Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Private Members' Business. Building Control Regulations: Motion


7:00 pm

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that the inordinate political influence which major developers and big builders exercised in this State over many decades resulting in a wholly inadequate regime of regulation, supervision and inspection in the construction industry, has left a disastrous legacy of defective buildings and major fire hazards, only recently coming to light;

further notes in particular:

— that the Building Control Act 1990, subsequent building regulations and building control regulations, reliant as they are on self-certification by building contractors, architects and engineers constrained only by legally ambiguous concepts such as 'substantial compliance' with building regulations, are not and have not been fit for purpose; and

— that low inspection rates of buildings subject to commencement notices have been facilitated by successive governments since 1990, and that this has been further

compounded by the discarding of the clerk of works function under a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government;

acknowledges that the above has resulted in:

— prioritisation of the interests of land speculators, developers, the construction industry and building professionals above the interests of families and individuals who purchased homes in good faith believing that the building regulations provided protection against bad builders;

— the run-down of the already inadequate building control inspectorate by failing to recruit competent building inspectors;

— housing developments throughout the State having been built with essentially no check on compliance with building regulations;

— tens of thousands of families and individuals who purchased homes during the period since the introduction of building regulations in 1997 being left with no recourse against contractors and developers who sold houses which are now presenting with major structural damage due to pyrite induced heave, which could have been prevented by mandatory basic testing of quarry fill for heave potential and that such testing is still not mandatory in 2012;

— fire safety being seriously compromised in many housing developments by faulty installation of fire stopping materials at party walls, roofs and in cavity walls;

— the issuance of fire safety certificates prior to commencement of building without further inspection by building control being required during the construction to confirm that fire retarding materials and construction complied with the design drawings and fire safety building regulations;

— permission to build timber frame housing and apartments up to four storeys high being granted without the necessary rigorous independent inspection of construction for fire

safety compliance;

— signatures confirming 'substantial compliance' with fire safety building regulations by contractors, timber frame subcontractors, architects and engineers employed by the developer being accepted as sufficient guarantee of fire safety compliance by the Dublin City Council fire officer in the case of the Belmayne development despite the fact that breaches of fire regulations identified were so serious that fire insurance was withdrawn;

— certificates being signed by architects who may not have visited the site confirming 'substantial compliance' with the building regulations to enable sale of housing units, leading to such disasters as that at the Priory Hall development;

— foul sewer pipe lines having been backfilled without any check on line, level or pressure test or post-construction camera survey of the sewer lines; and

— sound insulation being so inadequate in semi-detached, terraced houses and apartments that people can hear conversations through separating walls;

condemns the proposed Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2012 for:

— failing to provide any proposal for public inspection and remedial work to put right serious estate-wide defects including compromised fire safety caused due to failure of governments since 1990 to implement public building control on all buildings at all key stages of construction;

— providing such an inadequate mandatory certification of compliance with building regulations, including lodgement of design drawings and calculations prior to commencement of construction, that it would not have prevented the pyrite disaster; and

— placing the burden of inspection and certification of compliance and legal responsibility on individual professionals who could not possibly inspect adequately without a continual presence on site of a resident engineer or clerk of works, while placing no responsibility on the developer to fund such a necessary presence on site;

concludes that:

— the chosen inspection option demonstrates that this Government, like its predecessors, favours inadequate private sector checks rather than full inspection and approval of all buildings by local authority building control; and

— the penalties for serious non-compliance, which can lead to fatalities, are proposed to remain at the level of section 17(2) of the Building Control Act 1990, again reflecting the unwillingness of the Government to implement adequate sanction for offences at the behest of the construction industry's powerful lobby; and

resolves that:

— building control shall be a wholly public function, adequately staffed by competent building inspectors, involving inspections of all buildings requiring commencement notices and approval at all key stages of construction and with costs to be incorporated in planning contributions;

— there should be a systematic and thorough inspection regime across the State to detect fire hazards as a result of inadequate regulation or non-compliance with such regulation as exists; and

— Government, having failed to implement building control and thereby allowing sub-standard and defective building practices throughout the State, must accept responsibility for necessary remedial works to make buildings safe and fit for purpose as part of an emergency programme of necessary public works and where possible to subsequently pursue the responsible developers and builders to recoup the cost for the State.

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis na Teachtaí Catherine Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett, Seamus Healy agus Mick Wallace.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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This comprehensive motion is in the name of the five United Left Alliance Deputies and is supported by ten other Deputies in the Technical Group. It deals with the plight of tens of thousands of home owners who purchased homes in good faith and then, agonisingly, over a period saw these homes disintegrating around them as they were affected by pyrite or the revelation of major non-compliance with fire prevention regulations, meaning they had to live with the constant fire hazard. Meanwhile, the people in Priory Hall and some in Belmayne have been forced to move from their homes.

We move this motion in solidarity with those residents who are suffering the consequences of the problems which have emerged in the construction industry and home building in particular. We especially insist on immediate action from this Government as this State has a serious responsibility for the matter which developed. This nightmare has come about because of blatant non-compliance with mandatory building regulation, an utterly inadequate inspection regime to ensure compliance and inspection authorities which I see as blatantly negligent in some cases. In the pyrite case, there is no regulation demanding the testing of the relevant building materials. The Building Control Act 1990 and subsequent regulations relying on self-certification by builders, architects and engineers, bound only by an ambiguous concept of "substantial compliance", have proved utterly inadequate. When combined with low inspection rates, this has given rise to a disastrous legacy for many home owners.

Incredibly, in the early 1990s, the Department of the Environment, as it was known then, issued guidelines to building control authorities for an inspection level of only 12% to 15% of new developments. As the National Consumer Agency declares in a report produced in 2008 on building regulations and their enforcement, this means "in effect, up to 85% of newly constructed homes are not required to be inspected under the issued guidelines". In Britain, Northern Ireland, the United States and many other jurisdictions, a 100% inspection rate is demanded. Unfortunately, this is not accidental, as major developers and big builders wielded significant political influence in this State for many decades. To put it bluntly, land speculators and developers had the Fianna Fáil Party in their pockets, with a substantial influence over Fine Gael as well. These are the two major parties which have dominated the governance of this State since its foundation.

This was before the outright corruption in the planning process during the 1980s and early 1990s was unmasked in the Mahon tribunal. Just as the planning and rezoning process was distorted, so was the insistence on strict building regulations and adherence to those regulations. It was fatally compromised by the significant political clout wielded over governments by the construction industry, with innocent home owners the victims of the corrupting nexus between big capitalists in the building industry and some major political parties.

