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Seanad Éireann debate -
Monday, 11 Jul 2022

Vol. 287 No. 4

Remediation of Dwellings Damaged By the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks Bill 2022: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach and leis the Senators who are here as well. As I said in the Dáil, the defective concrete block disaster has haunted the lives of people in Donegal, Mayo and beyond for far too long. People who built and bought family homes have had to watch those same homes crumble before their eyes while others potentially face that prospect. With no other help available, they turned to the State for support. When the support was introduced and was found wanting, they took their message directly to the Government through all routes available. We have listened to that message and heard it loud and clear.

The scheme that today’s legislation underpins is a dramatic leap forward towards a 100% grant scheme. It goes a long way towards addressing the fundamental concerns and needs of homeowners. However, I recognise homeowners' concerns and fears. I assure them that we are committed to making this scheme work. No scheme is perfect. I have said repeatedly that schemes evolve and I am sure this one will too as the science is developed and lessons are learned. I assure Senators that I will not be found wanting if and when changes to the scheme now being legislated for are required.

The intense engagement with homeowner representatives over the past year has fundamentally reshaped this scheme for the better. It is a scheme of State support that is unprecedented anywhere in the world. It is the State stepping up to help those who have no other way forward. It is light at the end of a long tunnel for affected families. I pay tribute to the homeowners and their representatives who have engaged with this process through the working group, Oireachtas hearings, submissions to the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, SCSI, and the expert group and through frequent meetings of the homeowners' forum. That work has shaped this scheme and, where agreement could not be reached, it at least shone a light on the issues. I particularly acknowledge and thank John O’Connor for taking on the role of homeowner liaison and for his hard work and commitment to improving the scheme. I also thank my officials, who have worked diligently on this issue along with colleagues in local authorities. In addition, I acknowledge my Government colleagues from the impacted counties who have been tireless advocates both publicly and, more often, behind the scenes in pressing the case for impacted homeowners not just over the past year, but over several long years.

Today's draft Bill follows on from the general scheme and reflects the decisions made by the Government in November 2021. I will now draw attention to the key decisions made and the differences from the old scheme and highlight the major steps forward. There is provision for 100% grants subject to an overall maximum grant of €420,000 per dwelling; this is an increase from the €247,500 available under the current scheme. The grant rates are in keeping with the construction cost report prepared by the SCSI in February 2022 and provision has been made for a review mechanism for the overall grant cap and a review of the grant rates, as required. This was a particular request of homeowners that I acceded to. They sought independent costings and I accepted this suggestion without change. There is to be a Government guarantee in regard to remediation works other than full demolition and rebuild works through eligibility for a second grant, if required, for a period of 40 years. This 40-year guarantee is another very significant request from homeowners that we have acceded to. There will be a revised application process which removes the €5,000 to €7,000 financial barrier to scheme entry in favour of a low-cost building condition assessment report. An independent appeals process for applicants is to be introduced with all key decisions under the scheme appealable. Alternative accommodation, storage costs and immediate repair works to a maximum value of €25,000 are included within the overall grant cap. The Housing Agency will play a key role under the enhanced scheme by taking on the financial cost of testing and assessing homes and determining, on behalf of the local authorities, the appropriate remediation option and grant rate for each dwelling. A new damage threshold will help to ensure the worst affected homes are prioritised.

The enhanced scheme is extended beyond the current scope of principal private residences only and will now also cover rented dwellings registered with the Residential Tenancies Board on or before 1 November 2021. Clare and Limerick will be included in the enhanced scheme upon commencement and a pathway will be provided for other local authority areas to access the scheme, if required, through independent research and recommendations to the Minister by the Housing Agency. There will be a review of the operation of the Act three years after commencement and within three months of any revised IS 465 standard. Exempt development status under planning legislation will be granted to remediation works carried out under the defective concrete blocks grant scheme on a like-for-like basis. A parallel scheme of grant assistance will be introduced for local authority and approved housing body-owned social houses which are impacted.

I thank the chair and members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage for facilitating a waiver of pre-legislative scrutiny, for facilitating such a long and detailed engagement with key stakeholders on 23 June and for the comprehensive feedback since received. I will now briefly address that feedback. The damage threshold is provided for in the Bill but will be prescribed in regulations. Its only purpose is to ensure that damage has occurred to dwellings before they enter the grant scheme and that the worst damaged homes are prioritised for approval under the scheme. I assure homeowners that the threshold set will not work to prevent entry to the scheme for those who need access.

The SCSI cost report was prepared in February 2022 and submitted to my Department in March, only four months ago. The grant rates are being set by reference to those rates, which provide for like-for-like works. The rates will be prescribed and kept under review to ensure they remain appropriate.

The appeals panel will comprise ten persons selected independently of my Department through a recruitment process to be run by the Public Appointments Service. All the key decisions under the scheme can be appealed by homeowners. I assure Senators that the appeals panel will operate independently.

Section 29 provides for subrogation. If a homeowner chooses to pursue a right of action in respect of the damage to a home then he or she is free to do so. However, the Bill must be framed so as to ensure that the grant does not operate as a form of double compensation. It is important that section 29 is retained, as it is so that the State can step in on behalf of the taxpayer to ensure that litigation is appropriately managed for the benefit of the public. Section 29 provides for that. If the litigation is successful, then any damages awarded above the level of the grant would go to the homeowner.

There has been a lot of discussion about downsizing in recent weeks, and I want to make clear that for the small number of homeowners who have so far expressed an interest in it, downsizing is allowed under the scheme. The grant awarded to an applicant will be appropriate to the size of home he or she intends to build, and the grant rates set will be adequate to ensure 100% of costs can be recovered for all but the very largest of homes on a like-for-like basis. The Government and I have an obligation to the Exchequer and participants in the scheme to ensure that the grants approved are appropriate to the size of home being rebuilt and that homeowners rebuilding a home of the same size are grant-aided appropriately. Setting up a two-tier grant system with different grants for the same home size would be fraught with problems. The scheme does not financially reward downsizing, but it is incorrect to state that it penalises homeowners who do so. It does not.

The Government decision of 30 November 2021 called for a number of reviews to be completed to ensure issues of concern were properly interrogated. They include: the review of the IS 465:2018 protocol, including consideration of the impact of other potentially deleterious material such as pyrrhotite; the review of the Irish standard for concrete blocks, including aggregates; the review of the adequacy or otherwise of the existing foundations in homes impacted by defective concrete blocks; and the review of the potential impact, if any, of full cavity-wall insulation on homes susceptible to damage or damaged by defective concrete blocks. The Bill does allow for the Minister to adjust the scheme through regulations to provide for any issues that arise from the scientific investigations, and that includes foundations. If it is found that there is an issue with foundations, I will include them in the scheme through regulations.

The enhanced grant scheme makes provision for retrospective payment of the benefits to early movers under the current scheme. Making provision for homeowners who completed remediation works prior to the IS 465 standard and the grant scheme having been in place is a lot more complex and would need further time for consideration of the issues involved.

I am conscious of time, so I will conclude. Every Senator is keenly aware of the scale of the crisis that confronts us. This scheme is the State stepping up to the mark, as we have a moral obligation to put in place practical solutions for impacted homeowners. I assure Senators that we will continue to work with all Members of the Oireachtas, and listen carefully to their views as we put in place regulations and guidance to ensure the enhanced scheme can open for applications as soon as possible. We have waited more than two years since the announcement of the previous scheme. We must move ahead with a new scheme that will put people's lives and homes back on track. That is why the urgency of this legislation is such that it must be passed before the summer recess, so that we can have a new scheme open in the autumn and new regulations published. I look forward to engaging with Senators here today. I will make some concluding remarks at the end of the debate.

The Minister is very welcome. I also welcome John O'Connor from the Housing Agency. At the outset, I acknowledge the work of Caroline Timmons, a very able person in the Department, who has aided, assisted and supported the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage to deal with the complexities of this issue, and all of the Department's staff.

