Seanad debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Adjournment Matters

Construction Contracts Legislation

4:00 pm

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, for coming to the House as I know he has had quite a long day, as have we all. I wish to speak about an episode that took place in a school in Kilfinane almost two weeks ago, which was widely reported on in the media. A number of subcontractors who were going to be left out of pocket by the main contractor involved in building the new school took action. They decided that the only way to get recompense for their loss was to go into the school and take out what they believed belonged to them. Incidents such as this badly affect small communities. The people involved were from places like Ballinderreen, Elton, Bruff and Murroe. One of the men involved is the father of seven children and one of his daughters babysat for my sister. A brother of the guy from Elton is married to a second cousin of mine and the sister of another guy taught me in primary school. That gives some indication of how closely connected everybody involved was. The Minister of State will appreciate that the entire episode really cut close to the bone in the local community. I wish to praise the staff and parents in the school who, when they saw their school being stripped of equipment, intervened because they had fought to have the school built for many years. I also wish to praise the local gardaí for ensuring that a volatile situation did not get out of hand.

The crux of the matter is that many of the subcontractors who worked on the site and who were left short had also been left short previously by a different contractor. When the first contractor on the school project went bust, some of the subcontractors were down considerable sums of money. One guy in particular was owed almost ¤80,000. That kind of money is make or break for subcontractors. For a main contractor, it might not be the end of the world but for subcontractors, it is. One guy in particular had remortgaged his house in order to buy equipment. Losses such as those incurred could easily have sent the subcontractors over the edge. When the second contract was awarded I was delighted to see the same subcontractors who had lost out on the first contract being given a chance to recoup some of the money lost and to finish the work they had started. I welcomed that at the time but eyebrows were raised locally when the name of contractor who was awarded the second contract became known. It begs the question as to what type of research is done when tenders are submitted, when contracts can be awarded to people who have not got a great reputation locally. I spoke to an engineer shortly after the contract was announced and he threw his eyes up to heaven and said "forget about it, that is not going to be finished". However, that is a separate issue which I will not go into now.

The subcontractors were left in absolute desperation and I am concerned about the delay in bringing forward the construction contracts legislation. A motion was before Limerick County Council in May calling for the legislation to be introduced before the summer recess. The Construction Industry Federation wrote to me again last week concerning this issue. The federation said that it has been almost two and half years since this legislation was first introduced in the Seanad by Senator Feargal Quinn, which was long before my time in the House. Will this legislation be expedited so that subcontractors are given the protection they need and deserve? Will the law be passed soon?


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