I propose to take Questions Nos. 1301 and 1319 together.
The Expert Panel on concrete blocks was established by my Department in 2016, to investigate problems that have emerged in the concrete blockwork of certain dwellings in Counties Donegal and Mayo.
The panel had the following terms of reference:
(i) To identify, insofar as it is possible, the numbers of private dwellings which appear to be affected by defects in the blockwork in the Counties of Donegal and Mayo;
(ii) To carry out a desktop study, which would include a consultation process with affected homeowners, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals, testing laboratories, industry stakeholders and other relevant parties, to establish the nature of the problem in the affected dwellings;
(iii) To outline a range of technical options for remediation and the means by which those technical options could be applied; and
(iv)To submit a report within six months.
On 13 June 2017, the report of the Expert Panel was published and included eight recommendations which my Department are actively progressing with the relevant stakeholders.
The Department is prioritising the implementation of Recommendations 1 and 2.
With regard to Recommendation 1, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) Technical Committee, established to scope and fast track the development of a standardised protocol, held its inaugural meeting on 11 September 2017 and has held several further meetings since. The standardised protocol will inform the course of action in relation to remedial works for all affected householders. The draft standard, which was published on 6 June 2018 for public consultation is available at: http://www.nsainep.ie/Home/Details/11454, and will run for a period of six weeks.
The draft standard, I.S. 465 - Assessment, testing and categorisation of damaged buildings incorporating concrete blocks containing certain deleterious materials, outlines a protocol which will be used to assess and categorise the damage in properties where the concrete blocks are suspected to contain the minerals mica or pyrite. Previously, there was no common way for engineers or homeowners to assess the damage caused by defective concrete blocks to help decide what, if any, remedial work could be carried out.
a. establishes a protocol for assessing and determining whether a building has been damaged by concrete blocks containing certain excessive amounts of deleterious materials (free or unbound muscovite mica, or aggregate with potentially deleterious quantities of pyrite),
b. describes methods for establishing the extent of the problem;
c. describes the scope of any testing required; and
d. categorises buildings, in accordance with this Standard, providing competent persons with guidance on the appropriate measures to be taken.
With regard to Recommendation 2, my Department has been in contact with Engineers Ireland in relation to the establishment of a register of competent engineers for homeowners/affected parties’ reference. Engineers Ireland have provided assurance that they will collaborate with the Department, the NSAI and others on measures to establish such a register once the standardised protocol is in place.
Last year I visited Donegal and Mayo and met with key stakeholders, including affected homeowners, elected members and officials of the local authorities and other interested parties. On 18 December 2017, I again visited Donegal and met with key stakeholders to provide an update on the progress to date. I made a similar visit to Mayo on 26 January 2018.
Once the public consultation process has been finalised and the standardised protocol is in place, I will be in a position to provide a further update on progress at that time.
In addition, I am currently considering what further actions may be required to assist the parties directly involved in reaching a satisfactory resolution to the problems that have emerged in the two counties.