Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Defective Building Materials
86. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government the considerations he and his Department have provided to the issue of defective blocks in County Donegal; his Department's advice on the way affected householders may be able to proceed in engaging with his Department on this issue; the financial supports for persons who find themselves in this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40947/14]
This is to ask the Minister the assistance he plans to give to home owners in Donegal whose homes are developing cracks. This is an emerging situation affecting hundreds of homes in the county. What does he plan to do to assist them because these home owners very much need the assistance of the Government?
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which I have to admit was first raised with me by Councillor Martin Farren, and subsequently by a number of people. While I fully appreciate and acknowledge the difficult and distressing situations that householders have to deal with when faced with the consequences of the use of defective materials or poor workmanship in homes, building defects are, in general, matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved, that is, the owner, the builder, the manufacturer, the supplier, the quarry owner and-or their respective insurers. In addition and where appropriate, affected home owners should pursue their structural guarantee insurance providers where a structural guarantee insurance is in place.
In the event that the contracting parties cannot reach a settlement by negotiation the option of seeking redress in the courts can be considered. My understanding is that legal proceedings are under way and have been instigated in some of the cases relating to the problems in Donegal, which is the appropriate course of action to take in the event that the responsible parties do not face up to their responsibilities and provide a solution to the affected home owners for whom I have a huge degree of sympathy.
Notwithstanding that, my Department is prepared to review any information that can be made available in these matters, for example, test-laboratory reports on the concrete blocks, structural reports on the affected dwellings etc., and there is a range of other issues also. Having regard to such information, it may be in a position to offer advice which may be of assistance to affected home owners in seeking a resolution to their difficulties. In that regard, a meeting has been arranged between my Department and a delegation of affected home owners. In fact, it actually happened yesterday.
I ask the Minister to meet them. This is an emerging issue mainly affecting homes built in the late 1990s and up to the mid-2000s. The number of those affected is growing. It is estimated that hundreds, and probably up to 1,000 or more, homes in County Donegal are affected by it. I note that the Minister is offering sympathy and advice to these home owners but what they need is help from the Department and from himself. To get homes tested to establish the exact problem in each of homes costs thousands of euro which these families simply do not have. Without the Minister getting involved to assist them, they will not be able to deal with the problem and will be left in limbo. I know with respect to the pyrite issue in Dublin that after a long period a resolution board and a panel was set up to get to the bottom of the problem. The Minister needs to explore the situation and establish a similar set-up here, but I ask that he meet with representatives of the home owners and progress that development.
After this issue was first brought to my attention by Councillor Martin Farren, a further investigation took place. It is not about pyrite but mica, which is unique territory. We need to see the analysis and where we can go. My Department will be helpful and progress the matter to obtain some satisfaction for the people who should never have been put in this place by shabby and disgraceful practices. This shows why we need real building control regulations for the future. My Department met them yesterday and had a comprehensive discussion with them. I have not been made privy to the details, although I had a discussion with some people. Once the information has been bought through the system, I will have no problem meeting the representatives, possibly in Donegal if I am there. We will try to monitor the position and make progress because it is an issue.
I emphasise the importance of a quick response from the Minister on this point. A small number of homeowners have carried out tests and identified the presence of Muscovite mica as the problem. Some have had to take remedial action by removing and replacint outside walls. After investigation, others identified outer and inner walls as being affected. The houses date from the late 1990s and early 2000s, which means that it is primarily young families and families with young children who are involved. They do not have the finances to come up with the thousands of euro required to carry out tests. This is where they need the assistance of the Minister who should come on board by establishing a panel with the expertise to engage with each household identified as having a problem and report to the Minister on the extent of the problem in order that solutions can be delivered quickly to assist the families affected, many of whom do not have time on their hands. It is a living nightmare.
The point is well made. A number of people of all political persuasions have contacted me about the issue. There is good will in the Department. Yesterday there was a meeting, but I have not yet had a chance to go through the information provided. My officials will brief me on the issue and we will offer to help, but we must first have the analysis to see what is the current position, the scale of the problem, the individuals involved, the structures affected, the safety consequences and other issues that need analysis. Subsequently, we will examine the best and most prudent direction to take to help them from the Government side and ensure those who did this are dealt with. I have seen some of the photographs of the area. These practices which were prevalent in a number of areas are completely unacceptable and the people who ensured young families would be left in this manner must be followed to the end.