08 Oct 2022

'What is there to hide?' - Homeowner

Government urged to ensure pre-legislative scrutiny on future 'mica' Bills

'What is there to hide?'  - 'mica' Homeowner

'What is there to hide?' - 'mica' Homeowner

'What is there to hide?'

This was the reaction of 'mica' affected homeowner, Roisin Gallagher, reflecting on Taoiseach Micheál Martin's comment he would have to consider “very seriously” whether or not there was a need for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Enhanced Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.

Mr Martin was replying to a Dáil question from Donegal TD, Thomas Pringle last week asking him to commit to pre-legislative scrutiny for the 'mica' legislation “as a matter of urgency”.

Speaking to the Inish Times, Roisin, who lives in Buncrana, said: “I feel, pushing this Bill through without pre-legislative scrutiny, is cruel, underhand, unfair and a total slap in the face to every hard-working, honest, tax-paying victim of this defective blocks scandal.

“If this really is a true 100% redress scheme and they genuinely do want to help us, then, what is there to hide? What is there to fight about? Why not just let it go through the necessary scrutiny, even if only to make sure that things are absolutely right?

“My opinion of the Taoiseach mentioning the delay and saying there is no need for this pre-legislative scrutiny, is that he was never worried about a delay before. Now, all of a sudden, he seems to be worried about the homeowners being delayed further. It just does not add up. It does not make any sense.

“For everybody's sake, Enhanced Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme needs to go through all of the Oireachtas stages.

“I think if it is a genuine 100% redress scheme, which Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien told us on the record we were getting, the Bill needs to go through pre-legislative scrutiny. If the Government does not do that, it looks like it is not genuine about affected homeowners getting 100% redress.”

Josephine Kelly, another affected Buncrana homeowner said she too was worried about the Enhanced Scheme being “rushed through” the Oireachtas.

Josephine, who unsuccessfully replaced the outer leaf of her 'mica' affected home four years ago and now has more than 30 individual cracks on her internal walls, said, a lot of Government TDs do not understand the proposed Enhanced Scheme.

She said: “We were up in the Dáil in February. The Government TDs we spoke to thought it was a 100% scheme. They thought everything was grand and all the affected homeowners were going to be able to access it. It is the same when we email TDs. We are getting the scheme sent back to us in replies and TDs telling us, 'Everything is okay'.

“Even [Táiniste] Leo Varadkar who was in Donegal last week, did not seem to know much about the scheme. He seemed unaware that demolished houses were going to be reconstructed on the existing foundations of houses affected by mica.

“If the Táiniste is being briefed by Minister Charlie McConalogue and Joe McHugh TD, that is worrying. They are clearly not giving him the right information. He is not being made aware of the concerns of homeowners.

“He and the various TDs I have contacted do not understand how serious the situation is and that the Enhanced Scheme is not going to work out.

“Taoiseach Micheál Martin also had to be briefed by homeowners. He does not get it either. He thinks everything is okay and he can rush through the legislation. However, it is far from okay and that is very worrying,.”

Josephine said she feared history was repeating itself.

“We did not know what was in the 90/10 Scheme and we trusted the politicians. It went ahead and it was far from good. No-one could get into it. It was not the right scheme. The same thing is going to happen again. There is no homeowner I know who will be able to get on to this Enhanced Scheme.

“It is mostly to do with the cost. It is going to cost us €90,000 plus to get into the Enhanced Scheme, which we will never, ever be able to find, therefore, we will not be able to access it.

“There are costs associated with demolition and the removal of founds, which is not included. There are also architects' and engineers' fees, which are not included.

“In addition, we now with the higher cost of building materials. I have been talking to a few builders and they are only quoting for labour. They are not quoting for materials.

“Homeowners are going to have the responsibility of sourcing materials. Builders cannot put a price on what it is going to cost to rebuild a home, at the minute because of the way things are with the economy. It is also getting more difficult to source good quality materials, as a result of the war in Ukraine.

“I believe, if homeowners have to put one penny towards this Enhanced Scheme, we are paying for a crime we did not commit. We should not have to put a single penny towards it. We should not have to remortgage our homes or find huge loans. The majority of homeowners cannot even afford the fee cost of €6,000 to €7,000 so how are they going to find €50,000, €60,000, €70,000 plus to rebuild.

