Tuesday, 4 December 2012
To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government when the recommendations of the recent report of the Pyrite Panel will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54207/12]
To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government the response he has received from industry stakeholders regarding the repair of homes affected by pyrite; the contact that has been made with all stakeholders named by him for those who have not engaged with his Department to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54229/12]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 61, 62 and 84 together. The implementation of many of the recommendations in the pyrite report requires the involvement and co-operation of a number of parties, and implementation will be on a progressive basis. Given their particular impact on affected homeowners, priority is being given to the recommendations dealing with the establishment of a resolution board as well as the development of protocols for the testing and categorisation of dwellings and a remediation method statement, to which Deputy Ellis referred.
Following receipt of the pyrite report, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, engaged with representatives from the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Federation, HomeBond, the Irish Insurance Federation and the Irish Banking Federation. Discussions with key stakeholders on possible funding for a remediation scheme are at an advanced stage and are expected to conclude shortly. The Minister will then be in a position to finalise arrangements for the establishment of the resolution board.
A sizeable number of dwellings have been, and continue to be, remediated under various remediation processes. In a number of instances responsible builders are directly undertaking remediation works. Remediation work is also being undertaken under structural defects insurance and other types of insurance and as a result of arbitration and mediation processes. Similarly, where pyrite has been identified in social housing schemes, the relevant housing authorities are pursuing a range of actions to have the necessary repairs carried out by the contractors in accordance with the terms of their contracts. In some cases the remediation work is now complete and in other cases it is progressing in accordance with the contract.
I thank the Minister of State for his response.
I am concerned that this is dragging on. As the Minister of State is aware, I have personal involvement in this matter. It is deeply traumatising, months after the report was published, that uncertainty continues as to what we propose to do with regard to the establishment of the resolution board and standardised testing. This is very important to residents not only in my constituency, but in the Minister of State's and right across Leinster. I am deeply concerned that, a number of months after the pyrite panel's findings were published, we are still uncertain as to who has not engaged with the Minister or with the panel with a view to finding resolutions to the issue.
We now learn that an amber category has been created. Residents in this category, many of whom live not far from myself, are aware of structural movement in their properties that does not conform with drying out or settlement but have not had their properties tested and do not have the means to have them tested. They are probably affected by the issue but because they are in the amber category, their homes will probably not be checked for pyrite. That is unacceptable. I agree that it is entirely the responsibility of the construction companies to ensure that the properties are up to standard. Given that the report is on the public record, however, the State should cajole those individuals into providing the testing that so many residents are seeking. The standardisation of testing is also important.
A key factor is that only five of the 1,200 quarries in the country have been identified as being involved in pyrite. I am not making little of the problem when I say that a total of five quarries are involved. The known spread of pyrite is around Fingal, counties Dublin and Kildare and parts of Meath and Offaly. It is a serious problem for anyone who has it. There can be pyrite heave when the building has actually moved. We saw in the report the appalling vista people face when their walls move out of place and doors cannot open. This is very significant and is adversely affecting thousands of people.
I accept what Deputy Farrell is saying about the amber category. There are estates where pyrite is definitely present and where there is absolute evidence of pyrite heave or movement. That does not mean every house in the estate has a pyrite problem. Pyrite reacts with water at a certain temperature to form gypsum and increases to twice its size. In such an estate, because the mix in the floors came from different locations, some houses may not be affected. Such houses are in the amber category. Every house where it is believed pyrite is present is watched. If there is actual movement in a house, it will definitely be dealt with. If there is not actual movement, the house will definitely be observed and watched. In Ireland, this observation can take between one and nine years. In Canada, for geographic and climate reasons, I understand it can take up to 20 years for something to happen.
It is fundamental to the Government and to the Minister that the issue is being dealt with. It will, ideally, be dealt with through a voluntary consensus agreement with no cost to the State but with rigorous oversight independent of the people concerned. I hope that is what will happen.
I accept the bona fides of the Minister with regard to his efforts to put in place a resolutions board. We have all given him the benefit of the doubt in that regard but this cannot be allowed to carry on indefinitely without arriving at a conclusion. I ask a specific question to that end.
The stakeholders are pivotal to making the solution cost neutral for the State. Have the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Federation and the banks and insurance federations committed to the process, to a resolutions board and a rectification process and procedure? This should not be confined to the findings of the pyrite panel report but should take consideration, for example, of what Deputy Farrell has said about the amber category.
