Defective Blocks Bill: ‘Stand with us,’ Donegal homeowners urge

After years of campaigning, protests, pleading and work, today, (Tuesday) and tomorrow, will prove vital in the defective blocks campaign, with one campaigner describing it as ‘Custer’s Last Stand’.

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Mica Action Group has also told Donegal County Councillors to choose ‘people or party’ in relation to the 80 amendments to the Bill that will be debated at today’s Joint Committee on Housing.

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They have until 5pm today to submit a response.

Homeowners and campaigners pictured outside Dail Eireann last week. Picture: Ali Farren.

Campaigners have urged the government to allocate more time for today’s debate - which has been given ‘just’ two hours - on a 2.7 billion euro scheme.

A large contingency from Inishowen and across Donegal is expected to travel to Dublin tomorrow, as TDs vote on the Bill and campaigners have urged as many people as possible to join them.

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Speaking to the ‘Journal’ yesterday, Michael Doherty, PRO of the Mica Action Group, said there is currently ‘more despair than hope’ in relation to the Bill as all the progress they believed they had made was ‘pulled’ when the enhanced Bill was published.

Mr Doherty said the response from councillors so far on the ‘people or party’ question has been ‘strong’ but it was a question that should not have had to be asked.

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“Anyone who has responded so far has given their support for the need for the amendments and the need for more time to scrutinise it. We have said all along, that if the government would do the right thing, we’d never make them declare people or party, as they’d have both.

“But that didn’t happen, so now we need to ask our councillors where they stand. We have 37 councillors - that is a small army.”

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Mr Doherty highlighted how there is a “strong sense, from everyone, apart from the government, that you cannot debate a 2.7 million euro scheme in two hours and go through the amendments needed. That is 30 million euro a minute.”

r Doherty described the published Bill as ‘heavy reading.

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“It’s heavy reading and it’s difficult reading. It was made available on Sunday night and many people burned the midnight oil to get to grips with it. There are 80 amendments there.”

Mr Doherty outlined how, the feeling among homeowners at the minute is ‘more despair than hope’ as they ‘see the government has taken backward steps on progress that has been made.’

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“We spent six months talking on different situations and scenarios - all of which were improvements on the announced, enhanced scheme that was published on November 30. All were improvements and we’re minuted all those. We were making good progress, particularly after the Taoiseach’s visit and all of a sudden, about a month ago, all got closed down. There was no more progress or talks. Negotiations were basically over and lo and behold, when it was all announced, everything we talked about over the last six months was missing.”

Mr Doherty said there is a view that the progress made and ‘what they were prepared to put in the Bill’ was taken off the table as it is claimed defective block homeowners won’t receive the same support as they would have previously, due to the cost of living crisis.

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“It is believed, or so we understand, that the view is homeowners down the country who might have put pressure on their TDs to support us, are now concerned about electricity costs etc. So, what was on the table, has been taken off the table. Everything we proposed could be put back on at the stroke of a pen. Most of them were cost-neutral improvements, such as the penalty-free down sizing, But, they’ve all been taken away.”

Mr Doherty said Mica Action Group is asking everyone who can to attend Dublin on Wednesday to stand outside Leinster House to do so.

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“This is Custer’s Last Stand, with this government certainly.”

Mr Doherty said the next moves in the campaign will be decided after Wednesday, when the picture becomes clearer. In a joint statement released last week, Donegal Mica Action Group, Mayo Pyrite Action Group, Clare Pyrite Action Group, Limerick Action Group and Sligo Action Group, all said they would not support the Bill if it is not amended.

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Mr Doherty said the scheme currently on offer is ‘better than the previous ‘so-called 90-10 scheme, but would not have been better if the 90-10 would have been a real ‘90-10.’

“I think this is an 80-20. It’s better than the 60-40 we had, but it’s a long way off the 100% we are hoping for.”

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He also added how another issue that was talked about ‘to the death’ was that of excluded home.

“We kept saying that room had to be made for that. We spoke about how it was the third pillar of what we were looking for and while those homeowners weren’t looking to be pushed to the front of the queue, they should not be abandoned. We did everything we could.”

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On Thursday, as the Bill went through the second stage, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the government was ‘committed’ to making the scheme work. He described the defective blocks crisis as a ‘disaster’ that has ‘haunted the lives of people in Donegal and Mayo for far too long.’

The Minister said that people had bought their homes ‘to make a life’ and then ‘saw their dreams crumbling around them’ and ‘instead of shelter from the storm,’ houses became ‘prisons.’ He added that the new scheme is ‘a dramatic leap forward towards an 100% grant scheme.’

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Donegal North East TD Charlie McConalogue welcomed the ‘important step’ of the legislation coming before the House and what is a ‘crucial step’ in ensuring homeowners in his native Donegal can ‘get their lives back on track and try and remove themselves from a nightmare they’ve been living for well over a decade’.

In the joint statement, homeowners said their lives were being destroyed.

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“It is not just our houses that this is destroying, but our daily lives, our working lives, our family lives, our physical and mental wellbeing, the very fabric of our communities.”

Anyone who wishes to go to Dublin on Wednesday is asked to contact Lisa Doherty on the ‘100% Redress No Less’ Facebook page for bus information.