McHugh says he will look at each Dáil vote as ‘individual’ after losing whip

Government loses Dáil majority as Donegal TD votes against mica legislation

Donegal TD Joe McHugh has said he will be looking at every Dáil vote in the future as “an individual”. The former minister on Wednesday voted against Government legislation underpinning the €2.7 billion mica redress scheme, weakening the Coalition’s position in the Dáil.

Mr McHugh opposed the Remediation of Dwellings Damaged by the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks Bill 2022 on Wednesday. He then resigned the Fine Gael party whip, which means the Government loses its majority of 80, reduced to just 79 out of 159 TDs.

“This is a new departure for me” he told Highland Radio on Thursday. “I will have to look at every vote and see how it will benefit my constituency.” However, he added that he would not become an opposition TD “overnight”.

The Bill was passed by 74 votes to 69 and will now go to the Seanad. The legislation seeks to establish a scheme to provide grants to homeowners in Donegal, Mayo and other counties to repair defects caused by mica, which has led building blocks to crumble.

However, campaigners have said the legislation is flawed, excludes numerous properties and that many affected people would still have to put thousands of euro towards rebuilding their homes.

Mr McHugh said that he would suffer consequences as a result of resigning the party whip, but pointed out “I have no skin in the game” and that there was no political advantage for him taking the position he had as he would not be running as a candidate in the next election.

There had been a number of conversations with party leader Leo Varadkar on Tuesday and Wednesday and with Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien on Wednesday. He said that he had not wanted to vote against the Government, he had thought he could get some changes through on downsizing and foundations, but that did not happen. “I felt it was the right choice to vote against the scheme. The scheme is too complicated.”

Mr McHugh said there was not enough time and that Mr O’Brien had wanted to get the scheme started and for people to move on with their lives.

However, Mr McHugh said that people were going to be excluded under the scheme “and that’s the issue I had.” People could not understand why foundations were not included, he added.

People in Donegal had a better understanding of the issue, he said, as it was a lived experience and they could see the impact of mica at first hand.

“It all comes back to real life scenarios of lives on hold,” Mr McHugh said. “What we have to do now is make this scheme better. It’s going to be difficult. I am going to use my position and relationship with officials, some of whom wanted a better scheme. Something happened to make it more constricted.”

Another Donegal TD, Sinn Féin’s Padraig MacLochlainn, told the same programme that he welcomed Mr McHugh’s stand, describing it as an important vote of solidarity with the people. He said the job of all now was to get behind homeowners and give them strength.

Mr MacLochlainn said he had been “genuinely shocked” that changes in relation to foundations and downsizing had not been agreed. The Government was not prepared to spend money “on its own people” yet it was “boasting” about what it was spending on refugees, he said. “Our own people are in distress and they don’t have the same urgency.”

In May the Green Party removed the party whip and suspended Patrick Costello and Nessa Hourigan from the parliamentary party for six months, which further eroded the Government majority, after they voted against the Government on the proposed relocation of the National Maternity Hospital to a site at St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin.