My Department has recently received correspondence from Donegal County Council in connection with issues raised by the Mica Action Group relating to structural problems in houses in north Donegal which appear to be related to the use of defective blocks in the construction of the houses. I understood that the Mica Action Group met with Council officials in this matter and the Group has also met with a representative of the Pyrite Resolution Board.
While some testing appears to have been carried out on some of the affected dwellings which has indicated that the problem may concern the presence of a contaminant known as Muscovite mica in the concrete blocks, my Department understands that no firm evidence is available to confirm the nature and scale of the problem.
The Building Regulations 1997 set out the legal requirements for the construction of new buildings (including houses), extensions to existing buildings as well as for material alterations and certain material changes of use to existing buildings and are divided in 12 parts (classified as Parts A to M). Technical Guidance Documents (TGDs) are published to accompany each of the parts and provide guidance indicating how the requirements of that part can be achieved in practice. Where works are carried out in accordance with the relevant technical guidance such works are considered to be, prima facie, in compliance with the relevant regulation(s).
Part A of the Second Schedule to the Building Regulations sets out the legal requirements in relation to structure. The accompanying TGD A provides guidance on how compliance can be achieved and, in the context of block work in houses, reference is given to the appropriate masonry design and construction standards. The materials to be used, e.g. concrete blocks, wall ties etc. are required to meet the specified minimum designations, strengths and other qualities, as set out in TGD A and the referenced standards.
Part D sets out the legal requirements for materials and workmanship. It requires that all works must be carried out using “proper materials … which are fit for the use for which they are intended and for the conditions in which they are to be used” and in a workmanlike manner to ensure compliance with the Building Regulations.
Primary responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the Building Regulations rests with the designers, builders and owners of buildings.
Ireland’s national standard I.S. 20:1987 Concrete Building Blocks - Part 1 Normal Density Blocks was the relevant standard for concrete blocks in place from 1987 until 2003 when it was replaced by a harmonised European product standard for concrete blocks - EN 771-3 aggregate concrete masonry units (dense and light weight aggregates). EN 771-3 was published by the National Standards Authority of Ireland on 17 March 2003 and came into effect on 15 October 2003. However, as is normal in such circumstances, the provisions in I.S. 20: Part 1 continued to apply for a period of time (known as the co-existence period) to allow for transition from the national standard to the harmonised European standard.
Harmonised European product standards provide the methods and the criteria for assessing the performance of construction products in relation to their essential characteristics, the harmonised standard includes the technical data necessary for the implementation of a system of assessment and verification of constancy of performance including third party oversight (determined as proportionate to the level of risk involved) which the manufacturer is required to comply with. The National Standards Authority of Ireland has also produced additional guidance to some harmonised European product standards in the form of National Annexes or Standard Recommendations which set out appropriate minimum performance levels for specific intended uses of certain products in Ireland.
Regulation (EU) No 305/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down harmonised conditions for the marketing of construction products and repealing Council Directive 89/106/EEC requires manufacturers to provide robust and reliable information in a consistent way for construction products which are covered by a harmonised standard or a European Technical Assessment. From 1 July 2013, manufacturers of construction products which are covered by harmonised European product standards are required, when placing a product on the market, to make a Declaration of Performance for the product, and to affix the CE mark.
Under the European Union (Construction Products) Regulations 2013 building control authorities have been designated as the principal market surveillance authorities for construction products that fall within the scope of the Construction Products Regulation. Under the Regulations building control authorities have wide-ranging powers to ensure that constructions products placed on the market comply with the requirements set out in the Construction Products Regulation, including the issuing of a notice to require corrective actions to be taken by an economic operator within a specified period of time, and, in the event of a serious risk being identified, to request the Minister to prohibit or restrict a construction product from being made available on the market, to withdraw it from the market or to recall it, or to make its use subject to special conditions as deemed appropriate.
While I fully appreciate and acknowledge the extremely difficult and distressing situations that householders have to deal with when faced with the consequences of the use of defective materials or poor workmanship, in general, building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved, i.e. the homeowner, the builder, the manufacturer, supplier, quarry owner and/or their respective insurers. In the event that the contracting parties cannot reach a settlement by negotiation the option of seeking redress in the Courts can be considered. I believe that the parties concerned should face up to their responsibilities and take appropriate actions to provide remedies for the affected homeowners.