Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Priority Questions

Building Regulations.

3:00 pm

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Fine Gael)
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Question 92: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will introduce new standards to ensure pyrite does not contaminate building material; his views on reviewing penalties for persons in breach of supplying pyrite-contaminated building materials; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21197/08]

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Responsibility for the elaboration of standards and for the certification of products rests with the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI. When the issue of pyrite arose, and following an intervention by my Department, the NSAI reconvened its aggregates panel to give urgent consideration to the publication of additional guidance on appropriate protocols for testing under-floor infill material.

The NSAI published a new standard recommendation which is a definitive amendment to an existing standard recommendation of 2004 on aggregates. This standard recommendation came into effect on 7 December 2007 and the intention is that it will address the quality standards of new homes in so far as problems relating to pyrite are concerned.

The national building regulations set out the legal requirements for the construction of new buildings, including houses, and for extensions and material alterations to existing buildings. The related technical guidance documents provide technical guidance on how to comply with the regulations. In the case of pyrite, the relevant regulations are part C dealing with site preparation and resistance to moisture and part D dealing with materials and workmanship. I have set a process in train to incorporate further guidance on the new NSAI standard in technical guidance document C. I am awaiting the conclusion of a mandatory three-month consultation period with the European Commissioner and the Commission under Internal Market rules before its formal adoption.

Strengthened enforcement powers were given to building control authorities on 1 March 2008 following commencement of the relevant sections of the Building Control Act 2007.

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Fine Gael)
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I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, on the elevation to his new role as Minister of State with responsibility for housing, urban renewal and developing areas and I wish him well. I thank the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, for his courtesy during Question Time, which was very much appreciated, and I also wish him well in his role as Minister for Education and Science.

The issue of pyrite in homes is a major one that has been raised with me as a representative of constituents on the north side of Dublin. Hundreds if not thousands of homes are affected and with the delay in testing by some builders and HomeBond, it is difficult to put a figure on the number of homes directly affected. The Minister has ignored this issue during the past year. He does not want to get directly involved, but he must intervene because hundreds if not thousands of young home owners are directly affected. Some of them cannot sell their homes due to negative equity. Furthermore, they cannot live in their homes. The Minister must take direct responsibility for this issue. Hopefully, now that we have a new Minister of State with responsibility for housing, he will have a fresh perspective on this issue and will be able to give a commitment to reconsider it.

What new measures will the Minister put in place in terms of the building regulations to ensure that an issue such as this one will never happen again, that there no longer will be self-regulation of building standards and that regulation and certification will be undertaken by local authorities?

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Since 1 March last I have commenced new enforcement powers under the Building Control Act 2007. In summary, these powers will significantly increase the maximum penalties for breaches of the national building regulations. For example, the old fine of IR£10,000 has been increased to €50,000 on conviction or indictment. We will introduce the option for authorities to bring summary prosecution for all building code offences in the District Court, thus simplifying the prosecution process. We will provide a new income stream for the building control authorities by retaining any fines income for their activities and recouping expenses incurred in the prosecution process. We will widen the right of the building control authorities to seek an order from the High Court or the Circuit Court to stop work on buildings where there is non-compliance with the building code.

If the Deputy is asking what has been done about the use of this contaminated material, the local building control authority for the area in question, Fingal County Council, contacted the builders and the quarry concerned directly to ascertain the full extent of the problem and to ensure that there is no further use of this material for house building. That is the position. It is clear from that contact that we are acting on this matter. It is an important issue and the Department is doing everything it can to ensure that this will never happen again.

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his response. That is fine and good and we very much welcome the new regulations in this area, but what about the position of people affected on the north side of Dublin? These new standards will not help them. Has the Minister any plans to commission a report into what happened in the case of these homes and can he intervene to act to resolve the outstanding issues?

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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It is clear that what has occurred here is not acceptable. The builders in question behaved in a way that is not acceptable. We must ensure that practice does not happen again, but ultimately these are matters for the individuals and the builders in question. That is the position. As a Government, we must regulate the activities of these individuals to ensure this matter will not arise again. That is the role of the State in this regard.