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Wednesday, 12 Jun 2013

Other Questions

Water Meters Installation

Questions (6, 7, 17, 30)

Joe Higgins


6. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the schedule for the installation of water meters in the different local authority areas. [28077/13]

View answer

Dara Calleary


7. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of sub-contractors that have been appointed to implement water metering roll-out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27988/13]

View answer

Joe Higgins


17. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his Department has estimated the cost of fixing leakages that may be discovered in the course of the installation of water meters; and who will bear the cost of paying for the fixing of these leakages. [28078/13]

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Timmy Dooley


30. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the estimated number of jobs from the roll-out of water metering; the estimated length of employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27990/13]

View answer

Oral answers (27 contributions) (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 7, 17 and 30 together.

The programme for Government and the memorandum of understanding with the EU, the IMF and the ECB both provide for the introduction of domestic water charges. The Government considers that charging based on usage is the fairest way to charge for water and has decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. The Government has also decided that Irish Water, a new State-owned water company to be established as an independent subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Éireann Group, will be responsible for the metering programme. The Water Services Act 2013 provided for the establishment of Irish Water. The Act assigns the necessary powers to allow Irish Water to undertake the metering programme. The installation of meter boxes and domestic water meters is scheduled to commence in July 2013 and will be rolled out nationally as quickly as possible thereafter.

The procurement process for the metering programme, which is being managed by Irish Water, is at an advanced stage. The criteria for the procurement process were developed by my Department, in consultation with Bord Gáis Éireann, to ensure SMEs have an opportunity to compete for contracts. No subcontractors have yet been appointed to implement the national water metering programme but tendering for acceptance onto a panel of subcontractors established by my Department remains open until the end of this month. Some 158 eligible subcontractors have already been accepted onto the panel. Regional management contractors, to be recruited by Irish Water through public tendering procedures, are due to be selected later this month. These contractors will have responsibility for appointing subcontractors and it is expected they will be utilising the resources of the subcontractors from the pre-qualified panel created by my Department.

I expect 1,600 jobs will be sustained through the national metering programme. The contracts for the installation programme have been prepared to ensure that 25% of the jobs generated will be for people from small businesses, the unemployment register, school leavers, graduates and apprentices. These jobs will be sustained over a two to three year period while the installation programme is being rolled out.

Irish Water recently announced that it has awarded a contract to Cork-based company Abtran to set up and run a customer support call centre for the service. The call centre will employ up to 100 people initially to support roll-out of the national metering programme, with 400 jobs to be created by the end of 2014.

Measures to address leakage will be complementary to the water metering programme. The Department, in consultation with Irish Water, is developing proposals for customer side leaks detected as a result of the metering programme. With regard to water mains rehabilitation, significant investment has been made in recent years in water management systems and active leakage control has provided the platform for more intensive water mains repair and replacement contracts under the current water services investment programme. Over €247 million has been spent on water conservation projects in total over the past decade, with €39.9 million spent in 2011 and a further €39.25 million in 2012.

What is the anticipated cost of the water metering programme nationwide? A figure of hundreds of millions of euro has been mooted. I call on the Minister to agree that the drive for water meters at people's homes is a misapplication of those funds. It is incredible that, when 50% to 60% of water treated by taxpayers' funds is leaking into the grounds in many local authorities, the Minister does not apply the funds at that point to amplify the inadequate spending on rehabilitation. Is it not obvious where the funds should go? Is it not obvious the Minister could create thousands of jobs in construction and plumbing for a fruitful outcome rather than what he is undertaking?

Is it not clear the Government's agenda is not primarily conservation but the establishment of yet another local tax? Along with property tax, water charges will increase to over €1,000 per household, an intolerable burden for many families. I call on the Minister to change policy in this regard.

Deputy Joe Higgins prefers to pick figures off the top of his head. The sum of €1,000 per family is way off the mark and he knows it. People are paying, through their taxes, for the treatment of good quality water at a cost of €1 billion. It comes from ordinary working people, as Deputy Joe Higgins call them. They are already paying through their taxes. I am not in a position to tell Deputy Higgins what funds will be made available to the water metering programme because we are in the final stages of a tendering programme for regional contracts, which will roll out the metering programme to 1.1 million households.

Plumbing jobs will be created under the water metering programme. We will also create more jobs through further investment in the water sector which the country is not in a position to afford at present. In the contracts that have been put out to tender I have provided that 25% of the employees should be persons assigned to complete their apprenticeships or come from the unemployment register. They particularly target people and skills that were available in the construction industry in the past that we can use for the water metering programme.

