Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has defended the Government’s new retrofitting scheme and said he does not believe it will be the “next mica scandal”.
Mr Ryan also said that he has been informed by Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris that there has been “a leap in inquiries” for apprenticeships since the scheme was unveiled.
The Government announced the new National Home Energy Upgrade System earlier this month, which offers increased grant levels of up to 50 per cent of the cost of a typical deep retrofit to a B2 home energy standard. The grants can be accessed through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.
In an opinion column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, Fintan O’Toole asked who would retrofit 75,000 homes a year and “will they make a complete hames of it”, pointing to thousands of apartments built during the Celtic Tiger years who were affected by fire safety problems, leaky balconies and/or defective roofs.
“The work of one building company alone left us with 40 schools that required on average a million euro each of public money to remediate defects. And let’s not even get started on pyrite and mica,” O’Toole wrote.
Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Mr Ryan said he knew people were “sceptical” about the scheme.
“I read Fintan O’Toole in one of the papers yesterday saying this could be the next mica scandal, I don’t believe it will be,” he said.
Mr Ryan said there has been an increase in staff at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland with more due to be employed this year.
“To maybe allay Fintan’s concerns, we are learning as we are doing, we have good people and this has been thought through at length,” he added.
“This is not a heat of the moment energy crisis or price crisis response, it is something that has been worked on for ages.”
‘Shoddy building work’
Independent TD Joan Collins raised concerns about the capability of the construction industry to carry out the works to “a high standard” and said there was an industry claim of a shortage of 27,000 workers to meet existing demands before the retrofit plan even gets underway.
The Dublin South Central TD said “shoddy building work, the lack of qualifications, zero numbers in apprenticeships in many trades and lack of upskilling” were consequences of the shift from direct employment to casualisation of construction work.
“Failure to reform the industry could well result in the national retrofit programme becoming the pyrite or mica scandals of the future,” she added.
Sinn Féin TD Denise Mitchell said the scheme “falls well short of what is required” and that it was “silent” on people who are renting.
“Some renters live in cold, poorly-insulated homes and are paying huge bills. There are landlords out there who will not invest in retrofitting, leaving renters still paying huge bills and yet again, we are leaving renters behind,” she said.
Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh said there was an opportunity to incorporate the retrofit scheme with households affected by mica or pyrite.
Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Ossian Smyth said the retrofit scheme will be available to those availing of the mica redress scheme and that the “two schemes will work together”.