I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche.
Building Control Bill 2005: Committee and Remaining Stages.
Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 14 to 18, inclusive, 20 to 42, inclusive, and 46 to 48, inclusive, are related and cognate and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, subsection (1), line 30, to delete "11,”.
These amendments have been drafted primarily with the Competition Authority's report on architects in mind. I acknowledge that section 11 of the Bill, as drafted, largely implements the authority's recommendations. However, it falls short in one key area. The authority's report states the profession should be regulated independently of the professional association which, in this case, is the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland, RIAI. While section 11 establishes an admissions board under the RIAI with responsibility for the registration of architects, it does not make any statement on the independence of the board. The Competition Authority also recommended that what is currently referred to in the Bill as "the Admissions Board" should be referred to as "The Architects Council of Ireland". The amendments would give effect to the authority's recommendations. They relate in particular to Part 3 of the Bill which deals with the registration of architects. I ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to accept the amendments which would enhance the Bill greatly. It is important, in the interests of transparency, that they be taken on board. Perhaps the Minister will do so.
I support the amendments. I do not have any doubts about the integrity of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland. A question of principle needs to be considered in this context. There was a time when the Government agreed with Senator Bannon and I that independence was an essential aspect of the role of bodies such as the Garda Ombudsman Commission. However, it seems to be wavering. It is clear that we have a captive Press Council, for example. Some of us who were present for last night's debate on the Pharmacy Bill 2007 argued strongly in favour of the independent regulation of pharmacists. I have received a considerable number of submissions from members of the architectural profession who have argued that if we are to be fair and transparent and seen to be fair and transparent — it is a question of perception also — it is essential that the regulatory body be independent. Among the submissions I received yesterday afternoon, there was a large bulk of material that would have been more relevant to the Second Stage debate which had already taken place.
A pleasant and nice gentleman told me that he had been pursuing a grievance for 22 years. I told him that while that may very well have been the case, it took him until 5 p.m. yesterday to send his submission to me. The problem was that I had made my Second Stage speech a couple of weeks earlier. I acknowledge that some very responsible briefing work has been done by professional groups and individuals representing the architectural profession. While a number of individuals were quite late in joining the game, that does not invalidate the arguments they and many others have made — that for the good of the profession it is important that we establish the principle of independence in this legislation. I reiterate that to do so would not cast a slur on the existing professional body.
I would like the Minister to explain exactly what he has in mind in this respect. When I asked an architect about his professional details some years ago, I discovered that he had no qualifications. He was able to practise simply by putting the title "architect" on his gate, although I am sure that is not possible nowadays. There is a need for strict and secure methods of ensuring that when we employ a professional, we know that the person in question is qualified. I understand what the Minister is attempting to do but in selecting a single organisation it seems there is a danger one will create a monopoly. The trend in recent years, driven by Europe in particular, has been towards competition and towards ensuring that people are aware that if competition prevails it will protect against the creation of a monopoly. I do not know if the Minister can advise what is the position in other professions. Is there only one organisation, body or association in the medical profession that informs a practitioner that he or she is entitled to call himself or herself a doctor if it permits him or her to do so, but without such permission he or she is not entitled to do so? I am not sure if that power lies with one organisation, whether it is an organisation such as the one we have described. I seek information from the Minister on that.
There is a need for this legislation and for the registration of such professionals. The placing of responsibility for that in the hands of one organisation requires an explanation. Otherwise we must question what happens if a person has fallen out with such an organisation, disagrees with its decision and has obtained his or her qualifications elsewhere. Does that mean the professional is not allowed to practise? In establishing an admissions board, does the Minister seek to achieve something in this area?
I regret being a little late for this debate but I understand the discussion is on a matter on which I spoke on Second Stage. I have concerns about the authorisation or acclamation of a professional being in the hands of one body, which would also design the curriculum, make assessments and its members might decide collectively that they did not like a group of people who had received training and education in another era and arena and thereby deny those people the rights they have exercised most successfully and fruitfully. The hope was expressed during the debate on Second Stage that the Minister might examine this issue. Perhaps he would sketch the history of consultations he may have had with the other group of people and the RIAI on this issue.
Like Senator Norris, I am somewhat mystified as to why anybody, having waited for 80 years, would wait until the 59th minute of the 11th hour to lobby for further additional changes. It seems a remarkable way to do business, particularly if this is a critical issue for people. I appreciate Senator Bannon has put considerable work into these amendments but I make the point that the term "Architects' Council of Ireland" is not used in the Bill. No convincing argument has been put forward yet to do so.
To address the specific point raised by Senator Quinn, the structure of the admissions board, as is a function of it set out in the Bill, will be independent of the registration body. It will have a majority of lay personnel among its membership. Therefore, the dismal prospects forecast by some who are lobbying are simply not a possibility. To address the point made by Senator O'Rourke, the role and function of the admissions board were previously agreed by all the architectural representative bodies. This includes the group of people who at the very last moment have promoted the amendments put forward by Senator Bannon.
Architects on all sides of this argument who have stopped me in the precincts of this House, on the street, in my office and constituency have indicated their concern and determination that this legislation should go through. They are anxious to protect their professional title and frustrated at having to wait 80 years to get to this point. However, now that we are on the cusp of doing this, as Senator Norris eloquently said, and long after Senators have had the opportunity to make their contributions on Second Stage and the process has gone through the Dáil, this same body come has come forward and indicated it wishes to make these changes. This is not a sensible or a prudent way to do business and it shows scant regard for the consultation process.
The approach taken in the Bill was universally agreed by all the bodies concerned and they had sight of the legislation. A great deal of consultation took place on it. Anybody who suggests that the Bill has been sprung on him or her at the last minute is ignoring the fact that the profession has sought this legislation for 80 years since the foundation of the State.
Is that the RIAI?
The Senator might let me finish. The Bill was universally agreed by all the various bodies.
It was. That process continued up to the Christmas period and then for some reason, which I do not understand, this arrangement came out of the woodwork.
The issue of concern is whether we can ensure independence in this process. While the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and the Society of Chartered Surveyors are proposed as registration bodies under the Bill, I remind the House that their roles are separate from those of any other board or committee that would be established under the Bill. I am satisfied that the procedures set out are fair and equitable and provide assurances that the registration system proposed is open and transparent. Moreover, robust appeal mechanisms are provided for, something which has been lost on those lobbying, given that I, like Senator Norris, have received a phenomenal degree of lobbying, at the last minute. I do not understand it.
This undermines the value of the consultation processes which have been ongoing. It also shows scant regard for the procedures and timetables of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I have made a considerable effort to make sure that this Bill goes through. I have bullied and browbeaten to secure time in both Houses to get it through and have dedicated, as have Members on all sides of this House, a fair amount of time on Committee and Report Stages to do so.
In the circumstances, I cannot accept the amendments nor do I believe they are necessary. It is clear that the lobby group that is pressing for changes did not consider they were necessary right up to Christmas. This is the point. I cannot understand what has changed during the past nine weeks. This group was fulsomely involved in the consultation process and saw the draft legislation, which was published in 2005.
May I make a correction? It is a grammatical one. "Fulsome" does not mean what the Minister thinks it means; it means revoltingly oily and over-indulgence. People often say fulsome but it is an inappropriate use of the word.
I stand corrected——
Or perhaps they were oily.
