I would like to begin by welcoming all the homeowners affected by the presence of pyrite in their homes who have taken time off work to make the trip to Leinster House alongside their families in order to attend today’s statements.

 

Buying a home is largest and most important investment people will make in their lives. The families and homeowners of Priory Hall have seen that dream cruelly shattered and now live in a limbo between a rogue developer and an unhelpful government.

 

Thousands of other homeowners, ordinary families and young people starting out in their own domestic lives have seen their ideal homes splinter and crack as they are slowly ruined by pyrite. Some of them are in the gallery this afternoon.

 

The damage, disappointment and financial pressure suffered by innocent homeowners who purchased their homes in good faith only to see them gradually diminish in front of their eyes must be confronted by the government.

 

As we aim to deal with the Pyrite problem and offer a long term solution to creating effective, fully enforced building regulations it is incumbent upon us in this chamber keep homeowners at the heart of any solution.

 

Progress on the Pyrite Report

The long awaited release of the Pyrite Panel report in July, six months after it was originally due to be released has yet to produce real decisive action by the Minister on the issue.

 

The report set out 24 recommendations to form the basis of a new approach to dealing with the Pyrite report. The Minister stated he had immediately initiated discussion with the stakeholders, discussions he recently denied having just two weeks ago when it emerged no resolution was forthcoming.

 

Stakeholders including the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Association and insurers Homebond amongst others, have failed to agree a plan to jointly address the issue of pyrite affected homes by the end of the September deadline.

 

The President of the CIF Tom Parlon has indicated that no resolution was found between the stakeholders. I am aware that serious concerns exist over how committed the stakeholders were to reaching a workable solution.

 

It appears that more foot dragging on the issue is all some of the stakeholders want to do. It is imperative that Minister Hogan drives the issue on towards a meaningful resolution and does not let it linger for months or years.

 

However the delays in publishing the report in the first place do not bode well for swiftly dealing with the issue. Homeowners have spent long enough waiting for the stakeholders to take action and should not bear the burden of further prevarication by these groups.

 

The Minister must now take strong decisive action to aid the beleaguered owners of pyrite houses. Ordinary homeowners cannot be left to foot the bill for the failure of developers to adhere to building standards.

 

The report sets out the creation of levy on the industries involved to fund the required remedial work on homes across the country. This includes such bodies as Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Federation, HomeBond, the Irish Insurance Federation and the Irish Banking Federation

 

The Minister has previously stated that “he will be forced to impose a levy” on the industry to finance remedial work. Will he stand by his words in the absence of a viable solution put forward by the stakeholders and if so what is the timeframe for such action?.

 

As I have previously stated on the issue those at fault for the supply and use of damaging levels of pyrite across the country and their insurers should be culpable for the costs of rectifying the situation.

 

Furthermore to ensure that progress is made on the issue the submissions of the stakeholders should be made publically available to place pressure on them to reach an agreement.

 

Property Tax

Like so many homeowners across the country the families affected by Pyrite are deeply concerned about the prospect of a Property Tax being placed on their already burdened wallets in the coming months. The government’s botched implementation of the Household Charge does not inspire confidence in the cabinet coming up with a fair and equitable tax.

 

Instead what it appears we will have is a hefty fee placed on homes across the country. For example under the ideas touted by the government so far a .25% Market Value tax would be inflicted on homeowners.

 

 

A standard three bedroom house in the country costs €176,000. With a property tax of .25% of market value that would lead to an annual property tax charge of €440.

 

The average cost of a standard three bedroom house in Dublin is €208,000. With a property tax of .25% of market vale this would lead to an annual charge of €519, €79 dearer per annum than the national average.

 

For the owners of homes affected by Pyrite this would be nothing short of a slap in the face.

 

I fully agree with the proposals put forward by the report that there must be exemptions on such onerous charges for those homeowners already grappling with pyrite problems before they have to face

 

Priory Hall

 

Indeed it is fitting that on the first anniversary of continued government failure for the residents of Priory Hall it is fitting that we have the opportunity to discuss progress in resolving Pyrite problems and a chance to discuss building regulations on a whole.

 

Priory Hall, a 187-unit residential complex in Donaghmede Dublin, was evacuated when Dublin City Council was granted a High Court Order on 14 October 2011 for the evacuation of the development at Priory Hall on the basis that it was unsafe due to fire hazard concerns.

 

The various problems with the site ranging from Pyrite to defective sections of the roof.

 

Some 256 residents, families cast out from their homes are affected by the failure of regulation in Priory Hall and by the Minister has consistently passed the buck on the issue and has yet to even meet with the residents.

 

The on-going resolution process with Priory Hall must offer a viable solution to residents who continue to struggle with their mortgages over unliveable properties.

