Group to decide if public inquiry needed into mica damage to homes

Minister to hear recommendation amid pressure on Government to boost redress

Hundreds of people from Donegal and Mayo protested in Dublin demanding a 100 per cent  redress scheme for homes and other buildings affected by blocks defective due to the mineral mica. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Hundreds of people from Donegal and Mayo protested in Dublin demanding a 100 per cent redress scheme for homes and other buildings affected by blocks defective due to the mineral mica. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A group charged with making recommendations to tackle mica brick damage to thousands of homes has been asked to consider whether there should be a public inquiry into the matter.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien meets this week with the group, which includes mica campaigners, amid pressure on the Government to boost redress payments for people living in homes damaged by the faulty bricks.

The campaigners are on a committee the Minister has tasked with examining changes to the current remediation scheme, which has been criticised for capping State contributions to redress grants at 90 per cent of the cost. It meets for the first time on Wednesday morning, a fortnight after the Minister promised to table new proposals by July 31st to tackle the problem.

Committee terms of reference show that the Minister wants the group to review calls for a public inquiry and make recommendations.

However, the Government is generally wary of initiating such inquiries in light of the risk of long delays and costs escalating sharply as the work proceeds often for years.

Remediation costs

With total mica remediation costs now on course to exceed €1.5 billion, the committee has also been asked “to consider what assistance, if any, is required or can be secured from responsible parties and financial institutions or funds who hold mortgages over [mica-damaged] homes.”

That aspect of its work reflects anxiety in Government at the refusal of insurers to bear mica-damage costs, which insurers insist they are not responsible for as such risks are covered in household policies.

The Government is separately examining whether it impose levies on insurers, brick suppliers and builders – and possibly on banks, in their role as mortgage providers to the homeowners – and professions involved in the design of homes.

Mr O’Brien has asked three people from the mica campaign group in Donegal and three people from the northwest group, representing homeowners in Mayo and Sligo, to sit down with top officials from his Department and Donegal County Council.

Campaigners want the State to cover 100 per cent remediation costs arising from defective mica bricks, which cause walls to crumble. The question came to the top of the political agenda after a big protest in Dublin almost two weeks ago by homeowners.

Demolition

There is mounting anxiety in the Government at the cost of the affair, not least because engineers are increasingly calling for the demolition of the properties that are most severely damaged and complete reconstruction.

The average cost of works has risen to €174,000 per dwelling, greatly in excess of average pyrite remediation costs which are at €65,000 per dwelling, in a scheme that has already cost €166 million and remains unfinished.

Mr O’Brien has asked the committee to consider options for homeowners to fund testing costs and review the scope of the homes eligible to be included in the State scheme.

It must also “review the allowable costs and qualifying works under the scheme” and “review the existing homeowner contribution”. The Minister also wants the group to look at the current grant caps.

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