——on the use of the word. They certainly were not oleaginous. I make the point that if lobby groups want to be listened to and to have their views taken on board, the least they can do to assist this and the other House, as Senator Norris said, is to be timely with the suggestions they put forward. As the Senator also said, their waiting until the eve of his coming to this House to make a further contribution on this Bill does not show the kind of professionalism I would have expected of them, particularly given that the legislation was published in 2005 and there was full consultation on it. I am not sure if some of the consultations were oleaginous but there was full consultation on the Bill and the opportunity was presented to discuss it.
It is extraordinary that amendments that were not suggested on Second, Committee or Report Stages in the Dáil or on Second Stage in the Seanad should be brought forward at this time. It is not a professional or appropriate way to do business. It shows scant regard for the consultation process and for the urgency, from the point of view of all involved in architecture, to have this legislation be enacted. More importantly, it shows scant regard for the necessity to protect in law the victims of people who profess to be architects but are not capable of drawing two lines on a sheet of paper, of whom, unfortunately, there are a number. All one need do is consult a planning department in any part of the country and one will discover there are people who debase the professional title and who have no skills or experience. They do not have the experience to be found in the longer standing practices whose members may not have the academic qualifications.
There is a compelling urgency for the enactment of this legislation from the point of view of protecting the title and from that of protecting the consumer. I know of scandalous cases involving a character in my constituency, who puts himself forward as an architect and who has submitted plans, which border on the fraudulent, to the local authority and has then told unfortunate clients that he would advise them to telephone the local councillor and push this issue. That is not professional.
It is extraordinary, therefore, that these amendments were not suggested at any time up to this. It seems the Bill has had the longest gestation period of any legislation we have handled during the lifetime of this Dáil. More importantly, the concerns at the core of these amendments are addressed in the legislation. I draw the attention of the House to the various parts in the legislation which specify the eligibility criteria for automatic admission to registration and which set out the procedures designed to ensure that all applicants are treated in a fair and transparent manner. Senator Norris was concerned that there should be fairness and transparency, and this has been provided for in the legislation. No convincing argument can be made for this extraordinary degree of change at, literally, the 11th hour, the 59th minute and probably the 58th second. I compliment Senator Bannon on making the effort to incorporate everything but sometimes it is better not to listen to the lobby.
I do not understand the Minister's reference. When I spoke on Second Stage of this Bill two weeks ago I pointed out several anomalies in the Bill and I informed the Minister I would table amendments on Committee Stage.
The GIAI fully supports the aims of this Bill to introduce a system of registration for architects and for the elimination of rogue architects. This Bill fails to prescribe the methods of assessment to be used for those seeking registration. It gives the new registration body a free hand to choose any method of assessment it wishes. The registration body must be independent. Reference has been made in this House on many occasions about the independence of various bodies which are set up in the Oireachtas. The Competition Authority has recommended the establishment of this body and it must be fair and be seen to be fair. I wish to put my opinion on the record of the House that the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland is not independent. I ask the Minister to accept these amendments. I accept his concerns as he said he was not fully briefed, but he should not rush his decision.
Like the Minister I think it extraordinary that up to Christmas, all sides appeared to be in concurrence about this Bill but, suddenly, at the 11th hour, there has been a volte face. People in general do not become exercised about legislation until they know it is on the floor of some House, be it here or in the other House. Members forget this because we are in the business of legislation and the various Stages of Bills, and it is part of our daily lives. However, how Bills are processed through the House is a mystery to ordinary people. This may be our fault because we do not explain the process in detail.
This Bill passed through the other House with suitable amendments and when it came to this House, the groups who believe they may be affected by the legislation woke up to the fact that this is the last post and suddenly they became very busy and active in their lobbying. I can understand their actions. We know that this process is at the 11th hour and groups wish to make representations, which they are entitled to do.
I have met representatives from the GIAI who are concerned about the matter and I have also received information from the RIAI pointing out the misunderstanding of the GIAI. The RIAI has stated that the use of recognition of prior learning would be inappropriate in the case of GIAI members but I do not think so. I feel a certain empathy with the members of the GIAI who believe they are chasing or must continue to chase their rights which they have had for many years. The RIAI states it will not control the assessment process but the Bill proposes that this will be the case. I am at a loss to understand the position. Four non-architects will be appointed as well as a non-architect chairperson who will be a retired judge, barrister or solicitor. The RIAI will nominate architects to the board who will constitute a minority of three members, albeit a learned and vocal one.
We had a most vivid debate on planning on the Order of Business. I have encountered the agents, as they grandly call themselves, who act for people seeking planning permission. If the planning permission result is satisfactory, they claim the credit and if it is not, they tell the applicants they did not make sufficient representations to their local representative.
I suggest to the Minister that something should be done about county councils who will do anything to refuse planning permission to ordinary people who want to build a home on their site in their parish in their county. It is a disgrace that county councils carry on as they do. Planning officials build on the tops of hills with views of beautiful lakes and verdant glens but they do not want anyone else to be given planning permission. It does not matter how many rules and guidelines exist, they will find some way around them and they will refuse permission. This may be off the point of the amendment. I defend the right of anyone to lobby, as would the Minister. However, I am willing to be reassured by the Minister that the GIAI will not lose whatever influence and clout it has in this field and that its members will continue to be enfolded in the warmth of the approval which they have.
I would not wish it to be thought that all those who briefed me on this question of independence did so at the very last minute, because that would not be the truth. I was making the point that a number of them just dumped in the information at the very last minute, as is their right. The material they supplied was for use on Second Stage and not on Committee Stage. However, this does not mean I do not hold to the principle that there should be full independence and transparency and I hope this will be accomplished by the Bill.
I certainly share the Minister's opinion on cowboys who set themselves up as architects. It is unacceptable that somebody puts up a plate and describes himself or herself as an architect when they have no qualification whatever. I do not believe that Senator Bannon will delay the House on this matter because his next series of amendments deal with the grandfather principle, whereby people have experience and academic qualifications but for various reasons do not have a degree in architecture. These people are afraid they may be excluded and that would be a real hardship.
That is the group of which I was speaking.
The Senator indeed spoke very well. I believe we will be able to arrange a system of recognition for them or at least an explanation that will satisfy them.
On a practical note, I respect the fact that the Minister has pushed this matter which is very important and has not been addressed for many years, but I do not believe that amendments will be accepted. It would come as a considerable surprise to me if amendments were accepted because at this stage of the game, with a general election looming and a barrage of legislation coming to the House to be processed, it is unrealistic to return the Bill to the Dáil. On the basis of practical politics, it will not happen. The Minister may surprise me but I would be very surprised and like Senator Ross's sheep or cows, I might well jump through somebody's window with the shock.
This proposal has been made for a long time. I was a member of the Irish architect's society at a time when I was out of the House and was not even in practice. I must declare an interest in that I am on the Minister's list — the departmental list — of registered architects. The RIAI has adopted those who were members of the Irish architect's society and wished to join the RIAI.
It is the GIAI.
The point is that I do not wish to go back into that business after the middle of July——
The Senator will be here forever.
——although I do not want to canvass the Minister publicly in the Seanad. With regard to the Bill, the Minister has received a very detailed submission from a gentleman in County Louth, who met the Minister on this issue. He was very concerned——
It is Paul Leech.
I do not want to name him in the House. He had a meeting with the Minister and outlined a document from Deputy Quinn, who is an RIAI member and who dealt with this matter on 26 September 1986. Deputy Quinn took onto himself the whole question of the RIAI and appointed a group of six architects to look into this issue. All of those files are in the Department.
They are 21 years looking.
It went from that Department. When I was the Minister of State responsible for trade and marketing, we dealt with that issue in Brussels as the lead Department and, therefore, I know the background.
While I am speaking against myself in a sense, if I am accepted as a member of the RIAI——
The Senator is a member of the GIAI.