The scandal of the Priory Hall fire hazard has been well publicised but the suffering of those home owners continues. The position of another north-side residential development, Belmayne, is not as well known but it is also a major scandal. Last year, residents engaged acoustic engineers to deal with intolerable noise travel in the Belmayne residences, and they discovered serious non-compliance with fire regulations. The development in question is a four storey timber frame building, and the cavity walls and treatment of the areas between the ceilings of one apartment and those above is so inadequate that smoke and deadly carbon monoxide gas could spread rapidly through many adjoining apartments in the event of a fire.

What is so shocking about Belmayne is the attitude taken by the fire authority in Dublin City Council. Despite clear evidence of flagrant fire code violations, the authority gave the development the all-clear, even after having carried out an inspection on foot of a demand of some residents. It was not until this year, because of the pressure from residents and independent fire hazard expert Mr. Noel Manning, that it was admitted there are problems in Belmayne. Unfortunately, however, the remediation proposed is totally inadequate and the attitude of the local authority is scandalous.

I am alarmed and disappointed by the Minister's amendment to our motion. The attitude he is adopting is utterly deplorable. It is contemptuous of the huge suffering and problems of thousands of ordinary decent people. It lacks any semblance of compassion or human feeling for those who are suffering and those who are fearful of the condition in which they live. There is no solace whatsoever here for those people. The Minister more or less says to carry on, it is business as usual. There is no recognition of the moral responsibility of the State to play a key role in finding the solution. Just as in other scandals and tragedies such as child abuse of children in care, the State has an ongoing responsibility and a moral duty because it did not insist on the necessary compliance. It is incredible that the Minister intends to continue with the regime of only 10% to 15% of buildings being inspected.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Where did I say that?

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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That is the implication.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Never mind implications, where do I say that?

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I will wait until the Minister speaks-----

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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That is a good idea. The Deputy should not come to conclusions about which he knows nothing.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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-----and I will see what level of inspection he will seek and I will ask if, like in Britain, in the North, in the USA and elsewhere, the figure will be 100% inspection because that is the only way we can be sure of compliance.

We demand the State should undertake responsibility for remedial work to make the homes safe for residents and then pursue the developers and recoup the costs. That would be simple justice in this situation. We demand a thorough regime of inspection right around the State, particularly to find fire hazards. It is crucial this is done before there is an appalling tragedy and a fire claims the lives of innocent men, women and children. It is critical we put in place a building control regime that operates as a public function present in every development and that every house and apartment is inspected in every stage of the building process so that the people who invest so much of their lives and savings in them can have some security and certainty for their lives and those of their families.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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I will concentrate on two aspects of the Private Members' motion tonight. I thank the United Left Alliance for putting it together, particularly Deputy Clare Daly. It is a motion on which I could speak for a long time but my time is limited and that is why I will concentrate on two areas.

The appalling thing about the pyrite issue is that it was avoidable. If there had been proper regulation, the crisis could have been largely avoided. If a house were built today, however, it could present with the same problems because we have not addressed the problem in the interim. Major suppliers are still unsure whether their products meet the required standards. At best guidance is vague. There is no excuse for not doing anything, even in the interim, about putting in place standards so no one else must suffer the same consequences as those who have bought homes with pyrite in them. Many builders used low grade aggregates in the foundations to save money but there was good quality rock available. There is evidence that the low quality of the rock has contributed significantly to the problem.

Unfortunately those who are worst affected by this are mostly young people who bought their first homes for multiples of the current value and in many cases they have young families. This is very stressful for them. Home owners with pyrite have been let down in a number of ways. The were no standards for the materials used, there are professional experts who now deny pyrite ever existed anywhere else and there was a failure of self-regulation instead of rigorous oversight carried out by independent bodies. HomeBond gave people an expectation that if everything else was wrong, its insurance would take responsibility but we now know HomeBond is washing its hands and pointing to failure at quarry level. All of this has happened while the innocent parties in this are watching their homes falling apart around them with no plan of action. I accept the pyrite panel has been put in place and acknowledge the role played by the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, in that.

A constituent of mine sent me a report on pyrite in his house. It stated that pyrite in the infill undergoes a chemical reaction to heat, moisture and the presence of calcium and oxygen. These conditions, the report continues, are likely to occur under the floor slab and the resulting chemical reaction causes the stone infill to expand, which creates an increased volume leading to upward pressure that causes solid concrete floor slabs to heave upwards, applying pressure directly on to load bearing and partition walls. The distorted doorways and cracking of internal partition walls are caused by timber stud walls being distorted by the upward pressure from the heaving floor.

People are sitting in the full knowledge this is happening to the biggest investment they will ever make in their lives. While pyrite does not have a direct impact on people's health, it certainly has a direct impact on their well-being, leading to extremely stressful living conditions. The stress caused to them while they watch their homes disintegrate around them is obvious to anyone who has visited them. They can show cracks and holes in the walls and warped floors. It is unacceptable that the situation is continuing. These people have unsustainable mortgages on homes that are now worthless. Myself and others have met the pyrite panel on a couple of occasions and I know it is due to report in the next few weeks. It would be useful if the Minister could indicate when that report will be published.

The people at fault in this must pay - the construction sector. A management component must be put in place for the remediation of affected properties but the remediation must start in 2012 with a fixed timetable. The work must be done to such a standard that lending institutions will not refuse lending and insurance companies will not refuse to insure the properties. This problem cannot wait any longer because the longer it takes, the worse the damage. We must learn from our mistakes and stop picking up the pieces left by rogue elements of the construction sector.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The situation faced by those in Priory Hall and Belmayne and those whose houses were constructed with material containing pyrite is appalling. This is not just about the tragic effects that has had on the residents, although the motion asks the Government to declare it will take the lead in providing the resources necessary to undertake the remedial works or transfers necessary to house these people in buildings of a proper standard and quality that are safe and to do whatever else is necessary to compensate them for the appalling position in which they find themselves through no fault of their own.

