'How many more times do we need to talk about the same things?' - Michael Doherty
Michael Doherty, PRO of the Mica Action Group, has accused the Department of Housing of wasting the first two weeks of September.
Mr Doherty is one of the three mica-affected homeowner representatives on the Government established Working Group on the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.
Speaking to Donegal Live, in the wake of Saturday's rally in Lifford and the engagement of mica protestors with Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien in Cavan on Thursday, Mr Doherty said the Working Group held six, full panel meetings between June 30 and July 27.
He said: “I am disappointed because at the July 27 meeting, we agreed sidebar meetings would continue during the summer between ourselves, the Housing Agency and the Department of Housing.
“Our understanding was full working group meetings would resume in September. That did not happen, even though the Department had six weeks to work out a date.
“The homeowner representatives were not the problem here. The next full panel meeting will take place on Friday, September 17, at which we will present our Report to everyone present.”
Mr Doherty acknowledged there was frustration in the wider community because homeowner representatives have not gone into more detail publicially on the report.
“We can't,” he said. “It is a working document, as far as the Working Group is concerned. We think it would be counter productive to put it into the public domain before the officials on Working Group has had a chance to see it.
“This is happening at 10.00am on Friday.”
According to Mr Doherty, the homeowner representative report centers on the three pillars of 100% Redress, a State-backed guarantee and the excluded homes.
He added: “We see this report as our final position document and, really, it is then over to the officials to come back and respond. We can clarify whatever they want clarified but that is where we are at.
“We believe it works for the Exchequer and it works for the homeowner. We think it is a very pragmatic proposal. We we believe, if they are in the frame of mind where they want to properly help out the homeowner [it works].
“Homeowners will need help over the next 10 to 15 years. It is not a one year deal, it is multi-annual, it has to leave the thing right, you can't leave homeowners out a pile of money but that's how it is right now, that is what the current redress scheme is doing. 100% Redress mitigates that.
“The State-backed guarantee is also part of the report. we have in there because, if there is retained block work from the old house, there needs to be somebody standing over that and there is no-one standing over that right now.
“You can't get houses insured. Banks won't lend against them and you have the market value reduced by around 40% to 50% of the assets.”
Mr Doherty referenced the mental health and well-being of mica-affected homeowners.
He said: “Mica-affected homeowners should not have to go through all of this for a second time around on their own.
“The State should step back in and say, 'OK, you've been through the scheme, let's do it right for you this time'.
“The other consideration that we have added in recent times is the poured concrete foundations, which also need to be part of that guarantee. Right now it is outside its remit of the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.
“However, it doesn't make sense to the Exchequer, or the homeowner to build a brand new house on founds that [may be defective] and we do know that this pyrrhotite is a real concern.
“The concern is the blockwork and the poured foundations, as was discovered, at great cost, to a lot of the homeowners in North America and Canada some time back.
“We have passed all of this material on to the Department as well for its information, to keep it up to speed. The State-backed guarantee is vitally important. Options one to five.
“Pyrrhotite has been mentioned in some engineers' reports. Engineer Kieran Coyle has also referenced it. He has sent a letter to homeowners to say he was standing over nothing now other than a complete demolish and rebuild. Kieran Coyle is one of our IS 465 trained engineers.”
The mica-affected homeowner representative Report also recommends the inclusion of excluded homes, including buy-to-let properties and holiday homes in a new redress scheme.
Mr Doherty said: “People bought and paid for second homes as their pension plans 20 years ago. Now that they are retired, they want to sell the houses. These people can't be left behind.
“Dublin likes to give the impression these are big multi-national landlords. We know this is not the case, they are ordinary homeowners who did something additional to try bolster the security of their families. It is exactly the same thing with holiday home owners.
“Dublin is being quite measured but also quite cynical in some of the messages it is trying to put out there.
“Messages including, these 'bigger home owners in Donegal', 'these landlords looking to get included in this scheme'. Dublin knows 'landlord' is a dirty word among many sections of our community, when we see what is going on in the big scale stuff, but that's not the landlords we are talking about.
“We also still haven't walked away from the fact there needs to be a public enquiry we need to learn from this. Saturday's rally in Lifford, at Donegal's seat of power, shows people's appetite hasn't gone away, the sting not gone out of it, as I think the Government was hoping for.
“The Government was going to manage down people's expectations but that has not happened, if anything it has ramped up.
“When Darragh O'Brien was confronted by Paddy [Diver] in Cavan, he said there would be an answer at the end of September. This is not something that is going beyond September. We are going to make sure of that anyway.
“There is absolutely no logical reason for this to go on. They know exactly what they need to do. How many more times do we need to talk about the same things?
“We are not going there. It is now or never as far as we are concerned.”
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