Joe McHugh could quit Fine Gael if mica redress fails to satisfy homeowners

Former party whip ready to ‘consider all options’ as improved package is discussed

Joe McHugh: ‘What wrecked the first scheme was the nit-picking at the end.’ Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Joe McHugh: ‘What wrecked the first scheme was the nit-picking at the end.’ Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

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Former government chief whip and minister Joe McHugh has said he will have to “consider all options” politically if a new mica redress scheme does not meet the expectations of affected homeowners.

Mr McHugh said leaving Fine Gael would be “one of the hardest things” for him to do but that he could not back any redress scheme that was not fully accessible to those affected by the defects.

Options for an enhanced redress scheme were discussed last night at meeting between the Coalition party leaders as well as Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath. It is understood that a new scheme could be brought to Cabinet within a fortnight.

Options on the table include an industry levy to co-fund the remediation measures as well as higher caps on the value of proposed works to remedy the mica problem. Much of the recent discussions have focused on who would administer the new scheme.

Mica are naturally occurring minerals that can absorb and store water, which have been found in building blocks and can cause them to crack and crumble over time. Thousands of homes in the west and northwest have been affected by the problem and owners are seeking redress. The Department of Housing has estimated that some 6,600 homes may require remediation.

Nit-picking

Mr McHugh, a TD for Donegal, where may of the affected homes are, said he would have to consider his position if the parameters of the enhanced scheme do not satisfy the owners of properties facing mica issues.

“I was heavily involved in the first scheme. What wrecked the first scheme was the nit-picking at the end,” he said. “By not going 100 per cent, not putting in accommodation costs, not putting in the storage costs and basically coming up with a half-baked scheme … it was nit-picking.”

He added: “My concern now is that we could be back to that same scenario.

“I feel there is a very real danger that history is going to repeat itself. If there is nit-picking on this scheme, we are back to a half-baked scheme again and it is not going to work.

“Ultimately my message is, if fairness is not at the heart of the scheme this time, I won’t be supporting it.”

Mr McHugh said he still believed that a suitable scheme could be agreed but that if affected homeowners “feel they are not in a position to support it, I will be on their side”. Asked if that would mean a political exit from Fine Gael, he replied: “I think I have to look at all options ... The last scheme was inaccessible for many families.”

The existing Defective Concrete Blocks Scheme covers €50,000 worth of repairs in cases where a house can be saved, and up to a maximum of €275,000 in cases where houses have to be demolished and rebuilt. The largest grant payable is 90 per cent of the maximum cost allowed under the scheme, or 90 per cent of the actual cost of the qualifying works carried out, whichever is less.

It is understood there is strong resistance from officials to any scheme that covers 100 per cent of costs for all affected.