I move amendment No. 49:
In page 26, line 26, to delete “24 weeks” and substitute “52 weeks”.
Vol. 287 No. 7
I move amendment No. 49:
In page 26, line 26, to delete “24 weeks” and substitute “52 weeks”.
I move amendment No. 50:
In page 27, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
“(13) The Minister shall consult with affected homeowners’ representative groups, including nominated competent building professionals (as defined in Part 2 of this Act) and/or academic professionals with expertise in the fields of geology and materials science (of the homeowners’ choice) in making regulations under subsection (12).”.
Amendment No. 51 is out of order.
Amendment No. 53 is a logical alternative to amendment No. 52. Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 52:
In page 29, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:
“(9) Within seven weeks of the passing of this Act the Minister shall lay before both houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of this section on relevant owners whose initial grant was for demolition and rebuilding of a relevant dwelling and whether, by way of amending legislation, an ancillary grant option should be made available where further damage has been discovered, for example in the foundations or infill aggregate of the relevant dwelling.”.
This amendment calls on the Minister to "lay before both houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of this section ... where an initial grant was for demolition and rebuilding of a relevant dwelling and whether, by way of amending legislation, an ancillary grant option should be made available where further damage has been discovered, for example in the foundations or infill aggregate of the relevant dwelling". This relates to what was discussed yesterday, which is the issue around the foundations being included in the scheme. If somebody receives a grant for demolition and rebuilding his or her home and if he or she is not going to be covered for the foundations, it is a pretty big omission. We are only calling on the Minister to issue a report on the implications of that section.
I am speaking to amendment No. 53. This is a very straightforward amendment. The lesson from the mica experience over recent years has been that it is only with the passing of time that people realise there is even greater damage than what was previously thought to be the full extent of it, with damage even into the foundations. The treatment of the foundations within this Bill has a source of distress to many. We are looking for a report on the implications of this section because, as Senator Boylan has said, there could well be situations where the main structures of houses were deemed to be okay only for it to be discovered upon further investigation that the foundations or, indeed, infill aggregate also need to be remediated. We do not see this as being a radical amendment in any way but rather ensuring as much of the damage that is experienced by households is covered under this scheme. We therefore ask the Minister of State to consider this amendment.
This goes to the heart of an issue we need to clear up today, if we can. Yesterday, the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, and, indeed, members of the Government parties repeatedly said this was a 100% redress scheme, and it is not. That is a misleading statement.
That is not true.
Senator Blaney will get his chance to speak and, believe me, people in Donegal will be watching this afternoon. I am going to point to the example given at the Committee on Housing, Local Government, and Heritage, so it is on the public record, where Martina Hegarty, in a 90 sq. m house under this scheme is entitled to a grant of €161,000. The cheapest quote that she can get to rebuild the house is €200,000. This is all on the public record and Senator Cummins would have attended this meeting as well. I have a simple question for the Minister of State. How is that 100% redress?
I understand the merits of this amendment, but I believe the Minister said yesterday that where there was a shortfall, people, particularly the elderly and people with disabilities, can apply for the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, grants and for the housing adaptation grant, and that is up to €30,000. The mobility grants are available up to €8,000. There are different schemes the Minister specified people could access if there was a shortfall, and that is for that cohort I am referring to here, namely, the elderly and people with disabilities. I am sure the Minister of State will clarify here that the shortfall could be made up by those grants and that people could access them from these schemes.
I thank Senator Keogan for outlining why it is not actually a 100% scheme, because she has just said "if there is a shortfall".
We know there is a shortfall. The woman attended the committee and outlined her case. There is a shortfall in her case of almost €40,000. As anybody who has tried to deal with the SEAI will know, the backlog is enormous. It is difficult to get a house assessed and then you have to apply for an adaptation grant. These homeowners just want to have their homes rebuilt. They did nothing wrong and they should not be sent to different agencies to try to get the funding. If this were 100% redress, they would not have to do that.
