Clare Daly TD alongside Socialist Party colleagues have been working with the Pyrite Action Group to fight for justice for the thousands of householders in North and West Dublin, Meath, Kildare, Offaly and elsewhere whose homes are crumbling about them.
This has arisen because of neglect on the part of building firms, quarries and inadequate building regulations. The Socialist Party
The transcript of the full exchange was as follows:
Question 3: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 222 of 20 July 2011, the reason the revised NSAI Standard recommendation, which amended the Building Regulations Technical Guidance Document TGD C, is deemed inadequate by the main non-homebond insurer of houses affected by heave-inducing pyrite, and that this insurer demands in addition to the requirements in the NSAI Amendment that replacement fill comply with TRL 447 (2005) Sulphate Specification for Structural Backfills, to ensure that there will be no further heave; and if he will immediately rectify this deficient specification in order to protect householders results. [24393/11]
Phil Hogan: The building regulations set out the legal requirements for the construction of new buildings, including houses. Part D, materials and workmanship, of the building regulations requires that materials used as infill in construction must be “proper materials which are fit for the use for which they are intended and for the conditions in which they are to be used”. The presence of pyrite in building materials represents a failure to satisfy this requirement. Responsibility for compliance with the building regulations is a matter for the owner or builder of a building and enforcement of the owner’s contractual entitlements is a civil matter irrespective of whether a building is in private or public ownership.
Following the emergence of the pyrite problem in 2007, the National Standards Authority of Ireland, at the behest of my Department, reconvened the aggregates panel, an NSAI industry committee. The NSAI, in consultation with this committee, published a revised standard recommendation on the use of aggregates as infill for civil engineering and road construction work. The new standard recommendation came into effect on 7 December 2007 and provides guidance on reducing the risk of reactive forms of pyrite being present in material fill for use under concrete floors in dwellings and buildings.
The relevant technical guidance document of the building regulations dealing with site preparation was amended to incorporate the revised NSAI standard recommendation. The outcome of a recent high court case vindicates the position taken by my Department and demonstrates that the building regulations are appropriate and enforceable. The imposition of any additional requirement by a third party, for example, an insurance company, is a matter between that party and the builder or developer.
In response to the difficult and distressing problems faced by home owners and tenants affected by pyrite, I am setting up a panel with suitable expertise to prepare a report, which I will publish, on the way forward in relation topyrite contamination in private housing stock. My Department will provide technical and administrative support to the panel in carrying out its work.
Clare Daly: I thank the Minister for his reply but it does not deal with the content of the question. Clearly, the pyriteissue is devastating for the tens of thousands of affected householders. The Minister’s response is an attempt to say that the State has no role or responsibility in this regard.
The nub of the question is that the State is responsible for bringing in building regulations and that these regulations are, and were, deficient. When I asked the question in July as to why the building regulations did not require testing for pyrite, even though knowledge existed in the industry, in engineering circles and in regard to the geological strata that this could be a problem, the Minister said the building regulations had been amended by the NSAI implying that the problem had been solved but that is not the case.
Householders have found that Premier Insurance, the second largest insurer, is not satisfied with that new requirement. It is not deemed good enough for it. Is the reason this standard, required by Premier Insurance, has not been included because it would cost the quarries and the aggregates more money? Does the Minister not think it is somewhat strange that the NSAI standard took direction from the concrete consultative committee, which is dominated by the industry? Will he comment on the fact that some of the lead agents on that committee, which was responsible for the new standard, were two of the largest quarry owners whose quarries have been found to have heave inducing pyrite, namely, Roadstone in Huntstown and Kilsaran in Rathcore, County Westmeath and if this might be the reason the standard is inadequate?
Phil Hogan: Deputy Daly would have to see a lot of things around corners. I have answered the question she asked which was a highly technical one and I answered it in a technical fashion. If there was any aspect of the question I did not answer, she certainly did not ask a supplementary in regard to it.
The Building Control Acts clearly place responsibility for compliance with building regulations on the owner of a building. That has been tested in the courts and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is not liable. Compliance with technical guidance documents, which were amended after 2007, has stood the test of time.