I do not subscribe to the Deputy's negative connotations in this matter. We have very important work to do in ensuring a plentiful supply of good quality water for job creation, investment and households in the future.

As Deputy Joe Higgins said, we still do not know what the exact cost of metering will be. We still do not have a countrywide audit to further determine the cost of repairs to put the system right before we start charging for water. The Minister has said 1,600 jobs will be created in the installation of water meters. That is commendable, if the actions match the rhetoric. The Minister has said regional contractors are about to be appointed. These regional contractors must have a minimum turnover of many millions of euro to be considered for the regional contract. The Minister went on to say 158 local contractors were on a register. They are placed on a Department register from which the regional contractor can employ them. What compulsion is placed on the regional contractor to employ local plumbers and contractors where the service will be put in place? The Minister has said 25% of the people who will get jobs installing water meters must come from the local live register and so forth. What mechanisms and training programmes are in place? How specific can he be that provisions are being put or are in place for people on the live register to receive training in order that they can obtain some of these jobs?

It might sound like pie in the sky to the Deputy that there will be a substantial amount of economic activity and job creation under this programme.

I did not dispute that.

Many people have been in touch with the Deputy, me and others in the last while about where to send curricula vitae, CVs, to get work. I hope that will continue and that people will be able to send their CVs to Irish Water and the firms that will win the regional contracts as part of this major investment. I cannot give the cost today for commercially sensitive reasons.

With regard to the subcontractors' panel, the normal rule of the Department of Finance for subcontractors is that they must have a turnover of €1 million. I reduced the figure to €400,000 to allow as many people as possible from the small and medium enterprises, SME, sector to be placed on the panel, but that does not stop others from going onto it between now and the end of the month. In fact, it is an indicative list. People can be put on it afterwards and considered by the regional contractors. People are waiting to know who are the winners of these contracts in order that they can apply for subcontract work. In every county there will be economic activity and people from the plumbing and the electrical industry will be involved in this work.

I am conscious of what the Deputy has said about ensuring we get the Department of Social Protection to compile lists of all the people who are in need of employment and have the necessary old skills from the construction days, when matters were going well, and to submit these names to the subcontractors. I am working with the Minister for Social Protection to ensure this happens.

Is it not incredible that weeks before the Minister's metering programme is due to start, he can provide no figures for the cost of the programme? I suggest the Minister, even at this late stage, carry out a cost-benefit analysis. He will find that if the investment were made in water conservation and rehabilitation of the network and so forth, it would be far more beneficial. Far more real jobs would be created as a result. I am glad that he recognises that taxpayers have funded our water supply up to now. That gets us past the rubbish that comes from him when it suits him and the media that we have free water, which is a ploy to justify water charges. When one considers property tax and the water charges which the Minister intends to apply very soon, talking about a figure of €1,000 per household is very realistic, even if it is completely unaffordable and a huge burden. In fact, what the Minister is planning is not a programme for water conservation primarily but a programme for the commodification of water, bringing this crucial, natural resource into a situation where it will eventually be a product for the capitalist marketplace and privatisation in the water corporations he supports. He supports that philosophy, but it is not in the interests of the majority of the people.

We are teasing out some answers, which I welcome. The Minister mentioned the creation of 1,600 jobs in installing meters; a couple of weeks ago he mentioned the creation of 400 jobs in the call centre. However, there is no commitment for those employed by local authorities in this area, other than a statement that many of them have sought jobs with Irish Water. As the consultations on service level agreements are not yet complete, we cannot give certainty to those who have not applied about what their role will be in the future.

Despite the aspiration that 25% of the people taken on to install water meters will come from the live register, there is no certainty about this. It is time we were given some certainty and specifics to match the rhetoric and spin regarding the creation of jobs and so forth. When will the Minister devise a mechanism through which his Department and the Department of Social Protection will provide training programmes for people on the live register who wish to avail of the opportunities that might arise in this sector? When can they receive adequate training to have them placed on a proper register that will give them the opportunity to avail of jobs that might become available through local plumbers and contractors? The Minister said he had reduced the turnover cap from €1 million to €400,000. Did he also say he would reduce this further in order that there will be an opportunity for other local contractors and plumbers to be placed on a register?

Members on all sides of the House have asked that the Construction Contracts Bill be brought through the House and passed to ensure protection under contracts such as these. Will the Minister confirm that this legislation will be in place prior to the commencement of the programme?