Repeatedly over the course of this debate, there have been accusations of misrepresentation and spinning from the other side of the House. I do not mind Senator Blaney saying it about me, as the Minister did yesterday. That is fine. It is politics and we can have the debate. Nevertheless, the families and homeowners who are watching the debate sought advice and drafted these amendments. Is the Government suggesting they are misrepresenting what is in the Bill? Would its members go into one of those houses tomorrow and tell the owners they are misrepresenting, spinning or casting doubt? These are their amendments. I do not mind the Government telling me I am misrepresenting. That is fine.
I reiterate what I said earlier. Sinn Féin has done an awful lot of spinning over the course of this debate. There has been no end to it these past few weeks. It is interesting that a review of this legislation was announced in June 2021. The party's spokesperson on housing was asked, like all of us in these Houses, to make a contribution to help fix the scheme. We knew there were issues with it and everybody pitched in, except Senator Boylan and her party and party spokesperson, who promised on national media that he would contribute. He has contributed nothing for the people of Donegal, so the Senator should not come in here, with two weeks to go, and preach about how her party has all the answers. It has contributed nothing in two years and now it knows everything.
Turning to the amendment and the issue of prices in Donegal, there is a difference of €100,000 on individual houses. There are, and will be, issues with that. I have no doubt the Senator has examples of that, but I can give examples on the other side. Let us have a balanced approach here and be honest.
I would ask both sides to please stop playing politics with people's lives and homes. We are here as legislators to do what is right by the people. These are their amendments and I will support all those that have been proposed by the people. While it is cumbersome to apply for these additional grants, we have to ensure they know they are available and that there is opportunity for people to get them. We need to let them know the information is there and that they can go to any county councillor or Citizens Information office to get that information, help and support with those grants. This issue is too important for the people and the houses in which they live. It is heartbreaking to watch the families and what they have gone through, and to see the children crying, the homes and the elderly who have been affected. We have seen the tenacity and stamina of this grassroots campaign, which has been fought from the ground up. We have to be proud of those people. We are debating the Bill because of those people who have kept going to make it what it is. We want to get this right for the people. I ask Senators to please stop playing politics, do what is right for the people and let them know where they can get help if they need it.
We have been asked what our contribution to the debate is, and it has been in tabling these amendments in the names of the families in Donegal and the other affected areas. None of the Sinn Féin Seanadóirí is from Donegal, yet I believe we are reflecting the will of the people there by tabling these amendments, and I cannot understand why anyone would oppose them. I will have to check the record, but I think there may have been another admission in Senator Blaney's contribution indicating this is not a 100% redress scheme. Senator Keogan has thrown quite a bit of plámás at the families and asked us not to play politics, but this is political. The decision not to make this scheme 100% redress is political. We are political people and we come in here to engage in politics. I am unashamed that my party colleagues, Senators Boylan and Gavan, have been in here trying to make politics work for these families. I do not want to be branded as playing politics to try to diminish what we are trying to do by throwing that cliché at us. The Government and its Senators have taken a political decision. While Senator Keogan is correct that there are other schemes, she admits, understandably, that they are cumbersome. They are, but it is even more cumbersome when people's houses are crumbling down around them. I am not trying to get into a ding-dong with her, but it is important to put that on record.
Senators are constantly referring to the foundations being an issue, yet nobody has come forward with a foundation that we can contribute to NSAI to be part of the scientific work that is ongoing. We are all talking about the bother with foundations, but nobody has yet produced a foundation anywhere where this problem does not exist. If Sinn Féin has knowledge of foundations, it would be helpful to all the people in Donegal and the other counties if the party gave that information to the NSAI. That is the proper approach to take to this. It would be helping all the Sinn Féin-voting homeowners and ones who vote for my party as well, and it would contribute greatly to the scheme.
I echo what Senator Blaney said. The issue of foundations has been widely discussed in committee and in both the Dáil and Seanad. To be fair to the Minister and the Minister of State, they have indicated that where evidence is identified through the NSAI, they will include that in the costings to be provided. The Government cannot be any clearer on that issue. A genuine question I have for the Sinn Féin representatives in the Chamber relates to what figure per square foot they would consider necessary for 100% redress. They come in here and shout about how it is not enough, but will they state what figure they would deem sufficient? Yesterday, when we discussed this matter, I pointed out that Sinn Féin’s budget proposals stated the party could build 20,000 social and affordable homes at €123 per sq ft, whereas this scheme provides for €165 per sq ft. I would like the Sinn Féin Senators to outline to everyone watching the debate what figure they would deem necessary to have what they consider to be 100% redress. The SCSI, whose representatives appeared before our committee, carried out extensive work on this issue - I thank it for its volunteer work on this - and came up with a figure independent of the Government, but I would like to what figure the Senators have in their minds.
