Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Remediation of Dwellings Damaged by the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks Bill 2022: Discussion

Mr. Paul Forde:

I wish the Cathaoirleach and members a good afternoon. My name is Paul Forde and I am director and chairman of DBFL Consulting Engineers. Last January, I was appointed by the Department to chair the expert group on the enhanced defective concrete block scheme. The expert group created three working groups. I am happy to be here today with my colleague Mr. Martin Lynch, who is general manager of the pyrite remediation scheme and who chaired one of these groups. We thank the committee for inviting us to assist in its discussions and deliberations on the general scheme.

I have been in practice as a consulting engineer for more than 42 years and I am a founding partner of DBFL Consulting Engineers. The committee has been furnished with my qualifications and professional memberships, among which are fellow of Engineers Ireland and fellow of the Institute of Structural Engineers. I have 14 years of extensive experience in investigating and resolving pyrite problems in a wide range of buildings. I have acted as an expert witness on several occasions. I was appointed as a member of the original Pyrite Resolution Board. I chaired the technical committee that drafted IS 398-2. Of particular relevance is the fact that this part of the standard dealt with the methodology for remediation works. In 2013, Engineers Ireland appointed me to act as chair of its original assessment panel in respect of its pyrite register.

In January 2022 I was asked by the Minister to chair the expert group to advise on the proposed enhanced defective concrete blocks grant scheme. The expert group was established to consider and advise the Minister on the technical issues that needed to be resolved. These included issues such as the damage threshold for entry to the scheme, the parameters around the second grant application, an independent appeals process, a review of the certificate of remediation and consideration of the rebuild cost prepared by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland.

The expert group met for the first time on 27 January 2022 and delivered its report on 16 March. As I said earlier, the expert group created three working groups. The first working group, which was chaired by Martin Lynch, dealt with the damage threshold and the building condition assessment reports. The second, which was chaired by John O'Connor, dealt with the proposal to provide for a second grant to cover the possibility of future damage and to deal with the independent appeals process. The third, which I chaired, dealt with the certification of remediation works carried under the proposed enhanced scheme.

In early March, John O'Connor and I met with representatives of the Mayo and Donegal homeowners - Martina Hegarty and Michael Doherty - and discussed the terms of reference of the expert group. We met again on 9 March during which the homeowners' views on all relevant issues were discussed. At each meeting, we were very impressed by their representation, as, I am sure, the committee was earlier, and understood their concerns.

At the outset, the Minister emphasised that other longer-term technical issues required further investigation. These included matters such as a review by the NSAI of I.S. 465, which deals with buildings damaged by deleterious materials, and a review of the Irish standards in respect of concrete blocks, including aggregates. The NSAI has also been requested to examine and test foundations and to report back to the Minister. The expert group produced two reports relating to short-term technical issues in respect of which the Minister required immediate recommendations. These were the report on the enhanced defective concrete blocks grant scheme dated 16 March 2022 followed by an addendum report in respect of the SCSI rebuild costs dated 29 April 2022. The expert group's recommendations for the Minister's consideration are set out in these two reports. I understand that these reports have been made available to members. Mr. Lynch and I are happy to answer any questions members may have.