Government loses majority as Fine Gael TD resigns from party whip while Glimmer scheme imposed Dáil


THE government will lose its majority in the Dáil tonight, can reveal.

Former Fine Gael Minister Joe McHugh has voted against his fellow coalition leaders and will resign from the Fine Gael party leadership tonight.

The Donegal TD does not support legislation being pushed through the Dáil tonight aimed at compensating homeowners whose properties have been affected by the mica scandal.

“I’m making this decision with a clear head,” he said, adding that he “can’t in good conscience” vote for the law.

The broken concrete block grant scheme is being discussed in the Dáil tonight – but activists say it is not offering the 100 per cent redress they were aiming for.

They also say that the two-hour window for the debate wasn’t enough.

While praising the work that Housing Secretary Darragh O’Brien has done in drafting a compensation package, Mr McHugh said the lack of time given to consider changes to the scheme was an important factor in his decision.

Speaking to, he said: “They don’t give him the proper amount of time to think about where it could be improved or done better. I know there will never be a perfect mica scheme, but this is a massive law that just isn’t given enough time.”

Parts of Mr McHugh’s constituency have been tainted by the presence of mica in concrete blocks used in building houses. Many families have literally seen walls come down in their homes as a result.

Politicians in the region are under continued pressure from activists to demand changes to the government program that will cost €2.7 billion.

They have proposed around 80 legislative amendments. Among the changes Mr McHugh would like is an acknowledgment that some homeowners may want to downsize during the remodeling phase.

He added that the proposed program will still require some people to spend tens of thousands of euros on reconstruction projects, but the banks won’t care.

“The ultimate arbiters of this scheme have to be the people who have to live with this nightmare,” he said.

In May, Mr McHugh hinted that he plans to retire from politics at the next election. At the time he said he would continue to campaign for Glimmer redress during his remaining time at the Dáil.

His decision to vote against the government now is a major setback for the coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens, which only had a majority.

Two months ago, the Greens removed the party whip and suspended Patrick Costello and Neasa Hourigan for six months from the parliamentary group when they stepped out of line in a vote on the National Maternity Hospital project.

Asked if he accepted facing a similar sentence, Mr McMugh, a former chief government whip, said he knew the consequences his decision. He plans to step down as party leader tonight.

This means the government benches will be reduced to just 79 out of 159 TDs, excluding the Ceann Comhairle. In theory, the opposition will consist of 80 TDs, leaving the government in a very precarious position while Treasury Secretary Paschal Donohoe prepares a budget on September 27th.

Mr McHugh said he had not yet considered supporting the government from the opposition benches but noted it was a heavy heart for today’s decision.

A number of independent TDs are coordinating with the government on a case-by-case basis and could now seek pre-budget support.

Mica legislation was pushed through the Dáil on Wednesday night despite the loss of Mr McHugh, with Housing Secretary Darragh O’Brien promising to deal with anomalies and more needs later.

But Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty, who hails from Donegal, told him the framework of his proposed legislation is flawed, as are the blocks and aggregates used in thousands of homes across the country.

An attempt to get endowment returns into law was thwarted when the minister refused to accept the amendment, concerned that a debilitating substance known as pyrite was present and making structures inherently unsafe – even if it was they will be rebuilt.

However, Mr O’Brien promised that if an independent scientific assessment found pyrite in foundations and infill it would be included in the programme. The government must continue its efforts and the review is happening in parallel, he said.

There have also been calls for the state to allow homeowners to downsize based on their experience. Michael McNamara, a Clare Independent, asked the minister to explain how the state would save money by preventing a home from being built of a smaller size than the previous one. “The only difference is how much the unfortunate homeowner has to add to the construction cost.”

Richard O’Donoghue of Limerick said that houses built in the 1980s and 90s had special foundations because the roof was made of lighter timber at the time. Today there were heavier beams with a heavier roof construction, possibly resting on the same foundations designed to “support a lighter house” many years ago. He warned: “Today you can’t build this lighthouse because the regulations have changed.”

But the housing minister said specialists would inspect the foundations of houses. “This work is currently being done by the NSA for scientific testing should there be a problem with the fundamentals,” he said.

“If there was a problem with that material (in the foundations) we would add that to the scale. But we must base such decisions on scientific evidence.

“We should scientifically test this material to see if the problem is widespread, how widespread it is, and if it’s affecting foundations. And I said clearly that in this case we will include foundations in the program.”

He added: “I think trying to enact something now that isn’t based on scientific facts that we don’t already know would be doing the system itself a disservice.”

The government needs certainty, and if it is the case that pyrite is widely used in foundations and infill, then that part of a building’s basic structure will be included, he said. “We will change the scheme to do that.”

Meanwhile, mica activists were ordered out of the Dáil visitors’ gallery after loudly banging on windows and berating government ministers and TDs as the mica law was passed on Wednesday night.

Amid cries of “shame” and banging on the windows, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail asked the ushers to clear the grandstand as the final vote on the bill was called.

As the activists left, one was heard shouting, in an apparent reference to Agriculture Secretary Charlie McConalogue: “You’re done, Charlie.”

Mr McHugh voted against the government a total of six times, including twice on roll-call votes requested by Sinn Féin.

He confirmed that he had resigned as party leader, leaving the government without a majority in the Dáil.

In the end, the bill passed by a vote of 74 to 69.

Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael faction that it was very unfortunate for the government that Mr McHugh did not vote on the Mica Act, but he believed he would continue to support the government on other issues and that the coalition would do the same continue to have a working majority in the Dáil. Government loses majority as Fine Gael TD resigns from party whip while Glimmer scheme imposed Dáil

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