The residents of Belmayne and Priory Hall and of houses containing pyrite are the tip of the iceberg and the United Left Alliance and the Technical Group are not the only people saying that. There is considerable evidence that this is the case. For example, the SEAI found that 93% of housing built between 1997 and 2002, which it examined, did not comply with regulations to reduce the risk of fire spread. The director general of Engineers Ireland, John Power, described the findings as "truly appalling" and said that, "Priory Hall is symptomatic of what is likely to be a long line of disasters as a result of the lack of building control in this country". That is the serious issue we are asking the Minister to address. It potentially affects tens of thousands of people and results from a lack of compliance with building regulations by builders who were driven by nothing other than a profit frenzy to slap up substandard housing and apartments to make a fast buck regardless of the consequences for the people who bought them.

The failure of builders and developers resulting from their greed was compounded by the disgraceful failure of the building regulations themselves and the authorities that were supposed to enforce them. It is incredible that houses built without complying with the regulations were inspected and, in many cases, passed. How could that happen? Clearly, the regulations failed and successive Governments failed to resource a proper building inspection regime. All of this was facilitated by politicians who were beholden to developers and builders and who were addicted to a political and economic doctrine of deregulation. The same doctrine and dogma deregulated the financial sector and crashed the financial system. When the same doctrine was applied to housing, it resulted in a disaster for the people of Priory Hall and Belmayne, those with pyrite in their homes and tens of thousands of other homeowners who may not even know the full extent of the problems in their homes and the potential fire hazard they may face because we do not know the full extent of this problem.

This is the legacy of the Galway tent. Fianna Fail Members should hang their heads in shame about what went on in that tent and what it led to by allowing cowboy builders and developers to run amok. However, as the Mahon Tribunal report informed us, the political establishment generally was involved, particularly Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and they had a rotten relationship with builders and developers.

All we are asking is that the Minister says he will do something for the residents of Priory Hall and Belmayne and those affected by pyrite and do more than what he proposes in his amendment to deal with the inadequate building regulations and inspection and enforcement regime. When my colleagues and I spoke to builders on sites during the boom, they told us we were building the tenements of the future and there was no proper inspection regime on site. They used to point to the old days - I do not know that much about building - when clerks of works were on site from the beginning to the end of a project monitoring every single stage of construction. The State then moved to self-certification and deregulation and we have witnessed the dire consequences of that. We need proper building regulations and a return to the regime where clerks of works are on site from the beginning of a project in order that it is not left up to profit-driven developers and builders to inspect themselves because that just does not work.

8:00 pm

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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On behalf of those who tabled the motion and those who support the motion, I welcome residents from Pyrite Action who are present in the Visitors Gallery. They are living with this nightmare daily and they are entitled to know that the Government will take remedial action in this area. Light touch regulation in the financial sector was a disaster while light touch regulation of employment has led to widespread non-compliance. However, light touch building regulation has led to a nightmare for thousands of young families who purchased homes that are not fit to be lived in. Developers and speculators have been prioritised for years over individuals and families. There is no doubt there has been huge interplay between builders, speculators and developers and the main political parties for many a long year. It probably started in the old days of TACA, which is not today or yesterday. However, the many tribunals that have been held in recent years have shown publicly the huge influence and abuse of the interface between builders and speculators and politicians and the political system. That has led to us discussing the plight of young families living in nightmare scenarios. They not only have large mortgage repayments but many of them have mortgages for 30 and 40 years, which is a lifetime. They are in negative equity, but many thousands of them live in homes that are falling apart at the seams or that are firetraps, which is the case in Priory Hall and Belmayne.

Dealing with such a situation on a daily basis gives rise to great stress and serious heath risks for the families concerned. The Government must take the initiative in providing for remedial works in these areas. The developers and builders responsible for these various developments must be made to pay, but the Minister must take the initiative immediately. The situation has gone on far too long and it is time the Government took effective action by ensuring remedial works commence promptly and are completed in an efficient fashion. Above all, the Department must ensure it will recover the costs involved from those who are responsible for what happened during what can only be described as the disgraceful orgy by developers in recent years. These are the same people who prevented implementation of the Kenny report recommendations on the price of building land many years ago. Had they been implemented, the major difficulties we have encountered in recent years would at least have been alleviated, if not entirely prevented. Even at that stage, in the early 1970s, the people concerned were using their political influence to ensure the Kenny report was left to gather dust. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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I thank my colleagues in the United Left Alliance for bringing forward this motion. Having spent my whole life in the building industry, it is my view that the building regulations are very good. The problem is that their enforcement has been extremely poor. If the rules in place had been properly adhered to, the problems at Priory Hall and in developments like it would never have been allowed to occur. While there is undoubtedly significant scope for regulatory change, proper implementation of the existing system would have prevented such failures. Having looked over the apartments at Priory Hall, I can only say the place is a joke and a disaster. That regulatory failures were allowed to happen across the board in this way is deeply unfair to the people who purchased the properties in question.

While the whole business of construction encompasses a broad range of areas of responsibility, there is no doubt that the builder has by far the greatest responsibility. The system of self-certification under which people sign off on their work is good, but the State, through the agency of the local authority, must have a role in terms of enforcement. The engineer, for example, is responsible for the construction design, that is, deciding how the proposed structure will stay in place. The mechanical and electrical consultant stands over what the electricians, plumbers and ventilation installers do. Subcontractors then come on board, including specialist contractors who, for example, install windows. The question then arises as to how those windows have been installed, whether the damp-proof course has been fitted properly and so on. There is also the fire safety issue. Every subcontractor on a building site should have to sign off on his or her work in the same way that the architect, engineer and mechanical and electrical consultant should have to. Needless to say, the builder must also sign off on his or her work.

All of the people mentioned require professional indemnity insurance. A major difficulty is that we are seeing a large black hole because builders are going out of business and their insurance is dying with them. The regulatory requirement is that public indemnity insurance must apply for six years following the completion of a project. Where a builder is going out of business, there is an arrangement whereby the insurance will live on for six years at lower cost to the builder than if he or she were continuing in business. The problem is that some builders who are broke do not bother doing this. There should be a legal requirement on the liquidator in such instances, where a builder has ceased trading, to ensure the insurance is left in place once the bank moves in. The latter, in turn, should have a legal obligation to ensure the insurance is in place in order that the six year period is covered in the event that serious problems with the building are subsequently discovered. Professional indemnity insurance takes care of the matter once a project has been finished, but one must set up the run-off for the next six years if one is ceasing trading. We must have a legal process in place to cover this.

