutely destroyed in Donegal.

It is incredible. When you speak to the families, as I have done, the level of damage done to their lives is enormous. Their life savings and everything they have in relation to their families is falling down around them. Many of them have no options for the future.

Also, we see that the local authorities will be hammered because the local authorities have some of these buildings. Public houses, public buildings, farmyards and factories etc., are all likely to be affected here. One of the big issues of this crisis is that its scale is still fairly unknown and people are only starting to find out that their buildings are defective. The reason in part that the scale of the crisis is unknown is because families had to pay thousands of euro to get a survey done of their house to be able to apply for the current redress scheme. I have spoken to many families who simply are trying their best to ignore the cracks in their walls because they cannot afford even to participate in the application process for this scheme. We in Aontú will be calling for the Government to make sure that families can survey their homes without significant financial cost to them.

In my view, there are two reasons why this happened. The first is because of light-touch regulation. Light-touch regulation is a legacy of decades of Fianna Fáil Government. It has cost these families in Donegal everything that they have but it has also cost the citizens of this country billions for everything from the banks to insurance companies etc. Light-touch regulation or self-certification is no certification. It is not worth the paper that it is written on and the fact that Fianna Fáil allowed this to happen over decades was, in my view, in order that many of its cronies could get rich while doing so. That is what happened from insurance companies to banks and to construction companies. They facilitated a system where this happened and the country is paying for it now.

This is also happening, in my view, because of the fact that we are a Dublin-centric State, we are a lob-sided country and we are becoming a city state. I heard another Deputy state that this is not Dublin against the country. It is not the people of Dublin against the country but it is the political establishment based in Dublin which does not give a tuppenny damn, typically, with regards counties such as Donegal, Mayo and Clare. People say that the people of Donegal are different and that is because they are treated differently by this political establishment. No doubt if it was south Dublin rather than Donegal, it would be 100% redress right away.

It is frustrating to me and many people that one of the suppliers of these blocks is still a supplier to Donegal County Council. If someone paints your house and does a terrible job of it, you do not keep employing them in the future to work on your house. There is no reason a company should abide by the rules or proper functioning if it is guaranteed to have future business. We are calling for 100% redress. It has to be the only solution.

We in Aontú have also submitted an amendment to the Sinn Féin motion. We want there to be a proper full public investigation into what happened with regards mica. If there is no investigation, nobody is held responsible. If there is no accountability, there is no change. There has to be a public investigation. I would urge all the political parties and the Government to support the Aontú amendment that there would be an independent public investigation into the crisis in Donegal. If there is not, I guarantee it will happen over and over again.

We move now to the Rural Independent Group where Deputy Michael Collins is sharing with his three colleagues.

I think four colleagues, and two minutes each, if you do not mind. Thank you, Ceann Comhairle.

Like many other Deputies here in the Dáil, I have been inundated with emails and calls regarding this mica crisis. I wish to add my support and say a few words on the horrific situation in which these homeowners find themselves.

There is a misconception that builders should cover the cost. The reality is that this is not a builders' problem. The builders built the houses on the assumption that the blocks met the standards set out in SI 288 of 1949, as was certified by the manufacturers of the blocks, Cassidy Brothers.

Another misconception is that it is up to the block manufacturer to sort out. This is true, however it has proven impossible to sanction the manufacturer so far and no one has obtained any success from using legal recourse.

Asking homeowners to pay 10% for something that is not their fault is grossly unfair. The reality is that, through caps and inclusions, the homeowners will effectively pay much more than 10%. Some suggest it could be in the region of €100,000. It is utterly shameful that these people, who have endured so much have been left with no choice but to bring their plight to the streets of Dublin. For starters, they would have to obtain an engineer's report which would cost €5,000 or more, and only after they are approved would they be reimbursed this money. With a capped grant allowance for square footage, many homes will be smaller than what they were previously unless homeowners provide the additional funds themselves. Furthermore, homeowners who have been in receipt of Covid payments, those whose companies have been in receipt of Covid payments and pensioners will not be able to obtain a mortgage, leaving them financially stranded.

We all know the value of our homes and I am not talking about the financial value. I refer to the heartbreak of these people seeing every day their homes crumble to nothing. I certainly support them and the peaceful protest they had today in their thousands here in Dublin sent a very clear message.

