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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Jan 2022

Vol. 1016 No. 7

Regulation of Providers of Building Works Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Everyone here should fully support the Bill before the House. The Construction Industry Register Ireland, CIRI, needs to be put on a statutory footing. Since 2014, builders, contractors, subcontractors and trades people have, on a voluntary basis, registered and demonstrated their bona fides. What is desperately needed is to put this on a statutory footing, thereby providing in law for the regulation of builders, contractors and specialist subcontractors. Overall, this should result in the development a culture of competence, good practice and compliance within the building sector.

I wish to raise a few issues. There is a gang in Munster currently advertising in a number of local papers and online. They say that they will come and work all sorts of magic on the roof of your house and will spray it with a coating that will outlive you. They say that you will have a fantastic house and it will stand up to all sorts of weather. They are going into the attic, they are painting the eaves with Ronseal, the fence paint, and they are using expanding foam on the eaves of the roof. I have seen it in one house. It is an absolute con job. The sooner we have a regulatory framework, which is enshrined in law, and ensure those who enter one's yard or front door can demonstrate their bona fides in terms of their trade and their competency to carry out high-quality work and show they are not scam artists, the better. It will be one of the big benefits of this legislation. Those who are building quality homes in Ireland or carrying out remedial works on homes are skilled people. They have spent time in apprenticeships through SOLAS, they have spent time in college or they have spent time learning the trade hands-on in a building environment. What we certainly do not want is these white vans appearing in vulnerable people's front yards, with builders canvassing for work and offering to do this miraculous work for a very hefty fee. When they are up in the attic, they will tell you there is something wrong with the chimney. When they are up in the chimney, they will tell you there is something wrong with the caps, and on and on it goes. They are fleecing people. There is an example that is very much in my mind, but I will not disclose it here in the Dáil today because the Garda has a handle on it. That needs to happen more often. I hope that by putting forward this regulatory framework, that practice, which has somehow become more widespread in rural Ireland throughout the Covid pandemic, can be tackled a lot better.

In my remaining time, I wish to speak about two other issues relating to the construction trade. Currently, there is an acute shortage of materials, such as insulation, steel and timber, required for construction. It is leading to colossal price inflation. There is one builder in my home county of Clare who has sent me a number of WhatsApp messages already this week from building providers, stating that the cost of steel has gone up by 11% since the new year. That is on top of a 20% increase since August 2021. It is something similar with timber and insulation. Much of it is coming from Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. It is impossible to get. When it becomes available, it is auction stuff, with one builder offering to pay more than the other. All of this means that housing is becoming more expensive. We have a national debate on just how difficult it is to get housing, how difficult it is for someone to get keys for a property and a roof over his or her head.

This Government and, indeed, all European governments put their heads together 12 months ago just when vaccines were being rolled out. They put their heads together and rectified problems in the supply chains of vaccines and PPE, which now flow richly throughout the EU. Ireland has one of the highest vaccination rates. The point I am trying to make here, and the reason I referenced that example, is that the Heads of State in Europe and the ministers for housing across all member states could put their heads together. Previously, they were able to fix supply chain issues. The states of the European bloc also need to work together to rectify the issues relating to the supply chain of building materials that is so critically required for construction.

Finally, I wish to speak on a point that is close to my heart and that of the Acting Chairman, namely, pyrite. For many months now, a very loud, voluminous debate has been happening nationally about pyrite and mica in homes in counties Donegal and Mayo. A review group has been established. There have been countless meetings here in Government Buildings with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, where senior officials have sat down with stakeholders from those two counties to find out what their problems are and to devise an improved scheme. Homeowners in County Clare, to their immense frustration, have been left out of that process to date. They, too, are looking at crumbling walls, have fascias and soffits coming away from the roof, and have corners at the gable end where you could fit a hand through. I have seen it, as has the Acting Chairman. It is very prevalent in our county. It is crucial that Clare homeowners are brought into the fold, even at this eleventh hour. I know that it is an aim of Government, before the new redress scheme goes live, hopefully in late February or early March, to look at the costings and the financial model around redress. Even at this late stage, Clare homeowners need to be part of that. Frustratingly, things have been delayed in County Clare. Five new core samples have been sent to a laboratory in England for testing. Hopefully, that data will come back very shortly and will be submitted to the Minister of State's Department. I have spoken to the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, who is a party colleague of mine. We do not want any delays when this goes in. It is the case of an addendum to the application for redress in County Clare. It is a clarification of detail on top of a huge volume of evidence that is already with the Department. There is pyrite in County Clare. There are crumbling homes and people who are at their wits' end. They need a redress scheme very quickly. I ask that it is prioritised and that there is no more dithering, procrastination or requests for additional information. This has to happen, and it has to happen in the quickest possible time. Tomorrow afternoon, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will meet with our chairperson, Deputy Carey, me and other Deputies and Senators in the county. The Minister of State may also be at that meeting. We appreciate the involvement of the Minister of State and the high-level engagement. This needs all shoulders to the wheel. This needs to be the year that redress is delivered.

I will conclude by saying that we have been very grateful that all along, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage promised us that whatever benefits accrue to counties Donegal and Mayo will accrue directly to homeowners in County Clare. When I saw the new scheme for counties Donegal and Mayo, my eyes lit up. I thought it was fantastic - the 100% redress scheme that everyone wanted. However, the devil is in the detail, and in the days that followed, as we studied it, we realised it was not all as attractive as we had previously believed. There is an urgency now over the next eight or nine weeks to improve terms for counties Donegal, Mayo and Clare. I ask the Department to give us our scheme, and one that demolishes homes, rebuilds them and puts a structurally safe roof back over families' heads.

This Bill is welcome. It is long overdue. I understand it was proposed back in the 1970s. It is particularly welcome now. The Construction Federation of Ireland, CIF, has a voluntary register known as CIRI. Credit to the federation for setting up the register in the absence of action by Government. However, when you see the extensive list of building defects around the country, you would have to ask the federation how effective the register has been. I strongly believe that now that Government has decided to act and introduce the Bill, it is important there is independence from the construction sector. We cannot have the construction sector as the judge and jury on a register that is so important. There seems to be little point in having a two-year lead-in time. There is already a scheme in place, so let us use that one and make it independent and introduce it over a period of six to 12 months.

This register should be placed under the management of the National Building Control Office. The Bill provides for the Minister to appoint committee members to the registration board. That is not the way appointments should be made. They should be made via the Public Appointments Service. Given the huge number of defects in modern developments, it is clear that there needs to be greater investment in the building control role of local authorities and a greater increase in the inspection of new builds. If this Bill was in place over the last 15 to 20 years, I would like to think that it would have given protection to residents in the docklands, in areas such as Gallery Quay and Longboat Quay. There are issues in Gallery Quay as a result of building defects. They will need to be addressed. It will involve a huge cost for the current residents. If this legislation had been in place earlier, developments such as Poolbeg Quay and Ringsend would not be facing the serious construction defects they are currently facing. It is unbelievable that 64 apartments were built and sold as they were. They were mortgaged by Dublin City Council. Two families believed their dreams had come true, but it is all turning into a nightmare for them. Everyone is washing their hands of the issues that they have. The only thing that is certain is that it is not the fault of residents in Poolbeg Quay. Homeowners in Poolbeg Quay should not have to pick up the tab. They will not be letting the matter go. They will fight for justice and fairness. It is not fair to expect residents to be held responsible for something not of their making. I will be standing with them.

