The Inter-Departmental and Agency Group (IDAG) was set up to consider the recommendations of the Working Group on Defective Homes’ report and to elaborate on the options set out in that report. Unfortunately, instead of elaborating on the options, the IDAG seems instead to have focused on eliminating some of them.
This is most obvious in relation to retrospection where the Working Group said:
“To avoid the moral hazard (of fire safety remediation works being deferred) outlined above and to ensure fairness and equity for all apartment and duplex owners affected by defects, a remediation support scheme SHOULD provide for retrospective financial assistance.”
This very strong statement by the Working Group – which was voted upon by its members – is unfortunately not properly reflected in the IDAG’s workings. In its final report to Government, the IDAG only refers to the Working Group having considered representations from home owner representative groups. The Working Group’s clear conclusion that retrospection should be in the scheme as well as the importance of the issues of fairness and equity for all owners don’t feature anywhere in this final report nor in any of the papers that preceded this report.
This selective approach to the Working Group’s report led the Inter-Departmental and Agency Group to conclude that there was no public policy case for retrospection and they effectively tried to present Government with a ‘fait accompli’ on this issue.
In addition, the IDAG tried to steer the Government towards loans as a solution – which would have helped some owners to cash flow their remediation levies but would have left owner-occupiers and social housing providers totally on the hook for the costs of fixing defects. This position runs totally against the ‘Safe as Houses?’ report’s mission statement which clearly states that ordinary owners who bought in good faith should not be liable for the costs of remediation. This report underpinned the commitments in the Programme for Government on defects and was at the core of the Working Group’s terms of reference yet is not referenced anywhere by the IDAG.
Given all of this, apartment owners are deeply appreciative of the Government’s very clear decision to insist that there will be retrospection in the interests of fairness and equity and that the remediation support scheme will be fully funded by means of grants not loans. It is clear that Oireachtas members – including Government members, Government backbenchers and all of the Opposition parties – have a very clear appreciation of the justice issues at the heart of the defects scandal and we’ll be looking to work with Government to ensure that this perspective is encapsulated in the scheme that is put in place in the coming months.