I too compliment the people of Donegal. "The Homes of Donegal" was Bridie Gallagher's lovely song. I danced to her on my honeymoon in Jackson's Hotel in Ballybofey but they kept to their homes today.

These people provided their own homes. They are here to bring their plight to Government but the Government is not doing enough for them because looking after big business is the Government's priority. We saw it with the banks. We see it with insurance companies every day of the week. We see it with the beef cartels. When it comes to the daoine beaga or little people - I do not mean that in any bad way - they are cast aside.

This is a racket. There are big companies in this country. They have more men in the quarries now. You have CRH and others who could build the whole country. This will cost €5 billion or €6 billion for the houses alone all over the country that are affected, for instance, in Limerick, Clare, Mayo and Donegal. This will cost big money.

There are companies that have taken over many of the small suppliers that were just hoovered up by vultures, and they need to pay.

How come, with the light-touch regulation, there is no one held accountable? Why should the people who see their homes crumbling in front of them, what they lived for and what they worked for when they married and raised a family, have to pay? I met grannies today, and grandchildren. Some of the grannies and grandparents could not come. They should not have to come if this was a caring Government. What did our people of 1916, 1921, 1922 and 1923 fight for? Freedom. For what? Was it for cartels and big companies to rape and plunder our country and let people go to hell?

I met people from the top of Donegal today who spent four and five hours travelling here to have to bring their case to Dublin. They livened up Dublin. It has been dead for long enough with the Covid lockdown. They brought a spirit of energy and enthusiasm. All they want is to live in their houses, live out their days and pass them on to their families but the big business cartels who have the big parties here - Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and now the Greens - in their pockets are just laughing all the way to the bank. There is no mercy for these people.

The Taoiseach stated today they would be paid. Why do they have to get €5,000 upfront for a report? Why do they have to rent houses while they are being done?

These houses should be demolished because you cannot fix them because it could reappear. I know a little about it. We need to pony up here and go after the big companies which supplied the faulty material.

I have been in construction all my life and everything I do has to be certified. Quarries supplied materials to these people that was certified. There is amount of quarries that have pyrite on them that are owned by massive international companies that own 30 or 40 quarries in this country and they are responsible for pyrite and mica in this country.

Pyrite is in Clare. It is in Limerick. At present, I have cases in Limerick with pyrite and they are only being investigated now.

People should not have to pay one penny in Limerick. They bought their houses. They paid for their houses. They paid for their material. All the instruction was there given by Government on what they had to get certified. The buck stops with the supplier of the material that caused this for houseowners and the buck stops with the Government. Certify everything and you are covered.

They should not have to pay one penny. They have paid their mortgages, they have paid the interest on their mortgages and this country has bailed out the banks. The banks certified the houses. Now the banks should put them back exactly the way they were and compensate, with the Government and the quarries that gave the material to build these houses.

We can see there is a problem with supply and demand for housing in this country at present. Fix this and do not let one Limerick person or anyone else in this country pay a dime towards the Government's mistakes.

I support the motion and thank Sinn Féin for tabling it. This is an important matter.

The protestors today were an orderly and large crowd, but the anguish on their faces said it all. This afternoon, the Taoiseach asked why people did not go after quarries or other entities, but the Government should give them 100% because they do not have the wherewithal to take anyone to court to get redress. If the Government believes that someone is escaping the net but should be playing a role, let it go after him or her. In the first instance, though, it must give the affected people 100%. Giving 90% was only codding them. They would end up paying 40% or 50% because of a loophole. It was suggested that they should get an engineer's report. We deal with engineers every day of the week and we know what they charge. They would have to charge a hefty bill. The people affected by this issue do not have that kind of money. The Minister of State must realise that.

When anything happens in Dublin, the Government sees to it right away. There was one shower of rain here a few years back and the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, put on his wellingtons, went out and sorted out the situation, but a flood could be flowing in through our front door and out through the back door and no one would look at us. We would have to fight flat on our backs to get flood relief for Glenflesk or anywhere else or to be allowed to cut a few bushes, which the Government would not let us do.

I appeal to the Minister of State now. We all heard the songs of Bridie Gallagher in Jackie Healy-Rae's Bar in Kilgarvan 30 or 40 years ago. She sang eloquently about the homes of Donegal. It is a fright to God if we are going to let the homes of Donegal fall down on the ground around people now. We have to play our part, as must the Government.

