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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022

Vol. 284 No. 2

Regulation of Providers of Building Works and Building Control (Amendment) Bill 2022: Second Stage

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

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, and thank him for coming to the House.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to present the Regulation of Providers of Buildings Works Bill 2022 to the Seanad.

Many examples of building failure as a result of non-compliance with building regulations have come to light in recent years and may continue to emerge due to the absence of regulation in the construction sector. This contributed significantly to the large number of buildings constructed in Ireland which did not comply with statutory minimum standards of design and construction as set out in the building regulations.

The main objective of the Regulation of Providers of Building Works Bill 2022 is to develop and promote a culture of competence, good practice and compliance with the building regulations in the construction sector, which will benefit consumers and the general public. The establishment of a robust, mandatory and statutory register is critical for the development of a culture of competence and compliance in the construction sector. Mandatory statutory regulation is necessary to protect the public from the risks posed by defective buildings as it is the only way to ensure that builders can only take on work in which they are competent and registered to undertake.

Stronger compliance with building standards and the broader building control reform agenda are critical to key commitments made by the Government under Construction 2020 - A Strategy for Renewal of the Construction Sector. Under Housing for All, Construction 2020 and the Action Plan for Jobs the Government signalled its commitment to placing the construction industry register Ireland, CIRI, on a statutory footing.

Statutory registration of builders, as now provided for in the proposed Regulation of Providers of Building Works Bill 2022, is seen as an essential consumer protection measure giving those who engage a registered builder the assurance that they are dealing with a competent and compliant operator. It is also seen as a critical step forward in addressing shadow economic activity in the construction sector and ensuring fairer competition for compliant operators in the industry.

The CIRI register was established on a voluntary basis in 2014 by the Construction Industry Federation. Approximately 800 building and contracting entities are currently included on the register. When the register is operating on a statutory footing it is envisaged that there may be in the order of at least 5,000 entities that will be required to register.

The legislation will require providers of building services to register with CIRI. This will apply to entities or individuals who hold themselves out for consideration as a provider of building works for both residential and non-residential buildings subject to the building regulations. It does not include employees of such entities but does include sole traders. This will have a significant impact on all sections of the construction industry from small contractors and craftspeople up to the larger construction companies.

Housing for All sets a target of an average of 33,000 dwellings per annum. The State plans to invest €20 billion in the next five years, which is the largest investment in the history of the State. This requires a vibrant and innovative construction sector that supports the development of its existing workforce, and presents an attractive and sustainable career for those preparing to enter the labour force. This legislation will set minimum competence requirements for the sector, which will greatly help in the achievement of shared ambitions for upskilling and reskilling. It will ensure greater safety and competency for workers across the construction sector. It will also aid in making the construction sector a more attractive career for all involved.

The legislation will complement a number of key measures which the Government has put in place to strengthen the arrangements in place for the control of building activity following the widespread building failures that have emerged in recent years, including the revised Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (S.T. No. 9 of 2014), activation of registration arrangements for construction professionals provided for in the Building Control Act 2007, the development of the nationwide online building control management system and the move to risk-based, standardised inspections by local building control authorities. In addition to these reforms, the Department is also committed to establishing an independent building standards regulator to strengthen the oversight role of the State with the aim of further reducing the risk of building failures, and enhancing public confidence in construction-related activity.

I will now turn to the main provisions of this Bill. The Bill is comprised of 64 sections. It is divided into eight Parts and two Schedules as follows.

Part 1 sets out standard provisions relating to the Short Title, commencement, interpretation exemptions and general powers to make orders and regulations. It defines a "provider of building services", which is those who are covered by the Bill. This legislation will apply to any builder holding itself out for consideration or receiving payment for carrying out building works which are subject to the building regulations. It also outlines exemptions from registration such as electrical works which are covered under separate legislation. Also exempt are those who do works on their own buildings. This exemption does not apply to any contractor or subcontractor engaged.

Part 2 provides for the appointment of a registration body, the requirements for such a body, the appointment of a registrar, staff and inspectors, the functions and obligations of the body, and the transfer of functions if required. It provides for the remuneration of the boards, registrar and staff. It contains provision in relation to the funding for and fees that may be charged by the registration body.