As my colleagues said, we are supporting this legislation because we believe it is necessary. As was also alluded to, the CIF has for a long time had this voluntary code, where building contractors and workers have been registered.

However, there are a number of reservations as to how much of an impact it has had. Everyone recognises this. That is why we feel it would be correct and proper that the register be taken away from the CIF and housed - pardon the pun - somewhere independent of the building industry. This is vital.

As many people have said since the period of what we called the building boom in this country, when many houses were built from the mid-2000s, we have been left with a litany of problems throughout the country. We are all aware of this. In many apartment blocks in the cities, there are huge problems with fire safety and fire hazards. The codes were simply thrown to one side and not adhered to at all. We have similar situations in many areas throughout the country. Of course, the issue of Weetabix building blocks and the crumbling houses is not just a problem in Donegal, Mayo or Clare. There is also a situation in Sligo, particularly in the west of the county, where there are many problems with products that came mainly from quarries in north Mayo. There are similar problems with the blocks. At least a couple of hundred houses will be impacted by this, and they need to be included in any redress scheme introduced by the Government.

On the redress scheme, several months ago the Government had an opportunity to come into a good light in this regard. Everyone thought that we had the problem solved. It was like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Government came out with something at the very last minute. It was unbelievable how it turned around for the sake of very little. The scheme really needs to be rethought in order to ensure that 100% redress is 100% redress. If it is, then it has to be the same for everyone. Regardless of what size houses people built, where they built, how they did so or where they got the money to do so, the fact of the matter is they spent the money they earned or borrowed and which they are paying back on their homes. They deserve to be compensated if those homes have to be demolished and rebuilt. This is a key issue that needs to be resolved. The Government has a huge body of work to do in that regard.

To come back to the Bill before us, there have been many problems with what we often term rogue builders and builders who have done poor jobs and have produced poor workmanship, not just in the context of single houses but also as regards entire housing estates. Problems with drainage and all sorts of things can be seen in various parts of the country. The key point is that we have to have in place a code of conduct that will hold builders to account and ensure that they are held to account, and that the people who buy a home or pay to have a home built get what they pay for and get a home not just for themselves but for the generations to come.

I welcome the Bill and the opportunity to speak on it. The Bill's Title, the Regulation of Providers of Building Works Bill, does not give us a sense of the importance of it. Deputy Martin Kenny has just touched on an issue on which I will also speak. It gives us the sense, and the Acting Chair knows this from his constituency, that when building works go bad and there is no regulation the extent and level of human misery and human distress is unbelievable. I do not think any Bill or legislation can do anything to alleviate the problem because it has happened.

When we look at the history of this, particularly that part of it which occurred after the Celtic tiger era, we see the lack of this type of regulation and follow-up. We see the time we spent in the House over the years, and the Acting Chair is the only person in the House at present who was here with me at the time, dealing with ghost estates, levies for ghost estates and budgets for local authorities that were trying to deal with providing water, safety features in houses and housing estates and roads that were all supposed to have been provided. I wonder whether we have learned anything. The Bill suggests what e have learned a little, but can we guarantee that it will not all happen again as we start moving forward, ramping up and responding to housing need?

I welcome the Bill. I am intrigued as to why many of the powers in the Bill and the register will be under the watch of the CIF. I do not doubt the CIF, but independence would be welcome. I note the provisions in the Bill on a competent authority and a registration body. I am concerned that the Bill should not be used by the industry to justify price rises in an already very challenging area. The extra level of regulation should be borne by the industry.

When providers of building works run away from their responsibilities we have the situation with pyrite and mica that we have in my county and in Sligo, Donegal, Clare and many counties that probably do not know they have them. Many people have run away from their responsibilities on this. The suppliers of the bricks are providers of building works. There are others such as the insurance companies that would not pay out on insurance claims and now refuse to provide cover. Where did HomeBond go in all of this? The construction insurance scheme has completely reneged on its responsibilities to homeowners. The banks that have assets as part of the mortgages involved are doing nothing to support those assets. It all comes back on the State, which has to foot the bill.

I believe the scheme will turn out well. The Minister of State and his team are working incredibly hard on it. We will continue to work with them. If people have ideas, the Minister of State has shown himself to be very open to hearing them. There is a commitment in the defective block scheme to have an inquiry into how it happened. This will not alleviate the distress of 15 or 20 years. It can never be said enough that there are people who will look at tonight's weather forecast to see how windy or wet it may get so they will know what room in the house it is safe to sleep in and whether it is the bedroom or the living room. The provider of building works who caused this has got away scot-free. The provider of building works that made money on the back of that house and so many others has got away scot-free. The provider of building works who did very well during those times has left it to the State and the Government to alleviate the problem. This cannot be allowed to happen again.

The Bill is an opportunity to put regulations and provisions in place. We need to be as ambitious as possible with a view to ensuring that what is happening in Mayo, Donegal, Sligo, Clare and along the west coast does not happen again and a future generation of homeowners does not have to live with the stress caused. Homeowners in the east of the country are affected by pyrite in the foundations and fire safety defects in apartments. There is legislation on fire safety but there are apartments in this city that do not have adequate fire safety. Once again, it is the homeowners who are being asked to cough up for this.

Is the Department serious about its full role and about regulation? Does the Minister of State want another generation of Deputies and Senators to spend time in these Houses dealing with ghost estates and levies? We do not want to spend our time, as many of us have had to do, chasing down development levies and enforcement. The Minister of State is from a rural area. Does planning enforcement happen? I do not expect the Minister of State to comment but unless local authorities get extra resources to do the follow-up required in the Bill, then the Bill is a show pony. High-level and high-profile enforcement is necessary. Otherwise the Bill will not fulfil what it needs to do and what it is intended to do. Otherwise the misery of homeowners will be replicated again and again.

The Bill cannot just be paper. It cannot just be aspirational. It has to have the power of the Oireachtas behind it and it has to be enforced. On Committee Stage, the Minister of State should be as ambitious as possible. He should remember that tonight, as a consequence of the failure of regulation of the providers of building works, families have to look at the weather forecast to decide whether they can sleep. People are on medication because they have had to decide whether they can live in their homes. A scheme from the Department had to include provision for mental health services because of the destruction done to families by bad regulation and bad supplies, for which the providers will never have to pay.

