Seanad debates

Thursday, 13 July 2023

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Defective Building Materials

9:30 am

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, to the House. I thank him for coming in to deal with this issue, which falls clearly, of course, within his brief.

I will be brief and concise. The Minister of State will be familiar with the Not Our Fault campaign that has been running. At the very outset, I salute the people involved in this campaign. These people have been affected by homes that are defective with regard to fire issues or construction defaults. They are the very people who feel totally abandoned by the Government. They feel the Government has reneged on its commitments and promises to get them out of the living hell they have had to endure both day and night. It is a living hell.

I acknowledge that Senator Seery Kearney held a meeting in the audiovisual room recently. She invited those people in and I met many of them. I was shocked to hear story after story, testament after testament, of what these people have had to endure.

On 18 January 2023, the Government announced a list of supports that would be available to address some of these issues. They involved emergency funding, which has not yet been delivered, interim measures of which there has been nothing yet and no delivery and insurance support of which there has been nothing and no delivery. To date, the Minister of State's Department and the Government have delivered nothing for these 100,000 affected homeowners. This is what they assert and this is what they have asked me to pursue with the Minister of State today.

The families involved are undergoing stress and pressure every day from management companies seeking to collect levies that were applied against them to carry out remediation works that have nothing to do with them. They do not have anything to do with them. They have no responsibility and it is not their fault. The Government promised that it would provide funds. What has happened to this promise? I hope the Minister of State can shed some light on all that today.

I understand that people are receiving daily solicitors' letters or suggestions that they will be called to give court appearances on dates to deal with something that is not their fault. They have no responsibility with regard to these matters. On behalf of these people, I seek reassurances today from the Minister of State.

The people involved need emergency funding, as promised, to get some of the work started in order that they can make these developments safe enough to continue to live in. I visited them and they are appalling. They are fire hazards. In some cases, people cannot even get insurance. They cannot afford property maintenance. It is a living nightmare and a living hell for these people.

I do not want to overstate the case, but they feel abandoned and let down. There is mixed communication. I want to hear from the Minister of State about what is happening, not what is happening next month or next year, but what is happening now. They are tuned in today because I alerted them to the fact. I sent the press release that was issued by the Oireachtas today and the link to this particular Commencement matter. It is important that when we stand up here and advocate for people, we do it well and robustly. To be fair to the Minister of State, I know he is committed to addressing the issue, and that it is a big, complex issue.I want some sort of reassurance today and a timeline for how the Government will deliver for the people involved.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for raising this extremely important issue, which provides me with the opportunity to update the Seanad on the matter. I offer an assurance to the Seanad and to the homeowners and residents of the many apartments and duplexes with defects that we are absolutely committed to resolving it. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and I fully acknowledge the stress that is caused when defects arise in people's homes.

Since the receipt of Government approval in January of this year to draft legislation to establish supports for the remediation of defects, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has been working to progress the various programmes of work that are required to place the remediation scheme on a statutory footing. As the Senator knows, a key aspect of this work is the development of a code of practice, in the context of the Fire Services Acts, to provide guidance to relevant professionals, including guidance on interim safety measures. The development of this code of practice was a key recommendation of the working group the Minister established to examine defects in housing. The publication of the code is a matter of priority and it is imminent. It is a key feature on which the operation of the remediation scheme will be based. It will support the development of a reasonable and practicable approach to resolving fire safety defects, with the aim of ensuring a consistent approach nationwide to remediation. As I said, work on the code of practice is nearing completion and the Minister expects to be able to publish it shortly.

The code has been drafted in consultation with industry professionals, local authority fire services and the Housing Agency. The scheme will incorporate a means or methodology, based on the code of practice, for prioritising the allocation and nature of support and funding, including the funding of interim measures to ensure the highest-risk buildings are first to be supported. In order to ensure important life-safety works are not paused, remediation works related to fire safety defects, entered into or commenced from 18 January 2023, will form part of the remediation scheme, subject to terms and conditions. The details of this process are being worked out as a priority, in parallel with the development of the code of practice.

Work is under way to draft the required legislation. As the Senator is no doubt aware, the totality of work includes a number of components, that is, the code of practice, the interim measures and the legislation underpinning the overall scheme. The work under way includes the scope, eligibility and conditions of the remediation scheme. While the Minister is working on the development of the scheme as a matter of priority, sufficient time is required to draft the legislation to ensure the scheme is fit for purpose, provides value for money and contains appropriate oversight and governance measures. The scheme will be administered by the Housing Agency on a nationwide basis. Interaction and interdependency with local authority fire services and others must be considered, with a need to ensure the remediation of fire safety defects is carried out to the satisfaction of the local authority fire services. An advice and information service and portal within the Housing Agency is in the process of being established.

I appreciate the stress this issue is causing for homeowners and residents. The code of practice is the key document for the remediation of fire safety defects. A commitment has been given in respect of spending incurred since 18 January. The code will be published very shortly. I recognise that homeowners require certainty. The Minster, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is fully committed to getting the scheme up and running as quickly as possible.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There is no reassurance in anything the Minister of State has said. We have heard all of it before. He said the Minister is working on developing a scheme "as a matter of priority" and he needs "sufficient time" to do so. The Minister of State is not in a position to tell us anything. He has given us no timelines. He has told us the Minister is working on a scheme. The Houses go into recess today for two months. We will not have an opportunity during that time to question any Minister. He made reference to a scheme and a code of practice being imminent. All the Minister of State has said today is that the Department is working on a code of practice and the Minister needs time to bring in the legislation. There is no solace offered to the people affected.

Will the Minister of State take what I have said back to his colleagues? The people listening to the discussion this morning expected to hear something about what is happening with emergency funding, what interim measures there will be and what insurance support will be provided. Those are the three asks. The Minister of State has shared none of that information with us. I respect him and his position and it is clearly the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, who is taking responsibility for this response. There is nothing in it. We are told the Minister is working on legislation and a code but we are given no timelines for delivery. It is most unsatisfactory and most disappointing.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I understand the frustration of the homeowners. I want to offer reassurance to them, Senator Boyhan and the many public representatives in this Chamber and in the Dáil Chamber. As for the facts, the Government has approved the scheme, which requires to be underpinned by legislation. We want legislation that is fit for purpose. Second, we have committed that in terms of fire safety defects that have arisen, the works may commence from 18 January 2023 and will be covered. I have given the Senator a commitment that the code of practice will be published very shortly. It is imminent. That code of practice will provide certainty to professionals as to what exactly is involved regarding fire safety. We must make these buildings safe.

I will take the other matters the Senator raised back to the Minister and the officials. We really want to get a scheme up and running but it must be fit for purpose. It is all about ensuring people can get their homes back into the order in which they purchased them.