No, I am not.
The Senator, without interruption.
I am a fellow of the Irish architect's society and am also on the Minister's list. The RIAI has adopted the members of the Irish architect's society, if they wish to join the RIAI.
When the House dealt with the issue of pharmacies yesterday, we did not allow the Irish Pharmaceutical Union to be the regulatory body for the registration of pharmacists and pharmacies; we set up a separate group to do that. This is the key question. The Minister could have set up a registration of architects board or a registration of professionals board and could have introduced a procedure for appointments to that board, which would have been seen as more independent.
I will not go through all the correspondence sent to me by my constituent from County Louth — sorry, he is not a constituent. He met the Minister and told him the Competition Authority was very concerned that the Irish architect's society would be——
He is a constituent. The Senator's constituency is the county councils, including that of County Louth.
He is not a constituent.
Senator Leyden, without interruption.
He is in the Senator's constituency.
He is a constituent in that he lives in the Republic, which I represent. I thank the Senator.
Senator Leyden might get an amendment because apparently——
The point is that the registration body must be independent, as recommended by the Competition Authority. I will not lead a major campaign or put down amendments on this issue. A dialogue on the issue is what I want.
The Minister is competent. He has studied this issue and is frustrated that it is being delayed again and again, and that nothing has happened. He is the first Minister to grasp this issue, to introduce legislation on it and to bring it through the Dáil. It is now in the Seanad and the Minister is asking whether, at this stage, we would return again to square one. I understand his frustration but does he not understand the concerns of those individuals who may be out of a job when the Bill is passed? That is the reality.
These are experienced people. Anyone practising in the State prior to the enactment of this legislation who can prove they had been commissioned to carry out competent work should have some method of being registered under the Bill. Can the Minister see some way to achieve this? If he amends the Bill, he must go back to the Dáil, although I note the Minister himself has an amendment. I see nothing wrong in that.
The Senator knows the Bill would not be enacted in the life of this Dáil——
The Minister can respond following Senator Leyden's contribution.
I accept the Minister's frustration as I was in a similar position myself when I brought legislation through this House at the end of a term. I knew we could not go back to the other House and, although good proposals were made by Senators at that time, I refused to accept what were good amendments.
If they got the Bill first——
I hope the message will get through to the registration authority that we are making an appeal on behalf of those mature individuals who have been practising up to the date of the Bill——
That they would get reassurance from the Minister.
It would be an indication to the board that they were registered.
We must be careful in this regard.
I understand the Minister has a number of amendments. If so, the Bill will go back to the Dáil.
They are minor.
I thought the Minister stated it would not be enacted during this Oireachtas term if we took amendments. Perhaps the Minister could put my mind at rest. I am particularly concerned about Senator Norris, who threatened to jump through a window if the amendments were taken. On that basis, I would look——
It seems I may have to. Will somebody point to a convenient window? Would the Minister accept it if I jumped through a ground floor window?
I will pass the Senator's comments to Professor Harrison. One of the last comments referred to a planning decision made recently by An Bord Pleanála which involved a good friend of mine — I must declare an interest. I do not wish to appear in any way to be inflexible in this regard but we should stop the messing. The reality is that if we do a substantial rewrite of the Bill, we know it will go back to the Dáil and will never see the light of day.
What we see here is the worst kind of pandering to a lobby. The concerns which are now being expressed were not expressed before Christmas. Senator Leyden made the point that I was very accessible to people and met with the group because I was anxious to listen carefully, not just to the advice from my Department or the lobbying of the RIAI but to every other group involved. As far as I could establish at an organisational level, while there may have been individuals who did not agree with the organisational unanimity, there was virtual unanimity on this matter. The GIAI was one of the parties consulted in this process.
Senator Leyden referred to correspondence going back as far as 1986. There is a report going back as far as 1997 but there is also correspondence of lobbying that goes further back. One of the first issues lobbied on following the foundation of the State was this issue. It is time to cut to the chase.
As Senator Quinn noted, an amendment is to be introduced as a result of the debate in this House. Senator O'Rourke felt the term "grandfather clause" was insulting, ageist and politically incorrect. I went back to the parliamentary draftsman and, although the phrase had been used elsewhere, I agreed with the points made by Senator O'Rourke——
I love being a grandmother.
I am sure the Senator does and I am sure the grandchild loves having her as a grandmother. However, the point is this is a textual amendment which will address a point made by Senators.
All parties were consulted on this issue. All agreed that the RIAI should be the registration body, provided provisions were included in the Bill to differentiate between and protect the interests involved. The Bill was drafted to ensure fairness and transparency, and that proper procedures were put in place. If, at this late stage, we decide to remove all of that and try to rewrite the whole process, we will endanger the Bill for no good purpose, in spite of the fact that all who were involved in the consultation agreed on the procedures which are in the Bill. We will endanger the Bill but we will not add one jot to the protections and the fairness provided in it. If we do this, we will behave irresponsibly. It would be one of those occasions where we listened to too much advice on too many occasions. Consultation is fine and fair but, at the end of the day, decisions must be made. This issue has dragged on interminably.
I understand the point made by Senators regarding the importance of recognising practical experience as a means of securing registration under the Bill. I already stated that on several occasions, both here and in the Lower House. I am also aware that a number of individuals are of the view that their practical experience may not be recognised, that the technical assessment process will be more difficult than that provided for in the Bill and that they could possibly lose their right to an adequate livelihood. This will not happen. Such an eventuality would be unconstitutional.
I wish to offer Senators an assurance. The purpose of the technical assessment procedure is to allow practical experience to be assessed in order that people might qualify for registration. As Senator Leyden stated, it is designed to give people the opportunity to present a body of professional work that can be objectively assessed. I am at a loss to understand why an organisation that was fully involved in the consultation process should, at an extremely late stage, seem to take a view which is precisely opposite to the consensus that existed up to November last.
An important point appears to have been missed in the lobby material I have seen — Members may have been presented with different material — namely, that a robust appeals process under which decisions of any board or committee, including those made by the technical assessment board, may be challenged will be put in place. In addition, there will be an ultimate right of appeal to the High Court. The various appeals mechanisms are, therefore, in place. It would be a matter for the court to make a ruling on whether the technical assessment process is carried out in a fair and equitable manner. If the technical assessment board were to behave in a way that was despotic, unfair or unjust, its decisions would be quickly struck down.
The Bill regulates the right of a person to call himself or herself an architect. That point tends to become lost in the debate. Senator Norris referred to the point I made earlier, namely, that from the point of view of consumer protection and professional protection, it is necessary to enact this legislation. I am not being intransigent on this issue. However, I am mystified by the extraordinary volte face that has occurred in the context of professional consensus on this matter. The technical assessment and appeals processes are robust and make provision for what was suggested. The Competition Authority recommended that there be an independent process and an independent body. The Bill establishes the RIAI in order to meet that recommendation.
On the RIAI and the Society of Chartered Surveyors, it is interesting that none of the type of lobbying or hysteria that has marked one side of this debate has appeared on the other. I remind Members that the roles of these bodies are separate from those of other boards or committees to be established under the Bill. I am satisfied the procedure being put in place contains the necessary protections and provides assurances that the registration system will be open and transparent. Moreover, the Bill makes provision for robust appeals mechanisms. There also will be a great deal of lay representation on some of the bodies to which I refer.
If we were to proceed to entirely rewrite certain of its sections, the legislation would become imperilled. A complete rewrite would not achieve any additional beneficial effect. The necessary procedures, appeals process and mechanisms are in place and people's right of appeal remains protected.
