Minister ‘convinced’ mica scheme can be improved
The Minister for Housing has said that he is “absolutely convinced” that the Mica redress scheme can be improved.
Darragh O’Brien will meet with homeowners from Donegal and Mayo later today, who are seeking 100% redress for the damage to their homes caused by the presence of the mineral mica in concrete blocks.
The Government has given a commitment that it will enhance an existing redress scheme, with Ministers stating that all options remain on the table.
The Defective Concrete Block Working Group involves homeowners from Donegal and Mayo, their local authority officials, as well as officials from the Department of Housing.
It has engaged over the summer on possible improvements to an existing mica redress scheme.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr O’Brien said that he will consider in full the details of the report of the working group on the issue, which he expects to receive today.
“I’m acutely aware that already the Exchequer have a commitment of approximately €1.5 billion or up to that, so there is a monetary cost here that we have to be aware of, that can’t be ignored,” he said.
“Having said that I’m absolutely convinced that the scheme can be improved. With those improvements will come enhanced costs, absolutely, but we need to be able to consider the working group report in a way that allows us to lay out what changes we can make and that’s what we’re doing,” he added.
He said he is willing to consider all proposals.
Mr O’Brien said that no decision has been made on whether stakeholders and the banks will have to pay into the redress scheme.
“We’re doing a lot of work in this space in relation to what legal recourse we would have against those who are responsible. I don’t have that detail yet,” he said.
He said that they could require legislation and new management of the redress scheme to assist the local authorities, possibly through the Housing Agency.
Mr O’Brien added that he has committed to enhancing the existing scheme that he “inherited from the previous government” and since June he has had a working group in place that has had active engagement between senior officials in his department and residents.
“It’s a very serious situation for homeowners. They’re the people that I am concerned about and concerned with that we can bring a scheme that’s enhanced for them,” he added.
He said that there have been many meetings and “not every meeting has been easy,” describing it as “quite fraught situation”.
The working group reconvenes virtually this evening, in what is expected to be the final exchanges before a report is compiled for the Minister for Housing.
He will in turn consult with the three coalition leaders; Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, and Minister Eamon Ryan, along with Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath.
Minister O’Brien will then bring a memo to Cabinet with final proposals to enhance the redress scheme – something which could happen in early October.
Opposition parties have backed affected homeowners in their demand for a 100% redress scheme.
They will be looking closely to see if any revised scheme going to Cabinet either caps awards or puts limits on which affected buildings can qualify for redress.
Minister Eamon Ryan has said it would be “unfair” and “cruel” for the Green Party to oppose paying for the re-building of one-off houses destroyed by defective mica blocks.
“This is a problem not of those householders making. You don’t walk away from that,” he said.
The chief executive of Banking and Payments Federation Ireland has said it would be a “dangerous precedent” to ask banks to be liable for paying towards the Mica redress scheme when it did not cause the problem.
Brian Hayes told Morning Ireland that the responsibility “is on the people who caused the problem … and that’s not the banks”.
He said that banks have provided dedicated supports in the affected counties by providing short and medium term liquidity, new credit lines, financial management and some payment breaks.
Mr Hayes said the bank guarantee framework agreement with the EU said that banks have to be run on a commercial basis as PLCs but also “at arms length from government”.