I propose to take Questions Nos. 292 to 294, inclusive, together.
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 context, I established a working group to examine defects in housing. The plenary working group has been meeting monthly since March 2021 (except for August), in addition to subgroup meetings. The group’s terms of reference were adopted in May 2021 and include:
1. Examine defects in housing having regard to the recommendations in Item 4 “Addressing the legacy of bad building and poor regulation” in Chapter 4 of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government report - ‘Safe as Houses? A Report on Building Standards, Building Controls and Consumer Protection’.
2. Establish the nature of significant, wide-spread fire safety, structural safety and water ingress defects in purpose built apartment buildings, including duplexes, constructed between 1991 – 2013 in Ireland through consultation with affected homeowners, homeowner representative organisations, owners’ management companies, relevant managing agents, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals, industry stakeholders, insurance providers, mortgage providers and other relevant parties. Including such matters as:
- Identification and description of defect,
- Nature of defect – design, product, workmanship,
- Non-compliance with building regulations or actual damage,
- Severity/risk to life or serviceability of dwelling,
- Period of construction affected,
- Type of dwelling affected,
- Location of dwellings affected.
3. Establish the scale of the issue – estimate number of dwellings affected by the defects identified including those already remediated.
4. Consider a methodology for the categorisation of defects and the prioritisation of remedial action.
- In the case of defects with fire safety implications, consider how the framework for enhancing fire safety in dwellings can be applied to mitigate the risks arising from fire safety defects pending the remediation of defects and the Code of Practice for Fire Safety Assessment of Premises and Buildings, which is currently being developed by National Directorate of Fire and Emergency Management.
5. Suggest mechanisms for resolving defects, in the context of the legal rights, duties and obligations of developers, builders, building professionals, insurers, mortgage providers, building control authorities, fire authorities, owners’ management companies, owner occupiers, renters and landlords, including:
- Technical options for the remediation of dwellings,
- Efficient means of carrying out work,
- individual dwellings or whole building approach,
- routine maintenance/refurbishment or remediation,
- Structures or delivery channels needed to facilitate resolution – advice and support.
6. Evaluate the potential cost of technical remediation options.
7. Pursue options on possible financial solutions to effect a resolution, in line with the Programme for Government commitment to identify options for those impacted by defects to access low-cost, long-term finance.
8. To report to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the Examination of Defects in Housing.
In regard to the working group’s deliberations, the 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. Consultation with the relevant parties has commenced and further arrangements in this regard are currently being put in place by the working group.
I am satisfied that the group is working effectively and efficiently on this complex matter and I look forward to a report in due course following completion of their deliberation. Once I receive the report I will give full consideration to its contents.
Any further speculation or discussion on the output of the working group, including speculation with regard to the scale of the issue, type of dwelling affected, or the potential cost, is premature at this stage.
Finally, it is important to note that local authorities have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under Building Control Acts 1990 to 2020, the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, the Housing Acts and the Planning and Development Acts, all of which may be relevant where fire safety concerns arise in residential developments. Fire services may inspect buildings, other than a dwelling house occupied as a single dwelling, in cases of defects or complaints in respect of fire safety. They work with those who have control over premises and hold responsibility for fire safety, to ensure immediate risks are addressed, and a plan put in place for works to bring buildings into compliance. They have enforcement powers for cases where co-operation is not forthcoming, or progress cannot be made on an agreed basis. Local authorities are independent in the use of their statutory powers.