I thank my colleagues for allowing me some of their time to make a small contribution. It is only right and proper that every Deputy should be present to tell the good people who came here today in order to highlight this issue that their homes are their castles. When they might have nothing else, the most important thing in the whole world are their homes. Little boys and girls came today with their parents and grandparents. They are growing up in homes that are falling down around them. That is sad.

On the practical side, people are reaching out for help. The redress scheme is not enough. As has been stated, someone has to get an engineer's report in order to join the scheme, and the most someone can get from the scheme is 90%.

I do not want another category of person to be forgotten. I dealt with the case of a young man who had made friends with a young lady. She had bought a house and he had his built and the pair were deep in mortgage debt. They are now married but are faced with only being able to get into the scheme in respect of one of those houses. The other house will be left to fall down to the ground because it will get no percentage. Awful situations like theirs must be considered as well. There are people who worked hard all their lives and built a holiday home only for that house to be falling down now. They are equally entitled to our care and consideration. Farm buildings, factories and even public buildings are falling down because of this problem.

The Government must show compassion, sympathy and solidarity with the good people who came to Dublin today. I compliment each and every one of them. I thank the Garda, who never had as easy a job as they had today because the people who came were the salt of the earth and the soundest and nicest people one could have the pleasure of meeting. They came to put our their hands and ask in an ordinary way for the Government to please help them. I hope that we will all be there to help them.

I am sharing time with Deputies Harkin, McNamara and Fitzmaurice.

I am happy to speak in support of this motion. It has been a great day for the campaigners from Donegal and the rest of the north west - a large turnout and support for the rally in Dublin, discussions during Leaders' Questions and now this motion. However, the reality is that we should not be here. We should not have had to force buses full of people to travel down to the Oireachtas to be heard. We should not have families sharing their terror and trauma at watching their homes crumbling around them. We should not have years of Government disinterest and disrespect for homeowners in the north west.

Homeowners, local authorities, schools and community halls should have been able to trust that they were not building with defective concrete blocks. People should have been able to trust that the Government would provide an appropriate 100% redress scheme as per the precedent set in Leinster following the pyrite scandal. Industry and insurance companies should have been held accountable from the first instances of the mica scandal. That is "Fianna Fáilness" and "Fine Gaelness", though - "shoulda, coulda, woulda". Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would not listen until there was a national outcry. They would not take action until affected voices got the ear of the national media. They would not be shocked and angry until media outlets asked for quotes while they were milking photo ops. It was shameful.

The people of Donegal, so often feeling like they live in the forgotten county, are making their voices heard now. The Mica Action Group has been in existence since 2014. Cassidy Brothers Limited, one of the manufacturers of the concrete blocks, was asked to provide a civil engineering company with the recipe for a typical block back in 2011. At the time, the company said that there was a mix of 6.4% concrete. Independent testing showed that the cement content was actually between 3.7% and 4.5%. That is ten years ago now. This is not a new issue. It has not dropped out of the sky or happened overnight. Families affected have been raising it for years, gathering their own evidence, analysis and testing and becoming experts on mica and defective blocks. People affected are expected to continue repaying their mortgages and might also have to pay rent while their homes are demolished and rebuilt. It is a national scandal. I am delighted to see the country behind us in Donegal and our neighbours in the north west.

The Taoiseach stated today that this issue had not been highlighted in manifestos, yet I know of one manifesto that did highlight it. That manifesto reads:


- Deliver the long-awaited Mica Redress Scheme.

- Address insurance cost issues for homeowners affected.

- Ensure timely implementation of the scheme by Donegal County Council.

- Provide 100% grants for mica-affected homeowners in line with North Leinster.

- Meet the temporary accommodation needs of mica homeowners.

- Amend the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act to relieve mica homeowners of property tax.

The report of the expert panel also contained the following observations:

Finally, it is not normal for concrete blocks to fail in the manner observed. It is the Panel’s opinion, which was supported by the laboratory reports provided, that the concrete blocks which deteriorated in the manner observed were not fit for purpose.

