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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 30 May 2019

Vol. 265 No. 15

Fire Safety in Apartment Dwellings: Statements

I welcome the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, back to the House.

I very much welcome the opportunity to be here today to discuss this very important issue of fire safety in apartment buildings. I think we are all agreed that this is a very important issue during construction but, of course, also during the lifetime of what is a person's home. The overall aim of the building regulations is to provide for the safety and welfare of people in and as they go about buildings. Of course fire safety and life safety is a human issue, a safety and health and protection matter but discussing it can be quite technical so my apologies for some of the jargon as I address the different aspects of the building codes that we have and how they are implemented.

Part B, fire safety, of the Second Schedule to the building regulations sets out the legal requirements regarding fire safety in respect of new buildings, including apartments, and in respect of existing buildings undergoing works involving an extension, material alteration or certain material changes of use. Historic buildings predate, in some cases by centuries, the introduction of building regulations, which do not create retrospective requirements on existing buildings. These buildings will generally attract the requirements of the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003. Broadly paraphrasing, this places obligations on those having control over a building to guard against the outbreak of fire and make provision for the safety of people in the event of fire.

National guidance to the building regulations is provided in technical guidance document B fire safety, where works are carried out in accordance with the guidance, this will prima facie indicate compliance with the fire safety requirements set out in the building regulations. The adoption of alternative approaches is allowed provided that the relevant requirements of the regulations are complied with.

Building control regulations require a fire safety certificate, FSC, to be obtained for new buildings, with some exceptions, and certain works to existing buildings. The FSC ensures the building or works if constructed in accordance with the plans and specifications submitted, comply with the requirements of Part B, as I have explained. As such, an application is examined technically by the chief fire officer or building control authority for compliance with Part B, and this may be on the basis of technical guidance document B or through alternative approaches to providing fire safety. Dublin Fire Brigade assesses and processes fire safety certificate applications for Dublin City Council and on behalf of Fingal County Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and South Dublin County Council.

In terms of the responsibility for compliance, primary responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the building regulations rests with the owners, designers and builders of buildings. Enforcement of the building regulations is a matter for the 31 local building control authorities that have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under the Acts and are independent in the use of their statutory powers.

Unfortunately, there have been many incidences of failures and non-compliance concerns coming to light during the past decade in houses and apartment buildings. From my personal engagement with those who have been directly affected, I fully understand the stress and impact such building deficiencies can have on their lives, through no fault of their own. We are talking about somebody's home, which is a significant financial but also a major personal investment.

Where fire safety concerns arise in residential developments, local authorities have powers of inspection and enforcement under the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, the housing Acts and the planning and development Acts which may be relevant.

Where fire safety in housing and apartment building are found to be non-compliant with building regulations or defective from a fire safety perspective, local authority fire services work with management companies and other stakeholders to ensure that appropriate levels of fire safety are achieved that minimise the potential for loss of life. Actions are taken on a case-by-case fire safety assessment. However, in general, building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved - in other words, the homeowner, the builder, the developer or their respective insurers, structural guarantee or warranty scheme, or both. It is incumbent on the parties responsible for poor workmanship or the supply of defective materials or both to face up to their responsibilities and take appropriate action to provide remedies for the affected homeowners.

While my Department has overall responsibility for establishing and maintaining an effective regulatory framework for building standards and building control, it has no general statutory role in resolving defects in privately owned buildings, including dwellings, nor does it have a budget for such matters. Despite intervening in specific circumstances, because of an obligation to do so, it is not possible for the State to take on responsibility or liability for all legacy issues of defective building materials or workmanship and nor would it send the right message to the industry regarding their responsibility for compliance.

When a building is constructed and occupied, statutory responsibility for fire safety is assigned by section 18(2) of the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, to the "person having control" of the building. The person having control is required to take reasonable measures to guard against the outbreak of fire and to ensure the safety of persons in the event of fire. In multi-unit developments, the "person having control" is generally the owner management company. Under the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, which is under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, the owner management company must establish a scheme for annual service charges and a sinking fund for spending on refurbishment, improvement or maintenance of a non-recurring nature of the multi-unit development.

In response to the concerns raised about fire safety issues in dwellings, my Department published a framework for enhancing fire safety in dwellings where concerns arise in 2017. This framework is a guide for the owners and occupants of houses and apartments, where fire safety deficiencies have been identified, or are a cause for concern. It includes a range of actions that may reduce risk and improve the level of fire safety where deficiencies arise in dwelling houses, apartments or the common areas of apartment buildings or both.

