Extension of Mica defects scheme to other counties ‘appears inevitable’, experts warn

A scheme to provide grants to homeowners affected by Mica could be extended nationwide under new plans after the latest expert report said it “appears inevitable” that other counties would be affected.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien is working on legislation to give homeowners in Donegal and Mayo access to enhanced grants to repair defects in their homes caused by the mineral, which has caused building blocks to crumble.

However, an unpublished report from the expert group on the enhanced defective concrete block grant scheme states that engineers are reporting similar issues in other counties.

While the Department of Housing is currently in discussions with local authorities about extending the scheme to Clare, Sligo, Limerick and Tipperary, sources said it could be widened further.

When the legislation for the enhanced scheme comes before the Dáil, a provision would allow the Minister to add other counties as new issues emerge.

It is understood that Mr O’Brien is planning to write to each local authority asking them to provide information about potentially affected properties in their areas in an attempt to identify the scale of the problem and to potentially allow these homeowners access to the scheme.

The latest expert group report, seen by the Irish Times, said that Engineers Ireland has been advised by members on its register “that private homeowners outside of the counties already mentioned also have concerns after having carried out testing of their homes in accordance with the national standard”.

The report says that the damage associated with defective blockwork “can take years to manifest and it can also, for obvious reasons, take some time for homeowners to acknowledge the issue”.

Lack of certainty

The group examined the lack of certainty over how widespread the problem may be and said there are “widespread reports that it is present in Clare, Sligo, Limerick and Tipperary”. It said local authorities in those counties were working on submissions to the department on including their areas in the scheme.

“Engineers Ireland have signalled that their members have been testing homes in other counties the results of which are indicating that the problem may be far more widespread than feared,” the report says. “What is not clear is how many homes within these additional counties may ultimately be impacted.”

The report says that if the numbers were small it would not have significant financial implications on current cost projections for the scheme but there could be “no certainty in this regard.”

It said further research may reveal a higher susceptibility to deleterious material in specific geographic areas but “that is not of itself sufficient proof for establishing that there is a likely presence of defective concrete blockwork in those areas”.

Knock-on consequences

“The consequences of any public commentary in this regard would also need to be carefully considered. Any suggestion that a particular geographic area could be susceptible to the defective concrete blockwork issue could cause unnecessary alarm and impact on homeowners which could have knock-on consequences for the property market in those areas and the behaviour of insurers and lenders.”

The report says the Minister has been advised that it “appears inevitable that the scheme will have to be extended to additional counties and that such provision should be made within the primary legislation but provided for by way of regulation”.

“Consideration should also be given to the feasibility of extending the scheme to estates, towns or parts of counties but not necessarily the full county where the evidence supports such a strategy.”

The Government late last year agreed to finance a €2.2 billion scheme to rebuild and remediate an estimated 7,500 homes which have been structurally damaged by mica.The Cabinet agreed to a scheme where 100 per cent redress will be available to affected homes up to a limit of €420,000 per home.

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