For the reasons outlined, I regret I cannot accept the amendments.
The Minister stated that acceptance of our amendments would delay the passage of the Bill. A total of 18 Government amendments have been tabled, which means the Bill will have to be returned to the Dáil. I am concerned that the proposed registration body has made it known that architects who are seeking to be registered will be subject to academically-focused methods of assessment known as RPL. Will the Minister clarify the position in this regard?
The Minister made a number of solid points. I gave careful consideration to the lobby material I received and I spoke to some of the people involved. I tried to work my way through this matter on the basis of the experience I gained in other areas. I set aside the Competition Authority's view on the matter. I accept what it is saying but I am not sure it is completely relevant to what we are discussing.
The main issue I raised on Second Stage was not so much related to the involvement of the RIAI as it was to protecting the careers and professionalism of architects who are not members of that organisation. I want to go through what I believe to be involved here and perhaps the Minister might then indicate if I am right or wrong in my assessment.
What is being done here has been done in other professions in many different ways. I was centrally involved in the establishment of the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority at a time when it was felt self-regulation should not be allowed. However, I managed to convince the Committee of Public Accounts that it is possible to have self-regulation with oversight. I informed some of the lobby groups that I do not have a particular difficulty with the RIAI. However, I would have a serious difficulty if that organisation could not be trusted. That is the issue as I see it.
Leaving aside members of the RIAI, my understanding is that the institute will be the registration body but that it will not influence admissions.
It will not do so now.
The admissions board will be responsible for overseeing admissions. This board will be comprised of seven members and a chairperson. Three of its members will be architects nominated by the RIAI, four will be nominated by the Minister and will not be architects and a person with a legal background will be charged with chairing the board. As well as registering graduates from the NUI and other bodies, it will be also in a position to register those with at least seven years practical experience of performing duties commensurate with those of an architect in the State. I am seeking an assurance that the latter will cover the people with whom I have been speaking, namely, those who are not, who never have been or who were for a time members of the RIAI.
There is somewhat of a catch-22 situation regarding the four ministerial appointments. According to the Bill, the four individuals who will be appointed by the Minister will be people who are not architects. I would have preferred it if the relevant provision had stated that these people should be individuals who are not members of the RIAI because this would allow the Minister of the day to nominate people who are working as architects but who are not members of the RIAI. This would have given a degree of comfort to those who have a difficulty with this matter.
A person who is not a graduate of the NUI, DIT or some other body but who has practical experience will be obliged to make his or her application to the admissions board. Theoretically, the RIAI could nominate persons who are not its members to serve on the board——
——but I am sure it will not do so. In terms of the way the legislation is presented, however, it could decide to proceed in this way. If the admissions board is unsure about or does not wish to make a decision with regard to someone applying on the basis of experience, it will be able to refer the matter to the technical assessment board. The latter will be also comprised of seven ordinary members, three of whom will be architects and the other four will be appointed by the Minister. Non-architects will, therefore, be predominant on both the admissions board and the technical assessment board.
Am I correct in stating there is nothing in the legislation which indicates that the registration body will be in a position to intervene when the admissions board, following consultation with the technical assessment board, makes a decision and forwards it to the registrar? If, therefore, the registrar receives a proposal from the admissions board, he or she must accept it as being final. The person then is effectively registered. If the person has gone through an admissions body and perhaps a technical board, and if the admissions body does not agree to register the person, can he or she appeal to the High Court? Can an individual who has been refused admission appeal to the High Court?
Therefore, there are three structures in place. If that were the case, I would like to hear the Minister say so. I also would like that the persons who were nominated by the Minister might necessarily be ones from without the RIAI. I have no difficulty with the RIAI being the registration body per se, but I am uneasy that its members are the only architects involved in everything. If we assume, as the legislation does, that there are other architects who are not members of the RIAI, I ask that they be given a say in it somewhere along the way. For me, the only issue is that the Minister would so provide. I am sure the Minister, like me, would feel uneasy about passing legislation which put decent, hard-working, professional, responsible, successful people out of work by not being able to use the term architect.
I fully agree with the protection of the term "architect", just as I agree that legislation will be brought forward shortly to protect the term "accountant" and with the way in which we have protected the term "veterinary surgeons" here recently. These are important consumer protection measures. My only difference with the Minister is that I want to see recognition given in some form to those architects who are not members of the RIAI. I would trust the processes the Minister is putting in place. They are good and sound. If there was a way the Minister could provide for the other architects, then that would be a comfort to me.
I am grateful to Senator O'Toole for illustrating that the process is robust, is not dominated individually and is multi-tiered. That is important because it has a bearing on the fears and concerns that have been expressed in some of the material I have seen.
Senator O'Toole is correct that there is a preponderance of lay persons. In the first instance, there are the architects, the persons who will be nominated by the Minister and the person with legal experience. As he correctly stated there is then the second separate technical assessment process, which also is not dominated by the group, and also there is a further right of appeal to the court which could not be denied in any event.
The contributions of Senator O'Toole and others raised a number of issues related to the technical assessment process. The point of the technical assessment process is to provide for registration for persons with ten or more years experience in the State performing duties commensurate with those of architect. It is a necessary process. Section 20 sets out the criteria for which the technical assessment panel must have regard, and that is an entirely appropriate way of dealing with it.
I understand the concerns raised about the recognition of practical experience and I also am aware of the views of some in the profession in this regard, but the concern that practical experience would not be recognised is a false one because the technical assessment process is not based purely on the academic learning. The idea of recognition of prior learning is not unusual and exists elsewhere. Senator O'Toole, for example, will be aware that HETAC states that the concept of life-long learning underpins the national framework of qualification. Recognition of prior learning is a process and, therefore, the concept is not novel.
The concept of prior learning encompasses, but is not exclusively focused on, formal learning. The concept also includes non-formal learning which is the learning of on-the-job training and informal learning which takes place through life and work experience. The idea that recognition of prior learning is a mystery, a new system, something novel or virgin territory with which we are not familiar is false. All of that is protected in the legislation. Once the Bill is in force, the registration body will nominate three architect members and there will be architects who are registered but who may or may not have been members of the RIAI. One should note that if one is registered, one need not join the RIAI. There is a pool of architects available for appointment by the registration body.
I listened carefully to debate on all of the arguments. We are in danger of getting ourselves talked into a position of sterility on an issue that needs to be changed, both from the point of view of protection of a profession and from the point of view of protecting the consumers — the latter are a major concern of mine. As Senator Norris generously recognised, there are many Bills in my Department that could have taken precedent over this legislation, and I would have run into rather less lobbying at the last minute in those cases. Every available opportunity to meet people's reasonable concerns has been taken in this legislation. As I stated, there was agreement on the legislation right up to the end of last year. Senator Leyden was correct to remind me that there were one or two individuals who are outside any of the professional groups and, in fairness, I sought to meet them as well because I believed they also had a view.
All of the concerns raised have been answered. Persons are not being forced into the RIAI and there is a robust technical assessment system which will take account of life-long experiential learning, which is the point made by Senators Leyden and O'Rourke. Our long-established procedures recognise prior learning and we know what that entails from, for example, HETAC and elsewhere.
The point was made twice here that it was just about academic learning but that is disingenuous. The lobby which has suggested it is simply not reading the Bill. The reality is that prior learning is formal learning, non-formal and informal learning as well as experience over the years, and all of that is dealt with robustly. For all of those reasons I will not be accepting the amendments.