The local authority must oversee all of the parties to whom I referred in order to ensure everybody is doing his or her work honestly and everything is covered. All of the people concerned must sign off on their work and have the insurance to back it up, but without State involvement there is a serious deficiency. To clarify, we will not put a stop to the activities of the rogue builder unless there are ongoing and comprehensive inspections. There was never a situation in Ireland where all jobs were inspected. We had the by-laws which were confined to the cities, while clerks of works dealt exclusively with State work. If the Government is serious about dealing with the problems that have developed in recent years, there must be 100% supervision of what is happening on sites. By my reckoning, this would add some €5,000 to the cost of every unit built in the country. I would consider this a price worth paying, as I am sure would the people present in the Visitors Gallery. The Minister will surely ask who should bear this cost. I contend the State will have its work cut out in seeking to claim it would not be covered by the current levies. If it is not, the Government should introduce a levy, payable when planning permission is granted, to cover the cost of 100% supervision. The person supervising must have on-site experience of construction and an engineering background, although he or she does not necessarily have to be a chartered engineer. The architects, surveyors, engineers and so on going onto a site all understand the principles involved in the work being done but do not necessarily know how it is all put together. Most of them will say as much if they are prepared to tell the truth. Their expertise is of a distinct type.

I will not second-guess the Government because I am not sure what it is planning to do, but given what it brought forward last summer, it is looking to introduce paperwork. I agree with this, but it will have to be paid for. We do not need more bureaucracy and unnecessary paperwork because we are getting carried away with ourselves as it is. We need something which is realistic and applicable.

In regard to asking the architect to submit working plan drawings, an architect designs a building and a number of areas are important to him or her when looking for planning permission, including external appearance, impact on the environment, use of the building and space. If we are going to ask people to submit working plan drawings in advance, which is a good idea, we should not do so unless somebody is to check them. If we do this, we must follow through to ensure the work is done that way. If the drawings are done at the end to deal with adjustments made, we must check them also. The local authority must check this work. The State must take responsibility. Expecting one person to sign off on it is nonsense. We cannot ask an architect to sign off on anything other than his or her work. We must let the others do their work which must be divided up. Not only would architects not be able to take out insurance but we would also be throwing all our eggs into one basket. There are at least six areas, of which the architect's is only one. He or she can only sign off on his or her own work. If he or she is forced to get involved in other areas not in his or her domain, there will be no small architectural firms in Ireland because only the large ones will be able to take out insurance.

To sort out the insurance problem, if we cannot put in place proper legislation to cover the six year period after someone goes out of business, we must introduce a bond system. It would not be an ideal scenario because it would drive many out of business as they would not be able to obtain a bond. It should be possible, however, to put a proper structure in place to cover the person signing off on work. The State must take responsibility for what has happened in places such as Priory Hall because of the lack of oversight which allowed the deterioration of work standards.

On the pyrite issue, HomeBond has walked. I agree that the fault lies with the quarries, but do we expect people to chase them or Roadstone, one of the wealthiest companies on the planet and which has deep pockets? HomeBond should have looked after the people affected, carried out the repairs and chased the quarries involved. That is what would have happened in a proper and a fair system.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"notes that:

— the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2007 provide a clear statutory framework for construction activity based on legal standards set out in the building regulations and associated detailed technical guidance documents which set out how to achieve the standards in practice;

— building regulations set out the legally enforceable minimum requirements that a building must achieve;

— the Acts place responsibility for compliance with the building regulations first and foremost on the builder-developer;

— professionals who are engaged by builders-developers have also a statutory responsibility to ensure that construction meets the standard;

— certificates of "substantial compliance" are not part of building regulations but were developed by the legal profession and the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland to facilitate conveyancing;

— responsibility for enforcement rests with the 37 building control authorities which have extensive powers under the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2007 to enforce

compliance with the regulations, including the scrutiny of plans and to carry out inspections; serve enforcement notices for non-compliance; initiate enforcement proceedings for breaches of regulatory requirements; and seek High Court injunctions if non-compliance poses considerable and serious danger to the public;

— the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2007 provide for considerable penalties for failure to comply with the requirements of the building regulations;

— the agreed national inspection target is that each building control authority should inspect a minimum of 12% to 15% of buildings covered by a valid commencement notice submitted to the authority and that statistical returns for 2010 show that the average inspection rate across all building control authorities is 23%;

— responsibility for "making good" construction defects must rest with those responsible;

— the role of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is to ensure that appropriate statutory requirements, technical standards and administrative provisions are in place to give practical effect to the Act;

— in July 2011, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government announced that he had instructed his Department to advance the following measures to strengthen the building control system:

— the commencement of section 6(2)(a)(i) of the Building Control Act 1990 requiring the submission to building control authorities of certificates of compliance with the building regulations in respect of particular buildings or works;

— the preparation of an amendment to the building control regulations that will:

— set out the form of the proposed certificates of compliance and the administrative procedures that will govern their use; and

— require the lodgement of drawings and documentation prior to the commencement of works and, again, on completion of works, demonstrating compliance with the requirements of the building regulations; and

— engagement with the City and County Managers Association to make arrangements for:

— the move to a regionalised-shared services model for the administration of building control functions;

— the agreement of standardised approaches and common protocols to ensure nationwide consistency in the administration of building control functions and the meaningful oversight of building activity; and

— agreement on common measures for the support and further development of the building control function nationwide; and

— proposed Building Control (Amendment) Regulations have recently been released for public consultation and will provide for mandatory certification and the lodgement of drawings.

I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy shane McEntee, and Deputy Peter Mathews.

Recent high profile failures in the housing and construction sector have called into question the role of the State in this area, understandably so. Self-regulation introduced by my predecessors has failed and I intend to change the regulations. The proposed regulations are on public display. The trust we placed in the professions to do this job was badly misplaced.

My Department and I have a responsibility to guide and regulate development, but there is a point at which it is up to the professions and the industry to take over and ensure, as Deputy Mick Wallace said, that the planning, design and construction of the built environment is of the highest quality. There is a robust system of building control and local authorities are successfully using their powers against non-compliant operators. Of course, from a regulatory respective, there is much that can be done to improve the system and that is what we are doing.