Have given that commitment to the Minister since he met them in recent weeks, have they committed to a levy mechanism or a funding mechanism? If they have not, what is their difficulty with it and how long has the Minister given them to sign up to it? In the absence of committing to a financial resolution, he has promised to impose a levy. Has far has he pushed that boat out? Our patience is wearing thin and we would like a timeframe for this that could be adhered to.
Everyone's patience is wearing thin on this, most of all the people who live in those homes. We are all ad idem in this Chamber that it must be dealt with, ideally through a voluntary agreement where the stakeholders, builders and vendors actually pay for it. The Minister is clear that he hopes this is finalised shortly and if that does not happen, he will put the levy in place.
It is important we find a resolution to this. There have been numerous promises made and I have attended many meetings on this. Are all of the companies engaging? There were suggestions some of them were not engaging and if that is the case, we were promised a solution would be imposed.
While we are talking about houses, there are also paths, roads and boundaries that have been affected by pyrite. The levy must be used to deal with that as well. Will that be the case? I assume it is the case because there are so many problems now with these estates and we do not know the long-term effects. Pyrite heave can appear at different times. There could be pyrite heave here in another four or five years. Are we going to take into account the people who will be affected in those situations? We do not know the exact numbers. Originally we were told there were roughly 11,000 affected but there could be many more, particularly when we taken into account local authority housing that has been affected by this. We do not know the full effects so will people who suffer the effects of pyrite in future be taken into account? If legislation is needed, we do not want to hear it is not retrospective.
That is a good point. The report clearly states there is a moral duty on all of the people involved, building federations, concrete suppliers, the quarries and on HomeBond in particular, to resolve this issue. If a person buys a house in the future from a builder, where is the benchmark for guaranteeing the structure is sound? I understand that following a High Court case, HomeBond changed its position significantly on this: it had previously refused to honour any further agreements. Now, however, it is involved in the discussion and clearly we all urge that this be finalised as soon as possible. Everyone must step up to the mark and those who do not will be made to step up. It is far better for them to do it on a voluntary and transparent basis because we need that for the future of the building industry.
On road building, the report states that standards for road construction aggregate exclude the possibility of the use of pyrite.
I was not going to say anything but the Minister of State was wrong on so many counts that I felt I had to speak. Five quarries were mentioned to the panel but the panel was given evidence of six quarries, and a seventh quarry with pyritic material in it is still operating. The amber system is not as the Minister of State described, it is for houses that have pyrite but the visible displays are not sufficient and they are deemed to be monitored as time goes on, which is the same as passing a death sentence on them. Premier Insurance, which was remediating houses in that state, is now not doing so, it is leaving the work off, which is completely unacceptable.
We need a systematic approach with all houses in the affected estates tested.
On the other issue, the Government has had in its possession knowledge of the systematic writing off of motoring offences for almost a year and it has done nothing. To deny us the opportunity is unacceptable.
The naming of persons outside the House is specifically regulated by Standing Orders and rulings of the Chair. The general practice is that such persons should not be named or referred to in such a way as to make them identifiable, particularly where to do so would be an unreasonable invasion of privacy or where the reference could be in the nature of being a defamatory utterance under Standing Order 59.
I am only quoting from the report and if the Deputy has information about other quarries, I would be very happy to receive that. The report refers to five. If there are six or seven, that is fine. Regardless of the number, we want them all sorted out.
The report outlines what amber represents and notes that the identification of pyrite in an estate does not necessarily mean that all dwellings in the estate are affected. The report states that because different contractors and suppliers are used for the hard core, it does not necessarily mean that all the houses will have pyrite. Any of them that do will be dealt with. Any of them that do not and are amber estates will need to be monitored properly to the satisfaction of everybody concerned, especially the people living in them. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, will reach agreement with these people on this matter.
On the reactive pyrite issue that the Minister of State just mentioned, the properties in that category will be virtually unsaleable. The clarity for those home owners of providing a standardised testing regime through the pyrite resolution board will be a necessary step in the resolution process. I know the Minister of State is aware of that and I wanted to put it on the record of the House.
On the voluntary compliance with the arrangement the Department and Minister are trying to agree, while I might be unpopular in saying so, I would rather some more time being taken to come to a final resolution on the issue rather than going down the legislative route, which would clearly take months if not years.
I concur with the Deputy. If we can sort it out without legislation, all the better. However, it must be sorted out independently and properly, particularly for the unfortunate home owners who must live with the issue.