Furthermore, in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017 and in recognition of fears expressed for fire safety, I asked my Department's national directorate for fire and emergency management to convene a task force to lead a reappraisal of our approach to fire safety in Ireland. Following inspections, the task force reported that the combination of factors that seem to have existed in Grenfell Tower were not seen to be present in medium-to-high rise buildings in Ireland. All multi-storey local authority housing stock was inspected. In respect of medium to high-rise buildings, fire services have conducted surveys to identify buildings in excess of six storeys or 18 m in height, including those fitted with external cladding.

Where buildings of this type were identified, fire services required building owners to have a fire safety assessment carried out, where this was warranted. The most recent figures provided by fire services indicate that countrywide, 838 buildings have been identified at this height, 373 of which are residential and 465 are non-residential. Some 287 buildings with cladding have been identified, of which 104 are residential and 183 non-residential. Some 221 fire safety assessments were required, comprising 103 residential and 118 non-residential. A figure of 152 assessments have been provided, 69 for residential and 83 for non-residential. In 41 cases, further action has been required to improve fire safety in the buildings concerned, 32 of which were residential and nine were non-residential. In seven cases, further action involves work to deal with issues in cladding systems, six of which were residential and one was non-residential.

This work is ongoing and is overseen by my Department's national directorate for fire and emergency management. I have brought updates to Cabinet where necessary.

My Department issued guidance in 2017 on the assessment of cladding systems on existing buildings. The guidance includes advice on interim fire safety measures, to be adopted in buildings, pending the completion of works to cladding systems, where works are necessary. The report also recommends that apartment management companies should review the arrangement for ensuring that appropriate fire protection facilities are present within apartments and are checked and maintained routinely and that behaviour which could endanger fire safety or unacceptable practices by residents is prevented. Training by local authority fire services to directors of apartment management companies on key life safety issues, including the fire detection and alarm systems, the evacuation procedures and keeping a fire safety file and a fire safety register in respect of the building was also suggested in the report.

The directorate's management board has been tasked with implementation of the recommendations within its remit and oversight of the implementation of other recommendations.

We are, of course, all aware of the devastating impact of the fire in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France. This highlights the importance of the safety of people in our historic buildings. While the primary concern is the safety of people in and about historic buildings, the owners and operators of such buildings also may need to make additional provision for the protection of the valuable building fabric, heritage value and contents of these buildings. My Department has met the Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage in light of the fire in Notre Dame and it is known that approximately 70% of fires in historic buildings occur during repair works. An inter-agency approach is required with stakeholders, including those in charge of the buildings, be they museums, churches or relevant State archives. Work is progressing and will continue on this matter.

Finally, in response to the building failures that have emerged during the past decade, my Department has advanced a robust and focused building control reform agenda, including amendments to the building control regulations, the establishment of a shared services national building control project and the ongoing development of new legislation through the building control (construction industry register Ireland) Bill. These reforms have already brought, and will continue to bring a new order and discipline to bear on construction projects, creating an enhanced culture of compliance with the building regulations. This is of great importance, given the impact the built environment has on the health and well-being of our citizens.

I thank the Minister. The group spokespersons have eight minutes and all other Senators have five minutes. I invite Senator Murnane O'Connor to speak. She has eight minutes.

I do not have to tell everyone there is a crisis in housing as not only do we see the homeless figures climbing but we have made mistakes for which we are now paying. Too many apartment blocks were built to poor standards. We have a tortured history in how we built accommodation. To be fair, it seems to me that the co-living scheme, which is being touted as the solution to all our problems, is the Government getting in on the Airbnb market by restricting the private service and building what to all intents and purposes is a short-term accommodation block that will make money for the Government but will not provide high-standard forever homes for people. This is why we need to ensure this legislation is not hoodwinking anyone.

We in Fianna Fáil support the establishment of a remedial fund to support latent defects in developments prior to 2009. This will help address fire safety issues without unfairly penalising apartment owners. Low-cost loans should be made available to owner management companies to allow them to undertake any required remedial work. In addition, we need to reform sinking fund provisions and owner management company provisions to help ensure adequate supports are in place to address fire safety issues into the future. It is only fair that I mention that Fianna Fáil has legislation on these issues, which the Government should support because it is good legislation.