It also stated: "the Panel acknowledges that there has been reluctance by some key stakeholders to share information due to commercial sensitivities and for reasons of litigation" and that it was "clear to the Panel that the affected homeowners, through no fault of their own, are in a difficult position with very few, if any, realistic options available in order to obtain redress." It is important that those responsible be held to account, but not at the expense of homeowners.

I acknowledge those who travelled to Dublin today, mainly from Donegal and Mayo, to demand, rightly, 100% redress. None of us in the Chamber can imagine the horror of looking at the walls of our homes as they split, as gaps appear between the walls and the floor and as holes open up beside doors and windows. None of us can imagine that awful pain in the pit of our stomachs.

I thank Sinn Féin for this timely and important motion and I recognise that the Government is not opposing it. I will table an amendment to include homeowners in County Sligo. I hope that it will be accepted by all. I have written to the Minister of State about this issue. I ask that he meet all four of the Deputies from the constituency. Nearly two months ago, Sligo County Council also wrote to the Minister of State about this matter. Blocks containing pyrite and mica do not respect county boundaries. Homeowners in west Sligo suffer the same as those in Mayo and homeowners in north Sligo suffer the same as those in Donegal.

The current schemes are inadequate. People are being asked to spend large amounts of money on reports and assessments and there is no provision for renting accommodation, storage, etc. I support the view that those who are responsible should be held responsible, but it is crucial that the Government provide a safety net for citizens and deal with those who bear the responsibility.

Unlike some Deputies who said that this was not a new problem in their constituencies and counties, it is a problem that has only manifested itself relatively recently in Clare. I acknowledge the approach that the Department has taken to the problem in Clare. I raised the matter in the Dáil at the end of last year. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, took that Topical Issue debate and invited an engineering report from Clare County Council.

I wish to acknowledge the work Clare County Council has done. It is in the process of completing that report. It did a study of five houses in County Clare and found pyrite, not mica, in all of them. That report is near completion. Through its investigations, it also discovered two estates in County Clare, which may have been built with blocks containing pyrite. One may ask how that emerges out of nowhere. Similarly to the houses, this has emerged after the insulation was carried out in the block cavity because when there is less air circulation, the problem manifests itself. That is not to suggest the problem is caused by insulation. Not at all, but it sometimes manifests after the houses are insulated. It is estimated there are at least 50 private houses and there may be up to two council-built estates in County Clare in which pyrite blocks were used.

From being a new problem, it is becoming a big problem. I compliment Sinn Féin on bringing this motion and I ask the Minister of State to seriously consider fully compensating homeowners and then going after the manufacturers. As Deputy O'Donoghue pointed out, some of these block manufacturers are large, multinational corporations. It may well be the State is in a position to go after them but individual homeowners are, literally, putting their houses on the line in going after these huge corporations, because they will fight at every step of the way. That is, unfortunately, how commercial litigation works.

I ask the Minister of State to step in, carry out the works for the homeowners and then go after the quarry owners.

We need to acknowledge the people from counties Donegal and Mayo and other areas who came today. People power has spoken. It needs to be addressed straight away. Buying a house is probably one of the biggest investments in a person's life. To be paying a mortgage and then having to pay rent because one's house is falling apart is intolerable. There is an opportunity here for the Government, which should address the situation. I have seen this figure of €1 billion. The Government is not afraid to spend €3 billion in a hospital, where there does not seem to be any accountancy going on. The same company will bring the Government to court again and pull another bill out of it, because that is the way the contract was done.

However, these vulnerable people in these counties have been left high and dry. I saw it in County Mayo a few years ago. It is an intolerable situation. There are companies out there, some of which I know in Dublin, which sold the product. All of these companies are large operators which sold product. They had to have product insurance whether they like it or not. Some of them folded but there still had to be insurance there. The State should go after them when all this is over.

The State should look after ordinary people on the ground and make sure they are secure in their homes and that everything is sorted but should then go after these guys. I have seen some of the guys, who have been involved in this pyrite situation, reporting others about tar plants and so on, because they are trying to have monopolies. Monopolies should not be tolerated in this country. These guys who are at that should not be. The people of Ireland will not stand for what is going on. There was insurance at the time, whether it is ten or 15 years ago. The Government needs to go after them, to make sure it gets the money out of it because insurance companies are, once again, walking away scot-free.

We will hear the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, who is sharing with Deputy McHugh.

