The cracking of external walls of dwellings in Donegal and Mayo, due to the crumbling of concrete blockwork, came to light in 2013. An Expert Panel was established in 2016 to investigate the matter. It was chaired by Mr. Denis McCarthy and it included representatives nominated by the National Standards Authority of Ireland, Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland, and the Institute of Geologists of Ireland.
The report of the expert panel was published on 13 June 2017. It concluded that the disintegration of the concrete blocks used in the construction of the affected dwellings in Donegal and Mayo was primarily due to excessive amounts of deleterious materials in the aggregate used to manufacture the concrete blocks. The deleterious material in Donegal was primarily muscovite mica and in Mayo it was primarily reactive pyrite.
On the 31 January 2020, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, made Regulations to provide for a grant scheme to support affected homeowners in Donegal and Mayo. The Department subsequently prepared and issued guidelines on the operation of the scheme to both Councils to assist them in the administration of the scheme. The scheme opened for applications in June 2020.
The resulting Defective Concrete Blocks Grant scheme is a grant scheme of financial assistance to support affected homeowner(s) to remediate their dwelling, where their dwelling has been damaged by the use of defective concrete blocks in its construction. The grant scheme applies to the owners of dwellings (located in Donegal or Mayo), which are damaged due to defective concrete blocks containing excessive amounts of deleterious materials namely mica or pyrite. The dwelling must be the individual’s principal private residence.
The goal of the grant scheme is to help a restricted group of homeowners who have no other practicable option to remediate their home. It is not a compensation scheme but a mechanism for the State to help ordinary homeowners to remediate defects to their principal private residence and return their homes to the condition they would have been in had they not been built with defective concrete blocks.
Budget 2021 provides funding of €20 million to fund the operation of the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant scheme for the counties of Donegal and Mayo. At this stage 475 stage one applications (377 in Donegal and 98 in Mayo) have been submitted and nearly 70% have been approved.
In response to concerns about the scheme which have been raised by homeowners I established a time-bound working group, with representatives from my Department, the local authorities and homeowner representative groups, to review any outstanding issues in relation to the operation of the scheme, including issues such as grant caps, homeowner contributions, engineering and allowable costs etc. I expect that the review, to be undertaken by the working group, will be completed by 31 July and will inform any changes or improvements to the scheme as may be required. Following receipt of the report of the working group I will, following consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Attorney General, bring proposals in this regard to Government.
As Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage I do not have an overarching responsibility for the State's property portfolio. Consideration in regard to the wider impact of defective concrete blocks on public buildings would be a matter for the relevant Department or the Office of Public Works.