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Fire Safety

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 23 November 2021

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Questions (283)

Eoin Ó Broin


283. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his plans to improve the fire safety standards in apartments as part of the Programme for Government commitment to improve building control standards; and the plans he has to ensure that apartments built under earlier fire safety standards from the 1980s and 1990s will be brought into full compliance with more recent standards. [57240/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Building Regulations 1997-2021 set out the legal requirements in Ireland 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. Their aim is to provide for the safety and welfare of people in and about buildings. The Building Regulations are set out in functional terms and are performance based – they do not set limitations on the materials.

The associated Technical Guidance Documents (TGD A - M respectively) provide technical guidance on how to comply with the regulations in practical terms for non-complex buildings. 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 regulations.

Part D (Materials and Workmanship) requires that all works should be carried out in a workmanlike manner 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” to ensure compliance with the Building Regulations and includes materials which comply with an appropriate harmonised standard or European Technical Assessment or comply with an appropriate Irish Standard or Irish Agrément Certificate or with an alternative national technical specification of any State which is a contracting party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area, which provides in use an equivalent level of safety and suitability.

A fundamental review of Part B (Fire Safety) is underway at present and will take note of Fire Safety in Ireland report (published in 2018). It will also consider common and emerging building trends, developments and events from a global perspective, matters relating to external fire spread, external fire resistance, internal fire resistance, cladding systems, sprinklers, etc. Changes in standards, including fire test standards and technological changes in areas such as materials and systems have necessitated a fundamental analysis of the provisions and assumptions contained in Technical Guidance Document B – Fire Safety.

In this context my Department established a Consultative Committee in December 2020 to discuss the technical revision of Part B/TGD B. The Consultative Committee has met nine times to date, in addition to a number of sub-group meetings. Draft documentation, which includes Draft Building Regulations (Part B Amendment) Regulations 2021, Draft Technical Guidance Document B – Fire Safety 2021 and a Regulatory Impact Analysis, is currently being prepared to support a public consultation in the matter in 2022.

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. It has agreed its terms of reference will cover fire safety, structural safety and water ingress defects in purpose built apartment buildings, including duplexes, constructed between 1991 – 2013 in Ireland.

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.

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.