I also welcome the homeowners affected by this issue in Donegal, Mayo, Clare, Limerick and other counties, whom I have no doubt are tuned in to this debate. In preparation for today, I took a look at the Official Report of the Dáil proceedings, in particular the debate from Wednesday, 6 July. To say the least, the debate was characterised by bitter recrimination and, as we now know, led to the resignation of the Fine Gael Deputy from Donegal, and former Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh. I thank Deputy McHugh for his work on this difficult issue, which has crossed political boundaries and divided so many families. That is a terrible shame. It has happened on other occasions in our history, but we must move on. We want to get people back into homes that are appropriate for them in terms of size, and that are safe and sustainable. A number of amendments were ruled out of order because of extra costs to the Exchequer. I do not know the ins and outs of that, but I want to put a marker down that if it happens on this Bill in the Seanad I would challenge it. I am not sure how many amendments will be allowed. Senators will be focused in their amendments. I do not believe we will have many amendments, but we will have ones that are substantive and that will have to be teased out. I acknowledge the work of Deputy McNamara, an Independent colleague of mine who is a Deputy for Clare, who I know was involved. The reality is that the Bill was passed. We will move on.

We are now in the Seanad. Let us be clear: we hope this Bill will not be guillotined and that we will have sufficient time to tease it out. The guillotine is not a matter for the Minister, it is a matter for this House. If we decide, and a decision is supported to guillotine the Bill, then we are to blame, nobody else - not the Clerk, not the Administration, not the Minister, but we in this House. That is where the blame lies.

I want to touch on a few issues. The Mica Action Group said the Bill before the Dáil was not fit for purpose. It did not give homeowners 100% redress. The Minister addressed some issues, and I am enlightened by what he has had to say, but there are particular concerns. The group says it does not make sense to rebuild on suspect foundations and that the Government in this Bill is ignoring the science on the possible presence of other minerals. It has also argued that people should be allowed to downsize. The Minister reassured me here today that people will be allowed to downsize. The issue is that people thought they could downsize from 2,000 sq. ft to 1,500 sq. ft and keep the difference. There are issues in that regard. This is public money at the end of the day. I am mindful of the fact that this is a redress scheme. It is not really an insurance scheme. It is the State stepping up to the plate, acknowledging that there was wrong and that there were shortcomings on behalf of the State and the monitoring authorities. That is another day's work. We are going to have to pursue the people involved here, because that has sometimes got lost in all the debate.

I say to the Minister that is important that we work together. We have an opportunity in the Seanad to refine and improve the redress scheme. I also acknowledge the Minister's heavy emphasis on the regulations. That is something he has the scope for, and I believe he is sensitive enough to the issues. Politically, practically and realistically, they are issues that we must address. We work in an economy, but we also work in a society and in the context of politics too. There must be proper and democratic engagement in politics. Nobody wants to be the subject of bully-boy tactics by anybody in politics or to be cajoled into a situation and respond in an irresponsible way or in a way that is unreasonable and unfair and draws on the funds, finances and expertise of this State. The State is standing up and acknowledging there were shortcomings. Let us move on now and get people homes. I acknowledge the work in that regard.

This is a very controversial issue and culpability and liability are something on which we need to put a great emphasis. I will not stand up here and name suspect quarries, providers of building materials or builders. We all know that there are issues in that regard. I urge the Minister to commit to pursuing through the courts those that made and sold defective concrete blocks and other products.

It is difficult and there are issues involved. I understand the concerns of the action groups around the damage threshold to eligibility for the grants, the shortfall of the mediation costs and the lack of a full financial downsizing option to rebuild a smaller home. The Minister has explained and touched on that. It is important we are with the public and are not tone deaf to the impact of this scandal. The members of the public who have been affected by this are no fools. They know where the blame lies. They know the political games that are being played out by some. At the end of the day, they will decipher the detail of all the promises and ultimately make their own call and act accordingly. That is an important point.

I will touch on a few other points in the time I have remaining. These are areas that have not been touched on comprehensively. Ms Caroline Timmons and the Minister's staff circulated a circular I find helpful. The circular listed a number of items. The Minister has touched on the pathway for other counties and he may touch on it again. The independent appeals process will be fully independent. That is important and we need that reassurance. When is it going to happen? I know there are timelines involved and a process to be followed.

There is an issue over the properties that have been excluded. We must get one principal home for everyone dealt with, but that is an issue of concern. The wrongdoing, public accountability and the public inquiry are issues the members of the public affected by this scandal want to know something about.

There is also the issue of supporting the vulnerable householders. There are people who have been mentally, physically and financially broken and we must support them. We must put in place packages of support. Those people are devastated. People have suggested there are a few scammers out there but I do not buy into that. The majority of the people affected are decent and hard working. Many of them are in their 60s. They are without an income and do not expect to have an income. They want to replace and rebuild their homes. That is important.

There are two further issues I wish to mention. The first relates to ongoing resources for our local authorities. A number of local authorities are going to be burdened for a long time with the responsibility of acting as agents on behalf of the State and the scheme. I would like the Minister to assure us that, particularly in Donegal and the other counties we know are affected, there will be sufficient expertise and professional resources. We do not require them to be allocated permanently. They should be drafted in to complement the local authorities. The Housing Agency has a role in all of this. It is important we have funding in place.

We are going to have to make decisions this week about this Bill. On the whole, my gut feeling is that it is worthy of support. It is a difficult one. There are political considerations in all of our decisions. We are politicians. We must take actions in the common good of the State and consider how best we can address the issues. We must put in a fair and reasonable redress scheme, support the Government and get on with the job.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House this morning. I thank not only him but also his Department, everyone who has worked on the defective concrete blocks working group and all of the homeowners who have so patiently engaged with the Minister, Department officials and the local authorities concerned.

This legislation is very important. This is about families' homes. This saga has been going on for more than a decade. I commend the Minister from a Fianna Fáil perspective. We were the only political party in the most recent general election to call out this issue in our manifesto. We have committed to the pursuit of a solution for the homes of the families who have been affected. The Minister has been true to his word since taking office when this Government was formed. He made it a priority and persisted with it as a priority when others would have sought to deflect, delay and divide. The Minister has stayed the course and is to be commended on that. It is easy to understand why he did so. The majority of us in this House believe access to a secure home is a basic human right. The families whose homes have been affected have been denied that basic comfort and right. The scheme that was in place when this Government took office failed those homeowners. It failed to provide them with sufficient support and redress. It was essential and necessary for the scheme to be reviewed and improved. I and my party believe this is a significantly improved scheme. We believe it will deliver for homeowners and give them the opportunity to restore their homes and to reclaim their lives. The defective concrete blocks Bill underpins the new, enhanced scheme. We share the Minister's sense of urgency and his desire to see this Bill passed as soon as possible so that the scheme can be implemented and, most importantly, made available to those families who desperately want to reclaim their lives.

A multibillion euro State intervention such as this is unprecedented but it is an exceptional situation. It is absolutely right for the State to intervene in these exceptional circumstances. We saw how the State intervened during the national emergency that was the pandemic. This emergency has affected the north west of our country and it is essential the homeowners and families are supported and that this unprecedented multibillion euro State intervention is made.

We want to see the scheme up and operating as soon as possible. We welcome the fact the grant has moved from 90% to 100% redress. That is absolutely appropriate. It is also welcome the overall maximum grant cap has been increased from €247,5000 to €420,000. That will cover 99% of the homes affected. It will not cover all of the built structures but will cover the family homes and the principal private residences, which is important.

We also welcome the fact the improved scheme has a guaranteed second grant option for the non-rebuild remediation, if that is required, and the second grant option will remain with the home and will be in place for 40 years. The Government has agreed to extend the scheme to additional counties, as required, and that is welcome. I would like the Minister, in his reply, to outline the timing and the process by which that will happen.

The other changes include the expansion of the eligibility from owner-occupied private principal residences to include properties registered with the Residential Tenancy Board. That is welcome. It will potentially bring another 7,500 family homes into the scheme. That is also welcome.