Part 2 provides for the specification of fees related to registration and related activities, and the publication of an annual report by the registration body in relation to the discharge of its statutory functions under the Bill. The registration body requires the consent of the Minister to set the registration fees. The registration body is required to publish a report annually of its activities under the Act which shall be laid before the Oireachtas. The Minister may direct the body to provide any other information required, including any document or account prepared by them. Part 2 provides that the accounts of the registration body shall be audited and published, as appropriate. Finally, it contains provision to provide funding from the Exchequer and also policy in relation to the code of practice.

Part 3 provides for the establishment of the admissions and registration board, committees of the board and the appeals committee. It contains appropriate safeguards to ensure the independence and objectivity of the registration board and the appeals committee. I can advise that I will bring forward amendments to this Part of the Bill on Committee Stage.

Part 4 provides for the establishment of a mandatory statutory register of providers of building works to which the building regulations apply. The registration body will have delegated responsibility for the day-to-day maintenance of the register within the confines of the specific and limited parameters set out in the Bill, and provides for the registration of builders, including builders specialising in specific building elements and technologies. This will be achieved by establishing different divisions and subdivisions across the different elements of building works. The criteria to be used to determine competence required is set out in this Part, and that criteria will be used to determine the specific criteria to require to be considered competent to be registered in each division. Eligibility for registration can be achieved through qualifications, experience or a combination of both.

Part 4 provides that a competent person must fulfil the criteria for registration. It also outlines the procedures whereby a competent person leaves an entity and must be replaced. In addition, this Part provides that a subsidiary of an entity may fulfil the competence criteria for registration.

Part 5 provides for the operation of the register and outlines prohibitions against operating as a provider of building services while not registered. It outlines the application process and the requirements for registration and renewal of registration. These include a requirement to complete an induction course, undertake continuous professional development and provide evidence of tax clearance. This Part provides that the admissions and registration board may grant registration where it is satisfied that the applicant is eligible, and may refuse registration where it is not satisfied that is the case. It also provides for appeals of any such decisions.

Part 6 provides for the handling of complaints and appeals from applicants in relation to registration decisions, and from complainants in relation to the activities or conduct of registered members. It outlines the role and powers of the inspector who may investigate the complaint and the roles of the board, the appeals committee and the High Court in the imposition of sanctions. The board may impose major sanctions, for example, the removal or suspension from the register which are subject to an appeals process and require confirmation by the High Court.

Part 7 contains some miscellaneous provisions, including provision for offences and penalties. It provides for publication of sanctions and convictions, arrangements for restoration to the register and transitional arrangements in the event of a change in the appointment of the registration body.

Part 8 contains some administrative amendments to the Building Control Act 2007 regarding the statutory register for architects, building surveyors and quantity surveyors.

Schedule 1 details the provisions applicable to oral hearings held by the admissions and registrations board. Schedule 2 contains miscellaneous matters concerning the board and appeals committee, including provisions regarding the tenure of members and the procedures to be observed.

In addition to these Parts, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will bring forward amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage in respect of data processing and governance. These will be in line with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Data Sharing and Governance Act 2019. I will also bring forward amendments to allow for the sharing of information by building control authorities on enforcement and prosecutions with the registration body. In addition, as I indicated in the Dáil on Report Stage, I will bring forward amendments to sections 21,22, 24, 26, 44 and 63.

Following enactment of the Bill, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will appoint a registration body on a statutory basis. The main function of the registration body will be to assess the competence of any entity that wishes to register using criteria that will be set out in legislation for each division or subdivision of the register. These criteria will be relevant experience or qualifications or a combination of both. The registration body will establish committees to advise the Minister on these criteria, which will then be set out in legislation. The committees will be voluntary in nature and will be made up of public sector and industry representatives. Following this process, entities will join the register and must demonstrate they hold the appropriate competence to do so. There will be a statutory admissions and registration board and appeals board. It will operate in a similar way to statutory registration schemes for other professions.

I am out of time but still have several sections to deal with.

I will come back to the Minister after Members come in with their contributions. We will give him time at the end.