I thank Members for the valuable contributions. I have listened closely to the comments and statements and I appreciate and acknowledge the level of anger and frustration felt by communities in counties Donegal and Mayo and beyond, as has been alluded to by other speakers in the House.

Earlier today, I had the privilege of going outside to meet with the residents who were affected by this awful saga. I received a submission from Savannah, a young girl out in the middle of the protest, in a respectful way. For people who have travelled long journeys to be here in Dublin, adjacent to the convention centre this afternoon, the dignity and respect they carried in having their voice heard is commendable, considering the frustrations and nightmares they are going through. As many allude to and speak about these nightmares, it is unbelievable what these families are going through, in terms of what is happening to their homes.

I was outside, along with Deputies McHugh, Ring and Carey and Senator Burke, to engage with the residents and heard many of their personal stories throughout the afternoon and many of the speeches made by those involved in the campaign. I also have been kept updated in all matters relating to the scheme, by my colleague, Deputy McHugh, and he has impressed on me and on the Government the need for change and the need to review this scheme.

I met Fine Gael councillors, namely, Councillors Harley, Kavanagh, McGuinness and Sweeny in County Donegal, on the same issue a number of months ago. I have heard loud and clear the voice of their community through them, its elected representatives from my party. They were expressing their clear frustrations in terms of their community and what they are going through. The Government has committed to providing solutions here. I reiterate the statements made by and sentiments of the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, earlier in that the scheme is now under active consideration by the Department and the Government, with a view to making it more accessible for the affected, defective concrete blocks in counties Mayo and Donegal. The Taoiseach is already on record today in this House on the matter.

Our homes are a place in which we seek refuge. We go there for safety, security and to feel at ease and in comfort. When one can no longer find refuge in one's home and when one is anxious and worried about the safety of oneself and one's family and the security of one's future, this has a lasting effect. We must provide and assist homeowners and provide solutions for mica to enable them to again feel safe and plan their future in their homes.

Members will be familiar with the scheme and the purpose for which it was set up, to deal with defective concrete blocks, cracks and fissures, which are affecting the structural integrity of people's homes. The Department is engaging in ongoing dialogue with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, to provide clarity on whether eligible homeowners can access SEAI grant funding, while also availing of the defective concrete blocks grant scheme. This would also help prevent a lock-in of carbon inefficiencies in their homes.

Many comparisons have been made with the pyrite resolution scheme, which were well articulated by Members. I accept the valid points made today and I reiterate discussions are ongoing between the Department, local authorities and the local action groups on the ground going through this issue. We hear their frustration. I acknowledge again the respectful way it was brought to us today.

The Department and local authorities have engaged with local communities extensively, over the past decade, with a report of the expert panel on concrete blocks commissioned by the Government and published in 2017. This report identified and investigated the issues and examined how best the Government could support affected homeowners. The aim has always been to return dwellings to the conditions they were in before they were affected by excessive amounts of mica and pyrite. I assure the House the Government is committed to improving supports for homeowners affected by defective blocks.

We have heard the message carried out today by thousands of people who made the journey from counties Donegal and Mayo and beyond. Work is under way to find a workable solution.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, for meeting the Mica Action Group today, including Paddy Diver, Ann Owens, Eileen Doherty and Michael Doherty. I also could mention Councillor Martin McDermott and Eamonn Jackson. I also thank Deputy Mac Lochlainn and his colleagues for putting down this motion tonight and keeping this issue on the radar. Today was an important day, as the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, pointed out, in meeting the people, listening to them and getting a good feel for where they are at. I acknowledge Savannah Diver, as did the Minister of State, in presenting that letter to the Government. We all talk about health and family and the importance of health and family in daily discourse, but what is health and family without a home?

We have an opportunity, as a Government, to put the hand up and acknowledge the 90:10 scheme is not working, cannot work and will not work. I had envisaged it working at its inception but when one really has a 70:30 scheme through the backdoor, it was never going to take off. We have an opportunity. The six-week period is important. It is important we stick to that time period.

It is also important not to get caught up in other parts of the plan of the working group over the coming weeks. I refer to welcoming the extensive and potential reach and looking at the source of the problem and bringing insurance companies into the picture as well and seeing if there can be other sources of income.