I thank the Deputy and call our next speaker, Deputy Fitzmaurice, who has 20 minutes.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I do not necessarily have a problem with the Bill but I am somewhat at a loss to know what miraculous inspiration will be carried out by the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, by being registered with it, that will save everyone from perhaps buying bad blocks or timber, or whatever. I just cannot understand that part. The second part I am trying to fathom, which the Minister of State may be able to address later when he gets the chance, is whether there is a fee. There are probably battles going on at the moment with the State, be it on price or quality of work done, where companies would have been members of the CIF. That membership did not solve the problem which caused the battle that went on afterwards. What part of the jigsaw is the CIF going to miraculously cover that will save the industry from bad workmanship, or whatever? One can become a member of the CIF, and I know that there are certain rates for workers and no one has a problem with that, but if one starts doing work for the council, a person does not have to be a member of the CIF at all. That is unusual. If one starts doing work for the council on the side of the road this does not seem to arise.

We want to ensure that houses are built properly. There is one very simple way of doing this through product liability. If there had been product liability from the companies involved for the poor people in Mayo, Donegal, Sligo, Clare and all of these other places, the taxpayers in this country would not be forking out to the tune they are having to. That is the reality of it. It is scandalous that the company that supplied the gear to most of those places is able to get away scot-free where the taxpayers of Ireland are paying for it. That should not be acceptable. I will leave that issue there as I do not have a problem with it.

If one wants to build houses, one needs to have a quarry to get a bit of sand, concrete and all the different things one needs. At the moment, as the Minister of State is well aware - and I know he may be working on some aspects of this - with the substitute consent we have the great people who have decided to bring Ireland or everyone to court to try to block every piece of quarry in Ireland. Everyone is shouting for houses at the moment and they think that they are going to go up in the air without concrete, sand, blocks, and everything else required. One and one does not make two in that regard. It does not add up. People need to get a little bit real in this country as we are walking into a situation where a certain number of quarries will control this country if we do not cop on. A substitute consent was brought in and the people who availed of this early to comply with the law are still caught in a quagmire. Those who waited until about the 100th application moved on because it had become simplified after that. The first people were caught in a logjam. If the Minister of State does not solve that, companies like Roadstone and all of these big conglomerates will be smiling. We have created a system at the moment where a small quarry operator, be it in Mayo, Leitrim, in Louth or wherever, may have one, two or three lorries which will be covering a small area; I guarantee the House that if one is not a member of certain groups in this country, these operators will have either an environmentalist or someone else objecting to them. That is unacceptable.

We are hammering out money now on roads. I suggest that the Minister of State looks at how asphalt prices have gone in recent years. How many people can do that work or are allowed to do it? How many objections are made to anyone who is trying to build an asphalt plant in Ireland at the moment? There are about five or six places which tried to put up asphalt plants that might have provided some competition. Funnily enough there is one company that is able to object to them all. It would be interesting to see what it does for a living and where there may be an odd environmentalist with it.

We are codding ourselves as politicians in the price we pay per buck if we are blocking this through legislation. There is a complete cartel at the moment where councils have to try to tender to get the roads done and what is going on is scandalous. It would be interesting for the Minister of State or for anyone to take a look at what is going on in respect of objections the minute a person tries to establish an asphalt or a tar plant, or to do anything around this country, because it is blocked. There are not too many at this kind of work, or who have been able to go to do this work.

We are haemorrhaging money in this regard. Yes, we need the best of regulation, which no one denies. We have certain State bodies where An Bord Pleanála has to give planning permission, which is fine, because one has to go through all of the procedures. Why, however, would one have to wait for two or three years for certain licences even though one has got one’s planning permission, where there are other licences behind that permission? Why are some people held up longer than others? The whole system is rotten to the core. If we do not sort out the quarry and the materials side of it, we will not build houses. Everyone is turning a blind eye to what I am talking about and civil servants do not have a clue how to solve it. We have more legislation and more paperwork. We have brought ourselves into a quagmire and as a country we have left ourselves in a position where we are almost trying to stop work going ahead.

I ask the Minister of State to look at what I have talked about this evening because if we keep going on this road, we will only have a few suppliers left in the country and the Government will pay through the nose for it. One can give €40 million to a county for roads, and one could have a look at what the roads programme did last year per kilometre compared to what it had done three or four years ago or eight years ago. That will soon show where money is going, buck per mile. What I have seen is rotten. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

As we have nobody else sharing, we move on now to the Rural Independent Group and I call Deputy Collins. Each speaker has five minutes.

This Government states that this legislation is aimed at keeping so-called cowboy builders out of the industry so that everybody should be confident in the knowledge that their homes will be built to the highest standards and that any professional service they use is also of a certain standard. I sincerely hope that this Government’s aim to guard against a recurrence of housing defects that were legacies of construction design, workmanship and materials will work. I sincerely hope that this does not put the building of a home by so many young people skyrocketing beyond price controls. The pressure that young people are being put under is unbelievable. Planning permissions in west Cork, in my own constituency, are almost a nightmare move for people who want to start off life and build their own homes. This is a right that anyone should have in their own country and it should be enshrined in our Constitution.

In a recent poll that was carried out for me in west Cork, we found that 70% of planning applications were being turned down on the first attempt. This is truly shocking as these are local farmers, teachers, shop assistants, nurses and home helps who are trying to get a boost in life by trying to go ahead with their first home. Why is this Government putting so many stupid rules and regulations before these good people? How long has one lived in one’s area? What connection does one have with the area? Surely be to God, if someone finds a job in the community, wants to live, have children and contribute to the community and can prove this, it should make them eligible to obtain planning permission. I am afraid, however, that this is not happening. Instead of it being 70% of an acceptance of a grant of planning permission, it is the wrong way around.

On this Government’s green agenda, there are anti-rural policies feeding their way into county development plans. In small communities like Rathbarry in Clonakilty, like Adrigole and Rossmore, Ring, Gaggan and many more, are now excluded in respect of their village nuclei in the county development plan.

The Government is attempting to force people into bigger towns that are already overcrowded and have no living accommodation. It is scandalous that this is the type of county development plan that faces the people of west Cork, but it is. I urge any councillor who wants to protect rural Ireland to reject this county development plan immediately and to take control of the plan, as we did when I was in the council and included rural communities. There is a fury in west Cork. My advice is, unless one is a nod-and-a-wink councillor, to reject this plan out of hand unless immediate changes are made.

We have to look at towns that still have outdated sewerage systems, such as Castletownshend and Goleen. I have heard so many announcements, time after time, from Government politicians that Castletownshend is going to be included and somewhere else is going to be included. They rehash the announcements so often that it is hard to know whether the system they were talking about first has gone in or it is being replaced again. How can these towns develop? How can the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, stand idly by knowing that these towns need urgent sewerage works, while that organisation is chasing every farmer in the country and watching in case an eggcup of effluent spills into a river? For God's sake, it is time for the Minister of State to wake up and smell the grass growing.

Consider Clonakilty, a town that urgently needs development. People are screaming out for houses. Only last week, planning for 93 houses on The Miles Road, Clonakilty, was refused by Cork County Council due to a lack of water. Good God, if this happened in our capital city, Dublin, it would be a crisis beyond words that would have to be debated over and over again, but not in this case because it is Clonakilty. It is west Cork and it falls off the radar, so people can do without water. People face a summer without water if we have a crisis. Young people who want to get planning permission will not be able to get it because there is no water. Water to a home is a simple, basic right. We are now being told that it could be four years. This is having a devastating effect on areas such as Rosscarbery and Timoleague as well as Clonakilty. That 93-house development would have been a welcome boost for Clonakilty, just as it is what Bantry, Skibbereen and other towns need.