We note the omission of holiday properties and vacant properties. We agree the option that exists with the repair and lease scheme is a good route for those property owners to enter the scheme. It will also allow us to increase stock, which we need to do.

In his reply, will the Minister outline to the House the timeline for the establishment of an independent appeals mechanism? What is the process by which that will be achieved? The Government is also establishing a new building standards regulator and a builders register. It has tasked the National Standards Authority of Ireland to review the concrete block standards to ensure the highest standards are complied with in future. That is important.

Everyone in Fianna Fáil supports the legislation and the scheme, and the allocation of unprecedented public funds to the scheme to help homeowners. We also want to see some accountability. We all know the pressure families are under because of the cost of living. Fianna Fáil is constantly pushing the Minister and the Government for increased funding for affordable homes and affordable childcare. This €2 billion or more - who knows how much it will be? - is appropriate and needed for these families so their homes can be restored. It is also important for the State there is accountability on this issue so we know there is some deterrent in place, going forward.

The Minister will obviously have the support of the Fianna Fáil group in passing this legislation. I appeal to members of all parties and none to use our time here productively and constructively.

Thousands of families are desperately waiting for this scheme. It is not a time for politics; it is a time for us to put a scheme in place and to make it available to the homeowners who need it. The Minister and the Government have demonstrated their ability to listen to the family homeowners, to work with them, to accept the shortcomings in the previous scheme, to amend it and to bring forward a massively improved scheme. Let us get this scheme passed for these homeowners and let us continue to work with them and the Government to ensure they can reclaim their homes and reclaim their lives.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for bringing forward this very important legislation which will help many thousands of families right across the country, particularly in affected counties. While the passage of this legislation has encountered some opposition in the Lower House over the allocated time given to debate it, it is important to note and to acknowledge the extensive work that was carried out by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which carried out three extensive engagements over eight hours last Friday week with industry experts including the SCSI, Engineers Ireland, Department officials, the Housing Agency and the chair of the expert working group. Most importantly, we heard from representatives of the families affected by defective blocks. We heard from the Mica Action Group in Donegal, the Clare Pyrite Action Group and the Mayo Pyrite Action Group. I acknowledge the work of those groups and many more individuals who have campaigned tirelessly on this issue to ensure that a scheme is put in place which will allow them the opportunity to get their lives back on track.

Following that engagement, the Oireachtas joint committee sent a cross-party letter to the Minister asking that a number of items be considered. Many of them can be addressed by regulation. It is important that that flexibility is built into the Bill, and I believe it is. The defective concrete blocks Bill before us underpins a new enhanced scheme to help homeowners with crumbling homes to rebuild and to move on with their lives. It is an unprecedented multimillion euro State intervention that certainly marks an improvement on the old scheme. While some may be of the view that there is no rush in getting this legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas before the summer recess, I do not subscribe to that viewpoint because without the legislation, we are essentially operating under the old system, which does not include the counties of Limerick and Clare and offers a maximum grant of €247,500 rather than the amount of €420,000 specified in this Bill.

The Bill contains many welcome changes to the original scheme and even to the initial draft of this scheme. It is important to acknowledge that those changes were made in response to feedback from affected homeowners and that the changes were recommended by the expert working group. Those changes include the likes of retrospective inclusion, an appeals process, a legal footing for certification of remediation and the Housing Agency taking on the cost of testing. Gone is the sliding scale, and foundations and other materials are being reviewed by the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI. The scheme can be changed by regulation if required.

The Bill has at its core an ambition to provide a fair and equitable solution to homeowners affected by defective concrete blocks. I acknowledge the work that has been carried out to date by following: the working group between June and September of last year; the expert group between January and April of this year; John O'Connor, who has acted as homeowner liaison, since February to the present day; the Minister's Department officials; everyone who has engaged with the forum; and my Fine Gael colleagues from the affected counties, who have worked with the Minister in a proactive way in order to improve this legislation.

While the issue of pyrite and mica has not yet visited my county of Waterford, at least to my knowledge, I am acutely conscious of the devastating impact it has had on affected counties. To feel secure and comfortable in one's home is something most people take for granted, but the affected families' dreams, hopes and aspirations have effectively been crumbling around them. The mental stress and strain that have been inflicted on them is immeasurable. I believe that those families have waited long enough and I want to ensure that this legislation is passed as soon as possible.

The Government is also establishing a new building standards regulator and a builders' register and has tasked the NSAI with reviewing concrete block standards to ensure that the highest standards are complied with into the future. I cannot stress enough the importance of that measure. We heard some very concerning testimony at the Oireachtas joint committee that defective materials are still being put into circulation from a quarry in the south east. That is simply intolerable at a time when the State is rightly putting a scheme in place which will cost the taxpayers of this country in excess of €2.8 billion. We cannot allow similar scenarios to arise in the future. I urge the Minister to ensure that routine spot-checking is carried out on all quarries across the country in order to ensure we do not face this scenario again in ten or 20 years' time, particularly given we are putting this scheme in place.

As for the fair and equitable package for homeowners that we are discussing, we need to take account of inflation. The funding model for this scheme is based on the comprehensive body of work that was carried out by the SCSI. I acknowledge and thank its volunteers, who put in many hours of work into coming up with its formula and costings. There is no denying the fact, however, that things have moved on from February to where we are now and that there has been significant cost inflation in the construction sector, even in that short period. It is critical that we ensure that the payments in this scheme are adequate, fair and equitable and that families can have access to the amount of money they need to build safe homes and the homes they deserve. If that is in place, then the issue of downsizing is addressed because it will ensure that 100% redress is in place to allow for those people to build properties to the sizes of their choosing.

I appeal to the Minister and to the officials in the Department and in the Housing Agency to ensure that this scheme is made as easy to access as possible for homeowners. We all know as politicians that officials can put overly complicated systems in place that make it far more difficult than is necessary for people to access them. I ask, therefore, that things are put in simple and plain English in order that people in the affected counties can access what they need to get their lives back on track. That is what we are seeking today to do as a Government. We are seeking to ensure that people can move on with their lives and can access the necessary supports to do so.

The Minister is welcome. I welcome the people tuning in from all the counties affected: Limerick, Clare, Mayo, Donegal, Sligo and others. I think we can all agree that they have run an immense campaign for quite some time. I know that people in Limerick were pleased that the Minister has included them in the scheme, but people I spoke to last week were completely unimpressed and deeply distressed by the lack of engagement on amendments to the Bill last week. The people at the heart of this campaign have their homes literally crumbling down around them, and the Minister knows that. Everybody knows the awful situations in which families in homes with defective blocks are living. They fear their houses will fall down around them as their children sleep at night. The Minister said of the campaigners in his opening remarks on Second Stage in the Dáil:

... they took their message directly to the Government through all routes available. We have listened and heard it loud and clear.

If the Minister has truly listened to the families at the heart of this crisis, why were so many of them in tears on Wednesday night as they left the Dáil Chamber? I will quote directly from an email we were sent this morning from one of the people in the Gallery of the Dáil during the debate. It states:

I sat distraught in the gallery of the Dail when the so called enhanced defective block bill was voted on, on Wednesday evening as my future was decided...I watched grown men and campaigners crying on their knees after hearing the result, an image I will never forget as they realised they will not be able to keep their families safe. It felt like a death had already taken place and we were grieving.

The voice we have not heard so far in this debate is the voice of the homeowners.

That is why I want to put on record what they have said about this Bill. I am quoting directly from them; these are their voices. They say:

It is imperative that the voice of the Homeowners, the victims of Defective materials, is heard and ... [in particular] the Government ... [politicians] ... listen before it is too late. Listen, because to date, you have not listened. We are angry, frustrated and the endless torture will not be tolerated to go on a minute further.