The groups which cause me concern are those I mentioned with years of experience working as architects. First, in the Minister's considered view would those who are working successfully as architects within the State encounter any difficulty in becoming registered? Is there any reason they would not be registered? Will they encounter difficulty in becoming registered? If they did, I would take up their cause in that respect because it would be unfair.
Second, if they get through the registration hurdle and may call themselves registered architects but are not members of the RIAI, is there a danger that they would not be able to influence the development of their profession in the future, in other words, is such influence maintained within the RIAI?
Those are two fair questions. On the first question, there is no reason for professional people with expertise to fear. There are many distinguished people who operated as architects in this State over the years who did not necessarily have that formal arrangement. They are not in any way imperilled by this. That was the point Senator O'Toole raised earlier and I apologise for not addressing it. There is no rational reason that such persons should have any fears or concerns about this because if it arises for technical assessment, they will present their own work. This was the point Senator Leyden raised during our last debate on this matter. When we have completed the set-up period and the process is underway, people who are not members of the RIAI but who have been recognised as architects will be able to serve after election by their own organisation.
Will all registered people have votes?
Of course. I do not wish to appear impatient but I cannot understand why these arguments were made, particularly given that it is in the profession's interest, including those who have entered it through experience, to proceed with this legislation. Consultations have been carried out, my door has been open and I have answered most of the e-mails I personally received. I have met people who put forward coherent arguments, as well as one or two who made arguments that were not necessarily coherent. I simply do not understand why we should change the legislation at this late stage. I accept the points made by Senator Bannon but this process has already undergone almost 80 years of lobbying. If any legislation ever deserved enactment without further chatter, it is this Bill. I will be bringing several amendments which were drafted on foot of listening to the cogent arguments made in this House. If I have a fault, it is perhaps that I listen too often. With regard to Senator Quinn's question, I have received the agreement of the Parliamentary Counsel that the changes do not imperil the Bill's process. The matter has been fully addressed.
A person who is an architect can of course go forward for nomination. People who remain fearful of being dragged kicking and screaming into that dreadful body, the RIAI, need fear no longer.
Amendment No. 3 is a Government amendment. Amendments No. 4 and 5 are physical alternatives to amendments Nos. 3 and 6. Amendments Nos. 19, 43 and 49 to 52, inclusive, are related. Therefore, amendments Nos. 3 to 6, inclusive, 19, 43 and 49 to 52, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.
Several Senators, and Senators Leyden and O'Rourke in particular, expressed concern on Second Stage about the use of the term "grandfather clause" and its relevance to modern parliamentary language. I have considered those views and, having looked at the record of the debate, I accept their well-made argument that the use of the term was patronising, carried connotations of ageism and did not agree with modern parliamentary language. During debate on Report Stage in the Dáil, an amendment was accepted which defined the term in respect of a certain category of applicants. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel is also of the view that an amendment is necessary because it believed the reference to "grandfather clause" was inappropriate and politically incorrect and should be substituted by the more appropriate definition, "practical experience assessment procedures".
I am unable to accept amendments No. 4 and 5 because they are contradictory to amendments Nos. 3 and 6. Amendment No. 6 provides for the definition "practical experience assessment procedures", as advised by the Parliamentary Counsel. That definition is relevant to sections 19, 20, 34 and 48. Senator Bannon was correct to state that a raft of Government amendments are being brought in but they are intended to replace the words "grandfather clause" with four words which more appropriately describe the specific concept.
What are those four words?
"Practical experience assessment procedure".
The technical assessment board will be established under section 19 to assess eligibility for recognition of persons with ten or more years experience in this State of performing duties commensurate with those of architects. Section 20 sets out the procedures for assessment and includes the requirement that an applicant submits to the board a curriculum vitae providing details of the work carried out by him or her in the field of architecture, information on projects carried out during the ten-year period of practice and a file containing at least four projects for which the applicant was responsible. The documents submitted will be subject to independent verification.
These are not onerous requirements and the people we have in mind would have no difficulty in meeting them. Architects who operate professionally and provide good services should have no concerns with regard to meeting the requirements. I hope Senators will acknowledge that the provisions clearly demonstrate practical experience will be fully considered as part of the assessment process. Moreover, the criteria set out in section 20 are fair and transparent. It will be the responsibility of the technical assessment board to operate in a fair and equitable manner. The legislation provides for that in a complete manner.
Amendments Nos. 19, 49 and 51 are technical amendments consequential to the new definition of the term "practical experience assessment procedures" in section 2 and have been recommended by the Parliamentary Counsel. The amendments will apply to categories of architects and surveyors who undergo technical assessments.
Amendments Nos. 43, 50 and 52 are consequential and arise from the advice of the Parliamentary Counsel following Second Stage debate in this House.
I thank the Minister for considering the issues I raised on Second Stage. The term "grandfather clause" was somewhat ageist but he has addressed the issue very well.
I also welcome his response to Senator O'Toole and others regarding the concerns of individuals who wish to continue practising their professions. As a practising politician and someone with vast constituency experience, he is conscious of such concerns. It would be unconstitutional to deprive a person of the right to a livelihood if he or she is at all reasonable in terms of practising a profession. The Department compiles a formal list, to which some have applied. Unfortunately, those who failed to apply are concerned because they are not on the list. Senator O'Rourke and I have been approached by a certain individual who I consider very competent but for some reason was not accepted. The numbers involved are small and I can only cite two people who approached me on the matter.
I acknowledge the Minister's frustration regarding people coming out of the woodwork at this late stage but the issue has passed through a variety of Ministers and Departments. I do not understand why it was dealt with at one stage by the former Minister for Labour, Deputy Quinn, who was a member of the RIAI. He was seemingly more than favourable to the RIAI. He is probably listening to this debate but he cannot deny that. It creates a little concern. Did the Minister consider setting up a council of surveyors to alleviate that concern? John Lynch has campaigned strongly on this issue. This is a democracy and we are putting forward his views as an individual. The Minister's response is on the record and I will transmit that to Mr. Lynch. The Minister has been more than open to meeting people in his constituency or in Leinster House regarding this legislation and he has given them a good hearing. He has responded to our representations.
The IPU has not been given responsibility to register pharmacists and pharmacies, although the union has an input and it is involved with its members. I raised this issue on Second Stage and the Minister has inserted an appeals procedures, as a result of which this issue will not arise when the legislation is enacted. People entering the pharmaceutical profession will be aware of the procedures that must be followed to obtain qualifications. I am reassured by the Minister's comments that if those who have atypical qualifications forward their curriculum vitae to the board, they will be successful.
I usually praise a Minister who accepts amendments. I am probably the only grandfather present and I am disappointed that the term "grandfather" is regarded as a term of derogation rather than praise.
I have been heavily lobbied on this legislation. Section 20 outlines the criteria that will be used by the technical assessment board and they cover all eventualities. However, no reference is made to academic qualifications or requirements. The appeals system provided for under section 22 is stringent and robust. As Senator O'Toole pointed out, three different layers of assessment will be involved. Consideration should be given to those who have spent a lifetime working as architects but who hold related qualifications. The Minister's reassurances will go a long way to allaying the fears of those working in this field.
I have a little hesitation about this. Amendment No. 5 is so broad that it could cover people such as Mr. Grant who operated in Gardiner Street, Dublin, and behaved in the most disgraceful fashion. I would not like to see that. Perhaps licence will not be given to people who posed as architects in the past because a qualifications system and an assessment board will be in place. Giving a blanket acknowledgement might be risky.