In order to understand the arrangements in place for the control of building activity, it is first necessary to understand the provisions of the Building Control Act 1990 and how they may apply in practice. The Act provided for the establishment of building control authorities and the making of building regulations and building control regulations for the construction of buildings. The building regulations were introduced and came into operation in the years immediately following the Act and gradually enforcement arrangements were developed across the local government sector leading to the nationwide system of local building control authorities we have today. A clear statutory framework for construction activity, underpinned by the Building Control Act 1990, is, therefore, in place and based on the following: clear legal standards as set out in the building regulations; detailed technical guidance documents to outline how these standards can be achieved in practice; the burden and responsibility for compliance resting first and foremost with developers-builders, designers and building owners; a statutory responsibility for professionals to design in accordance with the building regulations; and the responsibility for enforcing compliance with the building regulations resting with the local building control authorities.

The Act sets out clear roles and responsibilities for a number of parties, namely, the Minister, the owner-developer, building professionals, including designers in particular, and local building control authorities. My role as Minister is to ensure appropriate statutory requirements, technical standards and administrative provisions are in place to give practical effect to the Act. In particular, this involves the making of building regulations and building control regulations. This aspect of the matter has generally worked well and is not in dispute.

The building regulations set out the legally enforceable minimum requirements that a building must achieve. The requirements are set out in 12 Parts, classified as Parts A to M, each of which addresses a key aspect of ensuring the safety and well-being of persons in and around the building. A technical guidance document, TGD, is published to accompany each part indicating how the requirements of that part can be achieved in practice. Adherence to the approach outlined in a TGD is regarded as evidence of compliance with the requirements of the relevant part of the building regulations.

The building control regulations deal with the administrative and procedural arrangements in place for the purpose of securing the implementation of, and compliance with, the requirements of the building regulations. Contrary to common perception, I have no role in regard to enforcement activity which the Act of 1990 delegates to local building control authorities which are independent in the exercise of their statutory powers.

In regard to the owner-developer, the Act of 1990 places responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the building regulations first and foremost on the owner and the builder-developer of a building. Where, for instance, an issue arises concerning non-compliance of a particular building with the building regulations, the Act enables the local building control authority to issue an enforcement notice on the owner and-or the builder. The onus is on the builder and the owner to demonstrate compliance with the building regulations when required to do so by the relevant local building control authority. Failure to do so is an offence under the Act which may, if successfully prosecuted in court, lead to a fine and-or a term of imprisonment.

Remediation of defects is a matter between the parties concerned, that is, the owner and the builder-developer and their insurers. This applies even where the owner is a local authority. If a satisfactory resolution cannot be achieved through dialogue and negotiation, the option of seeking a civil legal remedy may be considered. In such situations the statutory requirements provide a yardstick by which the owners or builders, their technical consultants and the courts can determine whether a building is fit for purpose. The requirements of the building regulations apply to the design as well as the construction of a building and there is a responsibility on designers to ensure their designs are in compliance with the minimum legal requirements.

More generally, construction professionals play a key role in the planning, design and construction of the built environment. Notwithstanding the responsibility of the Minister and the Department to guide and regulate development, the quality of the built environment depends to a large extent on the quality of the contribution of construction professionals.

Construction professionals play a key role in designing, developing, and certifying buildings. Where these buildings prove to be less than fit for purpose, construction professionals must be held to account for the consequences of their actions. Such individuals should not be immune from criticism and should be held accountable for the consequences of their actions by society and their profession. The lack of attention being paid to this objective reality by the professional bodies in their public statements, by media commentators and by members of both Houses in their contributions to proceedings is disappointing.

Under the Act of 1990, local authorities, as building control authorities, have strong powers to scrutinise proposals and inspect works in progress, serve enforcement notices for non-compliance, institute proceedings for breaches of regulatory requirements and seek High Court injunctions if non-compliance poses considerable and serious danger to the public.

Failure to comply with the requirements of the building regulations where a successful prosecution takes place may result, on summary prosecution, in a maximum fine of €5,000 or imprisonment for a period of up to six months, or both. A further fine of €500 in respect of each day on which the offence is committed after summary conviction can also be applied. A successful conviction on indictment may result in a maximum fine of €50,000 or imprisonment for a period of up to two years, or both. Similar powers are additionally vested in local authorities under the legislative codes governing fire safety and planning and development.

The Department has set a target inspection rate of 12% to 15% of all buildings covered by valid commencement notices. Statistical returns for 2010 show that all but five building control authorities met or exceeded this target, and a general average inspection rate of 24% of all buildings was recorded. However, I agree with Deputy Higgins that this is not acceptable. The new code of practice will indicate the level of inspection by the relevant authorities later this year. I assure the Deputy that staged inspections will be part of the new code.

Statutory processes such as those under the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2007 and the relevant building control regulations in regard to applications for fire safety certificates and disability access certificates also enable local authorities to influence positively the quality of a building.

Problems at a number of developments, referred to by the Deputies, are already well known, and the Department is aware that local authorities across the country are using the powers currently available to them to address issues of building standards compliance, including in regard to fire safety. While local authorities use the courts to effect compliance where it is reasonable and appropriate to do so, desired results can be, and often are, achieved through discussion and persuasion with the threat of legal action.

While the aforesaid sets out a brief overview of the existing arrangements in regard to building control, it is clear that, from a regulatory perspective, there is much that can be done to improve the system. Unfortunately, many homeowners and tenants today understand this to their detriment as they have been left, through no fault of their own, to struggle with the consequences of unfinished estates, pyrite problems and defective buildings and developments. The only appropriate response to such legacy issues in the longer term is to strengthen the system to ensure such problems do not visit us again. In the short term, we must do everything possible to help those affected.

I recently announced a number of measures that will improve compliance with the requirements of the building regulations and oversight of construction activity. Following extensive consideration of a number of reports and recommendations for change put forward by the Building Regulations Advisory Body and various industry stakeholders, which reports and recommendations were discussed in detail at various stakeholder consultation events, I announced in July 2011 my intention to proceed with the following measures: the commencement of section 6(2)(a)(i) of the Building Control Act 1990 requiring the submission to building control authorities of certificates of compliance with the building regulations in respect of particular buildings or works; the preparation of an amendment to the building control regulations that will set out the form of the proposed certificates of compliance and the administrative procedures that will govern their use, and require the lodgement of drawings and documentation prior to the commencement of works and again on completion of works, demonstrating compliance with the requirements of the building regulations; and engagement with the County and City Managers' Association with a view to making arrangements for the move to a regionalised or shared services model for the administration of building control functions, the agreement of standardised approaches and common protocols to ensure nationwide consistency in the administration of building control functions and the meaningful oversight of building activity, and agreement on common measures for the support and further development of the building control function nationwide.