The Construction Contracts Bill is an important one and being brought through the House by the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. I understand it is due to go through Committee Stage. I can get the Deputy more information on when it is due to be brought before the House. I would like to see it enacted as quickly as possible, as it is important for subcontractors.

As I said earlier regarding training programmes, we are working with the Department of Social Protection to ensure people who already have skills and are on the unemployment register, people who are waiting to complete their apprenticeships and people who are in need of employment, particularly young people, will be in a position to have their names put forward for consideration by those who wish to participate in the programme. We are working closely with the local employment offices to achieve this. This is a €4.7 billion project, the largest since the ESB was established. One will not get answers immediately as it will require a great deal of work. It has taken one and a half years to get to this stage. However, we are now in a position where all the processes are in place and we are ready to roll them out.

In response to Deputy Joe Higgins, the top-of-the-head figure of €1,000 per household is ridiculous.

The Deputy was wrong about the local property tax figure and the bin charges figure in the past and he is wrong now.

No, they have gone up consistently.

I welcome the initiative and the job creation aspect. I wish the Minister would reduce the €400,000 figure, if possible, because there are many small companies that will not be able to tender for this work or become involved in it. Many small operators got involved in this area at the height of the boom.

Second, do any of the regulations deal with the fact that some people have stopcocks a long way from their houses? If the meter is located there, the distance between it and the house might not be under their control. Could the regulations state the stopcock should be put as close to the entrance to a person's house as possible?

Otherwise, they may incur costs as a result of a leakage on council property, for example.

I wish to be positive, as the Minister wants us all to be in a positive frame of mind today. If the Minister wants to stop water leaks and reduce costs, why has he not looked at district or block metering? I checked the price of this since I last discussed it with the Minister here. A district meter catering for 1,000 households costs between €3,000 and €4,000 to install. There is a computerised system going back to headquarters. Leaks are spotted within one minute and can be found within one hour with a detector. I have checked this with engineers who work in areas where such meters are installed. District metering works out at a cost of between €3 and €4 per household. Has the Minister looked at that?

On the question of the cost to the householder of Irish Water, the Minister says he does not know because that will be the responsibility of the regulator, which I accept. However, the Minister is being somewhat evasive on the issue. The figure can be obtained by adding the €330 million in capital to the €0.9 billion in current expenditure, which comes to €1.2 billion, and dividing that by the number of households, which is slightly below 1.3 million. I ask the Minister not to reply with lectures about charges in Northern Ireland. That is what the figure will be - I know what the total is, as does the Minister, without even having to take a calculator out of his pocket.

I am delighted to see that Deputy Stanley has done his sums.

I will certainly convey the Deputy's suggestion on block metering to those involved in the implementation of this programme. I am sure they have thought of it already but in case they have not, I will pass it on. The Deputy might be able to give them the benefit of his wisdom-----

The Minister did not know anything about it the last time I asked him.

I do not know everything.

I have been asking the Minister about it for some time now.

I know Deputy Stanley has a lot of experience of these matters in Northern Ireland-----

And down here too.

I am learning from him all the time with regard to the charges and what they provide in terms of public services in Northern Ireland. I am also learning that he is against all of that in the Republic of Ireland. However, I will convey the positive suggestion he has made.

I will not be in a position to micro-manage the metering programme.

Block metering costs €4 per household.

Please allow the Minister to speak.

I say to Deputy Stanley that if he has queries or suggestions about implementation, he should write to the managing director of Irish Water, Mr. John Tierney, who will be in a position to take them on board if appropriate. I say the same to Deputy Lawlor with regard to the surveying that is being carried out at the moment in each local authority area. Approximately 350,000 households are being surveyed, in co-operation with local authority staff, whom I thank. They are doing that work on behalf of Irish Water, which demonstrates the partnership approach being taken by Irish Water and local government. That partnership will continue for many years to come - perhaps for even longer than we think.

With regard to the turnover threshold of €400,000, I am not in a position to reduce that. It will be a matter for those who are under the threshold to liaise with others in the same business to see if they can reach it by combining their turnovers.

Dormant Accounts Fund Administration

Questions (8)

Robert Troy


8. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the amount of money sanctioned from the Dormant Accounts Fund for projects in the past three years 2011, 2012 and 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28056/13]

View answer

Oral answers (20 contributions) (Question to Environment)

Under the dormant accounts legislation, balances in dormant accounts with banks, building societies and An Post and the net encashment value of certain life assurance policies are paid into the Dormant Accounts Fund, which is managed by the National Treasury Management Agency.

