Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh has voted against Government legislation underpinning the €2.7 billion mica redress scheme, weakening the Coalition’s position in the Dáil.
The Donegal TD and former minister for education opposed the Remediation of Dwellings Damaged by the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks Bill 2022 on Wednesday.
Mr McHugh then resigned the Fine Gael party whip, which means the Government loses its majority of 80, reduced to just 79 out of 159 TDs.
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.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr McHugh said he believed the scheme fell short “on a number of fronts” for people in terms of accessibility and affordability.
He said he felt he had not achieved what he wanted to on behalf of his constituents, some of whom were in the visitor’s gallery.
“This is not over. It’s not over for the people and we still have to figure out a way of trying to make it better for people,” he said.
“I’m talking in particular about the people who are my generation and a bit older, people who are going to find it hard to get a €30,000 or €40,000 loan upfront...Where does that money come from?
“There’s a lot of shortcomings. There’s a lot of work still needed to be done on this but my decision tonight for voting against this, I feel we don’t have enough time to put our heads together properly as a parliament on it.
“I know your motivation to try to get it done before the summer and I called to have it done before the summer, as everyone in this House called to have it done before the summer, but I just feel it fell short.
“We didn’t have the time, the downsizing was a big issue for me and I still think it’s unfair for somebody who wishes to downsize, that unfairness in being penalised.”
Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty said it was “simply not true” to say that 100 per cent redress was being provided and that those affected would have to pay thousands towards rebuilding their homes.
Speaking at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday evening, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it was “very regrettable for the Government to not have Joe McHugh’s vote on the mica scheme Bill”.
Mr Varadkar said he had spoken to Mr McHugh and “understood his feelings on the matter”. It is understood that Mr McHugh said he would continue to support the Government on other issues.
The Tánaiste also told the meeting that he was “confident the Government will continue to have a working majority in the Dáil and had not yet come close to losing a vote”.
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.