The measures, when implemented, will represent a credible set of proposals that will lead to an enhanced system of building control that can be achieved in the short term and that will serve the interests of the consumer, the Government, industry and the built environment in a better manner.

The key step will be the early introduction of mandatory certificates of compliance confirming, with appropriate documentary evidence, that the statutory requirements of the building regulations have been met for the building in question.

Unlike the worth of the opinions of compliance currently provided for conveyance purposes, which are not of course a part of the statutory building control process but are often misrepresented as being such, the worth of the mandatory certificate will be more in keeping with the asset concerned than the paper it is written on. Mandatory certificates will mean what they say and will be signed by professionals who understand and accept their responsibilities and the liability that goes with the consequences of failing to meet those responsibilities.

Mandatory certification of itself depends on the integrity of those concerned and must therefore be coupled with more rigorous oversight of construction activity, as advocated by Deputy Wallace. I have, therefore, approved proposals devised by my Department and County and City Managers' Association representatives that will involve more efficient pooling of building control staff and resources across the local authority sector to ensure more effective and meaningful oversight of building activity, standardised approaches and common protocols to ensure nationwide consistency in the administration of building control functions and better support and further development of the building control function.

Proposed building control (amendment) regulations were released for public consultation earlier this year which make provision for mandatory certification and the lodgement of drawings, as outlined earlier. The closing date for submissions was 24 May 2012 and some 500 submissions have been received. They are currently being assessed by my Department with a view to having a final set of regulations providing for mandatory certification and lodgement of drawings ready to be signed into law as soon as possible. I am determined, after public consultation, to follow through with the planned reforms, which I believe will be capable of delivering the level of compliance with building regulations and the standard of quality buildings that members of the public so rightly expect and deserve. In keeping with the standard procedures in regard to these matters, I have instructed my officials to continue to engage closely with key stakeholders to ensure the new regulations, when finalised, will be clearly understood and will work well for all concerned, with appropriate enforcement.

I have outlined the statutory framework for building control which is in place and under which local authorities have strong powers to act against non-compliant operators. Problems can and do arise, and in such cases I urge local authorities to continue to use all of the powers currently available to them with a view to ensuring defective homes or buildings can be made fit for purpose and that the costs of so doing fall where they should.

There is an urgent need for the professions in the industry and for builders and contractors and their representative groups to step up to the plate in delivering on their aspirations and their obligation to provide a reliable standard of professionalism and quality for consumers.

I am taking the necessary steps to strengthen the system. The set of measures outlined, including, in particular, mandatory certification, lodgement of drawing and more meaningful oversight of construction activity by local authorities, will be capable of ensuring stronger compliance with the requirements of the building regulations and homes and buildings of better quality for all.

Photo of Shane McEnteeShane McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for allowing me time to speak. For at least five or six of the seven years in which I have been talking in this House about our good friends who have had trouble with their houses, nobody here wanted to listen. I welcome this debate and welcome the motion and counter-motion. The debate is bringing the matter to a head. There are two issues being discussed, namely, moving forward in the building industry and sorting out the mess that exists. Deputy Wallace correctly stated that there are enough regulations and that we would not be having this debate if they were implemented. I have every confidence that my Minister's and the Department's work, with the support of a strong Opposition, will result in implementation.

The mess that exists represents a disaster, yet having been involved over recent years I realise it can be sorted out. We have seen circumstances in which people accepted responsibility. It sometimes took three or four years, at a cost of €22 million or €23 million. Two companies fought tooth and nail in a court case, yet they ultimately had to fix the houses in question. One has seen through the years where persons have hidden behind this court case, as it were, whereas some have gone about their business and sorted out the problems, in particular those with pyrite. In the case of many, however, which is what we are dealing with now, there are builders who have gone into liquidation and where the onus is now on the banks. There are builders who continue to work, profit and do well and who have ignored the problems and the plight of these people.

Mr. Brendan Tuohy is heading up this report which will be issued and we will all receive the up-to-date information. I look forward to what will happen when it issues in the next couple of weeks. The Government has made it quite clear that it will not let people walk away from their responsibilities, as they are doing at the moment. There are the banks which have blacklisted estates in my county and in other counties. It is scandalous. It is not acceptable for them to say they will deal with persons individually. It is not acceptable for insurance companies to engage in delaying tactics by not paying out. It is not acceptable for builders who are in business and want to continue in business to ignore the plight of these people.

A minimum of 77 estates are suffering with pyrite. If each estate is broken down into its own divisions, regardless of whether a bank, a builder or whoever is in control, each estate can be sorted out. We, as a Government, know we have a responsibility.

It was not the intention of some of these persons that this would happen. Mention was made of those in houses that have been badly built. Those were cowboy builders. In some cases, however, there were very good builders who got caught in a situation, in particular, in the case of pyrite, which could have been dealt with in 2004, 2005 and 2006 when the issue arose. While some have been caught, much could have been done in those years.

As I stated previously in this House, the situation was ignored by the previous Government, including by the Green Party. Its members did not want to discuss it. I and other Deputies, perhaps one or two of whom are present and some of whom are seated behind me, were ignored, the building was allowed to continue and there was no regulation.

There are two issues, one of which is moving forward. We are at a lull in the building sector. We have time to regulate and, as Deputy Wallace stated, to put in place a situation where enforcement is strict and, as Deputy Boyd Barrett stated, is applied from start to finish. It can work. We have a job to do that. The building sector will come again. One already sees the steadiness in my area and in the house market in the Dublin area. We will need more houses.

On the plight of those affected, I have gone beyond the emotion of it because I have been in the houses concerned and we have sorted them out, including bigger estates. I would warn the banks, the builders, the insurance companies and the building federation that they will not be allowed hide on this one and they have a moral responsibility. They know the Government will not foot the bill for everybody. That cannot and will not be done, but those who are still in business can do it. We have seen in Ashwood estate, where a liquidator was appointed, how the banks could act within two hours. They stated they had no money to act. They were able to act within two hours when the pressure was applied. It is my intention, with the support of all in Government, to force these people to remedy the houses that have been damaged by pyrite, and not to do it in four or five years' time. As I stated earlier, it can be done, estate by estate. There are enough people and there is enough money within the sector still to fix these houses.