Unfortunately, however, the Government is asleep at the wheel. It is forgetting to put the funding where it should be. There is no point in throwing over €200 million out to Aberdeen when the Taoiseach is there. That type of money should be put into west Cork to rebuild rural communities and give the people the same rights, as they are entitled to have. The bottom line is that the housing legislation down through the years has been shocking and, sadly, has left people without homes. I am aware of people who have wanted to start off in council houses in plenty of places and the Government has refused them that right. It will come back to haunt the Government eventually.

The Construction Industry Register Ireland is known as the CIRI. As a builder, I welcome this legislation and the assurance it will give to the consumer. However, if this is being introduced to avoid a mica or a pyrite scandal again, I have to question it as there was probably nothing unlawful done by the builders. It was a fault with products. Does this legislation cover the building products being purchased by builders in good faith and who are unaware that the recipe the manufacturer used was faulty? Limerick is probably lucky enough. There are a certain number of pyrite cases in Limerick, but the materials seem to have been imported from a neighbouring county. As I said, we are one of the lucky ones. However, the people are still unaware of when they will be reimbursed or funded for their housing needs and the regulations that have to be met. How in detail will this Bill ensure that pyrite, mica or issues with defective blocks will never recur? Will this legislation, when implemented, provide such protection?

By what amount will this Bill increase the cost of building a new home in Ireland from 2024? If the Minister of State does not know, he should know it before bringing the legislation before the Dáil. According to some quantity surveyors, the introduction of the regulations in 2014 increased the price of an average house of 2,000 sq. ft. by €30,000. I have been in the construction industry for almost 30 years and I see at first hand the planning permissions, the local authorities and the lack of infrastructure in our areas. I was at a meeting of the housing committee with the Land Development Agency, LDA, last week. The new chief executive officer of the LDA introduced himself to me by saying he was from Dublin, his parents are from Dublin, he grew up in Dublin and he was educated in Dublin. I would swear the man did not have the vocabulary to get Dublin out of his head. I wished him well on the day, and I informed him that I am from Limerick, I grew up in Limerick and my parents were from Limerick.

Let us look at the promises for housing in 2021. There were to be 9,500 new builds of social homes. Some 3,144 were delivered. There were 350 cost-rental homes promised, but 90 were delivered. Some 170 vacant homes were to be renovated under the repair and lease scheme, but 39 were finalised in the first nine months. There were no affordable purchase homes delivered that year despite the Minister saying in October that eight would be delivered, with a fund of over €300 million. I mentioned the LDA and the announcements of what it was going to do in Limerick city. The LDA does not have a penny for Limerick county. The CEO admitted that Limerick county is deficient in its infrastructure and sewerage and water systems. He is on the record saying that in the meeting. Why can people not have vision and see that if we create hubs from large towns in a county, we can also bring in the small villages and towns around it, and create a hub in each county? That would be forward thinking. However, when somebody keeps mentioning that he is from Dublin and is living in Dublin, he does not understand anything that works in a county.

As a county councillor and as a builder in the area, having grown up and worked in the area, I understand perfectly what is needed to regrow the villages and towns in my area and make them sustainable. One does not have to live in a city to have sustainability. I invite the Minister of State to come to Limerick county where I will show him the greatest dignity when he comes there and sees our area.

I travelled in the company of the Ceann Comhairle and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to Abu Dhabi, which has the tallest building in the world. We had an exciting visit and we did a lot of good business for the State. However, in this country we have rows about the height of houses. People cannot build a two-storey house - it has to be a dormer bungalow or a bungalow with a porthole window on the gable end. The whole thing has gone crazy. We are all wearing masks since the pandemic, but the Department officials and the regulations are masked and cannot see, notice or understand rural Ireland. Deputy O'Donoghue just said so. This is crazy stuff.

In the Cahir area plan - Cathair Dún Iascaigh, a lovely town on the River Suir - the councillors were forced to reduce the zoned land by almost 85%. Do we want to create ghettos again? There is a huge pile of land that was not developed due to the crash and everything else. I understand there was too much land zoned. However, it goes back that far. The council has decided now to build houses under Part V on a green area that the residents have had for 30 years. This is bonkers stuff. The homelessness crisis is getting worse. Many people do a great deal of work with the homeless. I should mention Alice Leahy of the Alice Leahy Trust, a wonderful Tipperary woman who buried her husband today. She does tremendous work looking after people, but we are driving people into homelessness. We are driving people into poverty and penury, as I said as well today.

I helped a young lady get planning permission in the Golden Vale six, seven or eight months ago. I rang her father and I said "thanks be to God the planning is through". He told me he knew that but he has 250 acres of land, with timber hanging all over it and she is not allowed to have a chimney. In Waterford and Tipperary councils, the first thing done with a void is to block the fireplace or chimney. What are we trying to do? Are we looking to have our people perished or frozen because they cannot heat their homes? Deputy Danny Healy-Rae might tell the House about a family in his area with a young baby who could not even heat the baby's bottle after a storm. They had to move to their parents' house.

Are we not thinking at all? The Minister of State is a sensible man and I respect him. I do not know what his predecessor in the constituency, former Deputy James Bannon, might say if he was here. People are eager to live in the country and be good custodians of the environment. One would think we are all rapists of the environment, according to the Greens. They are like the messiah, telling us we cannot do this, that or the other. We cannot do anything. There were always a few people who would not be careful, possibly due to mental health issues or whatever.

I stood on a bridge in my own village of Newcastle one day with some people from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, who come every week or two weeks to test water quality. I asked them to go down 200 yd below the outlet of a septic tank. It is the same as I have in my house, although I have a better percolation system. There are more than 100 houses there. The people from the EPA would not do what I asked. It is wrong to say the EPA is in bed with the council but it is co-operating with it and will not prosecute the council. As Deputy Collins has said, however, if an egg cup amount of slurry falls on the road from a tanker because of a blocked nozzle, they come down on that farmer like a tonne of bricks. It is blackguarding.

I have seen farmers prosecuted for many reasons; some were correct but many were prosecuted because mental health or financial issues meant they could not look after their stock or property. We recently saw how a Department official was prosecuted for neglecting stock and the Minister took a case to the High Court to get him off and save his pension. What the hell is going on? The blackguarding of people in rural Ireland is shocking. They are being terrorised by Department officials and their folders and cameras, as well as everything else. They are being blackguarded. I am depending on the Minister of State and other people like him in the Department to get some bit of sanity in here so we can get some balance, fairness and respect for the country people who have always been custodians of the land. They always fed the people, demonstrating meitheal and looking after each other. Eventually, we will be hungry, cold and perished and people will not be living for anybody. We will be back to the days of the Famine in this country if we keep going with these daft policies from the Greens that the Minister of State's party and Fianna Fáil support. There are some rural Independents backing them, to their shame.

