Building Control Bill 2005: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It gives me great pleasure to address this House on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Building Control Bill 2005.

I regard this Bill as a major consumer protection measure. It is undeniable that building or buying a house is the biggest single investment made by most citizens. It is also true that the standard of investment in the built environment will shape the quality of life for many generations to come. Safeguarding building standards is therefore a core objective for us all. The Building Control Bill 2005 will be seen in years to come as one of the most progressive pieces of consumer law to be brought forward in recent decades.

The speech is about to be circulated to Members.

It is most unlike the Minister to be inefficient.

Given my years of training.

Given his 150 years.

Almost as long as Deputy Kenny.

I hope the Bill will win cross-party support, and am aware certain aspects will do so. The Bill achieves good consumer protection on a number of levels. It will assure the public that people calling themselves architects, building surveyors and quantity surveyors are properly qualified. It also strengthens the enforcement of building control law to ensure that Ireland's high building control standards are fully adhered to. It provides for the energy rating of houses and commercial buildings and, together with new building regulations, the measures will bring long-term cost savings to householders and businesses and will help meet Ireland's greenhouse gas emission obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. The Bill also marks a further move in implementing this Government's commitment to disability by requiring commercial buildings and apartment blocks to be certified as compliant with disability access requirements.

For over ten years we have experienced the greatest and most sustained building boom in the history of the State. Building output is now estimated at around €30 billion or 20% of GNP, double the EU average of 10% of GNP. We are now completing more than 80,000 new dwellings per annum or around four times the level of completions achieved in the early 1990s. Ireland is now achieving 20 house completions per 1,000 population, the highest by far in the EU. The net result of the sustained housing construction boom is that one third of our housing stock has been built in the past ten years.

With building activity running at all-time record levels, it makes sense to strengthen our building control system and to seek to improve the energy performance of our existing and new building stock. The Building Control Act 1990 provides the statutory basis for the making of our national building regulations. This Act replaced local, and somewhat outdated, by-laws, which only applied in some areas and varied in their requirements. Modern building regulations became operative in 1992. The regulations are performance-based, rather than prescriptive, in line with the current trend in many countries. This gives more flexibility in design and construction, provided the end building meets minimum performance criteria.

The regulations specify the statutory requirements for the construction of new buildings and the material alteration of existing buildings. They comprise 12 parts, A to M, covering areas such as structure, fire safety, materials and workmanship, sound insulation, conservation of fuel and energy, and access for people with disabilities.

The related technical guidance documents provide guidance to designers and builders on how to comply with the various parts of the regulations. While use of guidance documents is optional, they are in practice treated as the bibles of building and used almost universally by the construction industry. They are a best seller, at a modest price, in the Government Publications Office and are also available to view or download, free of charge, on my Department's website,

Various amendments have been made to the regulations since they were first introduced, including the introduction of a requirement that new dwellings be visitable by people with disabilities. There has been a significant increase in thermal performance and insulation standards for new buildings and for material alterations and extensions to existing buildings.

Changes to the building code are made in accordance with best practice for modern regulation. Draft building regulations are prepared in consultation with the broadly based Building Regulations Advisory Body, BRAB, and are subject to widespread public consultation. The net result is that the definitive building regulations generally win widespread support within the industry. However, it is timely to review and update the Building Control Act, to meet the challenges of construction today.

I will first address fire safety, and this is an appropriate day to do so. The fire safety certification of the designs of new non-domestic buildings and apartment blocks by the local building control authority has had a positive impact on the quality of fire engineering and on fire prevention. Approximately 6,500 such certificates are granted annually and less than 20 certificates, or less than 0.5%, are the subject of appeals to An Bord Pleanála. Today, as we sadly mark the 25th anniversary of the Stardust disaster, we must constantly remind ourselves of the need to be ever vigilant when it comes to fire safety. Twenty five years may seem a long time ago but for those who suffered loss or injury or who were there on the night the pain is still very real. The tribunal of inquiry which was established in 1981 made recommendations on fire services, fire prevention and related matters and, in particular relevance to this Bill, the need to put in place a proper system of building control. Since then, under the Building Control Act 1990, part B of the regulations set out the legal requirements for fire safety in the construction, extension and material alteration of or change of use in buildings. The related technical guidance document B provides guidance on how to comply with part B. The guidance was updated in 1997 to include bedroom window sizes for escape purposes in the event of fire and mains operated smoke alarms. I will shortly publish further amendments to part B, together with updated guidance.

All the recommendations of the Stardust tribunal have either been implemented directly or taken into account in the ongoing formulation of policy on fire safety and the development of the local authority fire services over the intervening period. Improvements have been carried out on a comprehensive basis, covering such areas as the financing and equipping of the local fire service, its organisation and staffing, training, the legislative framework and emergency planning. I propose in this Bill to tighten and update the requirements for the fire safety certificate process, as recommended by the Building Regulations Advisory Body.

Part M of the building regulations, which was operative since June 1992, sets out the legal requirements for access to and movement within non-domestic buildings for people with disabilities. Compliance with part M is an area of some concern to me, particularly as the requirements have been extended to new dwellings. I am anxious that the overall level of compliance will improve as designers and builders gain greater experience of working to the part M standards for dwellings, which in many cases have only applied in practice from 1 January 2004. It is often too late to seek to remedy disabled access deficiencies once construction is in progress or when a building is finished. That is why the Government has decided to introduce a disability access certificate system, along the lines of the fire safety certificate system, for new non-domestic buildings and new apartment blocks. This implements a core recommendation of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities.

I think all Deputies share my view that regulations, if not backed by proper enforcement, are greatly diminished in value. Good builders follow the code but, unfortunately, others may not fully adhere to the requirements. We need to create a level playing field on which minimum building standards are effectively applied to all builders. The local building control authorities are at the heart of our building control enforcement process and this Bill will greatly enhance their enforcement powers. However, I am not happy that the authorities are uniformly and consistently enforcing the building code despite measures taken at central level to help the authorities, including approval for the creation of building control officer posts, a substantial increase in building control fees in 1998 and the development and delivery of a customised training course for building control officers by FÁS. I propose to remind city and county managers of their personal responsibilities in terms of building control enforcement. Deputies will be aware that variations exist but they are unfair and should be addressed.

We have been reminded in recent times that oil supplies are limited and periodically uncertain. The demand for oil continues to rise and the price of crude oil has reached a historic peak of over $70 a barrel. We expect to substantially reduce energy used in heating buildings and the related C02 emissions as a result of recent changes which I made to part L building regulation standards for thermal performance and insulation and plan to further increase part L standards by 2008.

However the problems of oil supplies and climate change are global issues, which cannot be addressed at national level alone. The EU has adopted the energy performance of buildings directive and Ireland has developed an integrated action plan for the implementation of all its requirements. The draft plan was published for public consultation last April with a deadline of 31 July 2005 for comments. An interdepartmental working group, including representatives of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Sustainable Energy Ireland and my Department has been working on this plan, which I expect to publish and submit to the European Commission within the coming months. On 20 January, Ireland notified the European Commission of a package of legal and administrative measures taken or in the pipeline with regard to transposing the directive. I signed amending part L regulations, partly transposing articles 3 to 5 of the directive, on 21 December 2005. Sections 4 and 5 of this Bill further transpose articles 5 and 7 of the directive.

In the recent past, householders have in good faith engaged unqualified people who passed themselves off as building professionals to undertake the design and planning of new buildings or extensions. That is unacceptable. Under this Bill, only qualified people whose names are entered on relevant national registers will in future be entitled to lawfully use the title of architect, building surveyor or quantity surveyor.