I have a second quote:

Last week we were due to see ... A workable scheme that would enable the thousands of homeowners across 13 counties to move forward with their lives. Instead, what was delivered over 60 pages was contempt for us homeowners, in the same week the Housing Committee heard quarries are still producing defective materials. How can we [be expected to] trust a system which is not fit for purpose failing in its responsibility to protect victims, citizens, and taxpayers? Threats of fines and imprisonment for innocent homeowners. Minister nowhere mentioned were the equivalent fines or threats of imprisonment for the true perpetrators in this. The producers of these defective blocks, including giants of the Irish ... [construction] Industry.

Again, let met stress those are not my words but those of the homeowners who were, unfortunately, ignored last week. I have a further quote:

To date this government has broken all parliamentary process when trying to rush this scheme through the statutory legislative stages. You have given us no time to review the bill, no time to debate the bill, no time to even communicate and discuss the consequences of the long-term aspects of the bill to the thousands of homeowners whose lives will be destroyed by not only defective blocks, but your failure to provide true redress for the problem.

The statement concludes:

Minister let us be [very] clear, so our words are not misunderstood. If this bill is not amended, we the homeowners will not support it. We will continue our campaign and protests until it is amended, until it is fit for purpose. Fit for the citizens of this country who need to avail of it to fix their homes. It is not just our houses that this is destroying, but our daily lives, our working lives, our family lives, our physical and mental wellbeing, the very fabric of our communities.

That is the judgment that was passed on the Minister's response to the Bill last Wednesday, specifically, his refusal to take amendments. Even the Government's own Deputy from Donegal, Deputy McHugh, voted against the Bill because he knows it is not right.

During Committee Stage in the Dáil the Government refused to accept amendments that would make a real difference to the scheme and make it workable, for example those on the earlier SCSI updating of costings that Senator Cummins has mentioned. He has called out the fact we have inflation. The Senator is right. The good news is he has an amendment to vote on in that regard. However, there is a problem, and one we have seen far too often in this political field. I went through with care the contributions on Second Stage in the Dáil and saw Government Deputies talking about all the things that needed to be done to improve the Bill. Despite this, when it came to voting and having acknowledged the Bill was not where it needed to be, each and every one of them, with the exception of Deputy McHugh, went into the voting lobby to support the Bill. Is it any wonder people were disgusted, crying and deeply upset? A colleague of mine from County Clare was there with colleagues from the county who are not of our party. One of them swore and said, "I know this man won't let me down" - but he did. He did not even give eye contact up to the Gallery and he voted in the lobby to reject amendments he promised he would support. That is the reality.

Some of these amendments were very simple. Take the idea foundations are excluded. Let us be clear about that. It means when this Bill is launched, if an engineer comes to a house he will not be able to check the foundations, or not until such time as foundations are included in the scheme. We know that is months, or perhaps a year away. That is the reality at the moment. These were sensible amendments that could have and should have been listened to but were not. Let me stress again the words I quoted are not mine but those of the homeowners, many of whom said to me over the weekend they could not face coming back down here again this morning, having been let down so badly by their own local politicians.

To speak again on Limerick, we do not even the true number there. We think it might be around 750 houses. It is hugely significant. It is good we are included in the scheme but it is entirely unacceptable we still have key issues like penalties for downsizing, the exclusion of foundations and the SCSI costings which, under the Minster's Bill, we will have to wait 12 months to see any change to.

These are fundamental issues that must be grasped and this is the Minister's last chance; this is the opportunity. I must be frank and say I do not believe the Minister will accept a single amendment but I hope he will at last listen because what is clear from the statement from homeowners is he has not listened to date. He has not taken heed of their concerns and people feel betrayed. That is the truth of the matter. They feel betrayed and they are watching this debate this morning. They will be watching Committee Stage. I again put on record my deep disappointment we do not have enough time to debate these amendments. I acknowledge the Leader gave us an extra two hours and I welcome it but to rush this Bill though in the way the Government has is, given the complexities of it, hugely disrespectful not just to us on the Opposition benches but to everyone in this Chamber. The Minister can and must do better.

I thank the Minister for coming into the House. I first heard of mica about five years ago. That we are this stage today shows this Bill has been a long time coming. I pay particular tribute to the campaigners, elected representatives and the thousands of people, including the affected householders, their families and the communities who have campaigned to get the Bill to this point. As they would say, it does not far enough. Let us not forget it took two massive protests where 25,000 people attended on each occasion, bringing parts of Dublin a halt, to get the Government to sit up and listen.

It is important to say that when I read the detail, there are real improvements on what was originally proposed. There are improvements on the scale of money that is on offer and on the type of houses that are going to be covered. I had a particular concern about those living in rental accommodation. They will spend their lives living in rental accommodation and there was not an incentive for their landlord to address the mica issues in the house. They will now be included in the scheme.

However, it is a real pity that, notwithstanding the improvements, there is almost a good deal on offer here - almost. It is not a good deal though. It does not go far enough. We are within touching distance of that good deal, yet the Minister and the Department are refusing to take amendments. They are refusing to finish off and get this scheme over the line and into a place where householders will have the confidence and know they can get on with their lives and get on with rebuilding their houses. There are so many who are now bitterly disappointed about the unnecessary rigidity of the provisions of the Bill before us.

There are very serious issues. Foundations of a house are not appropriately dealt with in this Bill. There is the issue associated with downsizing. There is the issue with future-proofing. We have heard from families that they are now terrified if they help their parents get their house in order by accessing the scheme and the parents come to live with them in future they will be precluded from accessing the scheme if there is mica in both houses. Then there is the issue of retrospection. The Minister has been in Donegal and in Mayo and the other counties. He has seen the houses that are crumbling. These families have already had to spend thousands to keep a roof over their heads and to keep those houses from collapsing on their children. How can he look them in the eye and say to them there is nothing for them in this scheme? This is what they believe at the moment because there is no retrospection for those who have already had to put money into their houses. We will be putting forward amendments. We are hopeful the Minister will engage. The record of the Dáil for last week speaks for itself.

Like Senators Boyhan and Cummins, I believe that after this Bill is passed the key question is what will the Minister and his Department do to go after those who created this mess in the first place. The State messed up by turning a blind eye to regulating building suppliers and building standards because the State now must pay. What will be done to those who were negligent and thereby responsible for this mess? We have not heard very much from the Department in that regard.

For almost 18 years I have been a visitor to the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal and it is where my husband comes from so I know the depth of feeling, desperation and anger felt among that community. There is a real sense of frustration that the company that sold the faulty blocks that were used in affected houses cannot be held to account because of the ten-year statute of limitations on product liability. There is an anger and frustration in the community that the company was able to fold and its directors could set up a new company. For the past few years posters about a company can be seen all over the Inishowen Peninsula, which asks people to boycott the company thus leaving its workers in a very difficult situation. Nobody should be subjected to intimidation but the key issue is that the company has been allowed to continue trading. How can we channel frustration into action?

I wish to emphasise that this issue is not just about mica. It is about the near 100,000 apartments across Dublin and the rest of the country that have fire defects. The Department has established a working group but the Minister knows that the State will have to step up to the plate and cover for the fact that the Government in the early 2000s chose to turn a blind eye to regulating builders and building suppliers. We need to hear what the Government is doing. To the families and communities who are looking at proceedings here, I must state that there have been improvements but such efforts do not go far enough. We plead with the Minister to make a number of simple changes to the Bill, which the Labour Partly and I believe would deliver a good deal for the people who have been affected by mica.

I will keep my speech focused on people because I believe that they have been left out of this conversation. Last week, on my way up to this Chamber I spoke to Mr. Michael Doherty. I was going to stand up and ask how I could support a Bill that does not speak to or support the people but then I would not have been able to convey some of his words. Last Thursday, Mr. Doherty contributed to a programme on Highland Radio and mentioned that on Wednesday he wrote a few words about how he felt. He said, "We sat in the Gallery filled with anger and tears watching every affected homeowner get sentenced and fined...".

I remind the Senator that she cannot refer to people outside the House.

Am I not allowed to say a person's name?