The Government cannot allow that to be used an excuse to delay the scheme. People have waited long enough. A decade is a long time in anyone's life. It is longer than a life sentence in prison in many jurisdictions. The Government cannot do this any more. I am not just talking about us, as legislators, but about people at a very high level within the Civil Service, including those in the Attorney General's office, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform or the Department of Finance today. The Department of Finance is where the protest ended up. Those people have to listen and understand that this is not just a monetary issue. This is a life issue. This is an issue of lives that have been on hold for too long.

We all heard stories of people enhancing their houses during lockdown and doing work on their gardens, doing up their kitchens or buying new curtains. Anybody who was living in a mica-affected house during Covid did not have that luxury. All they had was an opportunity to spend more time in that isolation without hope. I met a man today who said he has a digger at his disposal but he does not have the heart to even fix his lane because he knows his home is crumbling to pieces. The Government has to make a big statement here and do the right thing. Whatever it takes to rectify this issue and get it right, we have to do it. This is an issue of paramount importance. When we leave this place tonight or on Thursday and head up the road to our constituencies, we will do so in the full knowledge that we are going to homes that are safe and are not falling down. The only difference between the houses that are crumbling at the moment and something like an earthquake is that in an earthquake, houses fall down immediately. These houses are still falling down. The difference is that they are falling down slowly and that has put trauma, heartache, anxiety, stress, pressure and strain on families and individuals. The Government and the House have the opportunity to unite on this issue, to do the right thing and to honour these people whose lives have been on hold and who have had to endure such heartache for the past ten years. We have the opportunity to do that and now is the time to do it.

I commend all the people who travelled to the protest today, particularly those from my county of Mayo. The unity between Donegal and Mayo over the years has been extraordinary. It has been many years since my colleague, Deputy Mac Lochlainn, and I raised this issue in the Seanad. At that time, nobody would listen. I commend the work of the action committees. These are my neighbours, friends and people I know. They are worn out by how they have been treated, by both the previous Government and this one. The Minister name-checked all his colleagues and I want to name-check a few people as well. Josephine Murphy and Dorothy Keane have fought for years to get this scheme in place. When we first discovered pyrite in Mayo, the problem was, in the main, confined to the Erris area. Those two people in particular, with others like Michael Healy, fought for years for a scheme to be put in place. It is amazing that these people are not looking for compensation. All they are looking for is their homes to be reinstated. Laura Devers and Jaime-Lee Donnelly have taken up the case in Ballina, as have other members of the action group there, and I commend them as well.

The other day, a man described to me how a bat came in through his house. We have watched this happen over the years. We have watched the cracks widen and the Government throw its hands in the air. Then, it came along with a take-it-or-leave-it scheme. That was the situation these homeowners were in with the so-called 90:10 scheme. It was take it or leave it and it was almost as if the Government wanted people not to take it, so it could say it offered them something and then turn its back again. What part of 100% does the Government not understand? The people who were here today were very polite and mannerly, as the people in the north west are, but the Government should not mistake that for weakness. Something has happened within the west. There is unity within the west about not taking this any more. We do not begrudge the people in the east the 100% scheme they received because they deserved it too, but why should we be treated differently just because we live on the west coast? It happens time and again. Enough is enough and we are not taking it anymore.

Those responsible for what happened here, including the Government and light-touch regulators, have scarpered. The insurance industry, the banks and the suppliers all disappeared because they are used to dealing with Governments that do not hold them to account. They are used to dealing with Governments that are so close to them that they do not have to be held to account. That has to stop now. I saw this come up time and again in the finance committee, whether with the tracker mortgages, the insurance companies or whatever else. It has to stop. The Government is here to protect people and their livelihoods.

Just because people have made applications to this scheme does not mean they have accepted that it is okay. The scheme is clearly not fit for purpose. We must look at the issues like the accommodation, windows, doors and energy. I hear what the Minister and his Government colleagues are saying and that they empathise with people. We need to go out of here this week and assure the people of Mayo, Donegal, Sligo, Clare and Limerick that they are going to get 100% redress.