The explanatory and financial memorandum provides more detail on the content of the Bill but I would like to touch on some of its main provisions. Under Part 2, amendment of the Building Control Act 1990, the Bill provides for changes in the fire safety certificate regime, as recommended by the Building Regulations Advisory Body. Among the changes is the introduction of a seven day notice or fast track procedure which must be accompanied by a valid fire safety certificate application and a declaration that the applicant will carry out any modification works required by the fire safety certificate when granted. This will cater for builders who are anxious to commence work on urgent projects without waiting up to two months for the application to be processed. The Bill will also provide for new applications for a revised fire safety certificate where a building design is changed to comply with conditions attached to a planning permission and the making of applications for regularisation certificates where buildings have commenced or have been completed without the necessary fire safety certificate, subject to the necessary documentation and declaration that the works comply with the regulations. The 1990 Act contained no provision to remedy such cases, although authorities dealt with such problems on a pragmatic basis.

Part 2 of the Bill also provides for the introduction of a disability access certificate. Once enacted, the Bill will prohibit the opening, operation or occupation of a building until such time as a fire safety certificate or disability access certificate is granted. This prohibition will deter developers from flouting the requirements of the regulations because it will have major financial implications for those who do not comply. The powers of building control authorities to seek High Court injunctions will be extended to remove works or stop work on buildings or projects which do not have fire safety certificates, disability access certificates or regularisation certificates or where there is non-compliance with enforcement notices served by the authorities. Again, this injunctive power will have a strong deterrent effect.

The prosecution process will be simplified by providing local building control authorities with the option to institute summary prosecutions for all building code offences in the District Court as an alternative to prosecution on indictment by the DPP in the Circuit Court. In addition, the maximum penalties for breaches of the national building regulations will be substantially increased. Local authorities will get the benefit of fines resulting from successful prosecutions brought by the authorities.

I will now discuss the legal transposition of certain provisions of EU Directive 2002/91/EC of 16 December 2002, energy performance of buildings. Part 2 provides the legal basis for transposition of articles 5 and 7 of the EU energy performance of buildings directive. This will include phasing in, over the period 2007 to 2009, a building energy rating certification process for all newly constructed dwellings from 1 January, 2007, other newly constructed non-domestic buildings from 1 January 2008 and existing buildings when offered for sale or letting from 1 January 2009. Those buying or renting houses will be given clear information on building energy efficiency. The certificate will incorporate recommendations for building owners and landlords on how to cost-effectively improve energy ratings.

The Bill also requires that the design of large new non-domestic buildings, that is, buildings over 1,000 m2, or 10,800 sq. ft., includes assessment of the economic and technical feasibility of using alternative energy systems. Such systems would include district or block heating, combined heat and power, heat pumps that use geothermal energy and energy supply systems using renewable energy such as solar and wind power. Sustainable Energy Ireland is developing software to help designers and builders to carry out such assessments. This is a very innovative approach and will produce significant changes in the years ahead.

The transposition of the EU energy performance of buildings directive will bring long-term cost savings to householders and business and help to meet Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 provide for statutory protection of the titles of "architect", "quantity surveyor" and "building surveyor" by restricting the lawful use of these titles to qualified persons whose names are entered on a statutory register to be established in accordance with the provisions of the Bill.

The registration system for architects will be administered by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, the RIAI. Deputy Quinn will verify that the RIAI has been calling for such a register since the foundation of the State. The registration system for building surveyors and quantity surveyors will be administered by the Society of Chartered Surveyors, the SCS. Parts 3 to 5 specify the eligibility criteria for automatic admission to registers. They also set out processes and procedures designed to ensure that all applications are treated fairly and in a transparent way.

The Bill provides for the setting up of independent admissions boards; technical assessment boards and procedures for the assessment of applicants who are not eligible for automatic registration; professional conduct committees to deal with disciplinary matters; and appeals boards to determine to determine appeals against decisions of any of the aforementioned boards or committees. There will be an ultimate right of appeal against decisions of the appeals board to the High Court. It is proposed that the majority of members of the various boards will be non-building professionals and each board will be independently chaired by a retired judge or a lawyer. There is provision for payment of registration fees and appointment of registrars to deal with administrative matters, together with penalties for misuse of the professional titles.

There will be considerable benefit to consumers when seeking to engage architects or surveyors, following the enactment of this Bill. They will have access to a statutory register with the assurance that all names registered are those of professionals with proper qualifications.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 take account of the recently-adopted EU directive on mutual recognition of professional qualifications, which will be relevant in the case of qualified building professionals coming from other EU member states. This is an innovative section of the Bill. An attempt has been made, in various parts of this legislation, to refer across to EU legislation to avoid the kind of hiatus that has arisen elsewhere, whereby we have been years late in transposing European law.

Part 6 provides for the preparation of codes of professional conduct and standards by the two registration bodies for registered members of both the architectural and surveying professions. It also sets out the procedures for the examination of complaints made to the professional conduct committee regarding alleged misconduct of registered professionals, for a mediation process if considered appropriate, for the conduct of an inquiry into such complaints and for the attendance and examination of witnesses under oath. It further details the procedures to be adhered to following such inquiry and the measures which the committee may take where a registrant is found guilty of professional misconduct.

The professional conduct committee, when acting under this section, will have the same powers, rights or privileges vested in the High Court or a judge of the High Court with regard to enforcing the attendance of witnesses, examining witnesses under oath or compelling the production of documents. Witnesses appearing at an inquiry under this section will have the same immunities and privileges as witnesses before the High Court.

There is the right of appeal to the appeals board against decisions of the professional conduct committee with the ultimate right of appeal to the High Court. In addition, the name of a registrant may not be removed from a register unless confirmed by the High Court. The processes and procedures under this Part are designed to ensure that all professionals against whom a complaint of alleged professional misconduct is made will be treated in a fair and impartial manner. While the processes appear complex, they must strike a balance between protecting the rights of individuals to vindicate their name and the wider protection of consumers using the services of people who pass themselves off as architects or surveyors.

Part 7 provides for a variety of miscellaneous measures for the effective administration of the registration scheme, including provisions regarding the procedures of the registration bodies, terms of office, payments and so forth. It also provides that registration bodies must carry out additional functions assigned to them by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government relating to the implementation of an Act adopted by the EU in regard to the professions. The registration bodies will find this very useful because it makes provision, in advance, for any EU arrangements that may arise. Part 7 also provides for the prosecution of offences.

This Bill is positive legislation which I trust will be welcomed by all parties. It strengthens the enforcement powers of local building control authorities, provides stricter and streamlined controls under the fire safety certificate regime and provides safeguards for disabled access to new buildings. It also protects the titles of "architect", "quantity surveyor" and "building surveyor" and protects the consumer's rights when engaging people so described. The Bill transposes certain provisions of the EU energy performance of buildings directive and relevant articles of the EU directive on mutual recognition of professional qualifications. It marks a further advance in making quality a key principle of construction in Ireland and offers further proof of the Government's commitment to protect the consumer. I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies on this legislation and commend the Bill to the House.

I wish to comment on this Bill because of a number of representations that have been made to me in recent months regarding the building industry. It is timely that this Bill is before the House on the anniversary of the Stardust tragedy and we must make sure that a tragedy like that never happens again. We will have to wait to see if that will be the case with the enforcement of this legislation.

Accountability and transparency should be at the root of all legislation passed in this House as well as in those areas outside the House over which we have some control. There has been an explosion in the construction of apartment buildings, some of which have been very poorly designed and built. An Bord Pleanála has criticised the size of some apartments and the lack of green spaces around them. It appears that the bias has been in favour of the developers rather than the apartment dwellers.

