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Dermot Bannon (L) and Claire Irwin speaking at the RTÉ campus in Dublin today. Maxwell Photography

Dermot Bannon and Department of Housing explain why they met before new season of Room to Improve

The Department of Housing said a briefing on the “mechanics of the scheme” was provided in the meeting.

ROOM TO IMPROVE architect Dermot Bannon said he has had meetings with the Department of Housing on a number of occasions on other topics and ”didn’t see the big deal” about a recent briefing he received from ministerial advisors.

Throughout the first episode of the show’s fifteenth series on RTÉ One, Bannon mentioned that the project had relied heavily on grants while Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and his department’s social media pages repeatedly highlighted their use on the episode.

Before the filming of the series, Dermot Bannon, the show’s host, and quantity surveyor Claire Irwin discussed vacant property grants with the department after the show’s production company had requested a meeting, The Sunday Independent revealed last week.

Bannon and Irwin had met with O’Brien’s advisor shortly after it was announced the eligibility of the vacant property refurbishment grant would be extended in September 2022.

Today Bannon said he “didn’t see the big deal” adding that he had met with the department before on other topics.

Bannon said: “They are a department, they’re there to help.”

He added that the producers of the show had contacted the department asking for an explanation on the grants.

Shortly after, a virtual meeting was set up on Zoom – between Bannon, Irwin and members of the department – where the advisors “fired us onto the local authorities”. 

Speaking at the RTÉ campus today, Bannon detailed that he and Irwin were briefed on “what the grants were all about”.

A spokesperson for the department told The Journal a briefing on the “mechanics of the scheme” was provided in the meeting.

He added that a case officer was assigned to the projects in counties Tipperary and Kilkenny, who “deal with all of the buildings”.

“We didn’t get any special treatment,” Bannon claimed. “We have a responsibility to find out about stuff that we’re talking about if we’re putting it out on national television.”

He added that out of the 52-minute television show “you might be talking about a grant that might get a minute of a half”.

“You have to be concise. We have a responsibility when we’re talking about something to know what we’re talking about because people watch the show,” he added.

Changes over 15 years

Irwin said that challenges within the housing market, such as workforce shortages, cost of materials and planning permission waiting times have been becoming coming more frequent since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Irwin told The Journal: ”We were doing a cost plan for Dermot’s initial design, the project had to go for planning. The cost could have risen quite substantially even during that three months period of planning.”

She added that the challenges have made the production, at times, “really, really tricky”.

Bannon said: “It’s a job. In order to get it from A to B is those milestones – but those milestones all carry their own individual stress that we go through.”

Bannon and Irwin both agreed that the challenges have started to “bottom out” and that the programme has been able to make it through “lots of different conditions” over the 15 years.

“That’s the job you do, but you deal with conditions that you’re in,” Bannon added.

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