I thank the Acting Chairperson.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is a significant and lengthy Bill that runs to 65 sections, as he referenced. That is why he has not managed to get through all of his speech thus far. The Bill and its provisions are contained in the Housing for All policy document produced by the Government. It is an important measure to put the register on a statutory footing.

Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill was carried out by the previous joint committee back in 2017. I was not a member of the committee at the time but I know Senator Boyhan and possibly other Members were on it and there was significant engagement and wide consultation. Many of the details have been incorporated in the Bill.

The main objective of the Bill is to develop and promote a culture of competence, good practice and compliance with the building regulations in the construction sector, which will benefit consumers and the public. The building control regulations 2015 to 2017 required the owner of a proposed building to sign a statutory form assigning a competent builder to undertake works. In general, building regulations require owners, builders and registered construction professionals to demonstrate that the works in question have been designed and constructed in compliance with building regulations. However, the regulations do not require that the builder so assigned be registered with the Construction Industry Register Ireland, CIRI. That is what we are trying to resolve here by putting it on a statutory footing. This is critical for developing a culture and competency within the construction sector. It has been in place on a voluntary basis since 2014 and administered by the Construction Industry Federation, CIF. As the Minister of State noted, there are approximately 800 building and contracting entities on the register. As it is expected that number will increase considerably, to up to approximately 5,000 entities, it is appropriate to have a lead-in period because it will take considerable time, notwithstanding the urgency of getting it in place on a statutory footing.

I welcome that the legislation provides that the register is open to all builders, whether sole traders, partnerships or registered companies. They must demonstrate competence in construction at the appropriate level, commit to continuing professional development and knowledge of building practice, building regulations and regulatory obligations, and confirm tax compliance. As part of that, there is a declaration that any convictions under health and safety or building control legislation, or both, are provided for. They must have the appropriate public liability insurance and must undertake to adhere to the code of conduct, as well as completing the CIRI induction module online. Those are all important provisions within the Bill.

An important provision of the Bill is that which allows for complaints against registered builders to be made on several grounds. In particular, a complaint may be made against an entity providing a building service in a category for which it is not registered. There have been incidents in the past where people and contractors have been engaged in building and construction without the appropriate qualifications and competencies being in place, with disastrous effect. It is welcome that there is a measure to allow complaints to be made. Obviously, those complaints will be adjudicated by the registration and appeals board.

In summation, I welcome the Bill. It is an important and welcome step to put this register on a statutory footing. That lead-in time is appropriate. All present would like it in place more quickly but there is a significant body of work to be done to get all that in place within 2023, given the anticipated increase from 800 to more than 5,000 entities. I wish the Minister of State well as we take the Bill through the various Stages and I look forward to engaging on Committee and Report Stages.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This is important and timely legislation. It has been a long time coming. At the outset, I acknowledge the enormous work of a former colleague of the Minister of State, and former Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, Maria Bailey. I am looking at her name on the report and the seven key recommendations dated December 2017. She did an enormous amount of work. She was exceptionally focused in this area. She had a huge interest in construction and building and, of course, had significant experience as a councillor on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It was only in recent days when I was preparing my contribution on the Bill that I realised how important a role she played, how she led and her enormous experience. I acknowledge that and I know other Members will join me in acknowledging her work.

Senator Casey, who was formerly a Deputy, was Vice Chairman of that committee and did a significant amount of work. He brought a common-sense approach to the construction sector and had significant experience on Wicklow County Council.

I also wish to acknowledge the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. Many people do not give it enough credit. I always tell any good Minister to consult the Oireachtas Library and Research Service or get his or her colleagues to do so. The service tells me it does not provide departmental advice but, rather, prepares information for Oireachtas Members. Any good and clever Minister, however, would take sight of this Bill digest document because it teases out all of the seven recommendations, not all of which have been included completely in the legislation.

One has to ask why not all of the seven recommendations have been completely included. There may be good and valid reasons for that. We have moved on from 2017 and learned a lot since then. That is important. I will certainly be tabling amendments based on the Bill digest prepared by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service to the Bill as it is before us today.. I advise the officials, if they have time - I know they do - to take a look at the Bill digest. The first line that jumps out at me in the summary is, "It is anticipated that the responsibility for operation of the statutory CIRI will remain with the CIF." That may not be what happens. It may not be appropriate or the right thing to do. I am highlighting that as a challenge. Some people may refer to the independence of the CIF. It is an able and professional organisation but it may be the case that some people will be uncomfortable with it having that responsibility.