I am glad to get an opportunity speak about a few important matters. I have also been contacted by many people, including friends from Donegal and Mayo, who asked me to ensure the Government gives 100% compensation to these people whose houses are falling down around them. Many of these people do not know where they will be next Christmas night or if they will be with their families. This is going on long enough. I support Deputies Dillon, Calleary, McHugh and Mac Lochlainn, and I am sure the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, has made representations. I add my voice to the request of these people that they get 100% compensation so they can rebuild their houses.

At the same time as the material in question was provided for these houses, material from the same company was taken across the Border to Derry. I am far away from those places but I am told there has been no problem across the Border in Derry. What has gone wrong in Donegal or Mayo, as well as Clare and other places where many people are suffering the same problem?

With regard to this Bill, I ask that the Government does not put any more obstacles in front of a man or woman trying to build their own house and doing the work themselves. They might work on a house after coming home from their job in the evening. There should not be any more obstacles that would impede them from building their own house.

There is another problem. Even when somebody gets planning permission, the banks give mortgage approval for just three months. They might stipulate that 80% of savings must be spent on the house. It is not very easy to get everything to happen within three months but what do they make people do after? They make people apply for the mortgage all over again, leading to another delay. It is absolutely ridiculous. Has the Government any power over the banks with the interest it has in them? It should say something to them about having common sense. If people are approved for a mortgage once, why should they have to get it two or three times? God damn it but it does not make any sense.

Where are the planning guidelines that have been promised for five or six years? I have heard the Minister of State talking about planning even on our local Kerry radio sometimes and there are problems down there. Land is being dezoned in rural towns and villages. Councils want to zone more in bigger towns but developers will buy those sites; meanwhile, the man who wants to buy a site and build a house cannot get planning permission.

There is the other issue of urban-generated pressure. A person might want to buy a site from a neighbour, having lived beside that neighbour all his life. If the territory is in what is known as urban-generated pressure, he would not be allowed to build. If the neighbour on the other side owns the land, or the father owned the land, he could build. These two people might have gone to school together, perhaps in the same car or walking to school together. One can get permission but the other cannot. It is absolutely ridiculous.

Going back a few years, there was a planning case in Belgium. Ms Maura Healy-Rae asked last week in Kerry County Council, by way of a motion, whether the local authority was acting illegally by insisting that people must be from a certain area in order to get planning permission. This happened a good number of years ago. Will the Government do anything about this and are we acting illegally in this country? Belgium is in Europe the same as us.

There is talk of building houses and that so many houses will be built but we have no sewerage system in many of our towns and villages in Kerry, including in Kenmare, Castleisland and Kilcummin. Something will have to be done about objectors because they have people tormented and tortured down through the ground.

That concludes the first round of speakers. Deputy Matthews is sharing his time with Deputy Murnane O'Connor.

If this is a 20-minute slot, I will not take the full ten minutes. I thank the Minister of State and the Department for bringing this legislation before the House. Registration and regulation in any industry and sector is to be welcomed and it is a positive move. It is positive for those engaged in construction and building work because it levels the playing field, with everybody operating at the same standard and regulated in the same way. There is no advantage for those who may try to take a shortcut through standards or do things in an ad hoc or unregulated manner.

This is good for the consumer as well, particularly those who are having building work done or families that might move into a new home. They will know with some confidence that the construction worker or company they have engaged, depending on the scale of operation, is reputable, registered and regulated. That is positive and good for everybody. We will get better outcomes from that.

We need a lot of builders in this country. We need tradespeople. We certainly need to make construction a more attractive industry. Building work can be difficult. Sites are cold, the work is outdoors and conditions are not always great. There has, however, been a lot of improvement over the years. When health and safety regulations were brought in with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act it certainly improved many of the standards in construction, including with regard to welfare and workers having representation in the area of safety. It also improved standards in how we monitor and manage sites and construction. For example, there are now weekly checks on scaffolding and checks after bad weather or after scaffolding has been altered. It addressed the operation of machinery. People had to have construction skills certificate to drive a machine. This was a positive move because it meant we only had proper competent people driving those machines. We had a building boom and there had been a lot of accidents with scaffolding, machinery and trenches collapsing.

The introduction of regulation for the industry was very positive. We want to see that throughout construction because we want to attract workers. We need builders as we have an ambitious target of building 33,000 houses per year over the next decade. We need workers to do that. We want them to stay in their jobs and we want those jobs to be regulated. We want people to have opportunities to start an apprenticeship or a trade and to work their way up. I note the legislation includes a section on continuing professional development. That is a positive move in any industry or any job as it gives people an opportunity and they can see a career path. It is not a case of workers coming in at one level and staying there until they are old enough to move one step up the scale. The job is based on competency and people have opportunities.

I have one concern, which is sometimes seen in the apprenticeship system, whereby the employer may have apprentices who are due to go to technical college, for example, Bolton Street or Kevin Street. If an employer is busy, he or she might hold the apprentice back and the apprentice does not get an opportunity to go to technical college at that level. We need to consider the pressures, including time pressures, on people in construction. We want more houses built and we want to achieve the target of 33,000 houses. We want high-energy efficiency standard houses. I would look at that part of it and consider the realism of sending somebody for continuing professional development, but also needing them on the job.

Many years ago, the electrical trade was regulated and a register of electrical contractors was brought in. This improved the standard of work being done. It meant that electricians coming into people's home were registered and had a registered number. If they did work, they had to certify that work and put their number to it. People always have traceability, paperwork and a trail. If we register builders and regulate construction in that way, it has to be a good thing.

Consumer confidence is another issue. As the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, is aware, we have an ambitious target to retrofit 500,000 homes. We need to do that but it is going to be tricky and difficult. We do not want so much competition but we want to ensure we have tradespeople and skilled people to do that work. That is hugely important.

Fuel prices are rising and the way to combat that, especially higher fossil fuel prices, is through highly energy efficient and highly insulated homes running on renewable energy. We need to harness the renewable energy opportunity we have in this country. Part of that involves the use of solar panels. I wanted to put a question to the Minister of State last night about solar panels but I did not get a chance to do it. We need to ramp up the fantastic opportunity solar power offers this country. I ask the Minister of State to look at the Bill before the Seanad at the moment because we need to ensure we harness solar power.

Reference was made to the Land Development Agency. I was quite comforted by the chairman designate of the LDA when he was before the committee recently. He spoke about the LDA's ambition and its ability to work at scale. The agency is tooling up and ramping up and has the personnel it needs. There is no limit on budgets and it has the budget to do this. It will deliver 100% public housing on public lands, which is an issue on which we took a very strong line. Some 75% of what the LDA produces will be cost rental.