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for sharing time. It is helpful to step back from the legislative structuring and debate and merely think of the facts again. These are persons who have been literally diddled. Anybody who buys a car, a television or something as simple as a jumper that is not fit for purpose is legally entitled to a refund, and yet the residents of Priory Hall who spent €250,000 on their homes are being dumped with the bill because of a cowboy developer. It is as simple as that.

The Irish Home Builders Association calculations suggest that €100,000 of the purchase price of each Priory Hall apartment went straight to the Government in taxation. After paying such a staggering bill, the least the owners of Priory Hall apartments should be entitled to expect is that the State or the local authority would ensure these are safe to live in as the first port of call, and then the State or the local authority can go after the professions, the builders, the suppliers or whoever. However, those who have had to empty their apartments of furniture and family need to be restituted immediately. It is as simple as that. Anybody who spends €250,000 on a home should feel assured that it is fit for purpose.

In October last, the owners of 187 apartments were forced to empty their homes and move out. Eight months later their plight is not over and their future remains unclear. The developer, the banks and the local authority added insult to injury during this period, and the suggestion the local authority would pay owners €50,000 for apartments that cost €250,000 was a bizarre insult.

The local authority then attempted to wash its hands of the problem in the Supreme Court. This was not right. The banks are less than enthusiastic at finding a resolution. They are now attempting to deal with each apartment owner individually in a divide and conquer strategy.

As I stated, a first port of call is to deal with the problem and then start sorting the bill. I agree with the Minister there are professional responsibilities, building and contracting companies and local authority responsibilities, but these people are entitled to be able to get back into a home. That is to solve the problem and let us - the Government or the local authority - chase the responsible persons in due course, which will take two or three years, for the restitution of the cost of dealing with the problem immediately. That is my suggestion. The Motor Insurers' Bureau of Ireland deals with motor accidents for uninsured drivers on that sort of basis.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to partake in this debate which is exceptionally important to so many. I share the real and legitimate concerns which have been expressed during the debate to date because for any citizen of this country to purchase a home is one of the most significant events in that person's life or, indeed, the life of his or her family. Many young people and new couples have found themselves in impossible situations as a result of the failure of the system and, ultimately, of the State.

I acknowledge at the start that we were over an hour into this debate until a little balance was brought into it by the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee. It must be pointed out - I do not hold any mandate for any vested interest and I come here like everybody else to represent the public - that there are many hard-working decent builders who have done honest jobs in building one-off houses and housing estates. To listen to some of the contributions so far, it is a plague on every house that was ever built in this country. That is wrong because there are many hard-working, honest builders, architects, plumbers, sub-contractors etc. Unfortunately, there were many who were not honest and hard working and they engaged in a race to the bottom, primarily fuelled by greed. It must be said there were many fine housing estates built. Unfortunately, plenty did not meet the standard and that is the crux of the debate tonight. I empathise and sympathise with the residents of Priory Hall and Belmayne and with those affected by the pyrite issue. These people have been left in an impossible situation by the failure of the system. As in the case of the hundreds of thousands of families, couples and people who find themselves in mortgage arrears and financial difficulties, there is now a complete and urgent onus on the Government to address the issues of mortgage arrears and personal debt arising from home ownership and the issues highlighted as a result of the Priory Hall, Belmayne and pyrite cases. We need to have the information put in the public domain. This is something I have called for previously but the information has not yet been furnished. How many more Priory Hall situations have been brought to the attention of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government? It would be useful and informative to know that.

The points made on self-certification and self-regulation are valid and they speak volumes. A point not made to date is that a conflict of interest is at the centre of these self-certification and self-regulation systems that have operated in recent years. Let us consider the situation with the banks. The watchdogs of the banks were reliant and dependent on the client for fees and other ancillary businesses and, as a result, there was a conflict of interest. Unfortunately, this extended to the construction industry and the building trade. When architects and those who must sign off on certification are reliant on the person they must certify, when they must declare that their work is up to standard and when they rely on these people for their livelihoods and for the payment of fees, it is as plain as the noses on our faces that, ultimately, the system will come crashing down.

I refer to some of the political issues raised here tonight. What I have to say will not come as news to anyone in the House. I become blue in the face every time we have a discussion about construction and people lump in Fianna Fáil with the bad builders, practices and fund-raising and everything that goes on. The Mahon report identified the Fianna Fáil party, the Fine Gael Party and one member of the Labour Party. That was discussed and dealt with conclusively in the House. However, what we are discussing tonight has been referred to by all speakers and it is ultimately the responsibility of the local authorities. I do not state this for the benefit of anyone here but for the commentators outside who, every now and then, dip into what we discuss in the Chamber. Between city and county councils there are 34 planning authorities in the country. Some 22 of these 34 are controlled by a combination of Fine Gael and the Labour Party and in the majority of these cases this has been the position since the mid-1990s. That is a fact and I am not making a political point about it. The Mahon report dealt with certain matters up to 1992.

Ultimately, the local authorities have had responsibility for the oversight and implementation of the building regulations and planning policy in their areas as well as responsibility for zoning, local area plans, county and city development plans and all the various strategies. Who was in charge of the majority of the local authorities? Fine Gael and the Labour Party were in control in 22 of 34 authorities. I will offer some examples. Cavan County Council is controlled outright by Fine Gael. Limerick Council is controlled outright by Fine Gael. Mayo County Council is controlled outright by Fine Gael. A combination of Fine Gael and the Labour Party controls Carlow County Council, Cork County Council and Dún Laoghaire County Council.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Collins is pointing the finger.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am not pointing the finger.


Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Does Deputy Collins have any solutions?

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am simply putting it on the record, if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will beg my indulgence. Kerry County Council is controlled outright. Kildare County Council is controlled outright. Kilkenny County Council is controlled outright. The same applies to the councils in Laois, Meath, Sligo, South Dublin, South Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow. Should I go on?

Photo of Shane McEnteeShane McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Collins is wrong about Meath County Council.

Photo of Arthur SpringArthur Spring (Kerry North-West Limerick, Labour)
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Deputy Collins is wrong about Kerry County Council also. He should check his facts.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am referring to where Fine Gael and the Labour Party have the majority.

Photo of Shane McEnteeShane McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Collins is wrong.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am referring to the majorities. By the way, all of this is documented by the Oireachtas Library and research service. The point is that the Government parties can point the fingers in any direction they wish. Everyone has been responsible for it but it is now mainly Fine Gael and the Labour Party at local government level. I simply wish to make that point. I am not making it to the Deputies opposite because they know it and understand it is a fact. However, many other people do not seem to understand that Fine Gael and the Labour Party have had significant control, input and influence at local authority level in recent years.

