Tuesday, 12 May 2015
Pyrite Remediation Programme Implementation
Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an gCathaoirleach as ucht an deis a thabhairt dom an t-ábhar tábhachtach seo a ardú ar an Tosú inniu. I am grateful to be allowed raise in the Seanad this critical issue for many people. Since this Government took office it is fair to say it has taken steps to rectify the issue of pyrite. Many people will benefit from the pyrite remediation scheme, and some have benefited already in terms of having work done on their houses, but similar to many Government announcements there is a good deal of spin on top of the reality, which is a pity. As far as I am aware, the pyrite scheme so far has only accepted 300 applications in terms of saying it will do the work. We are not even clear whether the pyrite board is funded to do all of the work it has approved given that thousands of homes have pyrite damage.We know there are thousands of people whose homes have pyrite damage, some of whom cannot afford the test because it costs between €1,000 and €2,000 or more. Some do not have sufficient damage to be covered by the scheme. Yet another category has been tested and we know there is a significant amount of pyrite in those foundations, but no damage is apparent yet. The damage can take many years to appear. It has happened in north county Dublin that the damage appeared 12 years after the homes were built. There are people in limbo who have lesser damage, no damage but damage on the way, and those who cannot get their houses tested to be covered by the scheme.
I have met members of the pyrite equality group. They want a comprehensive response from the Government and from all parties as we come into an election year on what is proposed in respect of pyrite. I have welcomed what has happened up to now and have highlighted its flaws but we have to give these people an answer, saying what the overall plan will be for the next ten years.
There is also a difficulty with the exemption from property tax which requires a test that costs thousands of euro. Many people cannot afford the test. The application of the rules, which the Revenue Commissioners apply, is very strict. Very few get the exemption for which the Oireachtas legislated.
We want more funding for this necessary scheme. In the interests of justice, more people should be allowed enter the scheme. There should be an overall plan for the future for houses that have pyrite and that are in pyrite estates but do not yet have the damage, which will almost inevitably arise. We need to give these people certainty. They feel they are in limbo.
I thank Senator Byrne for raising this very important matter. There was a significant debate in the Dáil on pyrite. The Pyrite Resolution Act 2013 provides for the making of a pyrite remediation scheme by the Pyrite Resolution Board for certain dwellings affected by pyrite damage. The full conditions for eligibility under the scheme are set down in the scheme which is available on the board’s website at www.pyriteboard.ie. One of the eligibility criteria requires an application to be accompanied by a building condition assessment carried out by a competent person in accordance with I.S. 398-1:2013 reactive pyrite in sub-floor hardcore material - Part 1: testing and categorisation protocol, with a damage condition rating of 2. There are no proposals to amend this eligibility criterion.
In broad terms, the report of the pyrite panel in July 2012 recommended that only dwellings with substantial damage which is confirmed by testing to be pyrite related should be remediated. Pyrite remediation is invasive and expensive. In this regard, the report recommended that properties which have minor damage should be monitored and only remediated if substantial damage develops in due course. In this context, it should be noted that there is no sunset provision in the Act. Nevertheless, while dwellings with damage condition ratings of 1, or 1 with progression, do not qualify under the scheme, some may be considered in accordance with the exceptional circumstance provisions set out in section 17 of the Act. In broad terms, section 17 provides that exceptional circumstances may apply where failure to include a dwelling with a damage rating of 1 in the scheme may result in damage to a dwelling which is being remediated under the scheme or pyrite remediation work is causing or may cause damage to the dwelling with the damage rating of 1.
I understand that in a number of cases the board has signalled that dwellings that have had a damaged condition rating of 1 when their building condition assessments were first completed have now progressed to a damaged condition rating of 2. These dwellings have now been included in the pyrite remediation scheme. I confirm that an allocation of €10 million has been provided in my Department's Vote to fund the operation of the scheme this year. I am satisfied that the board will have the resources required to meet the level of activity anticipated for the year. The post-2015 funding requirement will be considered in the context of the 2016 Estimates later this year and will have regard to developments under the scheme in the next few months, as well as the level of activity anticipated by the board in 2016.
As matters stand, more than 700 applications have been received under the pyrite remediation scheme, the vast majority of which have a damage condition rating of two. Of the 700 applications, 342 dwellings have been accepted into the scheme, with technical expertise assigned to them and the necessary preparatory work, tendering or remediation either under way or imminent. It is anticipated that approximately 200 homes will be remediated under the scheme in 2015.
I ask the Minister of State to raise with the Department the concerns that are starting to bubble up regarding the pyrite remediation scheme. It is important we hold the Government to account in respect of the commitments it has given in this matter. As I stated, the funding allocated to addressing the pyrite problem is insufficient.
I am pleased to note the Minister of State's comment that the Act does not provide for a sunset clause as some of the householders affected by pyrite were not aware of this. It is possible, however, that the people affected may wish for improvements to the overall plan until the sun sets on this issue many years from now. All of us in politics owe a great deal to the individuals in question who are experiencing severe stress because their houses are falling down around them.
While we welcomed the scheme proposed by the Government, the broader issue of the Statute of Limitations needs to be revisited. Senators Darragh O'Brien, Averil Power and I introduced a Bill on this issue. It is not fair that State resources are being used for the pyrite mediation scheme as it was individual private builders and suppliers rather than the Government of the day which was at fault. In many cases, insurance companies have got away scot-free. I hope the Minister will take on board my comments and recognise the concerns surrounding this issue. I hope by raising this issue, I will help maintain pressure on the Government to have the necessary works finalised.
I acknowledge the Senator's comments. We must all keep a close eye on this matter. I reiterate that the post-2015 funding requirement will be considered in the context of the 2016 Estimates later this year and will have regard to developments in the pyrite remediation scheme.