Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Pyrite Panel Report Recommendations
To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government when he will bring forward legislation to facilitate the establishment of a pyrite levy fund as recommended by the Report of the Pyrite Panel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12509/13]
To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government the timeframe for the implementation of Pyrite Resolution Board legislation;; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12690/13]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 93 together.
I attach a very high priority to preparing the necessary primary legislation to underpin the imposition of a levy on the quarrying and insurance sectors, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General. The Department is currently advancing the drafting of the general scheme of a Bill. While there are particular complexities attaching to the proposed legislation, which require detailed consultations with other Departments, I am confident that these can be dealt with in a satisfactory manner and I will be in a position to bring proposals to the Government very shortly. It is my intention that the Bill be published and enacted in the shortest possible timeframe and there will be no delay on my part.
The Department continues to engage in discussions with a number of financial institutions, facilitated by the Irish Banking Federation, with a view to securing a loan facility which the not-for-profit entity would draw down to permit the earliest possible commencement of remediation works. It is intended that detailed negotiations with the prospective lenders on the terms and conditions of this facility will be concluded by the not-for-profit entity. Loan funds drawn down would be repaid over time from the proceeds of the statutory levies.
I have recently announced the establishment of the Pyrite Resolution Board and the appointment of Mr. John O’Connor, former chairman of An Bord Pleanála, as its chairman, together with three board members. I also indicated that I would be appointing a final member to the board from the not-for profit entity. Mr. Matt Gallagher, the immediate past president of the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, is the nominee from that entity and I have now appointed him as the final member of the board. I believe the membership of the board has the particular range of skills and experience necessary to oversee and ensure the successful operation of the remediation scheme, and to ensure that the public interest and the interest of the affected homeowners are well served. The board will be working closely with the not-for-profit entity to deliver an efficient and effective remediation scheme for homeowners who have no other option for redress open to them.
I understand the Pyrite Resolution Board has had a number of meetings and has now commenced work on drawing up the precise scope of the remediation scheme, including eligibility criteria, procedures and priorities. It is also in the process of developing its own website, where it will publish documentation and a system for receiving applications from eligible homeowners.
The Minister has given us welcome news about the resolution board. Will we see the legislation by June? Earlier he envisaged a fund of around €50 million, perhaps €45,000 per home. Is that the sum he is considering? How many companies will be levied? Has he got down to that detail?
While the property tax exemption for houses affected by pyritic heave is welcome, there is a concern that damage may not be visible in many houses. It could be something that happens over decades. Should this be considered again? I am asked this question again and again, particularly by the Lusk Village action group. Many householders face massive property taxes on homes that have a low value.
While the Minister is present I would like to ask him about Priory Hall. Five hundred days-----
In addition to the information about the timeframe, I ask the Minister what provision has been made in his Estimate towards setting up the board and a fund to be disbursed by the board for remedial works. If that is adequate, there is nothing to stop the Minister from giving indicative dates. We will not hold him to them, because he has been found wanting on commitments of that nature before.
The Minister mentioned that he was talking to the banks about setting up a fund in lieu of getting the levy later. Is that still in the pipeline? It is very disappointing that this has not moved forward. I know the Minister has set up the panel, but we need to move quickly. There are 800 houses in serious need. This is urgent. Surely the legislation can be drawn up quickly so that we can agree it and move more quickly. How long do we have to wait? Will we be waiting two, three, four, five or six months? We need to move as quickly as we can. Many people face terrible problems.
When the fund is set up and money is available, would the Minister consider testing some of the homes in estates where pyrite has been found? If one builder built several houses in an estate - or all of the houses, as was often the case - he probably used the same stone from the same quarry to build them, and it is more than likely that other homeowners in the estate will find out further down the line that they are also stuck with pyrite. The houses need to be tested, and surely money from the fund could be used to do that. Would the Minister consider doing that?
I remind Deputies that this fund is a last resort. People must go through all the other processes initially if they have insurance. This fund will kick in only where people have no redress as consumers. I am anxious to move and I assure Deputies that I will move as quickly as I possibly can. I was hoping we could do this through the Finance Bill but our legal advice was that it would not be possible, as a matter of safe law, to meet the requirements that would need to underpin this legislation in the Finance Bill. We are moving quickly. I expect the heads of the Bill to be before the Government in the next two weeks with a view to bringing the full proposals forward in the next Dáil session. I expect that all sides of the House will want to agree this Bill rather quickly. In the meantime we are getting on with setting the criteria that Deputy Wallace mentioned - that is, what constitutes a test and what shows that an entire estate is clean of pyrite. Deputy Broughan raised all of these issues too. I will not get into the property tax debate again. Either one has pyrite or one does not. The test will indicate-----
I am not getting into a subjective argument about this.
This issue has been hanging around for a while and the Government and I are anxious to do something about it as quickly as we possibly can. The Pyrite Resolution Board is working hard to ensure that the criteria and eligibility that Deputies Broughan and Wallace are talking about can be taken into account. If they wish to proceed with feeding the ideas they get from their constituents to the chairman of the Pyrite Resolution Board, that would be welcome too.