After months of pressure, the government agreed to a € 2.2 billion package to rebuild or repair 7,500 homes damaged by faulty mica blocks in Donegal and Mayo. Taxpayers face a huge burden for the failings of others. But activists for the owners of derelict homes in County Donegal are unhappy and there are few signs that anyone is held responsible for such a disastrous sequence of events.
Faced with the threat of losing coalition seats in the Dáil if demands for reparations were not met, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien took some step towards accepting requests for an increase in the Dáil grant. 100 percent sanitation of the cost of 90 percent. However, the minister set a ceiling of € 420,000 on payments. Activists are angry, insisting they could end up with big bills because the program “discriminates against the bigger houses”.
This is a last-minute indent to increase the payment to rebuild the first 1,000 square feet of a home to € 145 per square foot to € 138. This decision reflects high building inflation, but owners oppose a downward sliding scale for work beyond these dimensions. The average home size is estimated to be between 2,300 and 2,400 square feet, so a large gap remains between activists and the government. Although O’Brien has committed to a review as early as February, persuading homeowners to agree to the plan is still a challenge. The program also includes up to € 20,000 for alternative accommodation and storage.
For all complaints, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin is right when he says that “this level of state intervention is unprecedented”. Costs have skyrocketed in recent months. The average cost per accommodation was € 150,000 at the start of the initial program at 90%. It is almost three times higher in the new incarnation.
In its new role as representative of local authorities in the examination of cases, the Housing Agency must protect taxpayers. This is a basic requirement. If one of the root causes of the debacle was non-compliance with building regulations, the risk of unregulated remediation is all too clear.
After pyrite, fire-prone apartments, and unfinished ghost estates, mica is just the latest example of shoddy practices, some associated with the Celtic Tiger Era, to leave an expensive mess to clean up for the state. While the damage is done here, the government will establish a building standards regulator and industry registry in an effort to avoid duplication. Yet the lack of accountability is blatant, no action against bad block vendors. Options for prosecuting potentially liable violators “will be explored” and a review of latent defect insurance will be undertaken, long after insurers declared mica damage was not a covered risk. All very late. The minister is talking about a construction tax in 2023. Ensuring that these costs are not passed on to consumers is another matter.