Another issue compounds the responsibility of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. There have been calls for several planning inquiries in several local authority areas throughout the country, including one in Waterford recently. Where are they? What is the problem with these? Why can we not hold these planning inquiries? Some of the complaints made to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government come from the Local Government Audit Service and the Ombudsman. These are not coming from cranks on the street who want to waste public funds. They come from credible State agencies and legitimate organisations which have a problem. Why can we not have these planning inquiries? Many low cost models could be adapted for this purpose.

The proof of the pudding with the failure of self-certification and regulation has been the issue of taking estates in charge. We all know that throughout the country there is a serious problem with the taking of estates in charge. This is where the chickens are coming home to roost with the local authorities. A Bill has been published in the name of a Deputy from the Labour Party and he is on the right track. I had intended to publish such a Bill myself and, fair play to him, I believe we will support the recommendation he is getting to. We must have a legislative timeframe for the taking of estates in charge throughout the local authority sector.

I am keen to see a new regulatory and inspection regime and for a national building inspectorate to be established which would inspect the majority of properties under construction in the country. We need to have a system of licensing and the registration of builders. We need to have full prosecutions for any of the designers or contractors who are negligent in their duties. We are all aware that there has been a deficiency in this regard. We should have an open register of inspections, prosecutions and reports of inspections made from the public. A robust inspection regime should be implemented to ensure the people of Priory Hall and Belmayne never experience this again. Information on builders, including rogue builders and those letting down the system, must be shared among local authorities. This is not the case at present.

We need to go further. Where a builder has been granted permission for a major housing development we need to provide for a system whereby another permission will not be granted until the existing permission has been built out and completed to a satisfactory standard. There was a rush to get on to the next development and to bag the profit that would come with it. Article 10 of the proposed changes states that local authorities will be required to enter details of the certificates into a register but there is no reference to the local authority being required to carry out due diligence on the certificates. At a minimum they should certify that the person carrying out the inspection is suitably qualified and properly indemnified. All of us have had experience of such cases during the years of the building boom in the country. A great many of those who were involved in lodging planning applications and acted as agents were not qualified. This created a problem because many of those who were not qualified, albeit not all of them, were not up to the job. This matter must be addressed.

The provision under which a bond is lodged by the developer with the local authority must be regularised and made mandatory. Discretion must be removed from local authorities in this regard and in pursuing enforcement they must act swiftly and call in bonds. In the past they were not prepared to do so and take estates in charge.

I welcome this debate as it allows me to record, for those who are less informed than Members of the Oireachtas, a fact relating to the involvement of the Fianna Fáil Party in planning since the period covered by the Mahon tribunal. I commissioned research on this matter from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. The findings show that my party has not controlled the majority of local authorities since the mid-1990s. One hears glib remarks about builders in the Fianna Fáil Party and the Galway tent. Since my election to Limerick County Council in 2004, I have not once visited the Galway tent. One would swear that some of the Deputies in the Technical Group have never been involved in a fund-raising event. According to them, everything runs on fresh air, yet they receive unvouched leaders' allowances, which is worse.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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It should be remembered that some of the worst work was done by the largest builders.

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank my colleagues in the Technical Group for raising this important issue through a well constructed motion which my party is pleased to support. The motion contains a particularly succinct description of the manner in which the State has operated in prioritising wealth over the interests of the general public. It clearly shows that those who had great fortune and influence were those on whom the State looked kindly, namely, those who oiled the Fianna Fáil TACA machine and greased the tills of the corrupt and negligent class of politicians which ran the country into the ground.

Actions speak louder than words. These problems which resulted from the laissez-faire approach to regulating both the building industry and the most basic of safety regulations continued to plague those who unfortunately bought a home from a developer who knew everything about squeezing through loopholes and nothing about providing quality housing or social responsibility. The reason the motion is before us is that we cannot allow these issues to remain unresolved and justice not to be served for such persons and all those who were placed in danger by the recklessness and negligence of legislators, regulators, developers and those who allowed the system to continue, went along with it or profited from it. This problem, like many others related to the mismanagement of the State, comes as powers over issues such as planning and inspections are removed from locally based people charged with protecting the public good and vested in unaccountable bodies.

As the motion states, one particularly grave example of the failings of this light touch - to the point of being non-existent - approach to regulation is the disaster of Priory Hall. I reiterate the solidarity greetings sent recently at Sinn Féin's annual Ard-Fheis in Killarney to the evacuated residents of Priority Hall. A motion passed at the Ard-Fheis deplored the disgraceful conduct of the Priory Hall developer, Thomas McFeely, and his Coalport development company, which bear primary responsibility for the plight of the residents. It also deplored the totally inadequate planning and fire safety regulations and lack of enforcement by the Government and local authorities which allowed such developers to act with impunity. Sinn Féin called on all relevant banks and lending institutions to fully participate in the resolution process at Priory Hall chaired by Mr. Justice Joseph Finnegan aimed at finding a solution for residents. This solution must vindicate their rights to a home and not to be financially penalised as a result of gross negligence for which they do not bear responsibility. In line with the motion, the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis called on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, to empower and resource local authorities to carry out rigorous inspections of all housing developments and enforcement of all relevant planning, construction and fire safety laws and regulations to ensure we would not have a repetition of the Priory Hall scandal. We must never again have a scenario in which, one year on from their evacuation, the Priory Hall residents remain in limbo, facing bankruptcy and without secure homes.

Another example of the failure to properly support families who have been failed by the construction sector is found in my constituency of Dublin North-West and the surrounding areas where many people were sold homes contaminated with pyrite. The properties of this substance render buildings unsound and the material has caused major problems for families who have wedded themselves to large debts to provide a home. They have been left with a substandard construction which, in the interests of their safety, would be better demolished and replaced. The homes in question were planned and approved, materials were purchased from quarries that were allowed to operate and the developer behind the scheme was allowed to bring the buildings to market despite their flawed construction. This is a case of an obvious and glaring failure to ensure a product on the market, in this case a house, was safe and fit for purpose. If any other product was involved, the body which allowed it to go to market would be held responsible and the victims of the failure to regulate properly and protect the public compensated and afforded justice. I support the motion which I commend to the House.

Debate adjourned.