According to some of the earlier contributions, nothing is being built. I note from the Housing For All quarter 4 update today that some of the figures are very comforting. During 2021, more than 30,000 homes were commenced and 39,000 planning applications were activated. Project Tosaigh was launched to accelerate the delivery of 5,000 units where planning permission had already been granted but not yet activated. That is a positive move. Every local authority has submitted a housing delivery action plan outlining the delivery of social and affordable housing for 2022 to 2026. More than 200 new staff have been approved for local housing authority delivery teams, and 24 additional posts have been sanctioned for An Bord Pleanála. All of this is an important part of the construction industry. It is a pipeline of housing that we need delivered and people so urgently need. It is public housing on public land, which will be affordable, high-energy rated and efficient. Of our current housing stock, about one third was built since the 1960s and standards were probably not great. We need to retrofit that and concentrate on those households that are most at risk of fuel poverty. We are doing that at the moment.

I welcome the Bill and the fact that we will have a registration body to regulate and administer the construction trade in order that it can deliver on the ambitious target we have for the housing we need, and on which we are delivering.

We need a sustainable housing system and we need legislation like this. We also need to develop a culture of good practice and compliance with building regulations in the system in order that the general public can benefit. We need to do that to give confidence to the public and eliminate cowboy builders from the industry.

People visit my clinics to raise issues relating to their homes. We need to ensure that people know their homes are built to the highest standards and that any professional services they use are also of a certain standard. To stop repeating the mistakes of the past, we need this legislation and we must all support it. I especially welcome the mechanism for complaints against registered builders to be made on a number of grounds, in particular, where an entity is providing building services in a category in which it is not registered. The Bill provides for a range of proportionate sanctions to be imposed after investigation. This is a welcome and important provision because we need accountability and this Bill will provide that.

It is vital that we have compliance in the construction sector through building regulations and building control regulations, including the establishment of registers of competent builders and placing the Construction Industry Register Ireland on a statutory footing. People need to have confidence in builders and developers and anyone who is not operating in that spirit should be answerable.

Previous speakers raised a lot of issues. Speaking to a friend who lives in England, I learned that councils in England have building control departments that carry out building inspections to ensure all work is compliant with building regulations. Our local authorities have a huge part to play in this regard. When people apply for a house or anything to do with buildings, who do they contact? It is the local authority. I want to know what exactly is the role of local authorities. Perhaps the Minister of State will come back to me on that.

The issue of building and infrastructure has been raised. All of us want to see housing and there is definitely a lack of supply. Affordable housing supply also needs to be addressed. One of the biggest issues in Carlow and Kilkenny is with infrastructure. We know housing will be build in an area but we also know it will create major backlogs on the roads. There is no infrastructure and water and sewerage systems are also an issue. No matter what happens, proper infrastructure must be put in place when builders are building houses. This issue needs to be addressed.

People are telling me that the cost of housing is a big issue. I do not know how it will be sorted. The issue is the cost of materials and the delay in getting them. As previous speakers said, it is impossible to get tradespeople. That also needs to be addressed. The number of apprentices has seemingly increased this year, which is very important. The Government is committed to ensuring we have enough apprentices in building and electrical trades.

While I welcome this, we need to address other issues in local authorities.

We discussed planning before Christmas. Many Deputies raised planning and the issues faced by local authorities. There was meant to be a full discussion on planning in local authorities because every area has its own issues with planning, once-off planning and whatever else. I do not know when that will happen, but I ask that the Minister of State take note of that. It is important that we speak about local authority planning infrastructure. Development plans are in place, but it is important that we as Deputies know what is happening and see where we can make changes. People contact us every day about issues to do with planning or tell us they cannot get planning. There are many obstacles. Sons and daughters have emigrated and want to return home to their families. If they had planning permission to build they would do so, but they face unreal obstacles in local authorities.

We are here to encourage people. We would love our young people to return to Ireland having worked abroad, but we do not seem to be doing that. That is why we need to address all of these issues. The problems can be solved by all of us working together. A lot of good work is being done in housing. We need to address many issues, and I know the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Minister of State are committed to resolving them. These issues can be solved, but that requires all of us working together to make sure that no one is in a situation where they cannot buy a house due to affordability. We need to ensure a supply of houses for people who need them. That is the biggest issue.

This is a welcome and long overdue Bill. It was first proposed in 1977 by the Law Reform Commission and it is timely that we are discussing it today. While the Construction Industry Register Ireland has existed in a voluntary capacity since 2014, it has done so under the auspices of the Construction Industry Federation, CIF. As we have seen in many facets of Irish society, self-regulation often amounts to no regulation. It is essential that any such register is fully independent in nature. We in Sinn Féin do not think it is appropriate for a register of this importance to be located within the industry. It should be completely independent and, in our view, located within the National Building Control Office, NBCO.

There are approximately 800 specialist building contractors currently registered, and this figure is expected to increase to at least 5,000 under statutory registration. The Bill provides for a lead-in time of two years for registration, which is totally unnecessary. As mentioned, the register has been in existence since 2014. There is no need to wait for another two years. Many decent contractors are already registered and the others will not be long about following suit.

There must be clear separation between members of the board and the industry. The Bill provides for the Minister to appoint committee members to the registration board. This is not appropriate and should be done via the Public Appointments Service.

The new legislation will apply to the providers of building works for residential and non-residential buildings. It does not include employees of such entities, but does include sole traders. It also provides for a range of sanctions to be imposed after investigation into these complaints. While there are many excellent building contractors out there, we have all heard the horror stories of cowboy builders. There are cowboys in most industries, and they need to be dealt with accordingly.

One of my constituents, Andrew Brennan, from Mullagh, County Cavan, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2015. He was strongly advised to build an extension for his future needs. An adaptation grant was approved in 2016, a builder was chosen, work was approved to proceed by Cavan County Council and the extension was built.

During the winter of 2016, Andrew noticed the extension was extremely hard to heat. As he was only using the bathroom, and the builder assured him all was okay, he did not think much more of it. In the winter of 2017, he had the same problem and as he was now sleeping in the extension he contacted the council, but was told it was his responsibility to have the work checked. He borrowed €800 to have thermal energy tests done and was told that the roof was not insulated, and three plumbing companies told him there was inadequate heating and all of the radiators were grossly undersized. The builder finally agreed that there were issues, shut the extension down for a week to do repairs and assured him that everything was okay.

However, that was not the case. Andrew then had to employ architects and engineers to carry out inspections and what they found was truly shocking, considering that public funds were used to pay for the work. It is clear from the report that Andrew and his family were taken advantage of in their time of need. The builders did not put the minimum into the job, something they were obliged to do as builders. There is a list of non-compliance issues and further building regulations were breached when the repairs were supposed to be done.

The extension was not habitable during winter or any cold spells and Andrew spent his fourth winter sleeping on a makeshift bed on a sofa in the sitting room. Plug-in radiators were needed when using the bathroom and many have described walking into the extension as akin to stepping outside. To go to court would have cost him up to €20,000 and it would take up to five years to get there, but he does not have that time. His care team was faced with a huge challenge as a ceiling hoist was needed, but a building surveyor advised that the roof was not suitable to take the weight.

Eventually, he contacted the building control authority about the problem and, while it is its responsibility to enforce building regulations, it was, unfortunately, obliged to prosecute the Brennan family for the breaches, as the onus is on the homeowner to comply with building regulations. However, thankfully it did not do so as it thought to do so would be unpalatable. Instead, it requested an inspection of the extension, which resulted in a second grant being paid.

