Donegal TD Joe McHugh has said he would consider rejoining the Fine Gael parliamentary party if changes were made to the mica redress scheme, to avoid penalising homeowners who downsize when rebuilding their homes.
The former minister for education said he had been asked to rejoin the parliamentary party, and had been having “high level conversations” on aspects of the redress scheme.
Mr McHugh said to rejoin the party fold he would need a commitment the scheme would be amended to make sure homeowners who wish to downsize when rebuilding homes did not face extra costs as a result.
“In order to come back into the party I would need to see substantial progress on this issue,” he told The Irish Times. “I have been asked to rejoin the party ... I would rather be in the party,” he said.
‘You cannot teach where I teach, and be in my classroom and not feel uplifted, or have hope for the future’
Mr McHugh said he would need a commitment that “no penalty” downsizing would be addressed “immediately”, rather than reviewed at some point down the line.
Last June the Government approved an enhanced €2.7 billion redress scheme, where homeowners would be entitled to 100 per cent grants up to a maximum of €420,000, to rebuild homes affected by the defective blocks.
Mr McHugh, who has said he will not contest the next general election, said the scheme could be amended to allow homeowners penalty free downsizing within a percentage of the size of their current home.
The proposed change would allow homeowners to claim the value of their home, with the difference in building a smaller home to go towards the cost of extra materials and seeking planning permission, he said.
“I do believe if it was resolved it would liquidate money for the people who will find it hard to get it on the scheme,” he said. The change “wouldn’t cost the Exchequer one extra penny,” he said.
“If you handled this issue you would also be getting around the difficulty around increased costs ... It’s not cash in the back pocket because you have to prove where you spend the money,” he said.
Under the current scheme homeowners would still be left facing fees of upwards of €60,000, he said.
The former minister resigned the Fine Gael party whip last July after opposing the Remediation of Dwellings Damaged by the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks Bill 2022, resulting in the Government losing its majority of 80 TDs.
Despite resigning the whip Mr McHugh has supported the Coalition in subsequent no confidence and other votes.
Last November the Government regained its majority after Green Party TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello were readmitted into the parliamentary party. The pair had lost the whip for six months for voting against the Government in a Sinn Féin Dáil motion on the new National Maternity Hospital.
Separately, a group of county councillors from Donegal held a protest outside Leinster House on Tuesday, calling for further changes to the mica redress scheme.
The Mica Action Group of affected homeowners has said the current scheme exposed homeowners to “severe inflationary pressures” and forced them to compete with each other to source materials and labour.