I call the Minister of State to respond.
I note there was no reply from the Sinn Féin Senators.
That is not how this works.
I can respond-----
I have asked the Minister of State to respond. Other Senators can come back in afterwards.
I thank the Cathaoirleach, and the Senators for their contributions. I will specifically address amendments Nos. 52 and 53. They provide for the Minister to submit a report within seven weeks of the passing of the Bill to both Houses, confirming whether grants for three ancillary items, namely, accommodation, storage and immediate repair works, can be made available to a homeowner who has approval for, and has completed, a full demolition and rebuild but where further damage to the home, such as to its foundations, occurs.
The Minister has previously advised, and been very clear, that if NSAI, having completed its review, determine that there is an issue with foundations, the scheme will be modified to provide for this.
The amendments appear to mistake section 22 grants for accommodation, storage and immediate repairs with the second grant option under section 25 and, therefore, we will not accept the amendments.
I note there has been no response from the Sinn Féin representatives and the record will show that.
I move amendment No. 53:
In page 29, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:
"(9) Within seven weeks of the passing of this Act the Minister shall lay before both houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of this section on relevant owners whose initial grant was for demolition and rebuilding of a relevant dwelling and whether an ancillary grant option should be made available where further damage has been discovered, for example in the foundations or infill aggregate of the relevant dwelling.".
Amendment No. 54 is out of order.
Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 are out of order.
Many of our amendments, which would have made a great difference to people's lives, have been ruled out of order due to costs. It is difficult because the Government has not supported us on any of our amendments that would impose a cost. I support colleagues in saying that this scheme does not provide 100% redress. I will sit down, having said that on this section. I tabled many amendments that would have involved a cost to the State. However, those amendments would have made a great difference to the Bill. I need that to be on the record.
I move amendment No. 57:
In page 33, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
26. The Minister may, by way of regulations, ensure that the Minister can only subrogate claims from a relevant owner in excess of the full cost of a like for like replacement or remediation of a relevant dwelling. These regulations should allow for the relevant owner to recoup the shortfall between the grant and the full cost of replacement or remediation of the relevant dwelling while preventing the owner from double recovery of such costs.”.
This amendment relates to double recovery and relates to people who are taking a case against the supplier of the defective blocks that is currently underway. Section 29 will prohibit people from taking cases in the future. There amendment addresses people who will benefit if they successfully take a case against a supplier and they have already received a grant. Nobody is arguing that anybody should have double recovery or make a profit from taking a case, because the grants involve public money after all. If people have a successful case, the Minister should only get the excess above 100%. If it costs €169,000 to rebuild a 90 sq. m home, a person will get a grant of €100,000 under this scheme and then have to take a loan to make up the difference. If a person wins €100,000, then under the current scheme, the Minister will get the whole €100,000 back and the person will still be in debt, having borrowed money to rebuild his or her home. We believe that if people borrow money and then receive an award in court, it should cover their debt and the remainder should go back to the State to pay off the grant. Nobody is making a profit. This is not double recovery, but it ensures that homeowners are not left out of pocket.
I support Senator Boylan. I welcome that Senators Cummins and Blaney have acknowledged that this is not a 100% redress scheme.
I have not. Do not misquote me.
Allow Senator Gavan to speak, without interruption.
Senator Cummins acknowledged this.
I did not.
In which case-----
Everybody will have a chance to speak.
I ask the Minister of State to please explain the example I gave relating to Martina Hegarty. It is on the record. She will receive €161,000 under this scheme. It will cost €200,000 to rebuild her house. There is a shortfall. Will the Minister of State please address that issue? It is not just for me. These amendments are the homeowners' amendments. They are watching this afternoon from Limerick, Clare, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal. The Minister of State and his team are saying that this is a 100% redress scheme. It is not. Please address the example and explain how that is a 100% redress scheme.