I appreciate that homeowners find themselves in a difficult situation through no fault of their own because of the inadequacy of the materials and aggregates provided. The material for these dwellings and foundations have been found to be deficient and so on. That is why I decided to act as an honest broker in this matter between homeowners and the people responsible to see if we can get solutions and I have set up a panel. I did not have to do that but we are here, as politicians, to try to help people. I did not go around apportioning blame. I am facilitating a dialogue, or an opportunity for people, through a panel of experts, to help them, if at all possible.
Clare Daly: With respect, the question was not answered. The question was twofold. Why is the standard in the building regulations deemed to be inadequate vis-À-vis the standard put forward by Premier Insurance? The Minister’s answer was that it has a different standard from us. It has a higher standard and surely we, as the guardians of householders, should stand by the highest standards.
The second part of the question was what will the Minister do about it. Will he rectify the building regulations to take account of this? I assume the answer to that is “No”. The Department and previous Governments have a responsibility in this regard.
I welcome the fact the Minister has set up a committee and we will participate in, and work with, it. However, the solution must come from the Minister’s Department as well because otherwise the builders, quarry owners, the local authorities and everybody will be at each other’s throats. There must be a lead from the front and this must be rectified for the future and the building regulations must be changed. If the standards are not good enough for Premier Insurance, they should not be good enough for Irish citizens.
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Phil Hogan: We are here as legislators and to make regulations. The people who supplied this material are in breach of those regulations and that has been found by the courts. We do not have to improve any regulations because the courts have found these people to be negligent in regard to compliance. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government’s regulations have stood the test of time. We were not found culpable but rather the people who supplied the material were. I know that does not suit the Deputy but I am telling her the outcome of the court case where this was tested. In case the Deputy does not know, it was a High Court case.
Clare Daly: It attributed liability to the quarry owners. It did not say the building regulations were fine.
Phil Hogan: Did it attribute any liability to the State?
Clare Daly: It said the quarry owners were liable.
Phil Hogan: That is correct. The quarry owners are liable. Therefore, we must take that into account when we come forward with solutions. The State is not liable but I am prepared to set up this panel to help homeowners who are unfortunately caught between the quarry owners and solving this problem, and to facilitate whatever I can to help them.
One of the key issues is the extension of the insurance compensation fund to deal with losses of the Quinn family. A large percentage of insurance losses result from speculative gambling on the property market by the family and, in effect, the legislation provides for the transfer of those gambling debts on to the shoulders of hard pressed taxpayers and working people who need to insure cars, homes and so on. As previous speakers pointed out, this is the third time a private company has been bailed out by the State — Equitable Life in the 1960s and PMPA and ICI in the 1980s. The original levy was not discontinued when PMPA’s historical liabilities were run down but, instead, was replaced with a stamp duty to which the Government proposes to add a Quinn Insurance levy. Clearly, that is a disgrace and should be condemned by all.
I would like to concentrate on one aspect of the legislation. It proposes that the insurance compensation fund would cover all insured risk in the State with the exception of a number of excluded risks. It then defines one of those as a risk relating to a building in the State. Will the Minister address the Homebond issue in this regard? He may be aware that householders will take to the streets tomorrow to protest outside Homebond’s offices because it has opted out of its liability under a structural guarantee against major defects and has said it will not honour offers made to residents in that regard. Is this an insurance policy or not, given it was sold to people on that basis? Were people tricked into taking up this policy? Payments come out of the insurance compensation fund for insolvent insurers and, therefore, this issue is relevant.
People bought their houses in the belief that Homebond offered them a structural guarantee against major structural defects for ten years. The homeowner had no choice in that regard as he or she was obligated to go down that route. He or she did not have the option of choosing the insurance route. It was provided to the developer and the Irish Home Builders Association. It is a consequence of the light touch regulation that existed. The banks legitimised Homebond by mandating that people to whom they were giving loans had to have a Homebond guarantee before they were able to avail of the mortgage. Warnings were issued repeatedly from 2000 onwards that the company was significantly underinsured. The Law Society issued a warning in 2000 while Grant Thornton and others produced reports in which they warned the society that this was a potential major liability, yet nothing was done.