There have been a number of high-profile cases involving fire safety issues, such as Priory Hall, Longboat Quay, the docklands and the closure of new school buildings that had fire issues. These cases cause concern for everybody, not only those who are immediately impacted. The horrific case of the Grenfell Tower fire taught many authorities across the globe valuable lessons.

I welcomed the news that a task force was to lead a reappraisal of our approach to fire and safety in Ireland was convened. Now that it has completed its report, I agree that we need to keep up to speed on all fire safety assessment processes and sanction any improvement works necessary. We need to provide the tools, however, for this task. We need to highlight the statutory responsibility of the person having control of both public and private sector premises as set out in section 18 of the Fire Services Act.

The task force recommended, and I wholeheartedly agree, that we need to clarify and make explicit the statutory obligations imposed on the persons having control, as well as introducing a number of new reporting mechanisms through which the fire safety arrangements in place in premises and sleeping accommodation are brought to the attention of the public, including a new requirement for a public notice of fire safety in every building to which section 18(2) of the Fire Services Act applies.. We need a more robust consumer concentrated approach to building and maintaining housing developments. We need to educate people on what they need to do to protect themselves and we need to really drive home the message of personal responsibility.

I have raised an issue, which was recommended by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, that local authorities should never be allowed to self-certify their own social housing development. This should be contracted out via a building standards and consumer protection agency and there should be a bar on the awarding of publicly-funded construction projects tenders to the developers, builders or associated construction professionals found to be in serious breach of building standards or fire safety regulations.

This, to me, is crucial. We have serious issues in this country. We need to improve how we communicate to people and how we educate them. We have got to stop this. I am referring to a certain website. This is a massive concern for me. When I ring up, I am told to look on one website or another. We need to be clear and firm so that we can prevent loss of life in all we do. These are my concerns. I believe everything we do in the future will be in the best interests of everybody. Fire is a major issue for people. I know the Minister will take my concerns and issues on board.

I welcome the Minister's engagement with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht regarding our national cultural institutions and spaces. The Project 2040 plan includes significant sums of money for the National Museum, the National Archives, the National Concert Hall and the National Library. Such places are repositories of our heritage. I commend Senator Humphreys on his initiative in pushing for this debate, which addresses one of the realities for people who live in apartments. The recession gave us precarious work. Many people are living in precarious accommodation. As Senator Humphreys has pointed out in the past, there is no equivalent to the mica and pyrite scheme for people who are facing these difficulties. Renters in Dublin and elsewhere must live in unsafe conditions in properties they do not own because there are no affordable options elsewhere. We see stories in the media every few weeks about overcrowded dorm rooms laden with multiple bunk beds at cut-price below market rates. Such properties are allegedly occupied by non-national workers who come here to improve their living standards.

The example I would like to cite does not involve an apartment. It was recently discovered that 38 people were paying €400 each per month to share a ten-bedroom house in East Wall. This meant that the landlord had an income of €15,200 per month. There should be no ambiguity in this regard. I have proposed the Property Services (Advertisement of Unfit Lettings) (Amendment) Bill 2019 to deal with such unsafe and inhumane properties that rob tenants of any level of privacy. We are in a dire situation. Prohibition or stronger enforcement will put tenants at risk of homelessness. The Government's response needs to address this issue. The only way to do this is to advance affordable options. The property I have mentioned is like others that feature regularly on and I wrote to the Department after the Second Stage debate on the Bill in this Chamber. I hope progress is being made with the Department's work in this regard because I have not heard back about the advertisement of properties.

We should consider those who bought homes and apartments from developers without being aware of the fire safety difficulties that existed. We are talking about a culture of compliance, but I remind the House that in one of these cases, the developer has said he does "not have a legal obligation on this matter" and has suggested to complainants that "unless you have a compelling legal argument to put forward we absolutely will not be paying for this". In such cases, concerned owners are forced to seek litigation in the absence of a redress scheme. The Minister has said that a redress scheme could leave the Government and every taxpayer in the State open to an onerous open-ended liability that simply could not be met. I would like to know how the Department intends to respond, in the absence of a redress scheme, so that the owners of properties which are deemed unsafe are not forced to pay or do not feel they have no option other than to engage in costly litigation. In some cases, litigation can be as expensive as the repairs themselves.

The Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government agreed unanimously in its report, Safe as Houses? A Report on Building Standards, Building Controls & Consumer Protection, that homeowners living in Celtic tiger properties with latent defects deserve a redress scheme to assist them in meeting the costs of remedial works. The report also proposes that an agency like the Food Safety Authority or the Environmental Protection Agency should be established. The Minister of State, Deputy English, has indicated that the Department does not intend to accept this proposal. I wonder why it does not intend to accept it. Such an agency could be given responsibility for vetting the advertisement of unsafe and overcrowded rental properties.

I welcome the Minister and his officials to the House. I am pleased to have an opportunity to debate the important issue of fire safety in buildings. As the Minister has said, the first priority with any building must be the safety of the people who reside in or inhabit that building, the second priority must be the building and the material itself, and the third priority must be the belongings in that building. I remind my Fianna Fáil colleague and the other Members of the House that most of the legacy issues that relate to building problems result from poor compliance during the Celtic tiger years of 2000 to 2009. We would ask who was in charge during those years, and the answer is that it was Fianna Fáil. We were left with legacy issues of thousands of unfinished estates, non-compliant buildings and apartment blocks, and fire safety traps like Priory Hall, that was mentioned. When I served as Minister of State, I was involved in the establishment of much of the Government's building control and compliance reform programme, which lasted from 2014 to 2016. The building control and management system and various other systems were put in place to ensure compliance and better standards with regard to new buildings. We are aware of high-profile cases like Priory Hall. I suspect that there are many more legacy cases in which deficient standards can be found in buildings constructed during the Celtic tiger years.

The Minister mentioned the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy of June 2017, in which many lives were lost. It is only when a tragedy or a crisis like that occurs that there is a real public focus on these issues. The Members of this House know that we have an ongoing responsibility to ensure building control and management is an ongoing process that involves constantly evaluating how successful the building control standards are and where changes need to be made. We know we cannot afford such a tragedy to occur in this country. One life lost is one life too many. The local authorities are responsible for the enforcement of building control standards and for compliance with fire safety regulations. It is critical that the local authorities are adequately resourced in this respect. We need to keep the new building control management systems that are now being operated by our local authorities under constant review. We must ensure our fire inspection and building control departments are adequately resourced.

As I have said, we were left with many legacy issues after the boom years. In recent years, a great deal of progress has been made in dealing with such issues. The Irish Times recently reported on a statement from a property management company, Keenan Property Management, which manages a portfolio of more than 20,000 apartments throughout the country. I was concerned to learn that when the company carried out a survey of its stock, it found that there were fire safety issues of various standards in over 70% of its properties. Such issues included inadequate fire alarms, outdated fire alarm systems and deficient fire stopping. The survey also revealed a lack of proper compartmentation which allows for the escape of fire and smoke within those buildings, a lack of fire detection technology in car parks under apartment buildings and issues with compliance with planning conditions relating to fire safety. Each of these issues is a matter of deep concern. If they are prevalent among Keenan Property Management's property portfolio, they must be prevalent in other portfolios as well. It is important that the entire apartment stock in this country is surveyed to ensure it is compliant from a fire safety perspective and that any issues which arise are remediated.

The Minister mentioned that designers, builders, professionals, including the engineers who sign off on buildings, and owners are liable and are responsible for ensuring buildings are compliant.

As we all know, fire certification is required before buildings can be inhabited. Owners are liable and responsible for ensuring that their buildings are compliant. The State's involvement is in ensuring compliance with standards, which is important.

In my former role as Minister of State, I was involved in the review of the mica issue in Donegal and Mayo. There is a difference between fire safety issues in apartment blocks that were built and signed off on by professionals and issues like the mica situation, where people might not have been aware at the time of construction that deficient material was present. The problem developed in subsequent years and caused people considerable stress. That is why the Government responded by assisting with the pyrite and mica issue, and rightly so. People had been left in the lurch with buildings literally falling down around them. Where safety compliance is not upheld, the liability should rest with the builders, owners and professionals who signed off on the work. I presume they have insurance that covers them when they are negligent in any way. It is not fair to expect the State and the taxpayer to be held liable for every incidence of poor workmanship and legacy issues like those I have outlined.