I am very proud to be from County Mayo and I am proud of the people who came here today. We are fighting back and it is the Government's responsibility to end this nightmare for those people. The Minister spoke about active consideration but that is not going to build any houses. It is not going to put to right the wrongs that have been done here. I ask the Minister to please not mince words. He must ask the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to come out and agree with the Deputies who have spoken here tonight. They should instruct the local authorities on the changes to be made to the scheme in order that these houses can be reinstated. It is not only the houses that are crumbling; it is people's lives. I have witnessed it. People's physical and mental health has deteriorated. What has happened here is not right. Did the people in 1916 die for citizens to be treated like this?

I was very proud to stand today in full support of the people of Donegal, Sligo, Mayo and Clare, calling for justice. They had many supporters here in Dublin who are also living in defective Celtic tiger-era apartments. Many speakers have rightly noted that these families have been living with defective blocks for eight long years. The expert panel on mica identified 2013 as the date pyritic and mica blocks were first discovered. For eight long years, these families have been living with this scandal. In 2017, the expert panel brought this issue to light and highlighted the action that should be taken. Only a few months later, the Oireachtas housing committee unanimously endorsed the Safe as Houses? report calling for a redress scheme for all those affected by Celtic tiger latent defects. Yet, it was not until 2020 that a scheme was even put in place, for which people would only be able to draw down money this year. I am not going to repeat the comments of nearly everybody who has spoken today other than to emphasise that the scheme that is currently available to families in Donegal and Mayo, and, hopefully, in the future in Sligo, Clare and elsewhere, is simply not fit for purpose. Anybody who would ask a family to pay €7,000 for an engineer's report to get entry to a scheme did not understand the scale of the problem. Whether it is a rate of 10%, 20% or 30%, these families should not have to pay for defects that they did not create.

Equally, they should not have to pay for the storage and accommodation costs incurred while remediation is taking place. Therefore, the one loud and clear demand from the streets of Dublin today and from this Chamber is for 100% redress and nothing less.

We must also understand that many council properties are affected. That means that council tenants are living in defective properties. Separate to the changes that I hope will emerge from the short review of this defective block scheme, local authorities - wherever they might be - must also be given the funding required to ensure that their tenants are not living in defective properties. There has been some talk about whether we should compare different schemes. Of course different schemes are different in detail but the core principle must be the same. People living in properties with defects in the ground, in the blocks, in the fire safety set-up or in any other aspect of construction should not have to pay the associated costs. One of the core principles on which the cross-party report, Safe as Houses?, was agreed was that ordinary owners who purchased in good faith should not be liable for the costs of remediation caused by the incompetence, negligence or deliberate non-compliance of others. It is not their fault and they should not have to put their hands in their pockets.

I also have some concerns about a separate issue but one that runs in parallel with this topic. The Minister set up a group to explore the issue of defective buildings. It has met several times this year and the group is due to send a report to the Minister by the summer, in time for budget 2022, to feed into another remediation scheme for those in properties that have fire safety and structural defects. My understanding is that the work of that group is very delayed. It may not meet its target deadline of having a report with the Government by this summer, and, therefore, there may not be any redress of any kind for defects originating in construction undertaken during the Celtic tiger era, whether those buildings are in Dublin, Clare or elsewhere. That would simply be unconscionable.

Therefore, I urge the Minister to not only complete the time-bound review in six weeks or less to ensure 100% redress but also to ensure that the separate working group on building defects concludes its work as a matter of urgency in time for budget 2022 to ensure that the thousands of homeowners living in apartments and duplexes with fire safety defects or water ingress or both are also given the right to 100% redress. I wish to emphasise a point of all my colleagues, which is while today's demonstration was determined, there was also a clear underlying anger. Eight years of a wait is too long. It is not what people say in this Chamber tonight that matters, it is what they do in the days and the weeks to come. If people think it will be possible to come out of that review with anything less provided for than 100% redress, then many more people will be marching in the streets of Dublin in the future and they will continue to have the support of Sinn Féin.

I am absolutely delighted, therefore, to support the initiative of my colleagues, Deputies Doherty, Mac Lochlainn, Conway-Walsh and others. I urge all Deputies to not only support this motion, but to make 100% redress and nothing less a reality in the weeks ahead.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

(a) To insert the word “Sligo” after “in Donegal, Mayo and Clare”;

(b) To insert the word “Sligo” after “homeowners in Clare”;


(c) To insert the word “Sligo” after “provide those affected by defective blocks in Donegal, Mayo, Clare,”.

Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.