Other News In Brief

UUP Calls For Legislation To Protect NI Homeowners

The Ulster Unionist Party has called for new legislation to protect NI homeowners from defective buildings.

In 2019, residents of the Belfast city centre apartment blocks at Victoria Square were forced out of their homes with no compensation after structural defects were discovered.

In a High Court ruling on 13th March 2024, it was found that based on the timings the structural defects were discovered, it was too late for residents to claim.

UUP Finance spokesperson, Steve Aiken OBE MLA said: "Since 2019, homeowners of apartments in Victoria Square will have been left without answers around their properties. Some still paying their mortgages, many still paying overhead bills including rates and after yesterday’s court ruling, it will have been a devastating and angry day for all those homeowners. We are very aware of the issue and are committed to seeing the legislation amended.

"Currently, the Northern Ireland legislation does not offer homeowners the same basic protections against dangerous buildings that residents in the rest of our nation can avail of. After the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the UK Government introduced the Defect Premises Act 2022, which provided new limitation periods for claims, from 6 years to 30 years for retrospective claims. But unfortunately, the law does not extend to Northern Ireland and residents here are still limited to only 6 years to make a claim under the Defective Premises (NI) Order 1975 (DPO). The Northern Ireland Finance Committee has raised these issues since it took evidence of the impact of the Grenfell fire tragedy on NI building regulations. However, the collapse of the Assembly in 2022 meant that the legislation change could not be addressed.

"Over the past couple of weeks, a number of Departments and Assembly Committees have been looking into this issue, and it currently falls within the Environment section of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. On Monday, in the Assembly, it was made clear that legislation could be created swiftly. It has already been agreed that there will be cross-departmental support and action from DAERA, Communities and Finance at looking to amend the current legislation and hope to bring us in line with the 2022 UK legislation, righting this very obvious wrong."

SDLP Accuse Communities Minister Of 'Ducking And Diving Questions
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The SDLP has called on the Communities Minister to "drop a practice of ducking and diving questions" about by referring elected representatives to generic email addresses for public bodies rather than answering legitimate questions himself.

Mark H Durkan MLA and Cara Hunter MLA raised Gordon Lyons aversion to scrutiny in the Assembly today and were backed by a ruling from the Speaker reminding Ministers they must answer questions.

Mark H Durkan MLA said: "I have been astounded by the Communities Minister's appalling approach to accountability and scrutiny. To date he has point blank refused to answer at least 78 questions on housing, homelessness and waiting list figures representing serious concerns about Executive performance and the pressure that ordinary people are living under. It's an insult not just to Assembly Members trying to get answers but to the thousands of people who are on waiting lists and desperately need action.

"I was deeply unimpressed by Gordon Lyons' approach to these questions and his response in the Assembly today when he outlined that he had no intention of reviewing his position. I am grateful, therefore, for the ruling of Speaker Edwin Poots outlining that Ministers must answer questions and that it is not in order to simply tell MLAs to email someone else.

"We're in the absurd position at the moment where Ministers are tripping over themselves to claim good news stories but refusing to front up to tough questions about the stark positions that many people find themselves in. They can't have it both ways.

"The Opposition will be seeking to maximise accountability for Executive Ministers in this term of government. That will be uncomfortable for some but it is a key part of our job and we will force the issue where necessary. I look forward to a change in position from the Communities Minister and to working constructively to address issues in housing, homelessness and other issues of direct importance to people across Northern Ireland."

DUP Leader Starts Official Visit To US

DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is in Washington DC where he met with New York Congressman Brandon Williams and his wife Stephanie.

They discussed their shared values of being pro-law and order, pro-life, pro-Israel and pro-peace.

Mrs Williams family come from County Down and Brandon has visited Northern Ireland.

Sir Jeffrey said: "The DUP's values align more with people on Capitol Hill than Sinn Féin's left wing ideology. Unionism needs to keep nurturing and building alliances in Washington. For too long unionism has been inward facing instead of reaching out and growing. I am delighted that doors have been opening in DC and this generation of people on the Hill can see their values do not align with left wing republicans."

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