The quotes are good.

The man said, "We sat in the Gallery filled with anger and tears watching every affected homeowner get sentenced and fined tens of thousands of euro for the rest of their lives but no-one could tell us what we done wrong". I want to say the following to Michael and all of the affected homeowners. You have done nothing wrong. You have done all of the right things.

Please bear in mind that the Mica Acting Group was established in 2013 yet we are talking about this issue as if it came to our attention two or three years ago. The Government has let down the people, and the affected homeowners need more than words right now. I offer my solidarity to the homeowners. Later this week, I will table very strong amendments in order to fix this bad legislation. Last week in the Dáil, the Opposition tabled more than 150 amendments and not one of them was supported. All of the amendments were designed to make sure this legislation listened to and addressed the concerns of homeowners. A lot of these amendments were bought forward on behalf of campaigners.

A fortnight ago, young innovators were in the audiovisual room and explained to us the impact that mica has had on their wellbeing. I have not heard one person speak about the future of young people in, say, counties Limerick, Donegal and Clare. People are worried and stressed by this issue, including young people who are studying for their leaving and junior certificate examinations.

I will vote against this Bill as it stands. I encourage the Minister to listen to the people. This legislation is our last chance. Obviously Senators have less power than Deputies but on Wednesday we can come together as a House and prove that we are here for the people affected, particularly as this House is meant to be the people's House. If there are no changes made to this Bill then Senators should vote against it and the Minister also has the power to vote against it.

I hope that the Minister can give me a straightforward answer to my question. Did he speak to the campaigners? Today, we are discussing a Bill and a lot of the time I would state the ethos "nothing about us without us", which is a phrase that we have heard so many times. I agree with my colleague, Senator Sherlock, that we only have a certain way to go and this Bill can be made ideal if our amendments are accepted. I ask the Minister, if he can, to name the campaigners that he worked with to come up with the Bill and ask for that because the people do not feel that they have been listened to.

I live in County Donegal where I have heard mothers say that their children's clothes are full of mould, their houses are cold, and that they are afraid that their homes will crumble on top them and their family. These are real-life scenarios for people. Last week, a presenter on my local radio station said at the end of the programme that having spoken to mica campaigners he felt that he had to announce a list of helplines that assist people with their mental health.

I feel that County Donegal has been forgotten and is the forgotten county. I also know that there are homes in many different counties that have been affected by mica. I firmly believe that people should not have to live in fear that their house will collapse on top of them. I, again, ask the Minister to name the group that he has worked with.

Last week, Deputy Pringle tabled very good amendments in the Dáil and I hope to bring some of his amendments forward here. What is money when people's lives are at risk and people are forced to live in accommodation of a very poor standard? I urge the Minister to think before Wednesday and include our amendments while viewing them as a collective coming together. These amendments are not our amendments. They are not my amendments. They are the amendments of the campaigners. Again, nothing about us without us and campaigners need to be included.

I wish to say "fair play" to Deputy Joe McHugh. It is not easy to go against one's party but one must do what is right, live by one's values and principles and listen to one's gut feeling. I give credit to Deputy Joe McHugh for doing so. I hope that Senators will decide to make a difference and vote against the Bill, as it stands.

I thank the Minister for attending to discuss this vital legislation, which I strongly support. I thank some of the Opposition spokespersons for their thoughtful approach to this legislation. Both Senators Boyhan and Flynn talked about bringing this legislation back to the people. They are 100% right that this legislation must be about the applicants and the affected homeowners.

It is about their chances of getting their lives back in order again. This has been an awful, traumatic time for these people. A lot of work has gone into this over the past two years. The Bill did not arise two months ago. It arose from consultation with the Minister and the Mica Action Group. Following weeks of going into the Minister's office, I met him and the action group in Donegal when he launched the first scheme. It was not a scheme of his making but he launched it to get the measures under way and to see at what stage we were. There has been an enormous evolution of the scheme since August 2020 because of the Minister's flexibility in meeting the action group and homeowners, as well as working with us as politicians. The Minister and officials from his Department have put in hundreds of hours, as we have, into this. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, has put in hundreds of hours separately meeting with the action group. Due to the transformation of the scheme, today's scheme is unrecognisable from the original scheme. The key demand from the first gathering in Dublin was 100% redress and that is addressed in the Bill, as well as many other issues. We would like for the Bill to include more and I will bring some of these concerns to the floor of the House today.

I also received phone calls during the weekend. I was at a meeting in Buncrana last night. There is so much misinformation and information out there that people do not know if they are coming or going. People are in real distress and they need to know what the true information is. The Government could set up a specific website for information purposes to give people proper direction on this. Engineers are key to this. Politicians can say one thing on one side of the House and something else on the other side, but the families are caught in between and that anger has to come out. This scheme must progress. People need to get on with their lives and in doing that, a website would be helpful. Engineers involved will play a key role. The relationship between engineers and applicants is important. At the end of the day, homeowners should pay less attention to what we as politicians say from here on and should consult their engineer, from whom the real information is obtained. There is too much misinformation and toing and froing, and we do not always have the facts right. Engineers have to have the facts right because they have to provide and stand over guarantees.

I was present during the eight hours of the committee hearing. It was a tremendous piece of work because we heard first-hand from the homeowners what the issues were. I heard very clearly what the representatives of Engineers Ireland said about foundations. The institution is pleading with people to let it know if they have information on foundations or have a house with foundations that are in trouble because at the moment, its clear understanding is there are no foundations in any county where there is bother. Even the scientist who came before the committee was asked to pass on the information he had of where his samples came from. That information has not been passed on yet. If there is information about foundations available, let us have it. I am glad the Government gave the guarantee this morning that foundations will be included in the provision if and when the National Standards Authority of Ireland reports on it, but there is a great fear among people that foundations will fall apart. The solid information from Engineers Ireland, which provides the standard by which we go because there is no other standard provider, is that there is no difficulty with any foundations in Ireland at present. The scientific work is now under way but until that is complete, the foundations cannot be included in the provisions. That is the way the Government works and if it did not, there would be many other issues.

I raise the matter of the demolition of houses after remedial works have been granted or requested by an engineer. When such work is being undertaken, if it is found that the blockwork has deteriorated to an extent that requires demolition, demolition is not included under the Bill and the house may deteriorate further in the medium term. We need a provision on that.

There are many other issues I wish to raise, which I will do during the moving of amendments in the next Stages of the Bill. I want to get this Bill under way, because many people want to get their houses and lives back in order. While it does not include every provision that I would like, it is as much as we can get at the moment.

I thank the Minister for coming before the House to discuss this all-important topic. I thank him and the Department for their work on the Bill, as well as for the inclusion of Limerick within its provisions. I recall when I got involved with the people in Limerick who were affected by pyrite in their foundations. At the time, they met the Pyrite Resolution Board. Some people who were affected by mica came to the same meeting and it had to be explained to them that while they were similarly affected, this was a different scheme. We received support from the Pyrite Resolution Board and Mr. Jack Keyes, chairman, at the time. They were very clear about how we could apply to the scheme. I made the application on behalf of the residents. When Limerick was included, many people got excited and thought they could apply because they were affected by mica but they are two different schemes. I have seen the crumbling bricks and the deprivation in houses and how it affects families. I understand the stress it is causing to so many family.

I thank the Minister for the inclusion of counties Clare and Limerick in the scheme. It came as a recommendation to him and he decided to add it under the Bill. I understand the stress families around Ireland have experienced. The fact that the scheme has been increased up to a maximum of over €200,000 from the original scheme is to be welcomed. I presume that was done because of the increased costs associated with building and a lack of supplies. I ask that the Minister keep that figure under review. I know he is committed to working with the groups.

I compliment the groups and all those involved who came together and put their case. I look forward to supporting the Bill, which has come a long way. While some people believe it has not fully addressed their concerns, I believe it will address many of the issues affecting families. What is the timeframe by which homeowners in Limerick will be able to avail of the scheme? I understand the scheme has to be up and running before they can apply, or maybe I am wrong on that.