In the context of this Bill, a number of fires have broken out recently in apartment blocks which indicate that fire regulations were breached by developers. Some fires have broken through so-called firewalls designed to contain fires within apartment blocks, while others have spread under the roofs of the blocks. This should not have happened. Construction methods should ensure that fires can be contained in sections of buildings. The only reason that nobody has lost their lives in any of these fires to date is that they occurred in the daytime. All we need is for one of these fires to break out at 5 a.m. when everybody is asleep to have a tragedy on our hands.

The important issues with regard to fire certificates are accountability, transparency and enforcement of the legislation. Many fire certificates are issued on the basis of drawings submitted to the planning authorities. Often there is no on-site inspection of the construction work and many apartment buildings cannot be inspected now, even though we know they are fire traps. Passing legislation is fine but unless there is enforcement, we cannot ensure the safety of people living in apartment blocks today. The Minister must examine not just enforcement in new buildings but also in apartment blocks that have already been built because a tragedy is waiting to happen. The developers led this practice, while no one stood up for those living in the apartments.

The local authorities bear some responsibility for this.

We are responsible for what happens. The Government takes credit for all the houses being built across the country, it does not say that the local authorities or private industry is building them. If they turn out to be firetraps, who will take responsibility then?

The local councils are not doing their jobs if that is what is happening.

Perhaps they are not doing their jobs because most planning is by retention and not by the proper method.

The Minister is right: good builders are being penalised because cowboys are allowed to do what they like. There is a race to the bottom, with pressure on good builders who want to construct safe apartment blocks that comply with the standards but they cannot compete with the cowboys who are taking short cuts, not using the proper materials and failing to put fire prevention measures in place. The Minister must revisit this matter with, if necessary, new legislation that will give teeth to the local authorities to force builders to operate properly.

Section 11(d) deals with qualifications and people who were given a grandfather clause. Why is this information so confidential that it is not possible to obtain a list of the people who availed of that clause? This is a serious issue.

Was the Deputy refused the information?

We must reconsider this matter. I hope the Minister takes my comments on board and makes this legislation retrospective, so that it will apply to all buildings erected in the past ten years.

Deputy Twomey made some important and specific points which, I hope, will be dealt with in the context of the legislation. The points he raised must be addressed immediately.

Under the current system, Members are informed about legislation on a Thursday and it is introduced on the following Tuesday. We should be given the opportunity reflect for a longer period on legislation — which I welcome — as significant as that before us. The critical infrastructure Bill is due to be published soon.

It will be published next Thursday.

It would be of assistance if Members were given two weeks notice before Bills are published so that we might research them properly. It will benefit the debate if we have time to study legislation.

I welcome the contact I have had from the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland and others in the short time we have known about this Bill. Those to whom I refer provided me with important documentation on it.

The explanatory memorandum states that the Bill provides for amendments of the Building Control Act 1990. Part 2 provides for improvements in the processing and format of applications for fire safety certificates by introducing a regularisation certificate and a fast-track procedure in cases where commencement of work is imminent. The regularisation certificate will allow for post-construction certification of buildings with a public use. In other words, an occupied building will retrospectively be granted a fire certificate. How could a building be erected without a fire safety certificate? Currently, a planning application is made and then a separate application is made for the fire safety certificate, which is issued on the basis of the plans before the officials at that time. The building can proceed and officials can check what is happening. If, however, fire certification is issued post-construction, officials cannot check construction methods because the building is already in place. Unless they strip down the building to examine critical points, it is not possible. This is a serious issue to which consideration must be given.

The Building Regulations Advisory Body, which advises the Department on this issue, is primarily made up of those involved in the building industry, such as builders, architects and surveyors. Are there any enforcers of the building code on the committee?

Yes, but there has been argument as to whether there are enough. I will provide the Deputy with the figures

Those who enforce the legislation feel that certification cannot be issued retrospectively. An adequate system must be put in place before building commences in order to ensure that it is safe for everyone.

The changes proposed by the Minister in the context of the recognition of the professional qualifications of architects, engineers or surveyors are important and welcome.

The professional organisations, in their report to the working group on strengthening building control regulations, made the point that the compliance system has delivered a reasonable level of compliance where responsible clients and professionals are concerned. There is no doubt about that. The reality, however, is that a person with no knowledge of or interest in the regulations who wishes to evade the system can do so, with all the potential consequences for building standards, safety and consumer protection. Where this is combined with a person prepared to issue an opinion on compliance in respect of such buildings, the limitations of the existing system are obvious. The report continues that it is unlikely that the level of resources necessary for a full-scale approval system, covering design and construction of every building and involving multi-stage inspections, are or would be available.

There is clearly a problem that the professions are trying to address in their recommendations and the Minister has taken a number of them on board. That still leaves the problem, however, that many people have circumvented the system. Will the Minister give us the Department's statistics on non-compliance on fire safety before Committee Stage? That is the only way we can understand and deal with the problem.

I share people's concerns about bad builders and the dangers that exist for people living in accommodation they have built. Deputies are concerned about the poor quality of many buildings. They also know the names of those engaged in poor quality construction throughout our cities and towns but I do not propose to mention them.

The new system must be better than that currently in place. While I do not oppose this aspect of the legislation, I am concerned about the proposals and have yet to be convinced they are necessary. How will one be able to determine a building is safe without first stripping it down to its core?

I understand approximately 85% of retention applications for buildings constructed without planning permission are approved. This is a high proportion and one I assume will also be reflected in the area of fire safety compliance. Given that today is the anniversary of the awful Stardust tragedy, it is important to emphasise the need to ensure the proposed changes are not being driven by commercial and vested interests. This point has been strongly made in representations I have received.

I ask for clarification on an administrative aspect of the Department's work. I have been informed that evidence has been notified to the Department — in fairness the official to whom I spoke today was not aware of its extent — to show that a number of people who have applied for a fire safety certificate have been issued with the number on their application rather than the number on their licence. This practice gives rise to further queries being made. The problem is that a person applying for planning permission serves a commencement notice which includes a reference number from the application for a fire safety certificate. When the applicant proceeds to work on the building, he or she will receive requests for further information with the result the building is completed without a fire safety certificate having been issued. Given this has occurred throughout the country, the system is clearly under-resourced.

In addressing this matter, which the Minister intends to do, we must ensure we introduce the best possible system, one which is full-proof, universal and policed. The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland contacted me today on this important issue. I understand the intention is to visit between 12% and 15% of all buildings constructed after the legislation is enacted. We need to be certain that compliance with fire safety requirements is audited.

I welcome the proposal to make regulation of professional qualifications more watertight. A mechanism similar to that applied by the Revenue Commissioners is required. For example, the likelihood of receiving a Revenue audit is much higher for those who fail to submit VAT returns or other required documentation. A well-resourced inspectorate will be required to ensure the large number of buildings which receive fire safety certificates in accordance with the new regulations are visited to monitor compliance and ensure transparency in all these key areas. Such a measure would boost public confidence.

The Minister indicated he would address the issue of the resources he proposes to allocate to make the provisions of the Bill work. Significant investment will be required in this area because highly qualified architects, construction engineers and other top grade professionals will be needed to do the work. It will also be necessary to introduce a career structure, either at local authority level or across local authority boundaries. It is vital that sufficient financial resources are provided to ensure the legislation is enforced and the best qualified people are recruited to enforce it. Attractive salaries must be offered to overcome the difficulty in attracting recruits to the public service when the private sector is doing well. That is the competitive nature of life. It is important to have the right reasons for attracting the right people to the job. Those are my main queries regarding the Bill at this point.