I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response, and I suspect that the people watching at home are particularly looking forward to his response. It would be outrageous, frankly, if he were to remain silent on the question.
I thank the Senators for their contributions. I will now address amendment No. 57, tabled by Senators Flynn, Higgins, Ruane and Black. The amendment seeks to modify the refund of compensation provisions and substitute provision in respect of limited subrogation so as to allow the Minister to only subrogate claims in excess of the full cost of a like-for-like replacement or remediation while preventing owners from double recovery of costs. Subrogation is dealt with under section 29. The refund of compensation provisions in section 26 are standard provisions for an ex gratia scheme such as this, and prevent the risk of double compensation arising. They need to be retained. I do not accept the amendment.
The Minister of State needs to address the question I asked.
I addressed the amendment.
The Minister of State addresses the section.
I respectfully asked the Minister of State a question.
Senator, we all know-----
The Senator has been asked questions that he will not answer on the record.
I will happily deal with that. I ask the Cathaoirleach to give me a chance to respond.
No. We are discussing amendment No. 57. This is not a Second Stage debate. If the Senator wants to address the amendment, he should do so. If he is not addressing the amendment, I ask him to-----
I will address the amendment. At the heart of this amendment is fairness. Right now, because this is not a 100% redress scheme, there is a shortfall. The point of this amendment is to ensure that if a legal case is taken, that shortfall can be made up. It is pure fairness. People watching this debate are waiting to see if the Government is going to listen, in any way, to their concerns. This is their amendment.
I will, absolutely. We asked for a review of the rates-----
-----and Senator Cummins and his colleagues voted against it. He has some bloody cheek to ask for figures when he voted down the amendment.
Why did you vote against the amendment?
What is your figure?
Senator Cummins, please.
Why did you vote against the amendment? The Senator wants to play party politics-----
What is your figure?
-----with people's lives and homes.
I do not want to play party politics.
That is what you are doing.
Come on now.
That is what you are doing.
Senator Cummins is a disgrace.
Everybody has an opportunity to speak in turn.
I am asking the Minister of State to address the issue of fairness and acknowledge the fact-----
He has addressed the issue.
No, he has not. I asked him to acknowledge that there is a shortfall and to outline how it will be addressed in relation to this amendment. I look forward to hearing his response.
Does the Minister of State want to respond? No.
There is no response. My God.
Is the amendment being pressed?
I move amendment No. 58:
In page 34, to delete line 19.
Amendments Nos. 59 and 60 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 59:
In page 35, line 2, after “completed” to insert the following:
“, save where with the prior written consent of the planning authority any deviation is considered in the opinion of the planning authority in the interests of the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.
I move amendment No. 60:
In page 35, line 6, after “dwelling” to insert the following:
“, save where with the prior written consent of the planning authority is considered in the opinion of the planning authority in the interests of the proper planning and sustainable development of the area to vacate an applicable condition”.
Sinn Féin opposes this section on behalf of the homeowners who have asked us to block this section. It is for the simple reason that the section signs away people's rights to take legal action. As we have constantly tried to explain to the Minister of State, where there is a shortfall we feel that homeowners should have the right to at least recover that shortfall in any legal action rather than the Minister take the full reward back for the Government. We do not think that is fair. We think it is fair that where there is a shortfall, which we know will happen, that has been acknowledged, that the homeowners have a legal right to at least make up that difference. It is purely an issue of fairness. I remind the Minister of State that this is the last opportunity to make any meaningful amendments to the Bill to improve it. He will be aware that there is a whole host of legal actions either planned or under way. People need to know that they will not have to face this shortfall and not have the right to recover some of this money back legally. It is really important that the Minister of State addresses this. There are people watching in on this debate today who are facing a shortfall. They know that this is not 100% redress. They have spoken to the builders and they know that there is a gap there. I have given the example time and again. Why deny them the right to at least make up that shortfall? Surely there is that amount of fairness in the Minister of State to address this issue in a positive way.
