'Government in first gear, mica homeowners in overdrive'

Council representative has contributed 'little or nothing' to Defective Blocks Working Group

The deadline for the final report of the Defective Blocks Working Group has been extended to September 30, amid claims its Donegal County Council representative has contributed “little or nothing” to the process.

Speaking to Donegal Live, Michael Doherty, PRO of the Mica Action Group (MAG), recalled Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien’s June 15 assertion “nothing was off the table”.

Mr Doherty said: “When the 100% Redress Campaign arrived in Dublin that day, we made our voices heard, as we have at all the Defective Blocks Working Group meetings since June 30.

“However, we have had Donegal County Council’s Housing Director basically sitting through those meetings, contributing little or nothing. He has been largely silent throughout.

“The only time that there is a contribution is when he is asked a direct question and that question usually comes from the homeowners, as opposed to the Government or Housing Agency representatives.

“There is an issue there. What we expected from the Council representative was him coming to the Working Group meetings, thumping the table, saying, ‘Where are my resources. I am behind. I have got people waiting nine months on their Stage One approval, so where are the resources that are going to make it happen?’

“But there is not a word. It was only when Paddy Diver put him on the spot at one of the meetings and asked him out straight, if he had enough resources to administer the [Defective Concrete Blocks Grant] scheme, he said, ‘No. I would need multiples of what I have right now’.

“We made the point before the meetings even started, we needed liaison officers. We had pensioners, we had people out there not overly computer literate and they were struggling with the scheme.”

According to Mr Doherty, MAG is fielding daily phone calls from people enquiring about the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.

He said: “MAG is trying to talk people through the process when a Liaison Officer should be appointed to do so. The request for a Liaison Officer had been sitting with the Housing Department for several weeks but they only agreed to it at the meeting on July 23.

“There is a lack of appetite to make this happen on behalf of the Department of Housing and Donegal County Council.

“Why was the Council not shouting about it? Why was it not making noises? Why would its representative only contribute to the meetings whenever he was directly asked a question by the homeowners?

“The Defective Blocks Working Group meetings were supposed to wrap up last week. However, we had substantive issues still to get into including, 100% redress; a State backed guarantee; the inclusion of second homes; and services to look after the mental health of affected homeowners.

“MAG is basically counselling people now, as well as everything else. The amount of people who are at their wits end is unbelievable at this stage.

“We also required independent expertise and time to deal with the complex issue of a decent square foot price.

“The Working Group basically messed about on issues including upfront costs; Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) grants; and an exemption for like-for like planning applications, due to their absolute lack of urgency.

“I think, either deliberately or inadvertently, they were grinding us down. Everything was such a slow pace. They could make decisions on nothing. All they could do was go away and think about things.

“They were in first and second gear and we were in overdrive. There was a complete misalignment of expectations.”
According to Mr Doherty, the Defective Blocks Working Group will finish on September 30.

He said: “Meetings between different individuals and organisations will take place throughout August and come September 30, we hope to have the final document, with an agreed position and recommendations, to the homeowners’ satisfaction.

“At the minute there appears to be complete chaos in Donegal County Council meetings. It does not seem to be able to move forward with anything. It is ineffective.

“In terms of the mooted closing of the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme, there are two aspects to the issue. No-one should be abused in their job, no matter what their job is. There should be no Council foot soldiers abused or harassed. That is wrong.

“If, on the other hand what the Council is seeing as harassment and bullying being called out incompetency and inefficiency, being called out not going, pushing, asking for the things we are asking for on Working Group, I see that as being called out for not doing your job. That is different from being bullied and harassed.

“People had a responsibility to do things and they are still not doing them at the rate needed to put the mica disaster behind us.”

The Culdaff man said Donegal County Council was struggling with the administration of the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.

He added: “It has not seen the tip of the iceberg yet. There are less than 400 applications in at the minute. That is not even 10% of what is coming.

“If we get a decent scheme over the line, the Council could be dealing with a tsunami of applications.

“It is important people understand there is still hope. We are not defeated. There are two different roles, inside and outside the Working Group and we are all pulling together.”

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