That must be challenged and we must look at other models and international practice. It is something we should consider. It is great when we have fine granular detail from the Bill digest carried out for us by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service team. I acknowledge that and it is important.

There are seven key recommendations and I was on the committee that dealt with those aspects. We dealt with the independence of the register and board membership and the clarification regarding the regulatory impact analysis, RIA. This digest document suggests there is currently no RIA element attached to the Bill. That is something we will be looking for and that we should be seeing. It makes absolute sense to have it. The sooner the RIA is conducted for this legislation, the better. We also looked at the registration categories for prescribed bodies, the definition of competences and consumer protection and financial redress and insurance. These are key aspects. There is also the question of accountability and transparency, which is important in every walk of life, as well as the complaints procedure.

I wanted to raise those few points but I fully recognise the need for and support this Bill. I may seek to table one or two amendments to it later. I acknowledge that the main objective of the proposed legislation is to develop and promote a culture of competence, good practice and compliance with building regulations within the building community and the construction sector, and that is important. It is about establishing a robust mandatory and statutory register for builders and specialist contractors, which is essential in protecting customers. That is really important.

As others said, under the Government's housing strategy, Housing for All, which was published on 2 September 2021, key housing policy objective No. 25 looks to "drive compliance and standards through regulatory reform" and "embed compliance in the construction sector through building regulations and building control regulations," and assessment of building control structures, "including establishing registers of competent builders by placing the Construction Industry Register Ireland (CIRI) on a statutory footing". That commitment has been made and the Government is honouring it, which I acknowledge. I support all of that.

I will turn to section 22 of the Bill, which deals with the registration body and would establish an independent 11-person admissions and registration board. It is key that this is independent. The board will consist of the chairperson and ten ordinary members, which is important. We must have full regard to gender concerns and a mix of skill sets, which is also important. I acknowledge that the chairperson could, according to the Bill, be a former judge of the Circuit Court, the High Court, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court. That may not be the case but it is what the Government is proposing. Of the ordinary members, five shall be nominated by the Minister and five shall be nominated for appointment by the registration boards. It is important to get broad consensus on how the members are appointed.

In essence, I support this process but we should give credit and support to an Oireachtas joint committee established by these Houses that has done much work and drawn on many people with expertise in the area. Let us take from them and the key recommendations that formed the background to this legislation.

I am delighted to welcome my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to the House today. We all know he is no stranger to the House and is here on a regular basis. It can be hard to get anybody else from the Department here and he might look for a bit of a dig out.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Dr. Dermot Fitzpatrick today. Senator Mary Fitzpatrick has done much work on this, as we are aware, and she would be speaking to the Bill today except her father, a former Member both of this House and the Dáil, was buried on Monday. It is fitting that I mention this today. The light of heaven to him.

This is a wide-ranging and comprehensive Bill. I have been on to the Minister of State's office on a couple of occasions about different parts of it, and it goes from regulation to registered bodies to formation of a new board, as Senator Boyhan just mentioned. The Minister of State certainly has the full support of this side of the House and most of the House is probably quite happy with the Bill's general thrust.

I have experience of heavy regulation being introduced in the auctioneering fraternity. There were many bumps on the road and we did not properly envisage some of the unintended consequences at the time. This is being tied to the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, as a sort of regulatory body but much of the sector is quite well regulated in terms of training and cards required to go on sites. There is quite a bit of regulation for anybody working day to day in the industry.

I know the Bill has a different aspect, in that it probably seeks to have building companies and whatever else registered, but I want to tease this out. There may be a building company that has been trading for a long time and it may be reputable but nobody working there might have certified qualifications. In the auctioneering sector, there was a "grandfathering" element, meaning people who demonstrated experience working in the industry over a long period, or those who could demonstrate they were involved and insured over a certain period, could get a formal auctioneering licence. Where is the bar going to be set in getting accreditation in this area? I know anybody can join an organisation or a body like CIF, as they may now, and it is not a big ordeal. That organisation inquires about particular qualifications and what qualifications each member of staff in a company might have.