Section 29 provides for the subrogation of rights to the Minister for those applicants who have received a grant payment under the scheme. If a homeowner chooses to pursue a right of action in respect of the damage to their home then they are 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 also important that section 29 is retained as it is the State stepping in on behalf of the taxpayer to ensure the litigation is appropriately managed for the benefit of the public, and this section provides for that. If the litigation is successful, then any damages awarded above the level of the grant would go to the homeowner.
All Members of the House have called for the State to take action against, and pursue, wrongdoers. To do so, it is necessary that causes of action that lie with homeowners are subrogated to the Minister. I assure Senator that the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is taking this matter very seriously and intends to appoint an experienced senior counsel to provide advice on the options open in this regard. Therefore I do not accept this section being opposed.
The example I gave the Minister of State earlier speaks directly to this amendment. It is a family home eligible for €160,000 under this scheme with a €200,000 rebuild cost. With respect to the section he is supporting, how is it fair to block that person from at least being able to recover that portion of the costs to ensure he or she is not actually out of pocket? Will the Minister of State address that question?
On the section and the point Senator Gavan keeps referring to about the €200,000 property, I note we have not had a response from the Sinn Féin representatives on the figure they consider appropriate to provide for what they say is 100% redress. Perhaps they do not know. Perhaps they have not been authorised to give that figure to this House. If we do the maths on the example they are giving, it works out at €206 per square foot. The Sinn Féin representatives are saying €206 per square foot should be provided under this scheme, yet they and their party spokesperson, Deputy Ó Broin, can build 20,000 social and affordable homes for €123 per square foot. I hope Deputy Ó Broin is watching the television here and that he will be including those figures in his budget at the end of September because what that would actually show is that, based on Sinn Féin's previous pre-budget submission, it would have a €2 billion hole in its budget.
He is not addressing the amendment, a Chathaoirligh.
That is a factual position-----
On a point of order, a Chathaoirligh.
-----if you do the maths-----
You stopped me speaking when I was raising this.
-----based on the figure. Just because the Senator shouts me down does not mean it is not valid.
Senator Cummins, on the amendment.
It is, and anyone can do those maths for themselves and I invite them to do so.
On the section please, Senators. I call Senator Dooley.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue as per the way the amendment is phrased. There are plenty of homeowners in County Clare who are affected by this. They rightly have a level of upset about some of the quarries, and in the case of Clare it is CRH, quite frankly. It is probably the biggest quarry and biggest aggregate company in western Europe, with operations all over the world. It is a hugely profitable company and there is a necessity for a detailed investigation into how a publicly quoted company like that has operated. Homeowners have approached it. Builders have approached it on occasion. There has been an effort to hush-hush. In some cases the company has done some remediation work with no liability accepted. To me, that is serious.
In any engagement I have had with homeowners, they talk about the necessity or the desire to take on the quarries. I am conscious it is different in Donegal because some of them were smaller quarries. I have advised people, rightly or wrongly, to leave that to the State. The cost on any group of people to take on a company like CRH would be phenomenal. Standard practice for large corporations is to dig in, hire more lawyers than anyone else and fight in the courts. While we like to think our legal system is fair, and it is, it is not accessible for many people, especially when it comes to commercial litigation, which this would be. Therefore, while I am with Senator Gavan on the sentiment here and the desire to try to find a route to help those people, I have taken a different approach in my dealings with people and said whatever else they do, they should not get caught up in litigation because it will bring them into a vortex that only goes one way, and that is down. I have seen it happen over time with how large corporations do their business. That is what their lawyers will advise them, namely, tangle people up and tie them up for years in court.
People have already lost so much of their lives on this. While I fully understand the sentiment, I would like to think the State would put its full rigour, backing and all our legal expertise into taking a company like CRH to court for failure to deliver blocks of an appropriate standard. I would like to think we would, if necessary, carry out tribunals and commissions of investigation, which I think we have got better at. It would be recognition because through this scheme the State is putting a burden on every taxpayer in the State, and out of respect to other taxpayers, we need to ensure we are doing everything we can to hold those culpable, either directly or indirectly, for the failures here to account.