I know that Deputy Ó Cuív is familiar with this reply from a previous occasion, so I will cut to the chase. From its establishment in April 2003 to the end of April 2013, transfers to the Dormant Accounts Fund have totalled some €716 million, which includes interest earned of approximately €39 million. Funds reclaimed in that period by account holders amounted to around €257 million. Disbursements to a total value of €278 million have been approved, with €251 million already spent on projects designed to benefit the community over the same period. The amount of funding disbursed from the Dormant Accounts Fund by the National Treasury Management Agency for existing projects was €8.4 million in 2011, €4.16 million in 2012, and to date in 2013, just €37,556. However, I have allocated €6.385 million for dormant accounts measures this year, which includes €2.835 million to be used to support labour activation measures in local authorities in 2013.

I was wondering for a while there if the Minister was answering the question asked, because I did not ask for the history of the Dormant Accounts Fund.

I did not give the Deputy the history. I cut all of that out. I spared us all.

The Minister could have cut all of it out.

I did cut it out.

Can we have a question for the Minister, please?

Can the Minister tell me how much he approved for projects in 2011, 2012 and 2013? He gave me the 2013 figure of €6.385 million, but-----

I gave the Deputy the figures.

The Minister only gave me the disbursement figures for 2011 and 2012. I am asking how much was approved for projects in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The question was very specific and simple.

Further to that, would the Minister accept that he is sitting on a fund of almost €100 million, excluding the reserve, that was specifically taken from financial institutions to assist programmes tackling social and economic disadvantage, educational disadvantage and disabilities? By not allocating that money, the Minister effectively has his hand in the pockets of dormant account holders, because he is taking their money from the financial institutions but not giving it to the groups involved. He is actually robbing them of this money.

Due to decisions Deputy Ó Cuív made when he was a member of Government, it is part of the general Government debt, which has a ceiling set by the EU, the IMF and ECB. It is counted as part of our national debt and we cannot breach the ceiling because of the activities of Deputy Ó Cuív's party when in government. Unfortunately, for accounting purposes, as the Deputy well knows, it is deemed to be a liability on the State.

I have actually disbursed the moneys that I spoke about in my reply. I have approved and disbursed those funds. All of the money was spent - a total of €8.4 million in 2011 and €4.16 million in 2012 - including in five areas to which Deputy Ó Cuív promised to extend dormant accounts funding when he was in power, although he did not allocate any money to them. I allocated the money, unlike Deputy Ó Cuív. I have allocated an even higher figure for this year, of €6.385 million.

The allocations, of approximately €8 million, €4 million and €6 million, total €18 million over three years. I am glad the Minister raised the issue of the general Government balance because when the Bill was going through the House and in parliamentary questions since its passage, I asked him whether he intended to change the law so that there would not be a liability on the State for all of this money. This year, again, the money coming in exceeds the disbursements. I ask again, therefore, if it is the Minister's intention to free up this money by making a simple change to the law. Such a change would provide that only the reserves and the money coming in are a liability for the State and that all of the other moneys, back to the point at which the dormant accounts process started, would not continue to be a liability for the Exchequer. If the Minister made that simple change, he would be able to free up €100 million.

The Dormant Accounts Fund has been very good to many areas of the country, including my own. The Minister made reference to the fact that the Dormant Accounts Fund comprises a number of different accounts. Are prize bonds included at all? I know there are countless bonds sitting in drawers and elsewhere for many years. Nobody seems to know what is happening in this regard and there is no paper trail, as such, for many of the bonds. Has that ever been examined in terms of a potential source of funding or is there some legal impediment involved?

I am not sure about prize bonds, but I will check that out for the Deputy. If there is a pot of gold there, I would be glad to avail of it. However, on the Dormant Accounts Fund, it is not a simple matter of €100 million being available, as Deputy Ó Cuív is trying to imply. I can assure all Deputies that if €100 million were available to me, I would be spending it.

The Minister can make it available.

I cannot make it available and the Deputy knows that.

He can make it available.

The Deputy knows that better than most, given the time he spent in government. He knows it must have the approval of the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, but he chooses to ignore that now that he is in opposition. This is not unusual for Deputy Ó Cuív. He has changed his mind on many issues in opposition.

I know exactly what I would do.

It cannot be done without the approval of the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is counted as part of the general Government debt and I am not in a position to amend that.