From the tenor of this Bill, it is implied that there will be more regulation in that regard so I am just curious how that process will fit in, especially when we are in the middle of a housing crisis. The last thing we want to see is people with the knowledge and experience gained over a long number of years saying to themselves at this point in their lives that they need to get into more regulation, red tape and whatever else. The last thing we want to do is lose anybody from the sector. I could be as far out as a lighthouse in that and the Minister of State may tell me something different but I am curious to hear about it. How we deal with such people will be very important. There is no doubt we want people with the relevant skills and knowledge to be involved and regulated. We are certainly heavily behind such a process. I just do not want to see anybody falling through the cracks, as happened to a point with the introduction of a certain bar of qualification or knowledge in the auctioneering sector. I am curious to know how the Department will deal with it. This Bill deals with many trades and the people involved may not be as well co-ordinated in terms of college and mainstream education as the auctioneering sector. I am curious to know how the matter will be teased out.

I welcome the Minister of State and the Bill. Much work has been put into it and it is very technical. There are even elements relating to defective building materials and there is a plethora of matters to be teased out. I wish the Minister of State well with it. He certainly has my full support and that of my party.

I thank the Green Party for giving me the time to speak now because I must leave the Chamber afterwards. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House, and as Senator Davitt mentioned, he probably spends as much time in the Chamber as many Senators. The Minister of State is probably the most responsive person in the Department to us, as he is with this important Bill.

Over the years we have heard of scandal after scandal affecting the building sector in this country, including mica, pyrite and fire control defects. We know building regulation has not been prioritised and the consequences continue to blight the lives of people in the State. That is why the Bill is welcome.

There is greater regulation supporting consumers going to the local shops than for citizens who are buying a home. That is of particular concern as a home is probably the biggest investment people will make. We have a voluntary system of regulation and it is proposed that this will be put on a statutory footing with the Construction Industry Federation. I have concerns about the CIF managing and maintaining the register because of the potential conflict of interest.

Understanding that it is a trade union, or a form of a trade union, I still believe it is a concern that this will be the body maintaining this.

There are other aspects of the Bill that worry me. It appears that no obligation will be placed on the developer to use the services of a registered builder. It will be up to the developer to decide whether to do that. This may have implications for the developer in time, but there does not appear to be any requirement or obligation set down in the legislation for anybody to use those registered builders. That is particularly problematic when it comes to local authorities, for example. The Minister of State says that he wants compliance and to drive better standards, but it seems that elements of the legislation are toothless. There is a risk of big developers using builders who are not registered and who may not have the required compliance and qualifications. Significantly, if developers do not engage registered builders but continue to use the services of those who may not be on the register, that has implications for competition. We have seen time and again that a minority of bad builders and poor operators in the sector are not compliant even with things such as the sectoral employment order system set down for the construction sector to guarantee basic legal minimum standards of pay, terms and conditions. That allows them to low ball when they are making tenders and organise the lowest tenders for significant construction projects, undercutting the good operators in the system.

I also believe that strong consumer protection legislation would allow consumers to go after the developer where there are deficiencies in that regard. Where a developer fails to engage providers of building works who are on the register, there should be implications for that developer afterwards. The complaints procedure created in the Bill will allow a person to make a complaint to the registrar that the building provider is carrying out works while not registered or has not complied with the conditions of the registration. The registrar will then generally refer the complaint to the board of investigation unless it falls into a variety of exceptions. I refer to the question of privilege. All complaints made to the board, investigations and reports are absolutely privileged. That is fine. However, if a series of complaints is made against somebody and the person is a serial offender, that should not be subject to absolute privilege, particularly if the stated objective of the legislation is to protect consumers and to regulate the industry. We need to know, and should be able to know, who the rogue builders are and what sanctions have been applied to them. There have been too many problems with people who have been involved with defective buildings then going on to other projects and operating as if none of that ever happened because of the planning Act. The default position has to be that if there is information on serial offenders, it is provided to the public so they know and are fully briefed on who the rogue operators are.

Finally, there should be a statutory entitlement for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, which has been so involved in campaigns relating to housing, to be represented on the board. The trade union movement has significant expertise in identifying issues in the sector that it represents. It is not just the CIF that has the experience and background in the building industry. ICTU and the trade unions involved from a workers' perspective should also be represented on the board.

