The Irish Times view on the concrete levy: good idea, badly executed

After agonising mica debates, it defies belief that Ministers did not foresee the backbench and Opposition backlash

The Government is on the defensive over poorly-framed plans to impose a levy on concrete products. A Sinn Féin Dáil motion against the proposal is unlikely to succeed but Ministers should seize the opportunity to sharpen focus with the charge and spell out exactly how it will work. The aim is laudable: to ease a little of the enormous taxpayer cost of mica, pyrite and defective apartment remediation.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the final bill could reach €4.5 billion-€6 billion, big money that might otherwise be spent on new housing, hospitals or schools. But the budget plan was vague to the point of incomprehension, leading to anxiety that disproportionate cost would fall on first-time home-buyers already hit by surging prices. This is not an industry levy to hold the sector to account for shoddy goods and malpractice. It is more a levy on industry customers, another thing entirely and not quite a dissuasive measure to prompt greater care from any dubious market participants.

After agonising mica debates, it defies belief that Ministers did not foresee the backbench and Opposition backlash. Still, Martin is correct when he insists someone must represent taxpayers. As so often before, they are on the hook for the egregious faults of others. To demand a revenue stream as the State pays to fix thousands of homes is the least that should be expected from a profitable industry. As presented, the levy comprised a 10 per cent charge on the price of concrete blocks, pouring concrete and other products. Now the Finance Bill opens scope to impose a surcharge on construction profits that will be inflated by the flow of State-funded remediation work. Banks whose mortgage security will be enhanced by remediation should also pay, so too should insurers who look away when things go awry. The Government must also clarify how much money it is seeking. An €80 million annual levy in the 10 years forecast for mica works would eventually reach €800 million. If that is the target then Ministers should say it.