However, to balance that, I have had discussions with very responsible people who took time out of busy lives to talk in detail about the issues involved. During the 1960s and 1970s, they attempted to gain entry to the schools of architecture in UCD and Bolton Street but the courses were full because of the limited number of places. Although they had sufficient points and an academic entitlement to take up the course, they were not in the top 30 or among the first applicants and, therefore, they did not gain entry to the course. They were perfectly suitable candidates and, as a consequence, they pursued courses in draughtmanship, technical drawing and engineering. They met the requirements to practise as architects. They, therefore, have appropriate architectural qualifications, they have considerable experience and they have been employed at a senior level in architectural practices. One man who visited me was a senior partner in a firm. Those who have the experience, the portfolio and academic qualifications in an area clearly related to architecture are in a good position.
Another worry expressed by the individuals I met concerned the portfolio criterion, under which they felt they could be required to demonstrate experience, for example, in 100 different areas. They would have to laboriously outline that from a specific drawing they learned how to put a screw in a gutter. If that is the case, it is not fair because that will impose a higher standard than is appropriate in the circumstances.
There is a group of persons that was not well served by the third level institutions. Although there was a demand for architects at the time and theses individuals were entitled to a place, they were denied on the basis of a lack of places on the course. They then undertook parallel courses and obtained academic qualifications. They have a track record and they should be able to register easily. This situation is historic and it will not recur. They should be treated favourably but, at the same time, I would not like a portmanteau clause whereby anybody who is practising should be registered automatically. Perhaps I am wrong about this but I do not like it.
I refer to people like the gentleman in the Minister's constituency who could not draw two lines on a piece of paper and who did some scandalous work, which he tried to dump on the county councillors. For the first and perhaps only time in my life, I felt a twinge of sympathy for county councillors when the Minister referred to this. I would hate to think that individuals such as this would receive favourable treatment. However, a strong argument can be made on behalf of those I referred to earlier and about whom Senator O'Rourke spoke so convincingly.
I thank the Minister for taking the trouble to read the report of the Second Stage debate. I acknowledge the he studied our comments and then deleted the grandfather clause. It was a funny clause, which I disliked intensely, and I thank him for deleting it.
Reference was made to the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. I still have republican feelings and when the word "Royal" was tagged on to a title, it would make one say "Oh my God".
It would not. It would make me feel very well.
However, I met people from the Royal College of Surgeons who said that foreign students applying to the college loved the word "Royal" in the title because it gave their parents a sense of security that they were sending their children to a well regulated body. I then gave up having an antipathy to the word. Herself will be here, I hope, in the next 12 months.
I thank the Minister. I hope there is no hidden resentment against the RIAI and that if there is, it does not find expression. I also hope the Minister has erected sufficient walls to ensure this cannot happen and that he will oversee how it is proceeding with its business.
The Minister was very vague and Senator Leyden spoke about his views which are are not included in the Bill. What is contained in it is what is important. A Minister can express views inside or outside the House, but what is contained in the Bill is what matters.
The Bill is of concern to many because, if enacted in its current form, it has the potential to deprive some members of the GIAI and others of their constitutional right to earn a living as an architect. This is of great concern to me. The Minister should acknowledge the established right of those practising for many years but without formal qualifications. This is not fully acknowledged in the Bill.
The two amendments I have tabled propose minor but very important changes to the definition of the "grandfather clause". The Minister referred to comments made on the last occasion we discussed the Bill. It is crucial that the established right of a person falling within a certain category is expressed and recognised.
In regard to the RIAI proposing an assessment system which would provide for the acknowledgement of the established right to practise for those without formal qualifications using uniform, fair and open procedures, it is important this is included in the Bill. My amendment would copperfasten it.
I would like the Minister to take my two amendments on board. There is much concern that he is not taking on board the concerns expressed. On the last occasion we discussed the Bill he indicated he would give them due consideration on Committee Stage. Politics is about people and being a good listener. All I ask is that the Minister listen and implement policies which are people-friendly and protect their jobs.
I am utterly mystified by Senator Bannon's contribution. The amendment I have tabled provides precisely for what he has asked. I am also mystified by his suggestion that the legislation does not deal with the objectivity of the assessment process. Section 20 states that "a person who makes an application under this section shall submit the following...". It goes on to outline the objective matter to be submitted. Amendment No. 6 provides for practical experience assessment procedures. We have reached a situation in this House where Members are listening to one lobby only and not reading legislation. That is the only objective, rational assessment I can make. There is no logic in the Senator saying we are not doing something when we are providing in the Bill for precisely what he has asked. If he looks at amendment No. 6, he will see that""practical experience assessment procedures" means the procedures under. . .". To suggest in impassioned terms that somehow or other we are not listening, that we are not doing precisely what he has asked for and that somebody who meets the objective criteria will be thrown out of his or her job is nonsense. It does not make any sense. What the Senator has asked for is encompassed in amendments Nos. 3 and 6. It could not be more clear-cut than the way in which it is set out in those amendments.
Senator Norris made a very interesting contribution about the pre-points system of admission to universities. He was right in that regard. Those of us who went through the university system before 1977 entered universities in which there was much patronage and a degree of nepotism. The Senator was right that if one wanted to enter certain faculties, one did not necessarily do so on the basis of one's academic capacity. Many good people were prohibited from entering the professional faculties simply because they could not get in. I say this as someone who was in university before the points system was introduced and who wished to gain access to a faculty other than the one in which I studied. I saw the radical change brought about following the introduction of the points system in 1977. The Senator was correct that the system in place before 1977 was bad and inappropriate. There is no doubt that the system introduced since is a murder machine because the emphasis now is on points.
The Senator had two concerns. Oddly enough, one of them was the exact opposite, in many ways, of the concerns expressed by Senator Bannon who does not seem to have fully taken on board the import of the changes made in the amendments I have tabled. If he reads them again, he will see that they fully take on board his concerns.
Senator Norris has made the counter point that he does not want a portmanteau clause which will allows anybody, including the chancer to whom I referred, to become an architect. That is not the purpose of the Bill and it will not be possible when enacted. If the person I have in mind presented the "quality" of work he has presented to an assessment board, it will not come through the process. It is not quality work and has caused untold pain and difficulties for people who have gone through the planning process. It is not unique to County Wicklow; it has happened elsewhere.
A concern which has not been mentioned and which sadly has been absent from much of the debate relates to consumer protection. When one goes to somebody who calls himself or herself an architect, one goes believing a body of work will be produced which will stand up to scrutiny. When one sees some of the work submitted to planning departments, one sees there is a dire need for this change from the point of view of consumer protection.
I suggest Senator Bannon look again at amendments Nos. 3 and 6 which fulfil the objective he seeks to achieve. He is right that we are enacting the Bill, not the wishes or views of a Minister. The Bill provides for what the technical assessment board should be mindful of, on which amendments Nos. 3 and 6 elaborate further.
The Minister has not made the position crystal clear. I refer to the avoidance of doubt about a conflict of interest in regard to the regulations and registration process. Representation is an important function of special interest groups and others such as the RIAI. The Architects Council of Ireland should be included. The Minister should do this. I request him to broaden the scope of the Bill to include the council in all the functions of the regulation that will be carried out by this division. Perhaps the Minister will consider the matter.
The House has already discussed this issue. The Senator has withdrawn amendment No. 2 which made that point.
The Official Report will show that he did.
We are discussing amendment No. 3.
As amendment No. 3 has been agreed, amendments Nos. 4 and 5 cannot be moved.
I did not state amendment No. 5 was withdrawn.
It cannot be moved because——
I did not state that; I asked whether the Minister was accepting the amendment.
We have moved on.
I said "No".