This legislation is long overdue. The Law Reform Commission proposed such legislation back in 1977, and it was again proposed by Mr. Phil Hogan in 2014. Sinn Féin will support the legislation, as it did in the Dáil. While the construction industry register has existed voluntarily since 2014, we have to ensure that it is truly independent in nature. Sinn Féin has expressed the view that a construction industry register should be truly independent. That means independent of the industry and not located within the industry, that is, the Construction Industry Federation. The Government never advanced the idea of a statutory register as initially proposed by the Law Reform Commission and to this day is insisting that it be located within the industry. Its home will be in, among other things, a lobbying organisation. It is our firm view that such a register should be located within the National Building Control Office, NBCO. Indeed, we proposed an amendment to this effect on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil. There is a chance for this Bill to be an extremely effective protection when it comes to rogue builders. That is why the NBCO is the appropriate home for the register.

The register will be established over the next two years. I note that registration is required from 2024. Is such a long lead-in time really necessary? The register has been in place voluntarily since 2014 so why do we need another two years up to 2024?

I will conclude with that. I look forward to the Minister of State's response on the issues of its location within the building control office and the lead-in time.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I thank him for coming to the Seanad. I welcome this Bill. Its main purpose is to raise standards in the construction industry, which is badly needed. There has been a legacy from cowboys, as Father Ted would say, with lots of people having got away with low standards. This is an important Bill to undo that. Having a proper register is welcomed by all the builders and building suppliers I know. They are the ones doing a good job. They have often been left to deal with the mess that has been left behind by cowboys. Plain and simple, this is an important Bill.

The complaints mechanism is very good. I will not even begin to talk about the pyrite and mica situation because we have discussed it at length. I have been in contact with the Minister again about the Clare houses being included in the scheme. Clare County Council and departmental officials have met and are working on getting more proof for the Department that the Clare houses are defective and will be included in the scheme as soon as possible, to put people's minds at rest.

It is important that the register remains independent. I trust that this will be of paramount importance and a priority for the Department when establishing it. In the programme for Government, under planning and reform, we said we would examine the creation of an independent building standards regulator to oversee building controls nationwide and to act as custodian of the building control management system. That is what the Minister of State is doing today. He is delivering on a promise made in the programme for Government. It is important for people to know that this coalition Government is doing well on all the promises we made. They were not empty promises based on false economics. These are things that we are manifesting and we are going to make this a better country.

Many people I know have been affected by bad building and bad building materials. The good builders and the good building suppliers who have always sought to do things well have been tarnished with the same brush, so it is good that this legislation will separate the men from the cowboys. The industry is struggling and we need builders more than we ever have previously because of the housing crisis and the opportunities with retrofitting, so it is important that we do all we can to support the good builders and the good tradesmen.

To that end, I wish to refer to an issue that will arise, although it has already been flagged. Many building contractors had put in quotes for building projects for the State and others and, unfortunately, those costs have gone up exponentially. I am aware that some recompensation was done retrospectively last year, but it does not appear to be enough in many cases. Some builders might have to get out of the industry altogether. We will have to examine that. The State cannot bail out everybody all the time for whatever reason, but that will be a serious issue. Builders will have to be paid more because the cost of materials has increased so much. I do not know if the State can afford to bail them out completely or how it can do it, but we have to take the issue seriously because we have to build 33,000 houses. There are thousands of houses to retrofit and it is hoped that with the new derelict buildings legislation we will be able to get many more unused buildings back into use. However, we need tradesmen and builders for that. They are probably the most important workforce in Ireland at present so we need to hold onto as many of them as possible and to encourage many more people to get involved as well. This Bill is welcome because it will support the people who have been doing it well and who will continue to do it well.

