Ministers overruled officials who believed over €1 billion could be shaved from the cost of a scheme to remedy defective apartments if already-repaired units were excluded.
Documents released under Freedom of Information laws show strong official resistance to paying back apartment owners who had already remedied legacy issues such as water ingress or fire safety failings. They argued that there was no public policy basis for doing so, and that the State faced no liability in any case.
Opposition was particularly trenchant in the Department of Finance, where officials threatened not to sign off on an internal report drawn up before the Government approved a plan to pay up to €2.56 billion remediating apartments – including those which had already been fixed.
Records released to The Irish Times show that officials working on an interdepartmental group set up on the issue estimated that works valued at between €718 million and €1.15 billion had already been completed – almost always funded by apartment and duplex owners themselves after defects were discovered in their developments.
Emails exchanged between officials in the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform also show that they wanted to give further examination to the use of low-cost loans advanced to homeowners rather than direct State subvention. Loans would limit the direct exposure to the exchequer.
“On the matter of providing State support to [units] that have already been remediated, no State supports should be directed in this area. Where buildings are now compliant there is no public policy rationale to provide any State support.”
It continued: “No liability for the State has been established, therefore no State support should be provided.”
They also urged that expectations should be controlled with “constraints outside the control of the State” that could impact the development and rollout of a remediation scheme, such as capacity within the sector and the provision of alternative accommodation.
Department of Public Expenditure and Reform officials also commented on drafts of an internal report on the policy options available to Government, reminding colleagues of the “significant implications for the exchequer” of the State funding works, as well as administrative burdens. In another email the department‘s civil servants wrote that the “State’s objective is to ensure the health and safety of occupants, not to offer compensation”.
In mid-December, with work ongoing on a plan to send to Government, a Department of Finance official raised a red flag over the inclusion of a line that suggested further consideration should be given to paying for already remediated apartments.
“As it stands we can’t agree the report if it contains the final line in that section,” saying that the working group of officials examining options had reached a consensus “that this is not a compensation scheme”.
“The line only serves to introduce ambiguity where there was none,” the official wrote.
Pat Montague, a spokesman for the Construction Defects Alliance – which represents affected homeowners – said the documents suggested officials had “focused on eliminating” some of the options for remediation. He said the Government had taken the correct approach in including already-remediated apartments in the scheme.