The extension was so badly built that it had to be demolished and rebuilt. The family had to leave their home and Cavan County Council had to put them into emergency accommodation for eight weeks. There have been considerable costs because of a rogue builder. To add insult to injury, the family discovered that while this was happening, the council was still approving the same builder for grant work.

The Brennan family put their trust in the builder to create a comfortable space for Andrew's future care, and they trusted the builder a second time to put things right, but unfortunately both times the builder prioritised greed over Andrew's health and well-being. Andrew's main concern is that another vulnerable person would not have to go through something similar to what he had to go through. Unfortunately, he is not the only disabled person who has been mistreated and taken advantage of. Many people have experienced this.

I welcome that the construction industry register will be on a statutory footing, but I question why it will take two years to establish it given that is has already been established on a voluntary basis. It is needed immediately. I also question why it is proposed that it be located within the CIF. It should be truly independent, and I do not trust that it will be. Why can it not be located within the NBCO? There are too many rogue or cowboy builders operating in Ireland. Andrew should have been concentrating on his care and spending quality time with his family, but instead had to deal with the worry of a cowboy builder.

This Bill is long overdue. It has been proposed and discussed for decades, and was most recently brought back to the table by the former Minister, Phil Hogan, in 2014. There has been a register of a voluntary nature since 2014. I am not making a criticism of the construction industry in and of itself, but the phrase "self-regulation is no regulation" has come up in any number of Dáil debates. It is a phrase we regularly reflect upon for many sectors of life. In order to ensure that there is an adequate level of regulation and transparency, there needs to be full independence. That is important. I do not think it is appropriate that the register is to be located within the CIF. It should be independent and located within the NBCO.

The lead time of two years for registration is not necessary, given that the register is already in existence. It needs to be relocated.

Similarly, it is not appropriate for the representatives of these bodies to be on the board. There needs to be a clear separation. It needs not only to be above board, it must also be seen to be above board.

There is also an issue with adequate redress for consumers. Much of the focus recently has been on defective blocks, etc. I am from a part of the country that has not been at the centre of those things. However, the people in Mayo, Clare, Donegal and north County Dublin have my utmost sympathy. In every part of the country affected, those involved deserve 100% redress. It is absolutely heartbreaking for anyone who has invested so much time, work and money in a home only to find it to be structurally unsound, unsafe, compromised and letting in cold and damp, particularly when there is nothing they could have done about it and certainly nothing they can do about it now. It is vital that we prevent such issues arising in future.

The regulation of providers of building works does not just apply to situations involving defective blocks and other materials. Unfortunately, there have been too many instances both on an individual basis and across large developments of inadequate building standards. The Bill is crucial to ensuring that those are eliminated.

This is not a criticism of the Government. Many of these issues have been around since before it took office. There were poor practices in the past in the building of social housing. Certain social housing units built 15, 20 or 25 years ago should be lasting better than they are. There are issues relating to damp and cold. In one location in my constituency, two local authority housing estates sit across the way from each other. One is ten years older than the other and is approximately one third bigger. My office gets three times as many complaints about maintenance issues from people living in the newer, smaller estate. It is all connected to damp and cold, relating to windows and damp-proof courses not done properly. It is vital to address this across the whole housing sector.

Deputy Matthews spoke about retrofitting, which will be crucial in the future. While grants are available for apartments, there are many streets of houses that are in desperate need of retrofitting, including in my constituency. I am thinking particularly of the Greenmount area and Mount Sion Road.

A considerable amount has been said and I can do nothing but agree with it. This matter is straightforward, as many of my colleagues said earlier. We all accept the major difficulties with building regulation. We all know people who have fallen foul of the lack of both regulation and redress. We need to facilitate those who are being impacted by the travesty and tragedy of mica, and 100% redress is the only thing that can deliver in that regard.

We all know how much people strive and struggle to get a home together. With all the regular difficulties with cost-of-living problems and everything else, when a house is built, people at least expect that the structure will remain sound, but that has not been the case. As many, including Deputy Ó Laoghaire, stated, this was through no fault of their own. That needs to be taken into account. We need to make sure that this does not happen again, that there is redress and that we avoid these situations.

I echo what has already been said. It just does not make sense for the register, the means of dealing with this problem, to fall within the remit of the CIF. It must be done in a more independent way. We need an entire process that works from beginning to end. It needs to be 100% independent and something we can absolutely rely upon. If we can ensure this is done to the maximum level, we will not have these difficulties in the future or if we have such difficulties, we will have the means to remedy them as quickly as possible. That is what needs to be done.

I wish to follow on from something my colleague said about certain local authority estates being built better than others. I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, about a number of very old housing estates and some social housing units in County Louth. There is an issue with the maintenance budgets. I have spoken to the Minister and to Louth County Council. It is now up to Louth County Council to put a proposal to Government on how to deal with these wider issues. I am talking specifically about Muirhevnamor and Cox's Demesne in Dundalk. About 15 years ago there was a promise of regeneration in Muirhevnamor. We all know that the money ran out during that period. Certain houses were slated to be fixed up - the equivalent of retrofitting back then. In some cases, it was deemed that houses needed to be knocked. None of this happened. We know the reasons. We are now in a different set of circumstances and we need to put a plan in place.

Some of it is happening with infill development, which is welcome once there is consultation with the residents. People accept the absolute necessity of getting houses built. Beyond that, we need to have an audit of some of these houses to see if retrofitting is possible, which it will be for many of them. However, some may need something far more substantial to be done. I await the outcome of my conversation with Louth County Council, which needs to put a proposal in writing to the Government.

The Minister of State and I have spoken about assessments. When he replies, I would like him to give a synopsis of whether that has been sorted or not.

Obviously, we are supporting the Bill, which is welcome and long overdue. The register that this Bill establishes was originally proposed in the 1970s. If that had actually happened in the 1970s or the 1980s and was not on a voluntary basis, I wonder if it would have saved heartache, agony and stress endured by the homeowners in Mayo, Donegal, Clare and some other counties who have been affected by pyrite and mica. Would it have happened if we had had the proper regulation? I do not think it would.

The Bill provides for a two-year lead-in time before voluntary registration ends. This is completely unnecessary. Given that the register has been in existence since 2014, we do not need another two years. The make-up of the board is also important as that will determine the performance and outcome of this register. There must be a clear separation between the people on the board and the industry. Furthermore, the Bill provides for the Minister to appoint committee members to the board. That provision should be scrapped and the appointments should be made through the Public Appointments Service. The success of the register will be measured by the impact it has in protecting homeowners. Unfortunately, the Bill does not provide adequate protection for consumers. I urge the Minister of State to learn from the past when considering the legislation.

A working group on building defects was formed and is supposed to be looking into the Government failures to regulate the sector. We are still waiting for it to report back. I have no doubt that its analysis will expose the inadequacy of the minimalist approach taken to regulation.

Any analysis will show us that we need greater investment in building control in local authorities and a greater increase of inspections of new-builds.