Pyrite Remediation Programme Issues

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

Questions (9, 22, 27)

Clare Daly


9. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the portion of the surplus held by the HomeBond fund, so far denied to householders with HomeBond structural guarantee and suffering major structural damage due to pyrite induced heave that will be provided to the pyrite remediation fund. [27975/13]

View answer

Mick Wallace


22. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the criteria that will be used to decide who will carry out remedial works on houses damaged by pyrite; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27983/13]

View answer

Clare Daly


27. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the role which will be played by HomeBond and HomeBond employees in the pyrite remediation works to be organised by Pyremco. [27974/13]

View answer

Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 22 and 27 together.

HomeBond is one of the construction stakeholders which has agreed to set up a not-for-profit entity to implement a programme of remediation in accordance with the pyrite remediation scheme drawn up and published by the Pyrite Remediation Board, PRB, on its recently launched website. Work is progressing on the establishment of the entity and it is intended that this will be completed shortly. The stakeholders are finalising nominations for the board of directors and are agreeing the appropriate legal format for the entity, including the articles and memorandum of association. HomeBond will nominate two of the six directors proposed.

The PRB is in discussions with representatives of the stakeholders with a view to finalising its contribution to the pyrite remediation process. HomeBond’s contribution will take the form of providing management, administration and technical services towards the implementation of a remediation programme and will also contribute towards the cost of establishing laboratory facilities for testing for pyrite.

Detailed modalities that will provide for open and transparent processes, including the procurement of building services, are being discussed between the PRB and the representatives of the construction stakeholders but are not yet finalised. The remediation programme for home owners who have no other viable option to have remediation works undertaken will be carried out under the direction and supervision of the PRB.

I am confident that the PRB will ensure that the procedures put in place will adhere to best practice in terms of fair competition and will require compliance with standard procurement procedures. The PRB will have oversight of the various stages of the remediation process and will ensure that all works will be carried out in accordance with Irish standard 398-2:2013 - reactive pyrite in sub-floor hardcore material - methodology for remediation works.

I welcome the fact the board is up and running and that the process is under way. We do not know whether it will be a success but I will not prejudge it. I accept a lot of the problems being flagged are a result of the fact that this is unknown territory. While acknowledging that and accepting the bona fides of the Minister in that regard, he has failed to answer a huge part of the questions I asked.

The contributions and involvement of HomeBond in this matter is of huge concern for residents. It walked away from home owners with claims a number of years ago, and has now been resurrected from the dead and re-involved in the process. The Minister referred to it being involved in management and having technical services. It has already tested some houses, but the benefit of those tests cannot be passed onto home owners now to avail of remediation schemes.

The Minister has not answered the fact it has €25 million in a bank account which will not be drawn on for any other purposes because it is now a properly constituted insurance scheme. The moneys collected under the old scheme will not be drawn on anything other than pyrite. Why has the Minister not requested that money be brought to the table? Many of the measures seem to be restricting participants and home owners in accessing the fund and are dictated by money or lack thereof. Surely HomeBond should put that money into this kitty.

Could the Minister comment on the fact that HomeBond has been in a number of estates with pyrite with developers and has minimised and talked down damage which residents believe to be caused by pyrite? They have been told not to worry because it is not pyrite. Will that not be a problem if they will be involved in the process later on?

I share a lot of the concerns of Deputy Daly in regard to HomeBond. The fact it did not assist customers when they had problems with pyrite in their homes is disappointing. It is a private company which was set up in 1978 for the purpose of giving structural guarantees. Deputy Wallace will be familiar with its role, as will others who have been involved in the CIF. It did a reasonably good job for what it was set up to do initially.

However, when it came to pyrite it worked on the small print and did not come good in dealing with customers. It is a private company and I cannot confiscate its assets or money in its account. We are not in a communist state. We will not allow it to walk away from engaging with the process and dealing with its responsibilities to people who have pyrite in their homes.

I was not legally obliged to do anything, but I set up the independent pyrite panel and established the facts, rather than going on top of the head remarks about the vast numbers of people involved in the process. We established the facts in a very credible panel and have set up a process to help customers. I will make sure that, as far as is humanly possible and in as legal a manner as possible, the process set in place will help those people who regrettably have pyrite in their homes. HomeBond, which is a private company, will have to step up to the plate better than it has done to date.

With regard to the Minister's point on HomeBond being a competent company, my experience is very different. Generally, I found it left a lot to be desired. My question concerned which builders or companies would get the opportunity to carry out remedial work. From what I can see, the chairman of the PRB comes from Roadstone-----

Jim Farrell comes from Pyremco.

This would worry me.