Acting Chairman: Procedurally, the amendment cannot be moved because amendment No. 3 was agreed to.
It cannot be moved.
On a point of order, although I may be mistaken, I believe Senator Bannon agreed to amendment No. 2 rather than section 2. My understanding was that he did not intend to press amendment No. 2 but rather the question on section 2. Perhaps I am mistaken.
We will deal with section 2 when we have disposed of the amendments.
The House has not yet reached section 2.
We are dealing with amendment No. 6. We can deal with the section thereafter.
I did not say that.
The Senator did.
I understood the House was dealing with amendments Nos. 3 to 6, inclusive, together.
Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, were being discussed together.
My grouping list for Committee Stage indicates amendments Nos. 3 to 6, inclusive, 19 and 43 will be grouped together. A moment ago the television monitor in the House showed that amendments Nos. 3 to 6, inclusive, were being discussed together, with amendments Nos. 19 and 43.
Acting Chairman: The grouping referred to includes amendments Nos. 3 to 6, inclusive. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 cannot be agreed because amendment No. 3 was agreed to.
My understanding is that once amendment No. 3 was dealt with, amendments Nos. 4 and 5 became redundant and the House has moved to deal with amendment No. 6.
On amendments Nos. 4 and 5, I was simply seeking greater clarity. The Minister has not provided it.
Amendments Nos. 7 to 10, inclusive, 12 and 13 are related. The amendments provide for the recoupment by local councils of the costs incurred in the taking of enforcement measures by authorities in breaches of the building code. The amendments arose from proceedings on Report Stage in the Dáil. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, accepted their principle and promised that further consideration would be given to them at an appropriate time. I now propose a suitable text that will give effect to the outcome of the debate that took place in the Dáil.
A number of issues have been raised by the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disability Federation of Ireland and I am glad to propose them for inclusion in the Bill. One of my greatest disappointments as a councillor, Senator, Deputy and Minister is that people are still blind to the difficulties of those who are wheelchair bound or who suffer from a disability, particularly in respect of access. One would have thought that by now everyone involved in planning at any point would automatically consider the issue of access. However, these requests were made and will be included in the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 10 and 12 provide for amendments to sections 8 to 10, inclusive, to provide for the recoupment by council authorities of any costs or expenses reasonably incurred by an authority in the taking of enforcement procedures. It also applies where the application has been made under section 9 to the District Court by a person for an annulment, modification or alteration of an enforcement notice served. In addition, it applies to costs incurred by authorities in making application to the Circuit Court or the High Court under section 12 of the 1990 Act for an order of removal, alteration, discontinuation of works or making safe any building or prohibiting or restricting the use of any building under a fire safety certificate, a disability access certificate or a regularisation certificate. The cost may include the cost of investigation and the detection of matters, the issue of warnings prior to the service of the notice and the remuneration or any other expenses of employees, consultants and advisers involved in the process. The costs may be recouped as a simple contract debt in any court of competent jurisdiction. Amendment No. 13 which is consequential is a renumbering amendment.
As a general principle, when enforcement procedures must be followed, the taxpayer should not be obliged to bear the cost. From my experience in my constituency of dealing with issues such illegal dumping, I am aware that massive legal and investigative costs were incurred which ultimately fell on the taxpayer. There is something fundamentally wrong with this. Those who set out to do wrong should be obliged to bear the full cost of their wrongdoing. Consequently, the legislation will be strengthened by this measure and the changes will be welcomed, as they were in the other House.
I should clarify that sections 7, 8, 10 and 12 are related while section 13 is consequential on section 12.
The Acting Chairman referred to sections. The grouping refers to amendments rather than sections.
Yes, it pertains to amendments.
The confusion between amendments and sections is causing problems.
Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 10 and 12 are related, while amendment No. 13 is consequential. They may be discussed together.
I completely accept the Minister's point about wheelchair access in new buildings. It is essential that this is recognised on every occasion. I assume it pertains to any new building where this is not taken into account. I happen to have been involved in a business that always used trolleys and, consequently, this did not constitute a problem. On that basis, one could not have steps. However, I have seen many instances in which wheelchairs have not been provided for in new buildings. A strong message should be sent, as the Minister has done on this occasion.
The National Disability Authority, NDA, has produced a number of documents on accessibility of buildings for disabled people. In its submission to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the review of Part M of the building regulations the NDA recommended, among other provisions, that the definition of "disability" used in Part M should include a reference to the Disability Act 2005. It also recommended the inclusion of those with a range of impairments, including those with hearing difficulties, to which I have referred, speech and other impairments limiting mobility, as well as hand and arm movements, etc. Technical guidance standards for non-residential buildings in key problem areas should be raised to best international standards. Several documents have referred to this and those of us in constant communication with people with disabilities know this should happen. I would welcome the standards set out in Part M being reflected in other parts of the building regulations.
The Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disability Federation of Ireland proposed the Bill be amended to increase the sanctions for breach of the building regulations in the Bill. Amendments have been tabled to increase fines and ensure the costs of the enforcement authorities for the investigation and prosecution of a breach in regulations are carried by those who are non-compliant. This should happen, as should publishing the consultation process before work commences on any construction in all major public developments. As well as this, regulations in the Bill regarding disability access and the use of a building should be the same as in current building regulations. An access statement should also be part of a planning application. It is important that these be done.
My party tabled amendments in the Dáil which would have covered many of these recommendations. Unfortunately, they were considered unnecessary and rejected by the Government. I was greatly disappointed when I read the Official Report of the Dáil debate and the Minister's comments on this issue. I wish to put on record my concerns and I hope the Minister will address them.
Senator Bannon did well until the last two sentences and I was going to congratulate him on his positive response. If one examines what was said in the Dáil, one will see I promised I would consider it further and this amendment faithfully incorporates what was discussed. It is the specific point of this amendment.
This issue of access is very important. It is a matter of scandal that people still design buildings without having access in mind. It is true not only in non-residential areas but also in residential areas. Last night, I answered an e-mail from a constituent who moved into a new house and was delighted because it was wheelchair accessible. It is only wheelchair accessible through the back door. What kind of message does this give? More thought must be given to this area. This amendment takes on board the requests lodged by the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disability Federation of Ireland.
Senator Bannon mentioned Part M of the building regulations in passing. A review of Part M was initiated and is under way. Consultation must take place on this and it will be held with disability groups, which is appropriate because these are the groups one listens to in this area. The consultation document will be published later this year. It is important we evolve the thinking in Part M. Senator Bannon is correct to state other access issues arise apart from purely physical access issues. This is why the disability groups will be intimately involved in the consultation process. Part M is good and we need to move beyond it and build on what is good. I thank Senator Bannon for his positive comments.
Will the Minister consider having discussions with senior planners in various local authorities? I am greatly concerned about the tastes of particular planners. In some parts of the country, a view is held that those building new houses should install smaller or narrower windows. Recently, I was brought into a house and shown a window forced on a couple. The window is a fire hazard. This should not be the case. Broad guidelines should be in place on the size and quality of windows installed in public buildings in the interests of the safety of the public.
This issue must be addressed with a degree of urgency. In one part of the country, planners want large windows and in another area, they want small windows. It does not make sense. The Minister's taste and mine may differ in this regard. I may be keen on a large window while the Minister's taste may be for a smaller one. The safety of the structure should be paramount.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 53 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
These are technical amendments as recommended by the Parliamentary Counsel.
