Scheme to fix mica damage to houses could cost State over €1bn

Anxiety at spiralling bill as Clare and Sligo look to join Donegal and Mayo in scheme

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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Ministers will be told on Wednesday that the cost of fixing defects in houses in the northwest and west caused by mica could go well beyond €1 billion.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien is expected to brief Cabinet colleagues on the support scheme, which has attracted support attention in Donegal especially, where many of the affected houses are.

Defects in building blocks used in housing, due to the presence of the substance muscovite mica, have caused cracks and fissures to open up in thousands of houses. While the then government announced a scheme before the last election to support householders affected and pay for 90 per cent of renovation costs, campaigners say it is insufficient and are demanding that the Government do more.

It is estimated that 5,000-6,000 homes in Donegal and Mayo are affected, with many requiring total demolition and rebuilding to make them safe and habitable.

But Government sources say local authorities in Sligo and Clare are seeking admission to the scheme, and total cost estimates that are considerably in excess of €1 billion have been circulated, it is understood.

Under the current scheme 90 per cent grants are available to householders, ranging from €49,500 to €247,500. However, campaigners – who are supported by Sinn Féin TDs Pádraig MacLochlainn and Pearse Doherty – want the State to cover 100 per cent of the costs, which they say in many cases are well in excess of the amounts available under the existing scheme.

Officials say it is not a compensation scheme. “Limits are a feature of grant schemes and ensure that the schemes can be budgeted for, with the potential financial liability known at all times, and also to ensure that the available budget can benefit the majority of properties and the maximum number of people,” the Department of Housing said in a statement.

Growing pressure

Discussions between the Minister, local authorities and local action groups are ongoing, the department said.

But there is growing pressure on the Minister and Government to act, and a large demonstration is planned for Dublin next week.

Senior officials are becoming increasingly nervous that an enormous – and as yet unquantified – bill is heading the State’s way at a time when the demand for new housing expenditure is unrelenting.

Separately, landlords will be barred from charging a tenant more than the value of two months’ rental payments in deposits and other payments as upfront charges when moving into a new property. The reform is contained in plans being brought to Cabinet on Wednesday by Mr O’Brien and Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris.

Under the reforms, however, students in student-specific accommodation who wish to pay for a semester in rental payments up front will still be permitted to do so. There will also be a change introduced whereby a termination notice given by someone in that cohort and tenancy type will be limited to no more than 28 days.

Mr O’Brien will also seek Cabinet approval to extend Covid-19 rental protections for individuals in receipt of a Covid-related payment who are at risk of homelessness or in arrears. Currently these people are shielded from rent increases or eviction, but the protection, which was due to expire on July 12th, will be extended to January 12th.