I get that there are smaller quarries that have gone out of business or will fold, but I regularly read with interest the financial statements of CRH and it pains me greatly. I am not directly affected by pyrite but many of my friends and constituents are. When large corporations continue to profit and effectively ignore the homeowners, it is tough. It is hard to watch. It is adding to the pain and suffering of people as they see top executives receiving lottery-style payouts annually while people are looking at the render falling off their walls, the cracking, windows falling out and trying to figure out how they are going to put a home together again. There is an injustice there. Separate to this entire scheme, I hope the State takes whatever action is possible and I would not skimp on it and would not be boxing around it. If there is a route to court, take it, and at least make them answer in public for their actions and inaction.
I do not think it is intentional or, indeed, that they have been authorised, but Government Senators keep letting the cat out of the bag, because surely by definition if this was a 100% redress scheme, homeowners would not have to take legal action.
Just for clarification, if the State is going to spend €4 billion of taxpayers' money on this redress - and I suspect by the time it is completed it will be multiples of that - there is an encumbrance on the State to take action against those who, either through wilful neglect or abject failure, have allowed that to happen on their watch. It is to recover what the State will spend on behalf of the other taxpayers.
By the way, the people whose homes will be rebuilt are taxpayers too. They would prefer their tax euro to be going into public services to increase our capacity in the health service, put more gardaí on the street and more nurses in our wards than into rebuilding their homes, which though essential, should not have been necessary. It is right and fitting the State should pursue to the nth degree those who still have capital reserves and those companies that are very profitable. I hope we around here are alive to see that day come, even if they have to be taken through the courts to enlighten us as to what went on. Through the courts there must be discovery and all of that, which I hope will give us some insight into the way these people looked on those concerned here.
Meaning no disrespect to Senator Dooley, it is ironic to talk about the accessibility of the courts given what we are going to be discussing in the next session and what the Government is trying to do with judicial review and railroading through the barring of people from access to justice.
There are two parts to the issue around section 29. One is the idea of preventing people from taking cases in future if they have not already initiated legal action.
Nobody is arguing. We understand that this is public money as a result of light-touch regulation by multiple Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments, which is the reason that we are in this mess.
Regardless of whether one agrees that legal action is the best approach to take and the State should pursue the suppliers of defective blocks, if somebody has initiated legal proceedings now and is awarded money, then the State's taking all of that money back to cover the 100% grant whereby a person is left in debt, again is not 100% redress. Nobody should profit or make double recovery but if people had to borrow money to do the works on their house and they get an award in the courts, then the money borrowed should be taken from the award and then let the State recoup the balance.
As we approach the end of this Bill it is so important that the Minister of State addresses the issue at the heart of this matter and the reason my party opposes section 29. We oppose section 29 because where people experience a shortfall, they need some right of redress. The Minister of State knows that people are watching this debate in the desperate hope that he will not take away their rights but will decide to strike a fair balance for which we have asked. I must add it would be a disgrace for him to sit here in silence. The people who are watching have seen two things from the Fine Gael Party. They have seen silence from the Minister of State and the worst kind of party political barracking by his colleague, who did not address the amendment or the issue of fairness at all. What on earth are the people watching thinking about him and Fine Gael? I suggest he thinks about that.
I am sure people will see the hole in Sinn Féin's budget.
The Minister of State has said nothing.
He answered the section.
I was not called to come in.
Will the Minister of State address the key issue of a shortfall? It has been acknowledged by Senators Dooley, Blaney and others that there will be shortfalls.
We discussing the legal section.
Will the Minister of State finally address the issue?
The Senator is talking rubbish again.
All right so Senator Blaney is saying there will be no shortfall..
The Senator is talking rubbish.
People have heard that and it is now on the record.
It is ironic that Senator Gavan has referred to a shortfall when I have outlined the clear shortfall in the figures provided by Sinn Féin.
Address the amendment.
Anybody can do the maths.
The Senator cannot address the amendment.
Just because the Senator has shouted over me, I will reiterate that he does not want me stating that Sinn Féin proposes that we provide €123 per sq. ft. to build 20,000 social and affordable houses.
I urge the Senator to think about who is watching today. Shameful.