I acknowledge the motivation of the Minister and the various professional groups is excellent. On the issue of professional qualifications, Deputies who were previously involved in local government will have advised people seeking advice on building houses or extensions to ensure the work was done well. The first question put to me was always who I would recommend to design a house or extension. I always advised that people use a person with professional qualifications, which does not mean someone with a sign on the door saying "Architect", "Planner" or "Designer". If people checked qualifications more often, much of the poor building work, the jerry-building, particularly in the area of small extensions, would be eliminated. Those who suffer most from this problem tend to be those with few resources who know little about construction. It is vital to provide assistance to members of the public in this area.

As the Minister stated, the Bill establishes a register for architects, building surveyors and quantity surveyors, strengthens enforcement of existing building control law, allows for the energy rating of buildings and legislates for the disability requirements for commercial buildings and apartment blocks. The Fine Gael Party fully supports these aims, many of which are long overdue.

It is absurd that in 2006 one need simply put up a sign with the word "Architect" on it outside one's door to classify oneself as such. Last year, a "Prime Time" programme showed that property consultant, David Grant, had made 132 planning applications to a local authority since 2001, yet the council could find no record of any planning officials having met him. It emerged that the council had refused 67% of Mr. Grant's valid applications, which the director of planning at Fingal County Council, Mr. David O'Connor, described as a very high rate of refusal by any standard. It is bizarre that the failure to pick up on the fact that an applicant is not qualified cannot be addressed by any legislative provision, although I accept that finding a solution to this problem is not easy.

Registration has been in place in the United States since 1990 and the United Kingdom since 1930. Which model should we aspire to emulate? As was pointed out to me earlier today, the best model in the world is in place in the United States where much more aggressive legislation is in force and compliance with strict standards is almost universal. In addition, a highly professional organisation is responsible for monitoring compliance. We should aspire to have a similar system. It is easy to put down the Yanks whom we sometimes assume do nothing right but in many cases, particularly in regulating the construction sector, they have adopted the best model in the world.

I thank the association of building engineers which made a submission on the Bill and indicated to my party its support for the legislation. It is a sign of a good Bill and a good industry when those who are about to be regulated welcome the legislation. Legitimate, reputable architects and quantity surveyors have nothing to fear and will be able to benefit considerably from the Bill. Only the cowboys need worry.

The benefits should be felt greatest by consumers who, once the Bill comes into force, will be offered greater protection than heretofore. Some years ago the Competition Authority noted that the case for regulating those who describe themselves as architects had "not been adequately made". In a consultation paper on the architectural profession the authority suggested that a regulatory impact analysis be undertaken before the proposal to regulate the profession was progressed. The paper stated that registering the title of architect could create "substantial barriers" to entry to the profession in circumstances in which the excess of demand over supply for a limited number of third level places was already "huge". I inquired into the issue today and was happy to be informed that we now have approximately seven architectural schools in Ireland, North and South, and that an increasing number of places are being made available in our academic institutions. Criticism has been made of the length of time it takes to qualify as an architect, which is approximately five years, with two further years post-graduation. I accept that we now have universal application of academic standards across Europe and universal understanding of what constitutes a qualified person.

I welcome that the profession is opening up alternative ways to qualify as an architect. One does not necessarily need the 400 or 500 leaving certificate points in order to enter the profession. Students of normal to high intelligence in the top 20% who obtain approximately 355 leaving certificate points must also have their day. It is an issue that could be universal to——

It says more about the points system than about those who become architects.

That is my point.

We were all looking at Deputy Quinn in admiration.

I could have forgotten about it when I was at school — 250 points would have been about my mark.

That would not be too bad for someone who was Minister for Finance.

More emphasis should be placed on interviewing applicants for such a career. Many young people wish to attain the highest standards in the context of professions into which they wish to enter. They wish to be doctors, architects, teachers, etc., but may not achieve the required points. However, they may have shown an interest in their studies and excelled in areas that could assist or ought to be considered when seeking to enter such professions. I do not suggest that the old-boys' network or the old school tie should apply in this area. However, when demand exceeds supply, third level institutions ought to introduce an interview system to factor in other attributes, which could be significant in obtaining a standard of excellence in a career.

The EU energy performance of buildings directive is important and will change the way houses will be built and sold. Those without the standard will not obtain the desired price for their houses. On a recent television programme, Duncan Stewart outlined how to change a house with high-energy usage to a low-energy model and emphasised the value to be obtained by minimising heat loss etc.

A study has shown that, owing to the thermal inefficiency of their homes, more elderly people die in Ireland during the winter than in countries, such as Norway, with similar populations. This relates to the lack of energy conservation. I acknowledge the money that has been spent by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in improving the quality of older people's homes and the grants available through different organisations to assist in making a house more thermally efficient. The Government should consider a better scheme to assist people who, as they get older, do not have the money to repair their houses in a way that allows them to maintain good health. Many people are dying because they cannot make their homes as energy efficient as they ought to be.

I look forward to the debate on the Bill. Amendments will be tabled on Committee Stage, many of which will be proposed by the professional organisations. This is a very important Bill and I ask the Minister to respond to the queries I raised.

Although Deputy Gilmore is our environmental spokesperson, I am taking the Bill on behalf of the Labour Party. As the House will know, I have called for this measure for some time and I very much welcome its publication. I acknowledge the role the Minister played in bringing it to the fore.

The Bill deals with a number of different issues. Central to it is the issue of recognition of titles "architect", "building surveyor" and "quantity surveyor". At the outset, I need to declare an interest, not only on my part but also on that of my wife who will be affected by specific provisions in the Bill.

I will deal with the sequence in which the Bill outlines its proposals, starting with enforcement. The proposals to deal with enforcement are being introduced very late in the day, at a time when, as the Minister said, double the amount of economic activity relative to the rest of the rest of the European Union is taking place in the construction industry. Most of this construction is, in effect, unsupervised. We simply do not know whether what gets built is in accordance with the planning permission granted. Local authorities do not have the capacity, administratively or in terms of inspection, to verify whether this has happened. If the construction industry continues to operate as it is at present — it may not do so at its current and unhealthy speed — at above par levels because of our big infrastructural deficit and growing population, we will be obliged to give serious consideration to the overall area of enforcement and not limit ourselves to the very welcome improvements in fire safety certificates and access for the disabled as provided for in Part M.

I wish to put on the record of the House the summary of a report, Building Controls — Strengthening the System, that was prepared in May 2004. It was compiled by a working party of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland, the Institution of Engineers of Ireland, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland. This is worth consideration because the record of the House should show what was the combined professional input in this area. Members of the bodies to which I refer are all affected and are taking responsibility, as professionals, for a system of responsibility for which they will be accountable. The report states:

The object of this report is to examine the current state of enforcement of the Building Regulations, and the role of mandatory self-certification in developing and maintaining more effective enforcement of the Building Regulations. The report has been prepared by a Working Party of the ACEI (The Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland), IEI (The Institution of Engineers of Ireland), RIAI (Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland), and SCS (Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland).

The report should not be, viewed as a definitive or fixed position on the part of the four Professional Bodies, but is intended as a discussion document outlining the key elements in a self-certification system. If these principles are broadly acceptable, then there would be a need for discussion and dialogue to develop the details of a mandatory self-certification process.

The present Opinions on Compliance system has delivered a reasonable, level of compliance where responsible clients and professionals are concerned.

The reality is that a person with no knowledge or interest in the Regulations, who wishes to evade the system can do so, with all the potential consequences for building standards, safety, and consumer protection. When this is combined with a person prepared to issue an Opinion on Compliance for such buildings, then the limitations of the present system are obvious.

It is unlikely that the level of resources necessary for a full scale approval system covering the design and construction of every building, and involving multi-stage inspections, are or would be available.