I would like the Minister to address this because between 30,000 and 50,000 houses have fallen victim to heave inducing pyrite, a defect that costs between €40,000 and €50,000 per household to repair. A claim would result in a liability of between €1 billion and €1.5 billion. If Homebond is deemed to be insolvent and the pre-2008 insured members are deemed liable for heave inducing pyrite resulting in major structural damage, who will pay the bill? Is the Minister exposing the State by bringing this under the insolvent insurers scheme? If not, why not? He can offer a compensation fund to Sean Quinn and his family to defray their gambling debts but the victims of Homebond who did nothing other than a buy a home in good faith that they thought was fit for purpose have to pay the cost of heave inducing pyrite. There is no compensation fund for them.
This more than anything else exposes the Government’s record and the double standards it is applying. The Minister is rushing this legislation and that is not on. It will be exposed in the eyes of the public for what it is. full debate
Following the recent successful national organising forum of the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes scores of public meetings are being organised in communities up and down the country.
In North County Dublin the follow meetings are scheduled to take place in the coming days and weeks:
Thursday 22nd- Murray’s, Lusk at 8pm
Monday 26th- Joe May’s, Skerries 8pm
Monday 26th- Lord Mayors in Swords 8pm
Tuesday 27th Saint Sylvester’s GAA club, Malahide 8pm
Wednesday 28th The Strand, Main Street, Rush 8pm
Thursday 29th Combined Clubs Community Centre, Balbriggan 8pm
Monday 10th St Finian’s Rivervalley Community Centre, Swords 8pm
Further meetings will take place in Kinsealy, Portmarnock, Baldoyle and Howth ensuring that in advance of the charnge being implemented in January there will be an extensive network of activists organised to step up the campaign of non-payment.
Clare Daly TD, who will be addressing many of the meetings said:
“Residents in North County Dublin have a track record of resisting unfair local taxes going back to the time of the victorious campaign against the water charges in the 1990s.
“Despite Minister Hogan’s pleading that the charge will be ‘only’ €100 there are firm indications from the EU/IMF memorandum of understanding and government economic advisers like John Fitzgerald that the combined water and property tax will exceed €1,000 by 2014.
“I would encourage all residents in North County Dublin to come to the meeting and play an active role in building the campaign.”
National Organising Forum of Campaign to take place next Saturday at 1:30pm in Teacher’s Club in 36 Parnell Square
“Minister Phil Hogan’s statement yesterday that people will ‘pay through the nose’ for water is a true indication of what ordinary people will be faced with in a short few years if the government gets its way.
“Despite his other utterances about the recently announced Household Charge being ‘only €100’ people well understand that as we seen with the bin tax this is but a first stage of what ESRI economist John Fitzgerald estimates will be combined water and property taxes of over €1,000 per annum.
“Early indications from street stalls activities and door to door canvases by activists in communities alongside opinion polls show deep opposition in society to these charges and a widespread willingness to engage in an active boycott campaign.
“A number of left political groups, residents associations and ordinary community and trade union activists have initiated the Campaign Against Household & Water Taxes. We see ourselves building a mass campaign of non-payment throughout the country in the same tradition as the successful Anti Water Charges Campaign of the 1990s.
“Already some 80 to 100 public meetings are being planned for every community in Dublin and city and county. This Saturday’s National Organising Forum is intended to equip people who want to fight the charge from across the country with the know-how for building campaigns of non-payment in their community. Anybody who wants to fight this charge is welcome to attend.
“Before this unjust Household Charge is implemented in January there will be in place a visible campaign capable of getting information into the communities and responding to every threat that comes from the government to bully people into payment.
It is well understood by many working people and the unemployed that this charge is simply another austerity measure at the behest of the EU/IMF which won’t boost the services provided by our local authorities. People are at breaking point and the Household Charge alongside other cuts and impositions will provoke an inevitable fightback.”