As the Minister knows, I have raised the issue of the engagement with the banks quite a number of times. Deputy Doherty and I have corresponded with the Minister. We had this so-called 90% scheme, which the Government now accepts fell short of what homeowners need to rebuild their lives. They have done nothing wrong, as the Minister knows. They are being failed by light-touch regulation, self-regulation, and no regulation. It is an utter failure.
In the case of the pyrite resolution scheme, the Government has accepted this to be the case and therefore redress is required. The 90% scheme turned out to be anything but that, however. The banks that we understood would make a contribution just disappeared into the ether. They were looking to benefit from the crisis rather than assist. Why should the banks contribute? Right now, most of those sites, and we are talking about thousands of sites, are worth the site value. The banks still have mortgage holders and the State is rightly proposing to restore those properties to full market value. That is a massive boon for the banking sector. In a recent response by the Minister to a parliamentary question, it is still apparent that he has not engaged with the banking sector on this or on the need to contribute.
There are other sectors such as insurance and construction as a whole that could make a contribution. We have said that the State must ensure 100% redress. My fear is that senior officials in the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are going to make the same massive mistakes they made a few years ago. We end up with a scheme that is not 100% at all. Let us be clear. The leaks about a €400,000 cap are not at all accurate. There are also reports of an amount of money per square foot up to 1,700 sq. ft and an amount of money for properties that are over 1,700 sq. ft. The average single home in Donegal, as it is across the State, is around 2,400 sq. ft. That means they are not getting 100% redress. The cap of €400,00 does not apply. The focus is on what someone will get per square foot to rebuild their home and how that relates to the real price they will pay in the real economy. As the Minister knows, the families have made a submission to the Government that relies on the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland measurement per square foot or square meter that one should expect to pay. That is a realistic assessment in the real world of what it would cost to rebuild these homes. I hope the reports are wrong but they are out there, through journalists, suggesting that there are people in the Minister's Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform who are seeking to do this. It would be absolutely appalling and unacceptable.
I urge the Minister to deliver this time where there was failure two years ago, namely, on a genuine 100% redress scheme. I call on him to ask the banking, construction and insurance sectors to make a contribution to it.
There are many ways in which that can be done. The Minister knows. His colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, other Ministers, and perhaps even the Taoiseach, are on the record as saying that there needs to be a contribution. I understand that the Attorney General is working on advice in that regard. I cannot understand why the amendment is not acceptable to the Minister. I take this opportunity today to appeal directly to him.
My colleague, Deputy Doherty, also asked that the Minister would meet with the campaigning families, in particular the members of the working group. He will know who I am talking about: Michael Doherty, Eileen Doherty, Paddy Diver and Ann Owens. They are the four named persons, and there are other families in Mayo that the Minister should meet. When he meets with them, he will hear that they are very interested in a cost-effective programme that would also be funded down the line by the sectors I talked about.
In terms of cost-effectiveness, if the Housing Agency oversees the scheme that is now operational in Donegal and Mayo from start to finish, and hopefully will soon be available to families in other counties, as it does with the pyrite resolution scheme, there will be economies of scale. The difficulty right now is that the Minister is asking families to engage with individual contractors on a much reduced amount of money per square foot than it would realistically cost. I hope the reports in that regard are not correct. How does it make sense for families to engage one by one with contractors, compared to the Housing Agency taking over the scheme, as it has done in Dublin and Leinster? It could take 20 houses that have to rebuilt and ask for a price based on the plans. In another case, it could ask for a price for 20 houses where the outer leaf might have to be replaced. There is a European Union tender process so the contractors could come from anywhere in the European Union. That is where the Minister would get value for money.
There is another way to get value for money. If there are engineers working on behalf of the State who say to families that they believe the replacement of the outer leaf is what is required, on the basis of having done the tests and examined the compressive strength of the blocks, and the amount of deleterious material – that could be mica, or pyrite in the case of my colleague, Deputy Conway-Walsh's county of Mayo – and they argue that what is required is just to remove the outer leaf, not demolish the whole house, why would the Minister be afraid of giving a State guarantee? It could be the case that half the families in question just need to remove the outer leaf of their home and that is all they need to do to make their home safe for the rest of their days, and for the generations who will live in the house in the future, so why not give a State guarantee? The Minister will be aware that there are currently engineers who are operating the existing defective concrete blocks grant scheme who have come together – they are supported by Engineers Ireland - who say that the only solution in every case is to demolish the entire house. That is a serious problem for the State in terms of costs. If there are engineers who are under the umbrella of Engineers Ireland and who believe that it is not the case, then they should speak up. Where are the voices of engineers who say that is not required?
We were led to understand, based on the National Standards Authority of Ireland's protocol, that not every house is to be demolished. It had engineering experts and specialists who said that not every house would have to be demolished. Where are they now? It is a real problem for the State that there are engineers who say that every house has to be demolished. I am a layperson and I cannot do it, but if there are engineers who can produce the scientific evidence for the basis of the testing and analysis on which it would be okay to remove the outer leaf, we need to hear their voices. With those voices there needs to be a State guarantee. If families have a State guarantee and they have engineers giving them assurances, they will go down that road. There are a number of ways the State can get control of the cost of the scheme. I take this opportunity to say directly to the Minister what I know Michael Doherty, Eileen Doherty and others would love to say to him, and to reassure him that they can assist with the process of cost control that the Minister wants to achieve.
I wish to add the role of the banks, the insurance industry and the construction industry in this regard. This is a national emergency, a national disaster. The Minister knows that. This is akin to an earthquake happening in slow motion. The response to that is, as I have stated, similar to what we saw in the United States, in New Orleans when they had the floods and in California when there were wild fires. This is a national emergency. People need to be protected and their homes reinstated. That is the mindset.
I urge the Minister to take time to meet the campaigning families. As he knows, they have worked with the Housing Agency and they are trying to give him a workable scheme, but to deliver 100% redress in a manageable way. That is what we are trying to achieve here. I put all that to the Minister. I appreciate his attention. I urge him to seriously consider taking an hour out of his schedule in the coming days. I know it is a busy schedule, but all I ask for is an hour to engage with the families. It would be helpful to the Minister and possibly to his senior officials too.