I wish to state at the outset, no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, that it is deeply disappointing, given the seriousness of the issue that I am raising, that neither the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage nor the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is available for this discussion. I am aware that the Land Development Agency legislation is currently before the Seanad, but both the Minister and the Minister of State are not required for that. I would like to convey my dissatisfaction at the absence of a line Minister.
Across the State, thousands of homeowners - apartment, duplex and house owners - are living in defective properties. The properties were built during the Celtic tiger, and through no fault of the purchasers of the properties, they currently have significant fire safety and other structural defects. The programme for Government contained a clear commitment to examine the issue of defective housing in the first 12 months of Government, "having regard to the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing report, 'Safe as Houses'", which was published in 2018.
The Minister of Housing, Local Government and Heritage took action on that commitment.
He announced a working group on defective buildings in September. It has been meeting since March but I have significant concerns about what we are hearing from it and its lack of progress to date. Before I detail those concerns, it is important to put on record what the unanimously endorsed report Safe as Houses?, produced by the Oireachtas housing committee, states about this matter, namely, "Government should establish a redress scheme to assist home owners with latent defects". It also states the mission statement of the 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". The recommendations state such a redress scheme could be funded through an industry levy, Exchequer contributions, tax reliefs and long-term no-interest loans, for example.
The Minister has said that he wants to deal with this issue head-on. He has direct experience of it in his constituency, as do many others in theirs, particularly because of pyrite but also because of inadequate fire safety and water ingress in buildings. The problem, however, is that the year has come and gone and the working group has not completed its work. In fact, it has not even been able to agree terms of reference. There is genuine concern among representatives of homeowners on the group to the effect that its work is being interfered with by departmental officials. The working group is meant to be independent. It is chaired by the former chief executive of Donegal County Council and has representatives from various bodies, in addition to home and apartment owners, yet it has not yet formally agreed its terms of reference. On the front page of the Irish Examiner on the Saturday before last, a significant report was published by Mick Clifford, who has been tracking this issue. According to the article, homeowners are saying departmental officials are deliberately narrowing the scope of the terms of reference in such a way as to prevent effective redress for homeowners but also in a way that runs contrary to the spirit of the Safe as Houses? report.
I would have liked to have asked the Minister four questions. In saying that, I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State who is present. The first of my questions is whether the Minister can tell us why the working group is not going to meet the clear programme for Government commitment to report within a year? Second, is he concerned about the views of homeowners to the effect that departmental officials are inappropriately interfering with the independence of the group? Third, can he tell us when the group will conclude and make its recommendations to the Government? Fourth, crucially, can he guarantee us that there will be a redress scheme in budget 2022, announced in October, to ensure 100% redress for all those apartment, house and duplex owners currently living in buildings built during the Celtic tiger era with fire safety and structural defects, caused not only by shoddy workmanship and bad oversight by developers and builders but also by a weak regulatory regime put in place by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael?