Martin and Varadkar defend Mica scheme amid accusations of a ‘stunt’

Taoiseach defends redress scheme as campaigners criticise sliding scale

The Mica Action Group has called for a flat rate of €145 per square foot, and warned of renewed protests in Dublin if the sliding scale is not dropped before Christmas. Photograph: Laura Hutton / The Irish Times

The Mica Action Group has called for a flat rate of €145 per square foot, and warned of renewed protests in Dublin if the sliding scale is not dropped before Christmas. Photograph: Laura Hutton / The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar have both defended the mica redress scheme in the wake of criticism of a sliding scale of financial supports and claims it won’t cover the cost of rebuilding damaged homes.

Mr Martin argued the Government’s overriding priority in the scheme was to ensure that owners of smaller and average sized homes would not be disadvantaged, while Mr Varadkar defended the cap per square foot as “sensible” in order to contain costs.

Defending the scheme announced by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien on Tuesday, the Taoiseach said there were reports that the construction sector was of the view that the sliding scale methodology used to calculate rebuilding costs made sense.

Barry Kearney, a quantity surveyor in Letterkenny, was quoted in The Irish Times on Thursday saying the redress scheme “will probably be sufficient” to rebuild homes of less than 2,500 square feet.

However for larger homes Mr Kearney said the sq ft rates in the scheme were “not going to do it” and could leave homeowners footing bills of up to €30,000 to €50,000.

The sliding scale, where payments reduce after every 1,000 square feet, has been strongly criticised by owners of houses, which have suffered structural damage because of the presence of Mica in the clockwork.

They say that the reduction from €145 per square meter for the first 1,000 square meters to €110 and then to €100 would leave homeowners €60,000 out of pocket for an average sized house in Donegal (2,400 square feet).

The Mica Action Group has called for a flat rate of €145 per square foot, and warned of renewed protests in Dublin if the sliding scale is not dropped before Christmas.

Sinn Féin has called for it to be removed immediately and Government backbenchers have also voiced concerns.

“Reports today from the Construction Industry that the sliding scale in terms of the economies of scale makes sense,” Mr Martin said.

“What is important is that we do not in any way disadvantage the average sized house or smaller homes and they get well looked after.

“The whole purpose of the scheme is not to cause any challenges to homeowners to get their homes remediated or to get the refund . There are lots of protections in there right now,” said Mr Martin.

He said that the elimination of an up-front charge (of €6,600), and a total of €20,000 in allowances for accommodation and storage (payable to families who have to move out during rebuilding) had satisfied other key demands of homeowners.

“Overall it is a very comprehensive scheme and the Minister has engaged proactively and continues to engage,” he said.

Mr Martin was speaking to reporters in the North Inner City at the launch of a report on Thursday afternoon.

Elephant in the room

Speaking in the Dáil Donegal TD Thomas Pringle welcomed the supports for mental health in the plans but said the sliding scale is “the elephant in the room”.

He said it wasn’t mentioned to mica campaigners prior to the announcement of the scheme and claimed it “was one of the most disingenuous stunts I have witnessed during my time in politics.”

He said Mr Varadkar and the Taoiseach attempted to spin the situation “but the scheme is not 100 per cent and I would appreciate it if you could stop calling it that.”

Mr Pringle claimed that an average home owner in Donegal will have to contribute over €50,000 to participate in this scheme.

Such claims have been disputed by the Government.

He asked it the Government will commit to “removing the illogical sliding scale”.

Mr Varadkar did not offer such a commitment and went on to outline what he described as the “logic” of the scheme.

He told Mr Pringle that Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien “is considering this matter at the moment” and he said Fine Gael TDs Joe Carey and Joe McHugh “have made a similar case as you’re making now in relation to the sliding scale.”

Mr Varadkar added: “the whole idea of having a cap per square foot in terms of cost is a sensible one so that we can contain costs and make sure that the money is spent most efficiently.”

He said it is based on the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland’s (SCSI) independent index which outlines the amount an insurance company would pay per square foot “if a house is damaged or destroyed by lightning or knocked down for some reason”.

Mr Varadkar said the index is updated every year and added: “we’d expect it to be increased in the spring, in line with construction inflation.”

He said: “The logic behind the sliding scale is one of economies of scale, that a smaller building costs more to build per square foot than a larger building does”.

Funding

Earlier on Thursday, Mr O’Brien told the Oireachtas Committee on Housing that he will not need to seek extra money next year for the redress scheme.

“We have made provision in 2022, provision is also made in the National Development Plan.”

He said: “There will be additional funds required as the scheme ratchets up and we need legislation in this regard and obviously I’ll be seeking the co-operation of the committee.”

He said he hoped to publish the legislation in February as the new redress scheme which was “unprecedented” could not continue under existing regulations .

He said a proposed levy on the construction industry, to be introduced in the next budget and come into effect in 2023, would also fund the scheme.

He said he wanted the scheme to additionally cover fire-safety defects which had also emerged as an issue in many homes built over the last 15 years.

Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn highlighted Mr O’Brien’s remarks and claimed in the Dáil that the minister had confirmed there would be no more money in the budget for the defective concrete block scheme for next year.

He said that €40 million has currently been allocated and more is needed in 2022 “particularly with urgent houses that are literally falling down right now” and he sought such an assurance from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar said the €40 million is an “initial allocation” and “if that is spent well then more can be found.”

He said the Government will not be getting a scheme up and running in the spring and summer “and then tell people in the autumn that it’s being suspended.

“That’s not going to happen.”

He suggested that if more money is needed it will be found within Mr O’Brien’s own Department or through a supplementary estimate if that’s required.