In the worked example mentioned, Sinn Féin wants €206 per sq. ft., which means there is a €2 billion shortfall in Deputy Ó Broin's own budget regarding capital for housing. If we accept the premise of what the Sinn Féin team has said here in the Senate, I look forward to €5.012 billion being provided in Sinn Féin's alternative budget at the end of September.
This issue is about people's right to take legal action.
In the event of a gap.
That is why people have expressed-----
That is what the issue is about and why people want the Minister of State to respond but we have not had one response.
That is not how one should treat the Cathaoirleach.
Senator Gavan asked people to address the amendment. The amendment concerns legal action and that includes the shortfall. So I am allowing people to talk about the shortfall because there are reasons for a legal action and the shortfall is one of them.
It is a pity that the Minister of State would not address the amendment.
The Minister of State has addressed the amendment but if he wishes to come back in then he can indicate to do so.
I must first be called before I can respond. It is ironic that Senator Cummins has been accused of not addressing the amendment when he pointed out a flaw in the presentation made by Senator Gavan yet Senator Gavan has not addressed the amendment and has gone totally away from it.
To specifically address the amendment, I was clear that if litigation was successful, any damages above the level of the grant would go to the homeowner. I was also clear that the Minister intends to shortly appoint a senior counsel in respect of this issue, which is significant. We know the scale of the scheme, how big, potentially, that it is going to get and the State must robustly try to get and hold wrongdoers to account.
Before we continue, I wish to welcome Councillor Dalton O'Sullivan from Cork County Council to the Gallery. It is an honour to have him here.
Amendments Nos. 61 to 64, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 61:
In page 41, line 13, after “appoint” to insert “, through the Public Appointments Service,”.
The amendment is self-explanatory. It relates to the Public Appointments Service, PAS. In fairness to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, I know he has used the PAS in making appointments and gave a commitment yesterday that it will be used in order that appeals will be completely independent. The issue, however, is that Ministers change. One cannot future-proof against ministerial changes. I speak from experience on this issue. When we were debating the climate Act, we argued about the PAS and were given a guarantee that it would be used but then, in effect, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, appointed two people whom he knew to the Climate Change Advisory Council. It is important that the PAS is used, especially given the experience homeowners have had to date with the State in the context of the first redress scheme and now this one. It would be a gesture that the appeals process will be independent.
Amendments Nos. 61 to 64, inclusive, seek to call out explicitly in the Bill the role of the Public Appointments Service in recommending the appeal panel members for appointment, to specifically call out some of the experience and expertise required, such as human rights and equality training, for appointment to the appeals panel, to have the chairperson of the appeals panel recommended by the Public Appointments Service and to exclude local authority or departmental employees from the appeals panel. I confirm that engagement has already begun with the PAS on the recruitment process for the ten appeal panel members. It is important that the appeal panel is in place when, or at least shortly after, the enhanced scheme commences in order that it is available to scheme applicants. I am satisfied that the appeals panel provisions within the Bill will ensure that the appeals panel will be fully independent. I do not consider the amendments to be necessary.
I move amendment No. 62:
In page 41, to delete lines 16 to 18 and substitute the following:
“(2) The Minister shall have regard to a person’s experience or expertise, including the requirement for human rights and equality training, in relation to the subject matter of decisions the subject of appeals under this Act or in relation to the hearing of appeals generally in appointing him or her under subsection (1).”.
I move amendment No. 63:
In page 41, line 24, after “appoint” to insert “, through the Public Appointments Service,”.
I move amendment No. 64:
In page 42, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:
“(m) is employed by a local authority or any government department.”.
Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 are related. Amendment No. 66 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 65. Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 65:
In page 43, to delete lines 17 to 22 and substitute the following:
“(2) An appeal under subsection (1) may not be accompanied by documents other than documents which—
(a) were considered by the designated local authority or the Housing Agency,
(b) were submitted to the designated local authority or the Housing Agency and ought to have been considered by the designated local authority or the Housing Agency in accordance with this Act, in making the decision the subject of the appeal, or
(c) the Appeals Panel otherwise determines to be materially relevant to the appeal.”.