Those who were involved in the process in any form should not have any say in selecting who does the work. We need an independent body to set up a panel of construction companies from which home owners can pick. If it is left in the hands of people connected to Roadstone, the CIF and HomeBond the bigger players will be involved. If one looks back on the poor work that was done over the last ten years in the city, the majority was done by bigger rather than smaller players. We need an independent group to decide who gets the work otherwise we will not have the fairness to which the Minister referred. I give the Minister credit for setting up the panel. Let us do it right.

I set up the PRB to do things right. I have put people on the board who have expertise and credibility to make sure the job is done right. We have to set up a special purpose vehicle to draw down money from the banks, on which stakeholders are represented. I have to establish a private entity in order to bring money into the system to use for remedial work on houses.

I want to see those in the industry who are responsible for the problem sharing the responsibility of solving it on behalf of the people who, through no fault of their own, ended up with this problem. For Government accounting purposes it has to be done in a certain way. The PRB and this work will be legally underpinned in the House when we introduce legislation which, it is to be hoped, will be enacted before the summer recess. I have every confidence that Mr. O'Connor and the PRB will do a good job on behalf of the people, ensure the money is spent on the remediation process and people can resume normal life again, arising from the activities of people who have let them down.

HomeBond was not just a private company, rather, it was a figleaf created by the CIF to pose as a structural guarantee when in reality it was not. In fairness, we have debated the issue many times here. The Law Society and others warned it was underfunded as early as 20 years ago. It is a fact that it has resources in its coffers. The Minister will propose legislation which will be passed. It will put levies on quarries and people who pay ordinary insurance fees will foot the bill. Yet, he cannot introduce legislation to make HomeBond pay its share. I do not accept that.

Another huge issue for home owners is who does the work. The idea that some of those who were responsible for this problem would be asked to fix it is something that home owners do not want. The idea of an efficient panel which would be accessible to people, possibly in a similar manner to how local authorities have a pool, companies tender for a job, are on a panel and the same team of local builders can be wheeled out, is desirable.

If the members of the Pyremco group which consists of representatives of HomeBond, the Construction Industry Federation and Roadstone choose their friends to do the work, will the Pyrite Remediation Board have an overruling say in the matter or will it let them off with it?

I am not sure how matters are generally arranged in the sequencing of questions, but I had assumed I would have a chance to speak before colleagues were allowed to ask supplementary questions.

The Deputy is getting his chance now.

Thank you, Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

In regard to HomeBond, that company refused even to meet the committee or engage in any way in its deliberations, which was disappointing. There was a certain arrogance in its position. I have heard a figure of €25 million in regard to it. Perhaps the Minister might indicate whether that is correct.

The major issues with the proposed scheme are how it will be funded and how quickly it can deliver results. I recall that either the Minister or one of his spokespersons indicated some time ago that legislation to introduce the proposed levy would be brought to the Dáil before the summer recess. There is no sign of that important Bill being brought forward before the end of July. In the meantime, people's homes continue to deteriorate. Of the homes affected, at least 800 are in very serious condition and require urgent remediation. The situation should not be allowed to drag on any longer. I understand the proposal is to levy the insurance companies and quarry owners, but there have been suggestions the latter intend to initiate a court challenge. Will the Minister comment on this? Representatives of the industry have made representations to Members, arguing that these additional costs would be unjust. I am not sure whether that matter can be dealt with in the legislation.

Any work carried out under the scheme will be certified by the Pyrite Remediation Board to ensure it meets the highest possible standards. Deputy Mick Wallace can be assured that the days of jobs for the boys are over. That type of carry-on is what caused the problems in this country in construction, including the shoddy workmanship we have seen. I am depending on Mr. O'Connor and his board to ensure the work is done properly. Contracts will not be awarded on the basis that certain people have undertaken work in the past. Mr. O'Connor will have an important role in overseeing the whole process. He and his board should be allowed to deal with these matters. I have great confidence that they will ensure an effective policy of oversight in everything that is done.

Applications will be sought in July from persons who wish to participate in the scheme. The financial institutions are finalising the manner in which they can transfer their loan to the special purpose vehicle for the purpose of drawing down the moneys allocated. The final draft of the Bill will go to the Government very shortly and I intend to have it enacted before the summer recess. The pyrite levy and the insurance levy will be part of the repayment capacity of the loan in due course. I expect we will see some activity over the summer months in getting the scheme up and running.

Will the banks be contributing an upfront sum, as the Minister initially indicated?

Written Answers follow Adjournment.