During the debate on Report Stage in the Dáil, a commitment was made to give further consideration to amendments which had been tabled. These concerned the increases in fines for breaches of the building code. Section 9 of the Bill already provides for substantial increases in fines. A fine of €5,000 already cited in the Bill was increased from £800. I am advised €5,000 is the maximum fine for the jurisdiction of the District Court and, accordingly, it is outside my remit to propose to increase it.
The section originally provided for an amendment to section 9 to provide for an increase in the maximum fine for conviction on indictment from €10,000 to €25,000. However, in light of the debate in the Dáil, I propose to increase the original fine further to €50,000. We will make substantial changes in the level of fines. I hope Senators from all parties will welcome the amendment which will act as a deterrent for those who may consider it profitable to be non-compliant with building regulations. It applies to the totality of the building regulations. It is part of my philosophy that people involved in building who know the regulations and decide they will ignore them must bear the full cost and consequence of their actions.
I do not have the Act of 1990 with me. I am sure it is correct to substitute €50,000 for €25,000. Is this a maximum fine?
I thank the Minister.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 16, subsection (3), line 31, to delete "Admissions Board" and substitute the following:
"Architects' Council of Ireland to act as an admissions board (in this Part referred to as the "Council")".
I have one point.
The amendment cannot be discussed now; it has already been discussed with amendment No. 1. Is the amendment being pressed?
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 16, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) The Council shall be independent from the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland in its functions and decision-making capacity.".
This clearly states the independence of the board.
I have a comment. Section 12(2)(f) states:
a person who—
(i) has at least 7 years’ practical experience of performing duties commensurate with those of an architect in the State,
(ii) is at least 35 years of age[.]
Why is there a minimum age of 35? I believe the minimum age stipulation still exists for presidents in America, but I cannot remember what it is for our president. It may be 35 years of age as well. I would question this stipulation in the Bill.
The Minister's actions in arranging for somebody to be able to practise on this basis are very worthy in that people must have at least seven years' practical experience of performing duties commensurate with those of an architect in the State and have passed a prescribed register admission examination. Why would we need the age stipulation in that case?
It is a well made point. I queried why this was included. It emerged during the course of discussions because it was supposed to take into account the domestic circumstances.
I am not even sure maturity necessarily applies. When the Senator mentioned it I knew there was something odd about the age limit of 35 applying, as it does to the American presidency. It is not necessarily true that maturity, logic or common sense would follow.
The stipulation exists because it arose from consultations. If my memory serves, the explanation I received was that it was meant to capture experience and the reality that conditions have changed. Senator Norris made the point that changes occurred in 1977 when there were different forms of access to university. The stipulation is meant to capture such changes.
It is amazing that the Senator is the first person to mention this in either House, and the Bill has received a fair hearing in both Houses. I am not enamoured of general age requirements, but this arose from consultations.
I can understand exactly the wording and I can picture Frank Lloyd Wright, mentioned earlier as someone who is one of those exceptions. It would be a shame if a youngMozart-like person, an achiever at seven or eight who passes examinations at 22, 25, 28 or 29, would be excluded from becoming an architect until he or she was 35 because of age. I do not know if it is too late for the Minister to reconsider the matter at this late stage.
If it is not too late for an amendment I would suggest that section 12 should be adjusted by the removal of the age limit in total. This would leave the stipulations of seven years of experience and a requirement to pass suitable examinations, as referred to in subparagraphs (i) and (iii).
I understand the point made by the Senator, especially if there were a genius out there. I believe it could apply to those who have started in an academic course but had to drop out due to illness or domestic and financial reasons. The age limit came out of discussions and has not been raised to date. It should be read in the context of the entire section.
It is section 12(2)(f)(ii).
Unfortunately there is no amendment on the issue at this stage and none has been proposed at any point. It is a well made point but it arose out of discussions, specifically because circumstances had changed. It was meant to reflect the reality that it is easier to get access to courses for the profession, or rather that courses for the profession are more democratically governed today by the points system, etc. than they may have been in the past. That is the point which is captured here.
I can understand that. I would argue on regularly against the sort of ageism that is coming in, although it is usually ageism in the other way.
It very often comes about from a group of people who are probably well over the age of 35 themselves and would regard 35 as being quite young. I will not push the matter at this stage but it seems a shame it was not mentioned earlier. It is a flaw, or at least a defect, in the Bill.
I support Senator Quinn in the very good point he has made. As the Minister is agreeing with him, could a Government amendment not now be introduced?
There is no amendment before the House, we cannot decide to pluck one out of the air.
Could the Minister not bring forward an amendment, as I am sure he brings forward Government amendments.
Not in this House.
Would the Minister have to give notice?
The Senator knows there is no amendment before the House and I cannot discuss an amendment if there is none before the House.
We are discussing the section.
We can discuss the idea, which we have done. I make the point that it would be imprudent to simply make a change on an issue that has passed without comment to this point.
Is section 12, as amended, agreed to?
As it is now 1.30 p.m., I am now required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Seanad of this day: "That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the Government amendments undisposed of are hereby made to the Bill, sections not disposed of are hereby agreed to in committee, the Title is hereby agreed to and the Bill is accordingly reported to the House with amendments, that Report Stage is hereby completed, the Bill is hereby received for final consideration and the Bill is hereby passed."
On a point of order, is the Bill being guillotined?
It was decided on the Order of Business that the question would be put at 1.30 p.m.
Insufficient time was given to discuss the Bill. Another Bill has been guillotined.
May we say a few words?
Does the Minister wish to comment on the Bill?
Despite our full debate, we only failed to reach one Government amendment. I thank Senators because the Bill has been improved in the Seanad. On the 35 years of age matter, I share Senators' general antipathy to the creeping ageism in society and to the fact that ageism cuts both ways. While it was done previously, it is not possible to decide on the floor of the House to change something without reverting to the Parliamentary Counsel for good and prudent reasons.
We had a long debate on this good and long overdue legislation. I look forward to it becoming law and resolving a lacuna concerning protection for the title "architect" and the consumer, who can be forced to deal with people who use the title "architect" almost fraudulently. The other amendments, particularly those on fines and access, which we did not have time to discuss, comprise good legislation.
I congratulate the Minister and his officials on the Bill. It is contentious in certain areas, but the Minister has paid attention to our queries and concerns and has found an acceptable balance.
Like Senator Bannon, I regret that we did not continue for five minutes. Perhaps I should have got to my feet and requested an extension. I do not like the thought of a guillotine and this is one of the first instances of a guillotine being applied in the House that I have seen.
I would have been available to the House, but the rules are the rules.
I should have jumped to my feet. I am sure we would have got through the Bill. I thank the Minister and his officials for their attention.
There was no proposal to extend the time.
I am sure the Minister would have responded, but he listened to the discussion. When I first entered the House, I wondered about how I would examine Bills and I decided to look for the customer in every Bill. In a hospital Bill, the customer is the patient. In an education Bill, the customer is the student. In this case, the customer is the architect's client, not the architect. On that basis, we have paid attention to and listened carefully to the opinions of customers. I congratulate the Minister.
I thank the Minister and his officials. This legislation will have a significant effect, particularly from a consumer's point of view. It is a considerable step forward in terms of disability access and follows on from other legislation. I congratulate the Minister.
Like Senator Quinn, I am disappointed that the Bill has been guillotined. Everyone's point of view should be taken into consideration, but it is unfortunate that the Leader did not supply enough time for the discussion. I had a number of valid points, but I will make them at a later stage. The Minister has assured the House that the Bill will not impact on anyone's livelihood, which is an important matter. I hope the Minister sees through his commitment that everyone will get a fair deal and no one will lose his or her livelihood. I thank the Minister and his officials for taking the Bill in the House this afternoon.