It is important that standards be upheld and that surveys be evaluated continuously. Where people can show that they do not have the financial wherewithal to survey an apartment block for which they are responsible, perhaps we should consider initiatives like a low-interest loan scheme to assist them. I am not saying that this should or can be done. There should be strict criteria around such a scheme, but where there are genuine fire safety issues and finance is a problem for the owners, management company or whoever is responsible for the building in question, it would be a good idea to consider having a funding scheme to which owners could apply upon meeting strict criteria so as to address those issues. This is probably something that we should consider and I ask the Minister to do so.

I will say no more and will look forward to the further contributions.

I thank the Minister for attending to discuss this important issue. Priory Hall has been mentioned and I will not go over it again, but a man lost his life due to the stress involved in that situation. What we are discussing is not a victimless crime - no one is suggesting that it is - and it has a major impact on people's day-to-day lives. The home where they reside should be somewhere they seek sanctuary and where they come home to at the end of the day. It should not be something that gives them a headache. They should not wake up in the morning, look around and feel depressed about the lives they are living. There are other pressures in people's lives - work, family, things that go wrong, finances, etc. The house that one lives in should not cause one distress.

In many ways, I am reluctant to name the areas where I have been working, given that the values of such properties inevitably decrease. Sometimes, the challenge that we in politics face is how to advocate for people who are caught in a situation without doing irreparable damage to the value of their properties. We are always trying to find a balance. Sometimes, that lets developers off with what they have done. However, the issues in Belmayne are in the public domain. I have met families, sat in their accommodations and witnessed their frustration, angst and terror about raising families in apartments that are in their view and according to the advice they have received fire hazards. Unfortunately, they feel like they are acting alone, do not have backup from the State and are fighting a lonely battle. They bought something in good faith at a time when it was extremely expensive to do so, yet all of those agencies that should be encircling them and fighting and advocating for them do not appear to be in attendance now - the Dublin city fire officer, Dublin City Council, the Minister's office and the developer. One would imagine that there would be a sense of urgency to surround these families with care, compassion, understanding and, indeed, finance. If families are being quoted a price to refurbish a particular unit, and given that it was no fault of their own that they bought a fire trap, surely a mechanism or fund should be in place for them to access and dip into in order to facilitate those changes and modifications. Being caught in this situation is distressing for families.

When an area is identified as potentially having fire risks, please do not let any of us be present at the site of a disaster the morning after saying that, although we had been told, we had not been sure and there had been a court case or other reasons for us not to intervene. Will the Minister engage proactively, particularly in the Belmayne situation, with the city council, the fire officer and residents on finding a solution to allow these families to move on with their lives? It seems like a pause is being placed on their lives until the situation is adequately resolved. It is difficult to envisage how someone can put his or her child to bed at night in a place he or she does not believe is safe. Will the Minister please take it upon himself to be the person to back these families, get everyone around the table, including the developer, Dublin City Council, the council's fire officer, the residents' groups, public representatives and whoever else needs to be there, and find a way to make this situation better? It may require a fund that can be accessed interest free or a grant to alleviate the issues.

The question of why the taxpayer should foot the bill for developers' wrongdoings has been mentioned. I have sympathy with that argument, but people who, in good faith, bought an apartment that now potentially threatens their lives and the lives of their children should not foot the bill either. There must be a middle way. I appeal to the Minister's better instincts and ask him for his proactive engagement in the Belmayne area. I want to be able to report to the residents this evening that the Minister listened, cares, wants to find solutions and will engage with the community directly.

I thank Senator Humphreys, who sought this debate, and everyone who participated in it. When the Grenfell Tower tragedy happened, it was terrifying for the entire world to observe, but particularly for those of us in Ireland, given that we are such close neighbours and have so many close relationships with the UK. We moved quickly to set up a task force to inspect not just local authority homes in multi-storey buildings, but also buildings over a certain height in respect of their cladding, life and fire safety systems. I hope that the update that I was able to provide to Members regarding tall buildings and what has been done to date was helpful. That work must always be ongoing to ensure that we are adopting best practice in how we protect people living in taller buildings. Since we will be constructing more taller buildings and apartments, it is important that we continue to move with best practice.

