Mr O’Brien told The Irish Times he would be open to examining low-cost loans, a remediation scheme or tax breaks to repair defects if they were recommended by the group.
The working group will include departmental officials and those whose homes have been affected by fire-safety and other issues. In addition to examining financial solutions, it will seek to establish how widespread the issues are.
It has been estimated by advocacy groups that some 92,000 apartments in the State could be affected by these defects, which have led in some instances to blocks being evacuated, and often leave unsuspecting homeowners with bills of tens of thousands of euro to make their properties safe.
Terms of reference
“I’m absolutely committed to doing it,” Mr O’Brien said of examining the issue and providing support if recommended by the group.
He has asked senior officials to draw up terms of reference for the working group, having met impacted homeowners since his appointment as Minister. However, any final scheme to help property owners would require approval from the Government, Mr O’Brien’s spokeswoman said.
The programme for government commits the Coalition to examining options for those impacted to access low-cost, long-term finance.
A Department of Finance analysis carried out earlier this year suggests that “direct expenditure would be a more equitable way to assist all affected persons as not all individuals would pay sufficient tax” to benefit from a tax break.
The State has traditionally been reticent to offer assistance to those impacted by building defects, wary of the potential for an open-ended liability to emerge for the exchequer.
The Department of Housing is understood to be wary of repeating the experience of the State-funded pyrite remediation scheme, which cost tens of millions for repairs to private homes at an average cost of some €70,000 each.
Eoghan Murphy, Mr O’Brien’s predecessor, had argued it was not possible for the State to take on responsibility or liability for all legacy issues of defective buildings.
A spokesman for the Construction Defects Alliance, which represents affected homeowners, said a huge number of people with defective homes were “ducking for cover” and hoping the issues would “go away” rather than coming forward. He said that if some of the working group’s hearings were open to the public it could encourage more people to do so.