This relates to appeals and documentation that may not have been relevant or have come to light at the early stage. The amendment provides that further documentation can be submitted on appeal stage. That may involve, for example, new scientific evidence or engineering techniques that come to light. Under the amendment, that documentation, if it is materially relevant to the appeal, could be submitted. It is a technical amendment to allow additional information to be submitted. Amendments Nos. 65 to 67, inclusive, are similar but worded slightly differently.
I will speak to the grouping. Amendment No. 66, in my name, is similar in effect to amendment No. 65. An appeals process is generally based on new information. The amendment would allow material relevant to the appeal, such as scientific or engineering evidence, to be submitted. It is interesting. In the social protection system, if a person wishes to appeal a decision, he or she is obliged to submit new information, yet, in the context of the Bill we are talking about massive amounts of money but a person seeking to appeal the process is prevented from bringing forward new material that is relevant to the appeal. I cannot understand why the Government would preclude a person from bringing forward new information. Yesterday, we heard all about science-based evidence. That is what we kept being told. In this case, however, people are being precluded from bringing forward science-based evidence that comes to light.
I, too, have concerns in respect of the section. In nearly any walk of life, if a person is to appeal a decision, that is usually done on the basis that an error was made in the decision or further clarification can be provided that will make it easier for a decision maker to understand what the issue was in the first instance or help the applicant to gain access to whatever scheme it may be. I would like to hear the clarification of the Minister of State. I am sure he is not designing a system to exclude people. That is what the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, said at the outset. There is concern among homeowners that if a determination is made, specifically on a visual inspection, and the homeowner loses his or her opportunity to enter the scheme, that person is effectively shut out. If it is only going to be a review or a paper-based exercise, that does not really amount to an appeal. I would have thought that if a person is coming forward with additional information, it should, at least, be permissible for that to be submitted. It might not change the outcome but, at least, the person would be given the best shot at getting into the scheme. I would like to hear the thoughts of the Minister of State on the matter. I am not accusing him of trying to exclude anyone.
I move amendment No. 66:
In page 43, line 22, after "appeal" to insert "except where any such documentation is materially relevant to the appeal".
Amendment No. 67 is out of order.
I move amendment No. 68:
In page 51, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
"Review of operation of Act
51. (1) The Minister shall—
(a) not later than 1 year after the date of the opening of the scheme for applications under section 13, commence a review of the operation of this Act, and
(b) not later than 6 months after the expiration of that period, make a report to each House of the Oireachtas of his or her findings and conclusions resulting from that review.
(2) Without prejudice to subsection (1), the Minister shall commence a review of the operation of this Act within 3 months of the completion of any review of I.S. 465: 2018 by the National Standards Authority of Ireland and not later than 3 months after the completion of the review shall make a report to each House of the Oireachtas of his or her findings and conclusions resulting from that review.".
I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, and the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, on the significant work they have done in putting the scheme in place. A significant number of other facilities in the affected counties, such as community centres and sporting clubs, are not covered by the scheme. Could it be brought back to Cabinet that the Department with responsibility for sport or the Department of Education consider schemes to cover these facilities with a grant? This could be a special sports capital grant. This would be to make sure the facilities can be brought up to the standard they should be.
I support Senator Carrigy on these other buildings outside the scheme. The focus may well move to them after today. It is imperative that the community buildings mentioned by the Senator get some form of resolution to the mica, pyrite or whatever other deleterious materials they are dealing with in their buildings. A formula needs to be found to deal with these buildings and other public buildings throughout the country.
On a point of order, we are meant to speak to amendments and not the section. The sections have already been gone though on other Stages. We have moved and withdrawn the amendment. People are not speaking to the amendment that we moved and withdrew.
We are discussing section 51. The amendment on the new section was withdrawn and we are now discussing section 51. Members can speak to the section.
Amendment No. 69 is out of order.
When is it proposed to take Report Stage?
Is that agreed? Agreed.
When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Under Standing Order 62(3)(b), I request that the division be taken again other than by electronic means.
On a point of order, I wish to acknowledge the presence of the adviser to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage in the Public Gallery. I thank the adviser for the massive contribution that he has made to the Bill.
That is not a point of order.