 

Home Remediation-Pyrite Bill 2012

Before looking again at the specifics of the Pyrite report, I would like to take this chance to once again put forward a practical proposal that the Oireachtas can quickly act upon to help beleaguered affected homeowners.

 

It is important that we act quickly to ensure that the affected households are given all support necessary to secure their homes. During the summer my colleague in the Seanad Darragh O’Brien introduced a bill to help ensure that these homeowners would still have access to the courts. 

 

The Home Remediation-Pyrite Bill 2012 will ensure that homeowners have significantly more time to address the issue due to the Statute of Limitations coming into effect after Pyrite has been independently identified following and an approved Pyrite test.

 

This would be real action to help homeowners, many of whom are struggling with their mortgages and negative equity, to address the problems facing their homes and ensure that liabilities from Building Guarantee companies are fully met.

 

I hope that the Dáil will support this piece of legislation and help provide the legal framework that homeowners facing fresh cost to secure their homes from Pyrite damage badly need.

 

Report Methodology

 

I would like to re-iterate some my concerns about the report published last July.  I am deeply concerned about the methodology used to quantify the number of houses affected by pyrite difficulties. According to the report more than 12,000 homes in 74 unnamed estates could potentially be contaminated with the material from five quarries. This stands in contrast to the 72,500 houses estimated to be affected previously.

 

Why is there such a dramatic gap between the original estimates and the number found by the Panel? What methodology was used to identify and quantify the houses affected?

 

It is important that the roadmap for how to deal with the problem accommodates the possibility of a problem on a far larger scale than the official report indicates.

 

In any case the Panel found that the affected homes stretch from Fingal into my own constituency of Offaly with estates in Edenderry badly affected by Pyrite problems.

 

Of these dwellings, only 850 dwellings currently have a claim with a guarantee provider. A further 1,100 dwellings have already been remediated or are undergoing work. The majority of these works was primarily due to a court case undertaken by a builder against the quarries involved.

 

The report concluded that the remaining 10,300 ground floor dwellings represent the maximum estimated future potential exposure to pyrite problems. Tackling the Pyrite problems by the laborious method of removing it requires major intervention and the typical cost for an average house is estimated at up to €45,000.

 

This represents a massive cost to struggling homeowners. With the scale of problem we clearly need to provide strong legal support to these homeowners. It underlines the need to support the legislation that Fianna Fáil published during the summer.

 

Standards

Putting in place effective standards is a critical part of tackling he Pyrite problem in the long run.

 

When the pyrite problem came to light in 2007, the Panel considered that timely and appropriate action was taken and the problem was successfully contained. The Panel was not informed of any dwellings commenced after 2007 that are the subject of pyrite related claims to guarantee providers.

 

While the Panel has found that the regulatory framework for hardcore in Ireland, prior to the identification of the pyritic heave problems, could be compared favorably with that in the UK and other jurisdictions where guidance evolved in response to specific problems.

 

While a number of measures were taken subsequent to the discovery of problems we have to ensure that our regulatory regime remains as strong as other jurisdictions dealing with problem. When the pyrite problem came to light in 2007, the Panel considered that timely and appropriate action was taken and the problem was successfully contained.

 

We must ensure a regulatory regime similar to UK standards is in place and more importantly adequately enforced.

 

Building Regulations

It would be remiss not to look at this issue and fail to address the broader issue of building regulations which the Minister is dealing with under the Building Regulations Act 2012.

 

  • I would like to offer some suggestions that we should at least explore in developing our regulatory system.

 

  • A National Building Inspectorate, examining at least 40% of the buildings under construction
  • A system of licensing or registration of builders
    • Full prosecutions of any designers or contractors who are negligent in their duties
    • An open register of inspections and prosecutions, and reports of inspections made public.
    • A robust public/private inspection regime should be implemented to ensure that another Priory Hall cannot be built in the future.

 

  • The decision to carry out an inspection should take into account the past history of the builder and any other available information that may indicate potential problems with the development.

 

  • Information on builders should be shared amongst the relevant authorities.

 

There is no mention in the proposed regulations of the local authority being required to carry out any due diligence on these certificates. At a minimum they should verify that the person carrying out the inspections is in fact suitably qualified and properly indemnified. 

 

The need for a developer to lodge a bond with the local authority should be mandatory rather than discretionary and should not be returned until such time as the council is satisfied that the development is complete & meets the required standard.

 

Conclusion

In the absence of a stakeholder solution it is time for the Minister to move forward with a negotiated levy to ensure a speeded up process, publish the contributions of the stakeholders, reform the Building regulations, provide exemptions to home owners affected by Pyrite and bring this drawn out process to an end.

 

The homeowners who have seen the dreams cruelly cracked deserve better and it’s time for the government to take decisive action.