Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Questions (71)

Clare Daly


71. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if a consultative forum will be convened for representatives from the Pyrite Resolution Board, the Housing Agency and Deputies from the areas affected to review existing pyrite legislation and the operation of the remediation scheme. [16333/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

My question relates to whether the Minister has or will consider the idea of a consultative forum of the Pyrite Remediation Board, the Housing Agency and Deputies in the constituencies affected by pyrite to review the legislation. As the Minister knows, there are problems in regard to how the board and the agency are interpreting the legislation. They seem to be refusing any intervention from the Department or legal advice the Minister has got. It is making life incredibly difficult for citizens affected by pyrite.

I am glad we are taking Deputy Daly's question as it is an important discussion. There are no plans to set up the forum she is calling for but that does not mean we are not open to discussing any of the issues. We had very useful meeting at the back end of last year where all the relevant Deputies came together with the agency and the Department to tease through some of the issues. Progress was a little slow after that but we have made some progress in recent weeks. I would be very happy to have that ongoing engagement. In fairness, we attempted on a few occasions to try to have that. There are still certain sectors that need changes and we are willing to look at that. We have made progress on foot of the previous meeting and I will try to arrange another meeting.

I do not intend to have a formal consultative board, however, as it is not required. We can try to work through the changes with the Deputies concerned. If that does not work out, we can look at it again, but it does not need a formal board, in my view. There is a process where people can engage with the Pyrite Resolution Board directly. I would be happy to arrange a further discussion and we can see where we go from there.

I am not bothered whether there is a forum. What I wanted was the opportunity to raise this issue on the floor of the House. The Minister of State knows there are cases that are being interpreted by the board completely incorrectly. The legislation as it stands states that people who bought their houses after the enactment of the legislation were generally not covered by the scheme unless they could demonstrate they did not know of the presence of pyrite nor could they have known. The Minister of State got legal advice on that and he said there was no impediment to the board including cases under this remit. I had a meeting with it about a constituent of mine where we demonstrated in black and white that the man could not have known because nobody knew, given that nowhere in Swords or anywhere in that estate was pyrite present when he bought that property. Subsequently, a small number emerged. The board listened to the case and it could not give me a reason it would not deal with it. That was six months ago and a year after the Minister of State and I met the board on this issue, yet it still refuses to include that case. It is madness. There is no impediment. If it does not listen to the Minister of State, what hope do I have as a Deputy? We need some forum to call the board to account.

Perhaps I was not clear in my first answer. I think we have made progress on that particular area. The Department got legal advice because I do not expect any board to listen to me as an individual Minister of State, so we backed that up with legal advice and an opinion. I understand the board then got its own legal advice and we have now finally made progress on that situation, which affects a certain number of people. I believe that, as of the meeting last week, a certain amount of progress has been made, so perhaps the Deputy will be a little happier on that situation. I am aware there are still other scenarios we want to tease through. Nonetheless, we have made some progress because we did not give up in the past six months. We kept pursuing this but we used proper legal advice and legal interpretation, not just my opinion or somebody else's. That was as a result of us all coming together to tease through some of the problems. I am happy for us to do that again to facilitate the process.

To be clear, more than 2,000 people have made applications at this stage, in excess of 1,800 are in the system, more than 1,400 have had their houses resolved to a satisfactory condition, and approximately 500 will have their houses remediated this year as well. We have made good progress, as the Deputy has acknowledged. There are other scenarios which we will deal with. I am happy to consult the Deputy to do that.

I am beginning to think there is a secret plot between the Government and the legal profession, and it is not even that secret. The Minister of State got legal advice, fair play to him, and that advice said there was no impediment to the board in this regard. Then the board, presumably, used public money again to get its own legal advice to stop the implementation of something the Minister of State was trying to facilitate. How in God's name is that a productive use of the board's time? I hear what the Minister of State is saying, which is that, a year and a half down the road, he thinks he has got the board back online. That is not good enough from a public body, particularly when I have at least one householder whose house is crumbling and who cannot be included in the scheme when we clearly demonstrated that he could not have known that pyrite existed because nobody in Swords knew at the time. It is shameful. I am not blaming the Minister of State because I know he is trying to push the board. However, is it not shocking that the Minister of State had to go to these lengths? We are now on our third round of legal advice to get these fellows to act. It would have been cheaper if they had just gone and fixed the man's house to begin with.

Unfortunately, we do not have time for a response. That concludes questions for today.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website..