Delivering a system which provides for the proper enforcement of the Building Regulations requires moving to a system of mandatory self-certification, based on a strengthened of the Opinions on Compliance system, as proposed in this submission.

Effective self-certification requires the consideration of a range of mechanisms to provide a statutory basis for the system, with effective mechanisms and sanctions to minimise the risk of evasion.

Sanctions will also be required for careless incompetent, negligent, and fraudulent certification will be required.

An audit system would be required so as to monitor the system.

Competence of accountability of certifiers, sanctions, and independent oversight would best be achieved through the registration systems envisaged in the Building Control Bill, and the existing 1969 Engineers Act.

There would be a need to evaluate, in consultation with lawyers and insurers, the impact of a self-certification on civil liability and, consequently, on Professional Indemnity (PI) Insurance premia.

Mandatory self-certification would deliver

—Credible building control enforcement

—Minimum building standards assurance

—Consumer protection

—Level playing field in the market place for compliant designers, builders and construction product/system manufacturers as against the less responsible and non-compliant

—Greater assurance of compliance with public safety requirements

—Minimal level of Government resources required

—Public health and safety.

The essence of that summary — the document is available — complies with some of the views recorded by Deputy Twomey.

There are many cowboys operating and there are many gullible, desperate people who cannot afford even what they are buying at present and are not in any way able to assess the quality or the assurance that it has been built in accordance with the minimum standards. There are many vulnerable people in that position for all the reasons this House knows and time does not allow me to get into it, but the building boom is creating a new level of risk which our children or our children's children will inherit with all the consequences.

While the points made about the first Part of the Bill dealing with the fire safety certificate, Part M on the question of disabled persons' access, and also the increased powers the Minister is proposing to give to local authorities in terms of going straight to the courts and not to the DPP are necessary and welcome, they do not go far enough. I ask the Minister to engage in a new system of self-certification, with a level of responsibility and sanctions on one side and credible professionals on the other, to give us the kind of self-assured standards of construction this country requires into the future. With the registration of title measure, the Minister can now do that. He has the carrot and the stick. The carrot is to require professionals to be registered. I have a few problems with the outline of the structure the Minister has provided but I want to clarify some points.

Now that we are to register the professionals, who are the only ones allowed to use the title architect, quantity surveyor or building surveyor, as Deputy O'Dowd said, we will no longer have to advise people who come to our clinics asking us to recommend someone to do their extension or whatever. We do not have to recommend a dentist or a doctor and we will never again have to recommend an architect, a building surveyor or a quantity surveyor when these provisions come into law, as no doubt they will. Those people who have those titles, however, will no longer be able to afford to lose them and therefore there will be a more strict system of self-regulation, such as we have seen in the financial sector, for example, where it simply is not worth the professional life of an accountant to mess around with tax. Those days are over because of all the fraudulent abuses that were uncovered. I suspect if the same scrutiny was to be applied to the building industry in the broadest level of activity, similar levels of abuse, perhaps with less impact on the revenues to the State, which took the hit with all the tax evasion with the so-called non-resident accounts and so on, would be discovered. The outcome of the inquiry of the Committee of Public Accounts and the other issues that came to light have resulted in a strengthening of legislation for accountants that is at a draconian level such that if a Minister for Finance had attempted to introduce it in the 1970s or 1980s, there would have been an outcry. Indeed, it was brought to my attention recently that one recommendation from the beef tribunal transposed itself into section 153 in the first Finance Act I had to bring in, which had been accepted by my predecessor, Deputy Bertie Ahern, as Minister for Finance. According to Ken Murphy, former Deputy McCreevy and the Minister, Deputy Michael McDowell, this was the end of civilisation as they knew it. This was the end of the Republic. Civil liberties would disappear if these provisions were brought in for tax accountants, financial brokers and advisers. Yet what is now on the Statute Book is 100 times stronger than what was proposed at that time and as a result we have increased revenues, which is for the good of everybody, but it also means the professionals responsible for ensuring citizens are compliant with their tax affairs are no longer prepared to cut corners or put their professional qualifications at risk. If we accept the logic of that argument, transpose it into the construction industry and protect the titles of the professionals involved, we will ensure a safeguard of compliance that we have not had now up to now, and all of us collectively will be better off for it.

Perhaps the Minister's successor in the coalition Government that will succeed this one will have the responsibility to introduce it but I invite the permanent officials beside him to start preparing explanatory memoranda and advisory notes for their successor to start working on it. The Minister, as a parting gift to the Department and to the Custom House, might leave a memo on the desk as he leaves the Department.

He has two days——

I say that with affection and in jest but the Minister knows what I am trying to say.

The next section deals with registration of the title. It is clear from my reading of it but I welcome the way in which the Minister has separated the three titles. I assume the establishment of one, after the Bill is enacted and signed by the President, is not dependent on the second or third and that they can operate separately. Either in his response or on Committee Stage the Minister might indicate, particularly for quantity surveyors and building surveyors, if the Society of Chartered Surveyors will be able to share some overheads in respect of the operation to minimise the bureaucracy associated with it.

I welcome the different qualifications concerning the register. There is standard recognition of the various qualifying colleges. There is also the grandfather clause, as it has been called, and the list of people who were accepted by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government by one of the Minister's predecessors in respect of those deemed to be eligible to qualify, all of whom I presume, upon the enactment of this legislation, will automatically be deemed to qualify and can proceed. In speaking to John Graby, the director of the RIAI, this morning, I understand it in turn is ready to proceed immediately once the Bill is enacted.

I want to put two issues to the Minister for consideration which we might tease out on Committee Stage. I know the convention of our legislative system is to be prescriptive in defining the various institutions that produce qualified architects but we might need to examine some kind of enabling provision as a catch-all to give some flexibility in recognising standards rather than being as rigid as we are currently. Deputy O'Dowd's point was well made. There are many ways of getting to the top of a particular professional or academic mountain. It does not always have to be immersion in a three year and then a five year course. We should be as flexible as we can because we need that flexibility. The market and the industry need it and we also need to be able to examine qualifications from outside the European Union, the EEA area and the Swiss Confederation. These are details we can tease out on Committee Stage but out of courtesy I signal to the Minister and his colleagues that these are areas for which I would like some advance preparation, that is, flexibility in how we specify bodies that award qualifications to enable people be registered with the title "architect" and, by extension, "building surveyor" and "chartered quantity surveyor".

Deputy O'Dowd said the architect profession was seeking to have this issue addressed for some time. One of the factors that stopped it being addressed was a Progressive Democrats obsession with competition. In the former Department of Industry and Commerce, I remember the late Niall Montgomery, who was at one stage president of the Institute of Architects of Ireland, asking the then Minister, Justin Keating, which shows all our colours and age, in 1973 or 1977 if it would be possible to introduce registration for the protection of the title of architect. The ethos of that Department — which held sway until recent times — was that it would be anti-competitive. I am glad that this has been rebutted and that——

It is still there.

As recently as 19 January 2004, the RIAI was obliged to make a submission to the Competition Authority in regard to this matter. Section 6 of the executive summary of that submission states:

1. The greater majority of EU Member States have either registration of title system with control of function or a combination of both.

2. The proposals under the Building Control Bill represent a milder form of regulation than in many EU states, where function also is controlled.

3. The question of registration of function has previously been considered by the Fair Trade Commission which reported at Section 8.35 as follows:

"It is concluded that it would be possible to achieve a registration of title system for the professions of architect, quantity surveyor, building surveyor, valuer and other professions within the construction industry which would not be unreasonably restrictive of competition. It is considered that, on balance, a registration of title system would be in the overall public interest and it is recommended that a system be introduced."

The executive summary continues in that vein.