“I'd say, 90% of people will not be able to access the new scheme due to cost. I am talking to homeowners all the time. They are not happy with the proposed Enhanced Scheme. People are weary. People are exhausted.

“We have signed up for the Coleman legal case which is ongoing. It is the option we can see. It may take time but it will be quicker than the Government.”

Contacted by Inish Live, Steven Matthews (Green Party), the Chairperson of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, said he had not heard An Taoiseach's comments to Deputy Pringle.

He added: “Usually what happens is a General Scheme of Bill is produced [Heads of Bill] and a request will come form the relevant department, in this case Housing, Local Government and Heritage, [Sectoral] Committee to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny or to waive it.

“To the best of my knowledge, the General Scheme of this Bill has not been produced yet and we have had no request to either carry out or waive pre-legislative scrutiny, so I cannot really comment on An Taoiseach's comments.

“The Housing Committee and it is probably one of the busiest committees in the Oireachtas but we have always made absolutely every attempt to make time in our schedule and to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny on substantial legislation and we will attempt to make time for this one as well.

“I am not in a position to say when that will be because the Scheme has not been produced yet. I am only dealing with what is immediately in front of me: The Electoral Reform Bill; The Water Abstraction Bill; and the ongoing review of the planning.

“Our Committee Schedule is extremely packed at the moment but if there is a request to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny, we will make every attempt to accede to that request.”

Donegal TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said homeowners in the affected counties wanted the Enhanced Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme to be right.

“They do want scrutiny but they do not want it delayed for any length of time. The message is, they want this legislation passed by the summer recess, which is the middle of July, to allow of of the regulations to be drafted over the summer, so it can be brought in as soon as possible.

“That is the time-frame, homeowners, Government and opposition all agree on. However, the homeowners are also saying, and rightly so, they want the maximum scrutiny.

“After their experience with the 90/10 scheme which was not legislation, they want this scheme to be right.

“What Sinn Féin is proposing is that the Housing Committee would deal with this within a week.

“You would do a fast-track scrutiny. You would bring in the stakeholders, including the homeowners of course, and the likes of Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI), Engineers Ireland, and the Government Departments.

“You bring in the key people and interrogate their opinion on the legislation. What needs to be changed? What they are concerned about? You then draft a report from the Committee.

“You can do both, you can have scrutiny of the legislation before it goes before the Houses of the Oireachtas and you can do it in a way that is fast tracked, which does not cause unnecessary delay.

“There is a compromise to be found and what Sinn Féin calling for is for that compromise to be agreed. The homeowners are asking for this Bill to be scrutinised properly but they do not want any more delays.

“Our message is you can do both. I think the homeowners know that too. You can have scrutiny one last time before the legislation goes before the Houses and not delay it any longer.”

Donegal TD Joe McHugh said if the Mica Action Group wanted to go for pre-legislative scrutiny, he was more than happy to support it.

“I will be fighting to try and get it done as quickly as possible but I have to be honest, I do have concerns around the timeline,” he said.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue declined to give the Inish Live a comment on the issue of pre-legislative scrutiny for the Enhanced Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme

Cllr Martin McDermott, who chairs Donegal County Council's Mica Redress Committee said it was important there was an opportunity to see and go through the Enhanced Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme Bill “with a fine tooth comb”.

He added: “The lesson we have learned from the last scheme was that it needs to be right. This scheme needs to be right.

“We have learned a lot over the two years and we certainly do not want to be in a situation where we are looking back in six months and saying, 'This is not right and that's not right'.

“But, we also don't want this to be a situation where it runs on for an extra three, four or five months. It needs to be done. It needs to happen.

“It needs to happen in a very quick timeline, over the period of a couple of weeks, so we get an opportunity to go through it, in detail, with people who know what they are looking for and at and that happens over a short period of time, so we still can have this legislation through before the end of the Dáil term.”

Vice Chairperson of Donegal County Council's Mica Redress Committee, Cllr Albert Doherty said the Bill required pre-legislative scrutiny.

He added: “It is incumbent on the minister and his officials to engage with key stakeholders, including families and their representatives.

“I will call on Council's Mica Redress Committee members to demand the minister engages with the Mica Action Group and 100% Redress.”

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