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Fire Safety

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 31 March 2021

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Questions (494)

Neale Richmond

Question:

494. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the schemes in place to assist those with large bills due to fire defects in apartments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17120/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the very stressful circumstances which owners and residents face when their homes are affected by construction defects.

In general, building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved, the homeowner, the builder, the developer and/or their respective insurers, structural guarantee or warranty scheme.

Under the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2020 primary responsibility for compliance of works with the requirements of the Building Regulations, rests with the owners, designers and builders of buildings.

Enforcement of the Building Regulations is a matter for the 31 local building control authorities who have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under the Acts and who are independent in the use of their statutory powers, subject to a statute of limitation of 5 years from the date of completion of the building or the construction works.

In the context of fire safety, when a building is constructed and occupied, statutory responsibility for fire safety is assigned by section 18(2) of the Fire Services Acts, 1981 & 2003, to the ‘person having control’ of the building. In multi-unit developments, the "person having control" is generally the owner management company.

Under the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, which is under the remit of the Minister for Justice, the owner management company must establish a scheme for annual service charges and a sinking fund for spending on refurbishment, improvement or maintenance of a non-recurring nature of the multi-unit development.

In the interest of supporting owners and residents living in developments where concerns regarding non-compliance with fire safety requirements have arisen, the Framework for Enhancing Fire Safety in Dwellings was published in 2017. It is intended to be used as a guide for the owners and occupants of dwellings (houses and apartments) where fire safety deficiencies have been identified, or are a cause for concern, to develop strategies to improve fire safety and to develop strategies to enable continued occupation in advance of undertaking the necessary works to ensure compliance with the relevant Building Regulations. The Framework is available at the following link: https://www.gov.ie/en/organisation/department-of-housing-local-government-and-heritage/?referrer=http://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/framework_for_enhancing_fire_safety_in_dwellings.pdf

In addition, a Draft Code of Practice for Fire Safety Assessment of Premises and Buildings has been developed by my Department and is available for public consultation at: https://www.gov.ie/en/consultation/dac4a-public-consultation-on-the-draft-code-of-practice-for-fire-safety-assessment-of-premises-and-buildings/

This draft code of practice has been developed as a result of the recommendations contained in Fire Safety in Ireland (2018) – the report of the Fire Safety Task Force, which was established in my Department following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017. It is proposed that the code of practice be issued under section 18A of the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003.

Finally, the Programme for Government sets out a number of commitments in respect of the important policy area of building defects and provides for an examination of defects in housing, having regard to the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing report, "Safe as Houses".

In this regard, my Department has been actively engaging with key stakeholders and I have had several meetings with stakeholder representative groups on this matter. I recently appointed Mr Seamus Neely, former Chief Executive of Donegal County Council, to the position of Chair to the independent working group. The Chair will oversee the effective implementation of the group’s terms of reference.

In addition, I brought a Memorandum for the Information of the Government to Cabinet recently to note the establishment of a working group with the appropriate expertise to examine the issue of defects in housing.

As part of their deliberations, the working group will seek to engage 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 me on the matter.

The inaugural plenary working group meeting was held last week.

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