Other Senators have referred to quarries, and I am aware the Minister has sought an independent investigation into quarries, mainly in Donegal. I would like that expanded to quarries around the country. I again refer to the pyrite issues. Bricks may have been bought from the same quarry that supplied people with bricks who were affected by pyrite. In speaking to homeowners about where they purchased their building materials, there seems to be a quarry in common. While I will not name the quarry, it is important that quarries are examined to ensure they are not adding to the cost to the State, in that they are no longer selling defective materials. While they may not have known about it at the time, it is quite serious due to the number of houses affected in Ireland. Will the Department consider clawing back some of the costs from these quarries? If they were knowingly selling defective products, they should have to contribute towards to cost of the scheme.

The fact that people are allowed to downsize is very important because clarity was not provided on that for a while and there was a lot of misinformation out there.

I welcome the fact that people are allowed to downsize under the scheme. Will there be a one-stop shop in the local authority that people will go to in order to find out? I wish to compliment my own local authority, which made the submission for the application on behalf of the homeowners affected in Limerick.

I want to start by expressing my admiration for and thanks to all those who organised, mobilised and campaigned for a 100% redress scheme in this area. I admire the tenacity, the drive and the vision of those involved to put in the time and the energy to keep the pressure up, to come to Dublin month after month and week after week, and to make sure their voices were heard by leaving no other option for the Government. I thank them, in particular, for showing that it can be done, and that real change at the highest level is brought about by a dogged determination of real people to make it happen. This campaign was a tireless grassroots movement on an issue that really matters. There was no astroturfing, no political clout posturing and no slick media campaigns from interest lobbyist NGOs. There were just Irish families taking a stand and saying that something needed to be done about this and that they were not going anywhere until it happened. I sincerely hope that we see more of this in the years to come, and that more people in this country realise their power to make a change.

There are a few concerns in relation to this Bill. One of them is a meta concern that is not so much about the Bill itself, but the manner in which it is being put before the House. It is a point that we have, no doubt, heard many times this week. There are some Bills which simply should not form part of the Government's annual scramble to pass legislation before the summer recess. This is one of them. It was pointed out at the end of last month in the Lower House that it seemed rushed for a Bill with a price tag of up to €3 billion to schedule Committee and Remaining Stages in one day, particularly when we appreciate that it is almost ten years now since the issue first appeared. The Dáil did not even get halfway through the Committee Stage amendments, with none on Report Stage. That is no way to do business on a matter as important at this.

The nitty-gritty of the proposed redress scheme, when it comes to cost calculation, has left many fearing that they will still be stuck with an unpayable bill, despite the theoretical 100% redress of the scheme. This must be avoided at all costs.

Clarity and peace of mind are owed to all who have been affected by the issue. Concerns have been raised that options in respect of downsizing, demolition and rebuilding are not adequately provided for in the Bill. These concerns must also be addressed.

We all would have liked to have had this Bill before us sooner, or to have had more time to consider it. I hope that the homeowners of counties Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Clare and Limerick and all others who have been affected see that some progress will be made in the House on this terribly important issue. The Minister has the power to accept amendments that will strengthen the Bill. I ask him to listen, act and show leadership by accepting amendments that will deliver just redress for the people affected by mica.

At the outset, I wish to welcome the Minister to the House and to thank him for his presence here. I thank the Minister and his officials for the huge amount of effort that they have made to try to come up with a satisfactory resolution to the nightmare for the people affected by mica in County Donegal and other counties. I would like to pay tribute to those families who have been living through a nightmare for the past ten years or more, and who are desperately looking for something very simple to enable them to get their lives back on track, to rebuild the homes that they took mortgages out on and to get back to the way they were. We are talking about compensating people for the damage done to their buildings. Regardless of how much compensation is given to any individual homeowner, it will not come anywhere close to compensating them fully for the nightmare that they are living through. Everybody in this Chamber knows somebody who is going through it at the moment. I wish to pay tribute to the families affected for the dignified manner in which they have conducted the campaign. They travelled to Dublin in their thousands this time last year. The manner in which they conducted themselves on that day was recognised by everyone. I pay tribute to them for that.

I also want to pay tribute to the Minister's officials and his Department for their effort to try to find a resolution to the issue. It is the second attempt to try to get a scheme that is acceptable to people. As my colleague Senator Blaney outlined earlier, this scheme is a vast improvement on the first one. However, what disappoints me is that despite so much effort going into the scheme, there are many people who still have genuine questions that remain unanswered. I welcome the fact that we are finally implementing legislation to try to address the issue, but there are still gaps. People still have many questions that so far have not been answered. I suppose it is understandable that no piece of legislation can fully encompass everything that is required. If any of us were going to build a dwelling house or any other building tomorrow morning, we would learn that things are very hard to plan from start to finish. Things happen and issues arise that no one can foresee or legislate for. This legislation is no different. I welcome the fact that we are finally up and running with this. I was heartened by the comments of the Minister at the start of the debate today, when he said that he will leave nobody behind in this, and that people will not be short-changed. He said that if people have issues, he will listen to them. Of all the contributions I have heard today, that is the one that gives me the greatest solace. I thank the Minister for that. The people and families affected are not looking to make money out of the scheme. All they are trying to do is to end up with the home that they have dreamed of from day one - ten years' hence in some cases. That is all they are looking for - no more and no less. No person affected should have to put their hand in their own pocket to get back to where they were over ten years ago. I am heartened by the Minister's comments.

It is also important that before we look forward too much, we look back. As a few speakers have mentioned today, we must ensure those who are responsible for this nightmare are held to account.

I ask the Minister to update us on where we are with that. Where is the State on that journey as it attempts to make those responsible accountable for their actions? Another question has been raised with me several times. If I were to order a lorryload of blocks tomorrow morning, could I be 100% satisfied that those blocks would not be defective and there would be no issues with them? Would I have any comeback if there were issues? I would like that question answered today. I compliment the Minister on the scheme. I am aware that he and his officials have put a huge amount of effort into producing it. The families affected have been on this journey for over a decade. All they want is to get their lives back. They have been living through a nightmare. The pressure that it has put on families, marriages and children is incomprehensible. As I said previously, no matter how much compensation these people get, it will not come close to the heartache and turmoil that they have experienced for the last number of years.

I would also like to express my solidarity with the homeowners from counties Clare, Limerick, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal who are watching the debate today but did not feel that they had it in them to make the journey to Dublin again. They have fought an incredible battle. It is important to acknowledge that while they are fighting this campaign, they are also living with the stress of not knowing whether their house will survive the next storm. That is an enormous amount of pressure to be living with.

Everybody knows that one's home is fundamental to stability in one's life and to one's mental health. These homeowners have taken time off work, have footed the costs incurred in travelling from across the country to Leinster House and the only thing they are looking for is fairness. They invested in a home for themselves and for their families and all of this is due to the failures of the State and the light-touch regulation we have had in this State for ever. This regulation has been repeatedly resisted. It seems that we always have to have a crisis before there are changes in the regulations to protect people. All they are looking for is fairness. It always seems to be the way that there is one law for ordinary citizens and another one for business interests.

We will be debating the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022 on the Stardust tragedy later on today. This is another example of where vested interests trumped families.

It is simply astounding that we listened to Senators who are members of Government political parties admit today that defective blocks still are being produced.

It is also unbelievable that we have not heard at all of how the State is not putting every resource available into pursuing those who are responsible for the existing houses in order that they foot the bill for the damage they have caused. Too often we have heard the phrase that lessons will be learned. It is a phrase that is just thrown out. What lessons are being learned if defective blocks are still being produced and if those responsible for the existing houses have not been held to account or pursued in the courts?

Returning to the Bill in front of us, however, the first thing to say is the procedure has been shoddy. When citizens of this country walk away in despair from the Houses of Parliament, Dáil Éireann, after having been traumatised, everybody has to put their hands up to say the legislators have failed them.

