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Mica Redress Scheme

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 5 May 2021

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Questions (38)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

38. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will carry out an urgent review of the financial assistance offered by the State under the defective concrete blocks grant scheme on the basis of the applications received to date by Donegal County Council and the serious concerns of affected families across the county. [22859/21]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Housing)

I ask the Minister to urgently review the defective concrete blocks scheme as it applies in Donegal. He will be aware that a large number of families have engaged with the scheme, which is simply not fit for purpose. I ask him to listen to the many voices from Donegal he is hearing and to urgently carry out a review of the scheme to see how it can be made fit for purpose and help families to make their homes safe. These are families that have waited many years for a scheme to protect them

I thank Deputy Mac Lochlainn for the question. I have met many of those homeowners. I was actually in Donegal last summer, as the Deputy will know, when we opened the scheme for applications. I have quite a lot of personal experience with this type of remediation scheme. I was involved with the pyrite remediation scheme, going back to 2011, with the late Minister of State, Shane McEntee, who was heavily involved in the scheme.

All schemes evolve from their initial condition. My colleague, Deputy Calleary from Mayo, has also been raising matters relating to the scheme with me. With specific regard to Donegal, when I recently met with the defective block group there, I asked it to forward a submission to me. I asked the group to come back to me with a little bit more detail so that we could assess exactly what it was looking for and get an understanding of the size of homes involved and the issues with the banks. I have written to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on those issues. Some of the banks are not interacting with people, even to help them with the test. Only on 29 April, just a few days ago, I received quite a detailed submission from the group through Councillor Martin McDermott, a colleague of mine in Donegal who is doing a very good job there, and we are assessing that submission at the moment. There are issues with regard to the size of homes and various other things.

I encourage people to engage with the scheme. It is important. At this stage, we have 378 stage 1 applications, 308 of which relate to Donegal and 70 to Mayo. Nearly 60% have been approved. It is important that people continue to engage with the scheme. It is in its infancy and when I was in Donegal I told people that it will be a multi-annual scheme. It will take a number of years to fix the problem we have in Donegal and Mayo. I have also heard reports of the issue in another county in the north west and we are investigating that at the moment. I only received the submission from the group very recently. Other Members and my party colleagues have raised other issues with me as well.

As the Minister knows, the Mica Action Group campaigned for many years. The Minister referred to the pyrite scheme for families in Dublin and north Leinster. That scheme was 100% funded. We in Donegal have always felt let down in that our scheme was 90% funded. We were, however, relieved to have some type of a scheme. The difficulty right now is that the limits for a complete rebuild of one's home meant that it is just not economic. The families not only have to make up the remaining 10%, but pay VAT. Why is that? This is the second time they have had to build their homes. Why would they also pay VAT? Construction costs are increasing. The Minister talked about the role of the banks. His colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, who introduced this scheme, recently asked where the banks are. We are now nearly a year on. Where are the banks in assisting these families? These are the questions people are asking.

I am not being confrontational on this in any way, shape or form. I have engaged extensively with the group and with homeowners in the area. To put this in context regarding the cost of remediation, the Deputy referenced the pyrite remediation scheme. The average cost of remediation under this scheme was between €60,000 and €80,000 per home. The average cost in respect of the defective blocks scheme is significantly higher than that, as the Deputy will know. The maximum approved cost is €275,000. Apples and oranges are being compared here. We have to be honest with people.

At the request of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, and Deputy McHugh, I met the group a number of months ago and asked for additional information to be sent to me, which I received on 29 April. I will assess it and be happy to keep all Deputies and other representatives in Donegal and Mayo apprised. My colleague, Deputy Calleary, has raised issues concerning the 10% contribution and how we might be able to bridge that gap, for example, with other State agencies. I am open to considering the matter, but I encourage people to continue engaging with the scheme in its current form. We will work with them as best we can.

VAT is a sore point, but there is also the replacement issue. The Minister talked about keeping the original windows and doors in the houses. Why can these people not avail of a Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, grant? They are building new homes, but the Minister wants to build them to standards from 20 years ago. The scheme is not fit for purpose, which we have been telling him for the past year. He needs to start listening to the large number of families involved. I could send him two emails I received in the past 24 hours. Every day, I receive emails from families highlighting point after point. Whatever about the Minister's comment on the amount of State funding, I cannot understand why he has not sat down with the banks, told them that they are not stepping up to their responsibilities and asked them why, since the State is restoring assets over which they have control to full market value from zero, they will not help these families and get them to the point where they can make their homes safe. Why can he not at least sort that out?

I thank the Minister and his staff for their engagement over recent months. The scheme is falling short. I cannot begin to describe the mental and physical stress that families are under. Deputy Conway-Walsh and I are working together closely on the scheme. The requirement of a 10% contribution will prevent people from accessing it because they do not have that money. Regarding the requirement to replace like for like in terms of energy issues, we are setting up a meeting with the SEAI. I have met the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, BPFI, about trying to get banks to engage with the scheme. We are engaging with the federation. We have also been considering the need for capacity in local authorities to deal with the volume of potential applications. I am not one for drama, but I estimate that multiple hundreds of applications are coming. We need more support to be able to provide information on the scheme and to manage the applications.

I thank Deputy Calleary for his constructive engagement. Many Members have engaged in a constructive way. I would have expected them to do so because we are not trying to be confrontational. Rather, we are trying to work through these issues. If people want to set up a campaign about the situation, that is fine, but I am interested in solutions. Deputy Calleary has engaged with us in that regard. We are looking at measures in connection with other State agencies as well.

I do not control the banks. Deputy Mac Lochlainn knows that, but it might not suit his sound bite. I have written to the banks and the Minister for Finance. I have also written to the BPFI. I have engaged with the residents directly in an open and extensive way. Most reasonable people would understand that, if we receive a detailed submission on 29 April, we need to be afforded time to examine it, but that might not be good enough for Deputy Mac Lochlainn either. I am interested in delivering solutions for people. I have extensive experience with remediation programmes. I will revert to my colleague, Deputy Calleary, in that regard.

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