To put the matter in context with respect to the numbers involved here of which we are aware — we are not aware of all of them — Article 6 of the executive summary states:

There are over 2,200 registered RIAI members and several hundred non-RIAI members. Concentration in this market is extremely low insofar as there are relatively few large practices. Entry from abroad is easy. There is no evidence of over charging or exploitation by practitioners.

The conventional architectural system of design and designers and those who would comply under this area will function fairly well.

On Committee Stage, we will deal with the detail of the system of appointments and the ratio of three architects to four lay people, etc. On the technical assessment side, the Minister should ensure — not that he would ever be tempted to do this — that the secretary of the cumann in Donegal should not be appointed in order to obtain expenses and remain on this committee. Those involved should, by all means, be lay people but they should have a knowledge of technical qualifications and should come from parallel systems or have a knowledge of certification of standards of one kind or another. This committee should not be like the prison visiting committees which, frankly, were a scandal under various Administrations. I wish to put down a marker that we will deal with this matter, particularly in terms of the technical aspect, in some detail on Committee Stage. There is no difficulty with registration and appeals where lay people are involved. However, where such individuals comprise a majority in respect of technical assessments, they should have some knowledge of evaluating professional competence in some area, although not necessarily in that of architecture.

One area in respect of which I want to put down a marker is the transposition of the energy performance of buildings directive. The latter is the elephant in the corner that we ignore at our peril. The Minister said in his succinct contribution, for which I thank him, that 50% of our energy consumption occurs in the building area, either in its construction or its operation. Deputy O'Dowd referred to the fact that the non-performance of that building in terms of insulation, because we are wasting the energy, still results in more elderly Irish people dying from hypothermia — probably in isolated rural buildings across the countryside — than is the case with their counterparts in Norway, which has a much lower base temperature in winter.

Europe is facing an energy crisis. We saw what happened to the Ukraine at Christmas with the arbitrary decision of the Russians. That matter has not gone away. Ireland is an island situated beside another island, both of which lie off the coast of mainland of Europe and we are energy takers. Our energy consumption, in terms of imported energy, has risen as a total percentage. We have no energy policy. We have a hybrid Department that is utterly confused. I am not asking the Minister to respond to this but the Government that replaces the current Administration will put in place a Department of Energy with a specific energy proposal. We will campaign for a common European energy policy, which is absolutely necessary. While one third of the buildings that exist have been built in the past ten years — that is a welcome sign of our prosperity — two thirds with desperately high levels of energy loss still remain.

In January 2009, anybody wishing to sell a house will require an energy certificate. Some 80,000 houses have been constructed and presumably sold in the past year and at least 160,000 second-hand houses were also sold. That means there will have to be 160,000 inspections because one will not be able to sell a house in three years' time without giving a certificate that can show — as when one opens the door of the fridge — the energy loss of one's house. From where will we get the building inspectors to do that? Where will we find the building surveyors and the engineers with the qualifications to provide that service? What will happen if a cowboy writes a certificate stating that a house is energy compliant and I buy it and suddenly discover that my central heating oil bill is twice or three times that envisaged? If oil costs US$70 a barrel now, it will probably cost US$100 in two to three years' times in light of the level of consumption. The supply of oil has spiked. We are now coming down the other side of Mount Everest. Demand is increasing and known supplies are reducing. One does not have to have a PhD in economics to figure out that when those two factors are at play in the marketplace, the price must inevitably rise.

We must start to reduce the level of our energy consumption. In the biggest area of our built environment, the domestic sector, we have this legal requirement and we are reasonably well advanced compared to other EU states. It is a complex area and time constraints prevent me from discussing it in some detail in light of the briefing material I received from UCD and elsewhere. This is an energy crisis problem that involves the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, local authorities, the Department of Finance, FÁS and the Department of Education and Science. We need to provide a crash course for people to be able to meet the demand of the marketplace in terms of buying and selling of the order of 150,000 houses. Those houses will not be able to be sold from 2009 onwards if certificates of compliance relating to existing buildings cannot be obtained in respect of them. The first impact will kick in next January with regard to new buildings. That should be reasonably easy because of the components going into it. However, I can see a great deal of work in the future for Duncan Stewart and an entire army of those like him.

We can no longer pretend that we did not know this was going to happen. It is going to happen. It is happening now because we are discussing it here. In his reply, perhaps the Minister will indicate how we can gear up towards that compliance, how we might provide the crash course to which I refer, how the capacity of our IT system measures up, how we might provide continual professional development for an array of different people and how ways can be found for individuals to equip themselves to deal with this matter. There is no point introducing good legislation that contains very desirable objectives if we do not equip ourselves with the resources to implement it.

I welcome the Bill. The Labour Party will not oppose it on Second Stage. There are a number of issues that need to be teased out on Committee Stage. I wish to repeat the fundamental point, as highlighted by Deputy Twomey, that the existing system for monitoring the standard of construction and the building regulations is simply not working. The boom has brought about many benefits for many people but it has also brought many cowboys into the arena. It is only when the dust settles that one can see the ruins. If somebody has bought a bum building, the last thing he or she will do is shout about it because he or she will want to offload it. He or she will, therefore, be fairly quiet about it. That is undoubtedly what is happening.

The current regulatory system of monitoring, invigilation and surveying is not working. No one is seeking an army of surveyors to inspect everything. The bureaucracy associated with that would be intolerable and would stifle initiative. Having regard to what has happened in the financial sector, we should determine whether we can do something similar in the construction sector, with all that implies.

We must start talking to people about energy. I would love to believe the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources could work together in this regard. Perhaps this should be a cross-referenced type of activity. It is a question of energy conservation and building compliance. No Members other than those in this Chamber and a few anoraks who are into energy policy are aware of what is coming down the tracks within two to three years regarding energy compliance for buildings and what is involved in obtaining the energy compliance certificate one requires.

When the Minister is concluding this legislation, I urge him to consider, in conjunction with the Department of Education and Science and all the other bodies with a role to play, how we should equip ourselves on the field to ensure we can implement the legislation in a way that complements the market and does not frustrate it or screw it up.

I wish to share time with Deputies Catherine Murphy, McHugh and Cuffe.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome this legislation, which is long overdue. The transposition into Irish law of the EU directive on the energy performance of buildings, adopted on 16 December 2002, has been the subject of inexplicable and unwarranted delays. The directive was to have been legally transposed into State law and given practical effect by 4 January 2006. As with other EU directives with an environmentally beneficial impact, the transposition of this directive has been characterised by foot-dragging. Bearing in mind that we are amongst the slowest to implement such directives, one should note that the Minister, Deputy Roche, when speaking prior to the publication of this legislation, had the audacity to claim the legislation would "put Ireland to the forefront of the EU in driving energy efficiency in our homes, offices, factories and other commercial buildings".

We should not have to wait for directives from the EU to take progressive action to improve the energy-efficiency of our homes and buildings. As has been pointed out in this House on many occasions, this State is facing huge fines for failure to comply with our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Buildings, including homes and workplaces, consume approximately 40% of our energy resources. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings can play a significant part in reducing emissions output. EU research that informed the drafting of this directive indicated that CO2 emissions from buildings could be reduced by 22% through improving energy efficiency. In addition to its having an environmental benefit, improving the energy efficiency of buildings also helps to reduce the costs of heating, especially for low-income families, who face increasing difficulties as a result of escalating fuel costs, the cost of oil in particular.