Nobody should walk away from this House in tears when all they are looking for is fairness. There is still an opportunity to undo that damage and for the Minister to show he might have reflected over the weekend and is prepared to listen to the outstanding concerns. He has spoken to the concerns which are outlined in the letter that was sent by the entire membership of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. He has not definitively addressed the concerns in that letter. Senator Cummins himself spoke-----

-----of some of those concerns still existing about the foundations. There are people who, when the scheme is set up, will have issues with their foundations and will not be able to access the scheme.

I did not say that.

There are other concerns around the downsizing of the penalty.

On a point of order and to correct the record, I did not state what the Senator has just said I did.

Senator Cummins spoke to some of these concerns that are in this letter.

I can show the Senator my transcript if she wants.

He spoke to the concern around the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, SCSI and made references to the extensions and that he hoped that they would be part of the review.

That is not what Senator Boylan just said I said a second ago.

The review was not to happen for 12 months. Senator Cummins stood here and said he had concerns, some of which are listed in this letter. I am not saying that he said that but I am saying that there are people who have existing problems with the foundations of their houses and they will not be able to access the scheme because the review will be 12-months away.

The Senator is trying to misrepresent me.

The Senator has had his time. His time is up.

The Senator has had his time. I am saying that the Senator did address the concerns around this.

This has been clarified.

Is Senator Cummins satisfied that the matter has been clarified?

Not particularly, no.

The concern around downsizing-----

Senator Cummins can support our amendments on Wednesday and we will go with his support.

The concerns around downsizing have not been addressed. There are people who will not have the excess money, because the costs have increased, to rebuild their home to the same size as it was. There is no money to be made out of this and all they are asking is that they will then reduce the size of the house in order that the money they will get from the State will cover the 100% rebuilding of their house. That is all that there are asking for. They are not looking to put any money in their bank and are literally prepared to downsize their own home so that they would not be out of pocket, because they do not have the money. That is the reality of this; they do not have it. How will they be able to build the house to the exact footprint if they do not have the money?

The other issue around the inflation, the SCSI report, which was brought up this morning, refers to the costings which go back to January and they will not be reviewed, as far as is my understanding, for 12 months. We can get into the detail of what was contained in the letter from all of the members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage with their concerns around the Bill on Wednesday. There is an opportunity then for Members if the Minister will not accept the amendments and be prepared to listen to the concerns because these amendments are not coming from us. They are not Sinn Féin amendments.

These are amendments that are coming from the families who have done detailed research, have sought legal advice on them, and want those concerns addressed. If the Minister is not prepared to reflect on and take them on board, I encourage the Senators who are from the counties affected to reflect on these and-----

Hear, hear. Well said.

-----to think very seriously about how they vote on Wednesday.

I want to clarify, Acting Chairperson, exactly what I said about foundations. I stated:

Gone is the sliding scale, and foundations and other materials are being reviewed by the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI. The scheme can be changed by regulation if required.

There is no procedure for this.

That is what I stated on the record of the House and I would like that to be clarified.

The record will show what the Senator said.

I thank the Acting Chairperson.

That is fine, but the review will not take place for 12-months.

----- so if someone has an existing problem with the foundation-----

-----try to dig the same or a different hole now.

(Interruptions).

We will see how it goes and where we stand on Wednesday.

We have two more speakers, please, Senators.

Every Senator is entitled to have exactly what they said stand.

Yes, but it is what the Senator does, not what he says.

My apologies, Senators, but we have two more speakers who wish to come in on this issue.

Every Senator is entitled to have what they stated on the record to be shown accurately there.

Senator Cummins, the record will show what you said and will reflect that because it was read out twice. If all of the Members are okay now, we will proceed with two further speakers. We must allow then for the Minister to have time to respond. Senator Black has been waiting a while and she has five minutes.

As other colleagues have said here today, a person’s home is supposed to be a place of comfort, and a shield from the elements and the trials and tribulations of the world outside. It is meant to be a safe place where a person can go and rest.

Seeing people forced to live in houses that crumble around them is absolutely devastating. I cannot get the images and videos of the homes built with defective mica blocks out of my head. In some of the online videos, the blocks come apart like damp sand when touched. It is an absolute nightmare from which thousands of people across the country have been unable to wake up.

It is an indictment of the cowboy capitalist attitude that has pervaded elements of the construction sector for some time now, where there was a culture of cutting corners to maximum profit for all, while risking the health and lives of the people living in substandard and sometimes hazardous buildings. It is not just the homes which are riddled with mica and pyrite but it also concerns the defective apartments that were rendered unlivable, like Priory Hall. It is also the damp rodent-infested local authority housing that violates the dignity and humanity of its residents.

People are made to live in dire, dangerous conditions and the State, by its negligent attitude to regulation and enforcement, is complicit in the disasters which unfolded.

The mica homeowners deserve 100% redress.

They are the victims of gross State failure. It is a core function of Government to enact and enforce laws and regulations which prevent market actors from engaging in dangerous, deceptive and dishonest conduct. This Bill does not satisfy the demands of the mica families and campaigners. Redress is about making a person who has been injured whole. It needs to be proportionate and adequate and this Bill, unfortunately, is neither.

There are many issues with this Bill, as the number of amendments compiled by activists and submitted by Opposition Deputies and Senators indicate. One particularly unbelievable one which I want to highlight is the potential penalisation of the redress scheme participants who choose to rebuild smaller homes so as not to incur costs. These homeowners are making a practical concession and a real sacrifice to deal with the flaws in the redress plan and they face further reductions in their entitlement. This is very shoddy treatment. The mica families have been failed by the State all over again.

The crumbling mica houses are people’s homes but they are also crime scenes. They are evidence of fraud on a gigantic scale which has had a devastating impact on the lives of these homeowners and their families and is about to cost the Exchequer €3 billion. What a catastrophe this is.

The quarries which sold the defective material that caused this crisis need to be held to account. However, like most Irish people, I do not feel optimistic that there will be consequences. The Irish people are continually left holding the bag when the Government is forced to intervene in scandals and in crises. The banks were bailed out; the church was indemnified against abuse claims; and time and time again, Irish taxpayers have been made to pay for the criminal behaviour of deeply corrupt institutions.

Mental health is a subject that is important to me.

It intersects with almost every issue that we deal with in this Chamber. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the intricacies of the legislative process and haggling over the granular details, that we fail to comprehend the immense emotional and psychological impact of the issues we debate. When we think of the costs of the mica crisis, we can estimate the cost of rebuilding homes and the incidental practical costs such as emergency accommodation in hotels, but we must also consider the mental health fall-out of this disaster, that is, the stress of living in crumbling homes and the anxiety of families over their safety and future. Their anger at being let down by those in power must be horrendous. These feelings are difficult to accommodate and, for many, they will leave a lasting impact. We must ensure there are adequate supports available to help everyone who has been wounded during this saga recover, not just materially, but psychologically and emotionally.

I commend the people and families impacted by this disaster and the communities that have rallied around them. They have shown extraordinary resilience, courage and tenacity. By sharing their stories, demanding political and media attention and protesting in great numbers, they have made themselves impossible to ignore. I have to say well done to all.

While this Bill is a bitter disappointment to them, they have a great deal to be proud of. There are people in Leinster House who will be their voice and speak, such as my colleague, Senator Flynn.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I have visited people in County Clare whose homes are affected by pyrite. They are decent, honest and hard-working people. Some of them do not have their homes that long. Others have had their homes for quite some time and are on the verge of retirement. They have found themselves in a situation in which their homes are disintegrating around them. They are not in the middle of this crisis and media storm by choice. They are ordinary, decent people who just want to get on with their lives. I know the Minister has visited homes in Clare, so he knows exactly what I am talking about.