It is also important that we recognise the people who are on the front line when incidents happen, namely, fire officers, and not just the ones working on fire safety in advance, but also those attending at the scene. I have met many in the course of my role as the Minister responsible for our fire services. They do an incredible job. I have also had the chance when abroad to meet other countries' fire services. I note the collaboration between Ireland and other countries as well as the new technologies that Irish companies have advanced and that are used in emergency vehicles to protect first responders in other countries. It is important that we keep fire officers central to the debate, given that they will have new obligations as we build more taller buildings and there will be more work for them to do in terms of fire safety assessments and so on.

Regarding the idea of a fund, which Senator Murnane O'Connor mentioned, we need to be really clear when we talk about such proposals what we are proposing. How much will the fund amount to? How is it to be funded? How far will the taxpayer's liability extend, to what types of private buildings and for how long? How will this potentially take away from the responsibility of the builder, knowing that the State might step in in the future where the builder does wrong? I am all for and open to ideas and proposals, and we want to help people who need help. We cannot just come with sentences, though; we need to come with fleshed out details or we could get things wrong.

Senator Murnane O'Connor was right when she talked about the additional work that needs to be done with owners' management companies, and that is on a range of issues. They play a very important role in many people's lives but are perhaps not included as much in the debates on the things we need to do when it comes to taller buildings and apartment buildings and their maintenance, management and, where necessary, their regeneration over the ten, 20 or 30 years people might be living in those homes. We need to involve them more in the work we are doing. We do, but more work needs to be done in that area.

This brings me to a point Senator Warfield made about the advertising of unsuitable properties, properties that should not be seen as legally fit to inhabit, and the need to regulate websites or other companies that advertise such properties to recognise that they have a responsibility here as well. As we build more homes, and this year we will build tens of thousands of new homes, we need to ensure we look at issues of fire safety and keeping things up to date and issues with owners' management companies because they are playing a greater role in people's lives. We also need to ensure we regulate new activities regarding the letting or selling of homes, activities that did not exist perhaps ten years ago and that need to be regulated.

On that point, one new activity we are regulating is the short-term letting market. I found a bit bizarre the comment Senator Murnane O'Connor made to the effect that we are now trying to step in as a State to the short-term letting market. We are not. Yesterday the regulations I brought to the Oireachtas joint committee were described as radical - not my word - by Deputy Boyd Barrett. That says something about the level of ambition we have to ensure we do not close down this new activity. Homesharing plays a very important role in our economy and in people's lives. We are open to homesharing while also recognising that short-term letting in our cities, where there is high demand and high rent pressures, is not appropriate when we are in the kind of crisis we face at present.

To respond to Senator Coffey's contribution, I recognise his expertise in this area as someone who was in the Department before me. He did very good work to progress reforms in this very important area. Those reforms were necessary because of some of the deficient and defective works that were undertaken prior to this Government and the Government of which he was a part coming into office - more legacy issues that we were tasked with cleaning up, which we have done and will continue to do as necessary. The Senator mentioned mica and pyrite and the way in which we have responded and are responding to both. It is important to point these issues out because they are separate and entirely different to the issue of defective or substandard building. We agreed during last year's budget negotiations that €20 million for homes affected by mica in Donegal and Mayo would come out of this year's budget for the scheme that was agreed in principle at Cabinet.

Senator Coffey spoke about people living in apartments that were built defectively and people who are in a very difficult position in this regard. I recognise what he said. A defect is one thing, but a problem that puts people's lives and safety at risk is another. We must find a way to approach these two things separately because of the risk that is potentially there for people who are in a very difficult position, as I said earlier, through no fault of their own. For some of them it is an impossible position, so how do we help them? We need to see how we can progress that piece of work because it is so important.

To respond to Senator Ó Ríordáin, the challenge he recognised at the beginning of his contribution, to advocate without causing damage, is so important. We must recognise that there are people who would come forward but will not because they fear that in doing so they will do more harm to the situation in which they find themselves. They have made probably the most significant investment they will ever make in their life in buying a home, they find that that home is defective and needs remediation work, which they may not be able to afford, they find that the defect has undermined the value of that building, that home, and they know that to come forward to advocate too loudly might undermine the property further. They are in an impossible position, and it is important to recognise that. We must find balance where it is necessary but at the same time we do not want to let anyone away with the responsibilities they have where they have done wrong. We need to find some way of capturing that. I know there are discussions ongoing in this regard because I am involved with them with the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, and others as to how we can further protect people in their homes.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Next Tuesday week, 11 June, at 2.30 p.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 1.25 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 June 2019.