Increasing energy costs will undoubtedly result in higher levels of fuel poverty. This needs to be addressed, particularly through carrying out structural improvements to enhance the energy efficiency of homes occupied by families on low incomes. We need to roll out a comprehensive Government programme in this regard. In budget 2006, the Government announced €65 million for renewable energy schemes, yet, two months later, the grants to householders in respect of the announcement have yet to be rolled out. What is the reason for this delay? I look forward to an answer. People building new homes or carrying out improvements to their houses are losing out. The relevant grants have long been in place in other European states and the details of the grants available to Irish householders should be published without further delay.

Although this legislation is welcome, it does not suffice. Far more needs to be done to promote the construction of eco-buildings. We need to go beyond directives from the EU and grasp every opportunity to reduce our dependency on energy from fossil fuels, the vast majority of which are imported. The construction of eco-buildings requires greater incentivisation.

This State is among the most oil-dependent in the world. Oil accounts for nearly 64% of our overall energy consumption, which is more than 20 points higher than the EU average. Our dependency on non-renewable sources of energy has serious and potentially damaging implications for the economy in the years ahead. The Government must publish a comprehensive alternative energy strategy without further delay.

To date, the Government's record on the implementation of policies to tackle climate change has been atrocious. It has pursued polices to promote the use of private transport, it dumped proposals to introduce carbon taxes and it is relying almost exclusively on emissions trading to meet obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. There is no genuine commitment to tackling climate change.

If this legislation is to be effective, it will need to be enforced. There is much detail on the BER certificate in the Bill and it will need to be clarified. I hope this matter can be teased out on Committee Stage. We have yet to see what will comprise the prescribed qualifications of, and training for, those issuing BER certificates. I fully agree with the comments of Deputy Quinn in this regard. We need to ensure there are mechanisms to monitor and inspect the accuracy of such certificates. As with other legislation, the key indicator that will determine the usefulness of this legislation will be how well it is enforced. Unless the resources necessary to enforce its provisions are made available, it will be of little use.

There are real concerns that the under-funding of local authorities is impeding the ability of local building-control authorities to carry out their existing duties. Increased responsibility must be matched with increased resources. Enforcement is essential and without adequate enforcement the directive and this legislation will be worthless.

I strongly welcome the provisions in this Bill that seek to strengthen the powers of local authorities in regard to ensuring access to buildings for people with disabilities. In Drogheda, in my constituency, people with disabilities were involved in a protracted campaign to allow the disabled gain access to a post office. It is outrageous that this campaign was necessary in regard to a public service. A similar campaign will shortly commence regarding the social welfare office. I therefore welcome strongly the introduction of disability access certification to ensure the disability compliance requirements of the building code are respected fully.

I also welcome the provisions in the Bill that limit the use of the titles "architect", "building surveyor" and "quantity surveyor" to suitably qualified people whose names are on a national register. There have been a number of high-profile instances of unqualified people passing themselves off to householders as qualified building professionals.

I look forward to Committee Stage when we can tease out a number of these issues. I welcome the publication of the Bill.

I welcome many aspects of this Bill but want to highlight a number of concerns. Strengthening the enforcement powers is a very positive feature and it is to the fore of the provisions. However, it is critical that it be in accord with the last paragraph of the explanatory memorandum to the Bill, which states: "The staffing and financial implications are being assessed and will be addressed during the enactment of the Bill". As has already been said, without people to enforce the legislation it will be merely academic.

The Minister's predecessor, or his predecessor's predecessor, made a commitment that local authorities would not be given additional responsibilities without providing them with the necessary resources. This is important to ensuring the practicality of the legislation.

I very much welcome the introduction of disability access certification. Part M of the building regulations quite obviously required more than legislation. Disability groups' expectations of a significant improvement in access to buildings resulted in frustration when they were not acted upon as envisaged. It is therefore very important that whatever can be done is done to ensure the legislation is implemented in practice.

Local authorities are very much on the delivery end and it is critical they have the power and resources to ensure significant improvements in this area. Refusing to allow a building to be opened without its having a disability access certificate is a very positive and welcome move. It is not open to interpretation, it is in your face and very useful. I want to ensure this is achieved. That additional powers are required indicates there is a profile of non-compliance by developers. It is important we increase the maximum penalties for breaches of national regulations. The guarantee of professional expertise across a range of disciplines is critical. It has already been said that we will not notice the effects of not having such a guarantee now but in years to come, when the flaws start to show up. We are starting to see the flaws of the last building boom at this stage. I have drawn attention to the manifestation of this problem in other areas.

While the measures I have mentioned are welcome, questions about enforcement need to be asked when additional powers and responsibilities are granted. I will continue to raise the issue of enforcement because I am familiar with this problem as it exists at local authority level. People are being shifted in and out due to the patchwork response that is to be expected when inadequate resources are made available. It is not right that the per capita levels of staffing are lowest in the areas with the highest level of development. County Meath, which has a similar population to County Kerry, has 700 employees in this area whereas County Kerry has 1,200 employees. The cracks start to show up when there is a disparity, essentially. It is difficult to see how a staffing level like that can exist in the context of an embargo unless special attention is paid to it. I recently attended a meeting in County Kildare, to which all the local Members of the Oireachtas were invited. We were told at the meeting that 800 unauthorised developments had been notified to the local authority in the last four years. I am sure many such developments were not notified to the local authority. We should all be concerned about the issue of compliance.

One aspect of this legislation that is of particular concern to me relates to regularisation certificates. I understand buildings may need to be regularised if mistakes are made, for example, but they should attract the same kind of penalties. One should have to pay more for a planning retention than for a planning application.


Some practical measures should be put in place to ensure people who consistently break the rules do not get a competitive advantage. I have mentioned that there are 800 such people in County Kildare, which is some indication of the extent of this problem, but we do not have a comprehensive knowledge of the level of delinquency in this area. It is extremely important we take action in this regard.

I welcome the section of the Bill relating to energy efficiency, which is being introduced on foot of an EU directive. I often wonder about the environmental and social standards and workers' rights which would be in place in this country if we were not subject to prescriptive EU directives. That is my jaundiced view.

I am smiling because I expect the Deputy to canvass for a "Yes" vote during the next EU referendum campaign.

I have canvassed for a "Yes" vote when we have been voting on EU measures in the past.

The Deputy should persuade some of her friends to vote "Yes".

I should add that I have not advocated a "Yes" vote in all such campaigns.

The Deputy is right.

The Minister is taking up my time — I have just five minutes.

I apologise. I was just agreeing with the Deputy.

I will conclude by highlighting one area that is not obvious, but is important if we are to reduce our carbon emissions and the level of energy we need. It seems that while there will be a requirement to get a certificate in respect of older houses in 2009, there will not be any requirement to do anything about it. I consider this provision to be more of an encouragement than a requirement. I would be happy for the Minister to clarify whether I am misreading the situation. I am not sure whether I am reading the legislation correctly.

The Deputy's interpretation of the Bill is correct.

That is what I thought. I am concerned that the legislation does not provide for an obligation in this regard.

I welcome the publication of the Building Control Bill 2005 and its main provisions. I have serious reservations about the ability of the building control authorities throughout the country to police their new powers properly and impartially. Local authorities are not in a position to deal with the obligations which are placed on them at present. We impose new duties on local authorities from time to time even though they do not have the relevant personnel to carry out such duties. The problem under discussion did not begin during the term of office of the current Minister, Deputy Roche, but he is facilitating its continuance. There is no point in the House passing legislation when its Members know the necessary personnel are not in place to implement its provisions. The only purpose served by passing legislation in this way is to make Ministers feel better. They point to the many Bills they have introduced to deal with problems affecting communities or parties, but they bury their heads in the sand when the time comes to put in place the personnel needed to implement such legislation. An example of this farcical situation is the ongoing controversy relating to the failure of local authorities to take charge of unfinished housing estates. The Minister has told the House about the provisions he has introduced to deal with such problems, but he is merrily ignoring the fact that local authorities do not have the resources to implement such provisions.