There is another matter that I would like the Minister of State to refer back to the Department. I have been raising it since my first week in the Seanad. The Safe Pass programme is still not available online. Builders still regularly ring me to say that their lads cannot go off to Roscommon at the last minute on a Tuesday to do it. There is a backlog of people who need a Safe Pass. This has been done online in England for years. I have been in contact with SOLAS several times but I have had no luck. This is not a complicated thing. The Safe Pass should be available online and done quickly. We have a housing crisis and a building crisis. We need to recruit as many young people as possible. Where people have to update their Safe Pass or need a new Safe Pass, it should not be a barrier. I ask the Minister of State to refer that back to the Department and perhaps contact the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, or the Minister of State at the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Niall Collins. I do not know who the person is, but I have been asking anybody and everybody.

The safe pass needs to go online. We are going to have some serious issues with builders walking off sites if we do not address the rising cost of materials as much as we can.

I thank the Minister of State for putting forward the Bill, which is very important for the construction industry.

I acknowledge the Senators’ contributions on the Bill, which is very important legislation, as they rightly pointed out. In the first instance, I acknowledge that we will bring forward amendments on Committee Stage to provide that certain members of the board shall be recruited through the Public Appointments Service, a point that was raised during the Dáil Committee Stage. It is a very important point that we are happy to comply with. We shall also ensure that the following shall nominate members: the Irish Congress of Trade Unions; the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage; the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science; the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and the registration body. As I said, we will bring forward amendments in that regard. I want to underscore that an unregistered builder may not provide building works to anyone, whether it is the State, a developer or an individual. The safe pass is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Authority and is something that we can refer to it, on foot of the comments of Senator Garvey. In response to Senator Davitt, there is a lead-in time for registration, to which I will attend shortly.

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

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

The construction industry will require time to adapt to these new requirements so the requirement to register will be introduced on a phased basis. The register will be divided into categories of building works. Builders can begin registering in 2023 and statutory registration will commence in early 2024 for these first categories. It is proposed that the first categories that will be required to register will be home builders and builders of non-residential buildings, followed by the various trades.

In advance of registration, committees of experts established by the board will consult with the various categories of the industry and other stakeholders. Very specific criteria will be established for each category of providers of building services and these will be set out in secondary legislation. This will ensure that the criteria required for registration will be clear and transparent. Some applicants may find that they need to gain additional experience or a qualification to achieve these criteria. It would not be fair or constitutional to remove a person’s right to earn a livelihood without giving them the opportunity to gain this additional competence.

It is preferable that a body with experience and expertise in the construction industry performs this function, similar to how the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, RIAI, and the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, SCSI, operate statutory registers for architects and surveyors. It is envisaged that the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, will be appointed as the registration body. There are a number of safeguards in place to ensure and maintain the independence of the registration body. The registration body will have delegated responsibility for the day-to-day maintenance of the register within the confines of the specific and limited parameters set out in the Bill. The board of the registration body will be completely independent of the body. The independence of the registration body will be maintained through the following measures: all powers of the registration body will be prescribed in legislation; all competency requirements for registration will be recommended by the board and prescribed by the Minister; the board will make decisions in relation to all sanctions, including removal from the register; removal from the register must be confirmed by the High Court; all prosecutions under the Act will be taken by the board or the Director of Public Prosecutions; all members of the appeals committee will be independent from the board and the registration body; and the Bill allows the functions of the registration body to be transferred if the body is not performing its functions satisfactorily.

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

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

I want to be very clear about the purpose of this Bill. It is essentially a register of competence. Failure to comply with building regulations or fire safety regulations will continue to be dealt with by the building control authorities. This legislation is a key component of the ongoing building control reform agenda, which also includes the amendments made to the building control regulations. This proposed statutory register will complement the reforms made through the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 and contribute to the development of an enhanced culture of competence and compliance in the construction sector. The Department is committed to establishing an independent building standards regulator to strengthen the oversight role of the State, with the aim of further reducing the risk of building failures and enhancing public confidence in construction-related activity.

In regard to building defects, the Minister has established a working group to examine defects in housing. The group is engaging with a range of interested parties, including homeowners, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals and industry stakeholders, among others, to examine the issue of defects in housing and report to the Minister on the matter.

This legislation is committed to in Housing for All, the Government’s national plan for housing to 2030 and it will support the delivery of quality housing. I would like to acknowledge and thank the Members for their contributions. I look forward to working closely with all Members as we continue the passage of this key legislation through the House.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 5 April 2022.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 2.38 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 4 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 2.38 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.
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