I received an email from a person who told me they were sold a house by Mayo County Council in 2003 and that house has pyrite. The response from the local authority was basically that the person continue paying the mortgage. That is not good enough. I will give the Minister of State the details of this case and ask him to investigate it. The house was sold by a local authority. It was inspected by Mayo County Council engineers prior to the purchase. We have to take responsibility. That is the problem here; there has been no accountability. That is why those homeowners in Mayo cannot sleep tonight. That is why they have suffered so much over the past decade. I commend all the campaigners. Not all of them are with us today, unfortunately. I commend them on the fight they put up, but they are weary and tired, and their families are tired, and they cannot take anymore. They need the 100% redress scheme. They need no more of the nonsense, such as Mayo County Council sending out letters to 21 homeowners, telling them that they are not eligible, looking for other bits of information and changing the rules as you go along. To do the right thing, the homeowners have to be put front and centre of this issue because it is certainly not being done at the moment.

Of the insurance companies, the suppliers, the local authority, the Government, nobody has taken responsibility. I ask the Minister of State to relieve these people of the anguish they are going through, and have gone through for the past ten years. They cannot continue like this. We say we have a new enhanced redress scheme. It is not enhanced for many people. We cannot have a scheme that people cannot afford to get on to. People have told me that it will cost them €20,000, €30,000 or €40,000 to get on to the scheme and that it is beyond their reach. This scheme must be within the reach of all the people that Government has failed over the years. It must be put right. I ask the Minister of State to, please, make it a priority. It is a priority for us as a party. The Government must make it a priority. We need to do more than provide lip service. There must be proper joined-up thinking between the local authority and central government to get this done. Urgency must be put into this to end the nightmare once and for all.

There are no other speakers, so I call on the Minister of State.

I thank the Members who contributed on the Regulation of Providers of Building Works Bill 2022. Once this legislation is enacted, all builders will be required to register with CIRI. Section 33 provides that an unregistered builder may not provide building works for anyone, be it for a State contract, a developer, or for an individual. The register is of competence. It is an essential consumer protection measure giving those who engage a registered builder the assurance that they are dealing with a competent and compliant operator. It will be a critical step forward in addressing shadow-economic activity in the construction sector and ensure fairer competition for compliant and competent operators in the industry. This obligation will apply to entities or individuals who hold themselves out for consideration as a provider of building works that are subject to the building regulations. It does not include employees of such entities, but it includes sole traders. It does not apply to providers of electrical or gas works who are regulated separately. Applicants from other member states will be assessed on the same basis as Irish applicants.

I wish to reassure Members that entry on the register will be open to all builders, be they sole traders, partnerships or register companies, who demonstrate competence in construction at the appropriate level of registration. Competence can be demonstrated through qualifications, experience or a combination of both. While formal qualifications are an important component of any statutory registration process, it is recognised that many excellent builders do not hold such qualifications but can demonstrate extensive experience and expertise. Continuous professional development obligations will ensure that builders will continue to upskill throughout their careers.

The construction industry will require time to adopt these new requirements. The requirement to register will be introduced on a phased basis. The register will be divided into categories of building works. Builders can begin registering in 2023 and a statutory registration will commence in early 2024 for these first categories. It is proposed that the first categories that will be required to register with the home builders and builders of non-residential buildings, followed by the various trades. In advance of registration, committees of experts established by the board will consult with the various categories of the industry and other stakeholders. Very specific criteria will be established for each category of providers of building services. These will be set out in secondary legislation. This will ensure the criteria required for registration will be clear and transparent. Some applicants may find that they need to gain additional experience or, indeed, a qualification to achieve these criteria. It would not be fair or constitutional to remove a person's right to earn a livelihood without giving them the opportunity to gain additional competence.

It is preferable that a body with experience and expertise in the construction industry performs this function, similar to how the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland operate statutory registers for architects and surveyors. It is envisaged that the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, will be appointed as the registration body. There are a number of safeguards in place to ensure and maintain the independence of the registration body. The registration body will have delegated responsibility for the day-to-day maintenance of the register within the confines of the specific and limited parameters set out in the Bill.

The board of the registration body will be completely independent of the body. The independence of the registration body will be maintained through the following measures. All members of the admissions and registration board are ministerial appointments and there will always be a majority of ministerial nominees on the board. All powers of the registration body will be prescribed in legislation. All competency requirements for registration will be recommended by the board and prescribed by the Minister. The board will make decisions on all sanctions, including removal from the register. Removal from the register must be confirmed by the High Court. All prosecutions under the Act will be taken by the board or the director of public prosecutions. All members of the appeals committee will be appointed by the Minister and will be independent from the board and the registration body. The Bill allows functions of the registration body to be transferred if the body is not performing its function satisfactorily.

It is anticipated that Exchequer funding will be required for the first two years of operation. Once statutory registration is implemented, the income from fees will cover costs incurred. Registration fees can only be fixed at a level sufficient to fund the statutory register and will also require the consent of the Minister. My Department will ensure the registration body becomes self-financing as soon as possible in line with the oversight provisions set out in the Bill.

The Bill provides for complaints against registered builders to be made on a number of grounds, in particular, in relation to the competence of a builder or a builder providing services in a category in which they are not registered. The Bill provides for a range of both major and minor sanctions to be imposed after investigation, including removal from the register. This is a very serious sanction, which effectively removes that person's right to earn a living as a builder or from their particular trade. Upon conviction, an indictment fine of up to €500,000 or imprisonment can be imposed. The Bill also provides for an appeals process in relation to registration decisions and for complaints as to the activities or conduct of registered members.

Section 63 of the Bill does not prohibit the building control authorities from taking a prosecution against a builder who may have sanctions imposed on him or her under this Bill. I want to be very clear about the purpose of this Bill. It is essentially a register of competence. Failure to comply with building regulations or fire safety regulations will continue to be dealt with by the building control authorities.

With regard to construction products, Dublin City Council has been appointed as the competent authority for carrying out market surveillance functions under the European Union construction products regulations of 2013 for all related construction products nationwide. The National Building Control Office market surveillance unit has been established for this purpose and building control authorities will continue to liaise with this office to support compliance with the construction products brand and to continue appropriate action on enforcement matters as they arise.

This legislation is a key component of ongoing building control reform, which also includes amendments made to the building control regulations. This proposed statutory register will complement the reforms made through the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 and will contribute to the development of an enhanced culture of competence and compliance in the construction sector. The Department is committed to establishing an independent building standards regulator to strengthen the oversight role of the State with the aim of further reducing the risk of building failures and enhancing public confidence in construction-related activity.

With regard to building defects, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, established a working group to examine defects in housing. This group is engaging with a wide range of interested parties, including homeowners, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals and industry stakeholders, among others, to examine the issue of defects in housing and report to him on the matter. The Minister looks forward to receiving the report from the working group when it is concluded.

This legislation is committed to in Housing for All, the Government's national plan for housing for the period to 2030. It will support the delivery of quality housing. I thank all Members for their contributions on this very important debate. I will consider each of these contributions very carefully as the Bill progresses through the House.

Question put and agreed to.
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