As I speak about the specific measures in this Bill, I implore the Minister to ensure that local authorities have the personnel they need to carry out the additional work they are charged with doing. The section of the Bill that revises the procedures for issuing fire safety certificates is unclear. Further clarification is required in this regard before judgment is issued. I heard my right honourable friend, Deputy O'Dowd, speaking about the issue of retrospective certification, which cannot work. I welcome the introduction of a disability access certificate, confirming the designs of new non-domestic buildings and apartment blocks which will comply with Part M of the building regulations. I have severe reservations about the process of seeking High Court injunctions to stop the construction of new buildings if their designs have not been granted disability access or fire safety certificates, or if an enforcement notice that has been served by the local authority has not been complied with. I am sure there must be a simpler way of dealing with such problems. I am familiar with the level of preparatory work that is needed when one is involved in a court case. Local authorities do not have the personnel they need if they are to take part in that process in an effective manner.

I welcome the section of the Bill that provides for the registration of the titles of "architect" and "quantity surveyor". Discussions about such registration have been ongoing for a number of years. I cannot understand why success has not been achieved in this regard before now, although it is better late than never. The registration of those titles is a welcome development because it will give a greater degree of protection to the general public. I welcome the transposition into Irish law of the provisions of the EU energy performance of buildings directive, which will necessitate considerable reductions in the amount of energy consumed. The requirements in this regard will come into effect in January 2007, which is welcome. The proposal in the Bill that the design of large — over 1,000 sq. m. — new non-domestic buildings should take account of the economic and technical feasibility of using energy systems needs to be fleshed out. This provision will be the subject of extensive discussion on Committee Stage.

Like Deputy Quinn, I wish to declare an interest. I am an architect and a member of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. My late father, Luan Cuffe, was the president of the institute some 44 years ago. I am sure he would have been delighted that this Bill has finally come to the floor of the Oireachtas. It may well have been on the list of promised legislation in Seán Lemass's time.

We need to build better buildings, instil public confidence in those who design our buildings and recognise the qualifications of such people. We should improve the quality of the buildings being built in Ireland, not only in terms of their energy performance and their accessibility but across the board. In 2006, we could and should be doing better in every sub-clause of the building regulations. We need to regulate the use of titles in the building industry. When one arranges to meet a doctor, one can reasonably expect the doctor has followed a recognised training course and achieved a professional qualification. Anyone — baker, butcher or candlestick maker — can put a sign on a door and claim to be an architect. With the greatest respect to those who work in the meat trade, many self-styled architects are butchers. We need to introduce regulations in this area.

We need to ensure that access to this industry is not restricted to Irish people. We should welcome the architects we have brought to these shores from South Africa, Poland, Slovenia, Italy and other countries by ensuring their qualifications, if they are valid, are recognised in this country. We also need to recognise those from Ireland who have demonstrated their ability, not through formal qualifications but through their work.

It is four years since the energy performance of buildings directive was approved by the European Parliament. Its provisions could have been brought into force here six weeks ago but the Government is dragging its heels on the issue. In the UK, any new building must have a high efficiency condensing boiler. In Denmark, water heaters that take the heat from the sun are commonplace in many buildings. In Germany, new buildings often have solar panels that generate electricity. Yet here in Ireland, one would be hard pushed to find insulation more than two inches thick for sale in many builders providers. At this rate, we will soon be the laughing stock of Europe.

It is crucial that the Government should pull up its socks in the areas of building control and regulation. It should do so sooner rather than later. Irish companies are manufacturing condensing boilers here but they are exporting them all to the UK because there is not yet a fully developed market for such boilers in Ireland. This is because the Minister is failing to bring our building regulations up to the standard that is currently mandatory in the UK. He should be doing much more to improve the building regulations in this area. He should encourage high performance timber buildings, make condensing boilers mandatory and promote the use of green cement. He could do much in this area and we are waiting for action from him. At a time when the building industry has added one third of our building stock in the residential sector in less than a decade, we are missing a golden opportunity.

This matter is just not about warmer homes, it is also about fuel poverty and improving the quality of life for those on lower incomes. Grants were provided in Scotland 15 years ago to make buildings weatherproof and watertight but we are still waiting for something similar in Ireland. There are no grants available at present for green energy solutions such as heat pumps, solar panels and so on. An announcement was made but we are still waiting for something to be implemented.

These policies are necessary not only at local level to make homes warmer, they are also required in the global context in light of the issues of climate change and peak oil in respect of which action must be taken. We need a radical response and that should be led by the Minister. We want to see energy labels now on all new buildings and on building leases. Such labels appear on fridges and they must be placed on buildings. We want to see Sherry Fitzgerald and Lisney being required to print the energy performance of the buildings they are selling in their advertisements. I do not see any sign of this in the Bill. These are the innovative measures that would bring home to people that there is a need to improve thermal performance, construct better buildings and take action.

We also need to ensure that new buildings are accessible to all. Under Part M of the building regulations, all new houses built since 2001 are supposed to be accessible to those with disabilities. A recent study found that only 4% of new housing developments in Dublin were accessible to people with disabilities and that only 25% of one-off houses in rural areas were compliant with the building regulations. That is not good enough. It is not just a sad reflection on our society, it is also a sad reflection on the Minister. It happened on his watch and he is shutting the stable door long after the horse has bolted.

Deputy Catherine Murphy referred to the crucial area of enforcement but there is no sign of the resources to which she alluded in the last part of the explanatory memorandum. On 25 October 2005, I asked the Minister if he had any meaningful data on the implementation of the building regulations. All he could state was that there were 41 prosecutions in 2004. There are 80,000 new homes built every year but there were only 41 prosecutions last year. I would like to think that the picture is rosy but I do believe that to be the case. The Minister needs to give clout, momentum and impetus to enforcement. There seems to be a two-tier system involving those who comply with the law and those who do not. There is little chance of the latter being caught at present.

The Bill goes some way to providing for proper enforcement but funding will be required. There is also a need for significant penalties for those who breach the law. In addition, provision must be made regarding the power to strike off the register those who are signing off on buildings that do not meet the code. I have no doubt that there are people signing off on buildings that do not meet the building regulations but, under the current regime, there is little chance that they will be caught. The Bill resembles the Minister: it talks the talk and it is full of good intentions but the devil is in the detail. The Minister will be obliged to show substance rather than style in terms of its delivery.

There is a view abroad that the Minister is in bed with certain sections of the construction industry or that he is, at least, supping in the same tent. We need more than pillow talk on this issue, we need resolve and vision. Mediocrity has cost us dear.

The Deputy is somewhat like Chemical Ali, he is some man to talk.

I am simply suggesting that the Minister pull up his socks.

The Deputy is a craven hypocrite.

That is not the appropriate terminology to describe a colleague in the House.

That is unparliamentary language. Is the Minister not obliged to withdraw what he said?

It is unparliamentary language. I would prefer if the Minister withdrew his remark.

I certainly will. It is an accurate reflection on the Deputy but I will withdraw it.

That is not acceptable. It must be completely withdrawn.

I certainly will.

I am delighted that the Minister has withdrawn that remark.

The Ceann Comhairle should throw him out of the House.

I suggest that the Minister should be doing much more to improve performance in respect of building output. He should be doing more to measure it. His party has been in power for nine years and he could do better.

I have high hopes that the Minister will occupy the high moral ground on this issue. I am sure he is capable of showing leadership and resolve and can deliver in respect of this important Bill. The Green Party will do its part to amend it in detail in a constructive fashion on Committee Stage.

Debate adjourned.