Yes, the legislation before us will be very expensive and it is a significant improvement on other presentations of legislation in the past. I understand clearly that it is not what everybody wants, but we in this Chamber and those in the Dáil can alter and amend legislation, if we find that it is clearly not working. I wish to see the scheme rolled out very efficiently and quickly, with little red tape, and boots on the ground in the counties affected to ensure people can be assessed and dealt with quickly. The last thing we want is to see a scheme surrounded and pulled down by bureaucracy. We have seen it time and again with schemes in this country. We cannot let that happen, because time is of the essence. This has gone on too long and we cannot delay it any further.

However, if unintended situations happen during that initiation period, I ask that the Minister be prepared and open-minded enough to come in with amending legislation to deal with it, because we have the power in this House to legislate, but we also have the power to amend legislation and that is not a bad thing. It is important that legislation evolves and is reflective of a particular situation, because there are unintended consequences in many areas. I have no doubt about and would not question for one minute the sincerity of the Minister in this and with the best will in the world, there may be elements of the legislation that do not and cannot work in practice, for whatever reason. In that situation, we have to have the courage of our convictions to amend.

I thank all Senators for their contributions. I have taken a detailed note of all contributions. I will, during the course of Committee Stage, get an opportunity to respond to many of them. This legislation, as Senator Blaney rightly said, has not just come about in the past two months. It follows more than two years of direct engagement with homeowners through the various fora we have set up, my meetings directly with them, my own officials, the Housing Agency and the liaison group chaired by Mr. John O'Connor and others. I have never seen engagement like it on legislation to improve a scheme. I welcome the constructive remarks of most here today. I recognise that every Senator, regardless of the nature of his or her remarks, wants a scheme in place that works for people. That is what I want, fundamentally.

Anyone who looks at the legislation will see there are major, significant changes from the old scheme to now. It is a significant intervention by the State to the tune of approximately €2.7 billion and potentially more. By the way, in October 2021, I engaged with all Opposition parties in the Oireachtas and wrote detailed letters to them. I say this to Senators Gavan and Boylan and others, because it is important for the record. We need the record of the House to be correct on this. I asked specifically for the input of the party of Senators Gavan and Boylan in to the scheme. The party's housing spokesperson said publicly that he would respond, in detail, to all of the questions that I put to genuinely seek its input. I have still not received that response. It is important that people know that.

We have moved on, with legislation that I will make sure works. Over the summer months, we will be working on the regulations to underpin the scheme. The scheme will, of course, evolve. There is no question of that, but this provides for 100% redress. It provides for a second grant option and a 40-year guarantee that the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, Deputies McHugh and Calleary, Senator Blaney and all Government Senators and Deputies in the affected counties advocated very strongly for, in a constructive way, to work on behalf of their constituents, neighbours, friends and families, to bring about the changes we need. These changes are brought forward here in the Bill.

I know very clearly, because I have engaged with the homeowners, how badly they have been affected through this. I wish to address recourse and we will very shortly appoint a senior counsel review. I want those who caused this problem be brought to account. I have said that publicly in both Chambers. Those who have caused this should be paying into the scheme. I have stated that we would establish a senior counsel review to look at all options, including an industry levy, on which we have been working with the Department of Finance.

I will clearly restate the changes. Entry to the scheme was a considerable issue for homeowners. The original scheme was costing between €5,000 and €7,000 to enter. Many people paid that amount. We have refunded it. I made sure that those moneys were refunded to them. We have removed the financial barrier to entry to the scheme. We will be absorbing the cost of entry to the scheme, and rightly so. An initial homeowner outlay to enter the new scheme will be between €500 and €700 for the cost of a building condition assessment, which will be refunded to homeowners once they are accepted.

This will be a national scheme. Clare and Limerick are already included in it. Senator Maria Byrne asked what would happen to Limerick and Clare. Once the legislation is passed and the regulations are up and running, those counties come in to the scheme. There is a pathway for other counties to do so, should there be problems in those counties. Let us be very clear that if one votes against this legislation, as Senator Gallagher and others have said, one is going back to the January 2020 scheme.

They would be going back to a €247,500 grant cap, 90% grant options on all the other remediation options, no guarantee - not even a 20-year one - no second grant option and €7,000 to get into the scheme. We are going back to an imperfect scheme and we would be starting again.

I would say to Senator Flynn, and I thank her for her remarks, that we accepted a number of Deputy Pringle’s amendments in the Dáil . We accepted seven amendments in the Dáil on Committee and Report Stages, and I will be open to listening to amendments here as well. What I do not want though is an ongoing debate into next year and the year after about additions that would delay the establishment of the new scheme.

I said very clearly, particularly in relation to foundations - anybody who wants to be very clear should look at the evidence given - that should an issue be scientifically proven, and if a problem comes up, it will be included in the scheme. We are doing the tests and a review of IS 465 is under way and we will be testing foundations. Are Opposition Deputies and Senators who are opposing this honestly saying to me that we should include that without the scientific evidence, or that we should wait to get other homes under way and remediated in the intervening period?

I am not responsible for the scientific research. I think everyone would fully understand that for an inclusion of something like this or not and to clear that grey area Senator Blaney mentioned, we need that done independently, which is what is happening. I have not heard any alternative from Senators who have been putting their point of view, which I respect, as to what else they would want me to do. Should I just take the advice of one expert against another or do we get it done independently? I think the appropriate thing to do is to have it done independently and assessed in a scientific way.

This scheme and its iterations into the future will be in operation for at least ten years. We need to get started in Donegal, Mayo, Limerick and Clare. We need the Housing Agency on the ground working with our local authorities. I know Senators Cummins and Fitzpatrick are on the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage-----

I have a point of order around Deputy Pringle. The Minister said that he accepted seven-----

-----of Deputy Pringle's amendments. For the record, that is not true. To the best of my knowledge, he accepted one-----

That is not a point of order.

I am just trying to be helpful to the Senator. Amendments Nos. 71, 72, 81, 94, 106, 111 and 150 were accepted. Perhaps not all of them were Deputy Pringle's, however, a number of them were and his name was on a number of them. I welcomed his engagement on it, in fairness. It is not a criticism. It just shows that we accepted amendments in the Dáil and I would expect that if there are reasonable amendments that we can work in without delaying the enactment of the legislation, we will absolutely be very open to doing so.

On the matters raised by the joint Oireachtas committee, officials responded in detail to it last Friday on the matters raised. That is a matter of public record. I would expect Senators will make themselves au fait with the contents of that response from my Department to the joint Oireachtas committee.

We moved a very long way. Why are we doing this? We are doing this to help families get their lives back on track. I visited homes affected and have spoken to homeowners who are affected. Government does not want to delay on this or is not in any way trying to put hurdles in place to stop people getting their homes done. If anything, we are doing the very opposite. We are actually recognising where the deficiencies were with the original scheme and addressing each and every one of them, while absolutely leaving it open. I said in my opening remarks, and it is a matter of record, that should other issues come to pass, they will be included in the scheme. There is no question about that. If some of the Senators opposite want to be honest with themselves, they should have a look at the changes made and at what I said.

I do not think anyone wants to delay the establishment of the new scheme that needs to be underpinned by primary legislation. Remember, the last scheme was set up by regulation only. It was actually on an unsound footing. On Wednesday if anyone wants to argue, as they are entitled to and I respect that, that we should put off this scheme, I would be very interested to hear what the basis for those arguments are, because opposing it means this scheme will not be put in place. It means we will go back to January 2020 and put off helping people fix their homes and lives.

I thank all Senators for their contributions, particularly for the constructive contributions from those in opposition and, specifically, from my colleagues in government. I look forward to engaging further with Senators on Committee Stage later in the week.

Question put.
The Seanad divided by electronic means.

Under Standing Order 62(3)(b) I request that the division be taken again other than by electronic means.

Question again put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 8.

  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Ward, Barry.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Black, Frances.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Flynn, Eileen.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Wall, Mark.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Seán Kyne and Robbie Gallagher; Níl, Senators Paul Gavan and Lynn Boylan..
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 13 July 2022.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 1.06 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 1.32 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 1.06 p.m. and resumed at 1.32 p.m.
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