I welcome all home owners affected by the presence of pyrite in their homes. They have taken time off work to be here in Leinster House alongside their families to listen to these statements, including those of the Minister. The statements allow Members an opportunity to further question the Minister on his most recent announcement and to seek to clarify issues for those affected.
Buying a home is the largest and most important investment people make in their lives. The families and home owners of Priory Hall have seen that dream cruelly shattered and now live in a limbo between a rogue developer and an unhelpful Government. Thousands of other home owners, ordinary families and young people starting out have seen their ideal homes splinter and crack as they are slowly ruined by pyrite. Some of these individuals are in the Gallery today. The damage, disappointment and financial pressure suffered by innocent home owners who purchased their homes in good faith, only to see them gradually diminish in front of their eyes, must be confronted by the Government. As we aim to deal with the pyrite problem and offer a long-term solution by way of creating effective, fully enforced building regulations, it is incumbent upon us in this Chamber to keep home owners at the heart of any solution.
The long-awaited release of the pyrite panel report in July, six months after it was originally due to be released, has yet to provoke real decisive action by the Minister on the issue, apart from that mentioned in his most recent comments, which I will address later. The report set out 24 recommendations to form the basis of a new approach to dealing with the pyrite problem. Stakeholders, including the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Association and the insurer HomeBond, among others, have failed to agree a plan to address jointly the issue of pyrite-affected homes by the end of the September deadline.
The president of the Construction Industry Federation, Mr. Tom Parlon, has indicated that no resolution was found between the stakeholders. I am aware that serious concerns exist over how committed the stakeholders were to reaching a workable solution. I note the Minister met the representatives individually and that at no time were all of them brought together at the one forum. It appears that more foot dragging on the issue is all some of the stakeholders want. However, it is imperative that the Minister drive towards a meaningful resolution and does not let it linger for months or years. We will hold the Minister to account in that regard. We welcome some of his statements on bringing the stakeholders together within the coming ten days. In light of the report by the panel of experts not having resulted in the desired resolution, the Minister needs to highlight a timeframe for his bringing forward a clear, meaningful resolution, imposed or negotiated.
The delay in publishing the report in the first instance does not bode well for dealing with the issue swiftly. Home owners have spent long enough waiting for the stakeholders to take action and should not bear the burden of further prevarication by these groups. The Minister must now adhere to his statement and take strong, decisive action to aid the beleaguered owners of pyrite houses. Ordinary home owners must not be left to foot the bill for the failure of developers to adhere to building standards.
The report sets out the creation of a levy on the industries involved to fund the required remedial work on homes across the country. This includes such bodies as the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Federation, HomeBond, the Irish Insurance Federation and the Irish Banking Federation. The Minister stated today and previously that he will be forced to impose a levy on the industry to finance remedial work. Will he stand by his words in the absence of a viable solution put forward by the stakeholders? If so, what will the timeframe be?
As I stated previously on the issue, those responsible for the supply and use of damaging pyrite across the country, and their insurers, should be culpable for the costs of rectifying the problem. To ensure progress is made on the issue, the submissions of the stakeholders to the expert panel should be made publically available to place pressure on them to reach an agreement. It may be that the onus will be on the Minister to negotiate a settlement in this regard. The approach of imposing a settlement may be fraught with danger and a gamble that would force the matter into the courts, thereby prolonging the problem indefinitely such that there would be no resolution forthcoming for those affected by the Governments not putting a fund in place.
Many of the home owners affected by pyrite are deeply concerned by the prospect of a property tax being placed on their already burdened wallets in the coming months. The Government's botched implementation of the household charge does not inspire confidence in the Cabinet devising a fair and equitable tax. Instead, it appears that a hefty fee will be placed on homes across the country. For example, under the ideas touted by the Government so far, a 0.25% market value tax would be inflicted on home owners. A standard three-bedroom house costs €176,000. At 0.25%, the annual property tax charge would be €440. However, the average cost of a standard three-bedroom house in Dublin is €208,000, meaning the annual charge would be €519, some €79 per annum more expensive than the national average.
These figures do not take into consideration the extra levy that local authorities may be allowed or required to implement, as per the Minister's announcement this week on local government reform. For the owners of homes affected by pyrite, this would be nothing short of a slap in the face. I agree with the report's proposals on exempting them from such onerous charges.
It is fitting that, on the first anniversary of continued Government failure in respect of the residents of Priory Hall, we have the opportunity to discuss progress in resolving pyrite problems and building regulations as a whole. Priory Hall, a 187-unit residential complex in Donaghmede, was evacuated when Dublin City Council was granted a High Court order in October 2011 for the evacuation of the development on the basis that it was unsafe due to fire hazard concerns. The various problems with the site ranged from pyrite to defective sections of the roof. Some 256 residents - families cast out from their homes - are affected by the failure of regulation at Priory Hall and by the Minister, who has consistently passed the buck on the issue and has yet to even meet them. I ask him to do so within the next ten days in the same manner that he asserts he will meet the stakeholders in the pyrite situation.
In the context of this week's announcement on better local government and putting people first, as the Minister termed it, he has missed an opportunity to appoint a planning regulator as the Mahon tribunal recommended. When does the Minister intend to implement the recommendation, given his party leader's statement in this Chamber that he would have no problem in that regard? The Minister was afforded the opportunity, but he failed initially. It may be that he possesses the means to do it at a later time and that he can explain why he has not done it to date.
Before considering the specifics of the pyrite report, I will again suggest a practical proposal that the Oireachtas can quickly act upon to help beleaguered home owners. It is important that we act quickly to ensure that the affected households are given every support necessary to secure their homes. During the summer, my colleague in the Seanad, Senator Darragh O'Brien, introduced a Bill to ensure that they would still have access to the courts. The home remediation pyrite Bill could ensure that home owners would have significantly more time to address the issue due to the Statute of Limitations coming into effect after pyrite had been independently identified by an approved pyrite test. This would be a real action to help home owners, many of whom are struggling with mortgages and negative equity, to address the problems facing their homes and to ensure that liabilities from building guarantee companies are fully met. I am informed that Fingal County Council has confirmed that, due to a gap in legislation in this regard, it will not proceed with 31 actions against builders, quarry owners and suppliers as intended. The Government and all parties in the House should support Senator Darragh O'Brien's Bill.
The Minister referred to the report's methodology. I will reiterate some my concerns about the report published last July. I am deeply concerned about the methodology used to quantify the number of houses affected by pyrite difficulties. According to the report, more than 12,000 homes in 74 unnamed estates may be contaminated with the material from five quarries. This stands in contrast to the 72,500 houses estimated to be affected previously. The estimated number of quarries was also higher. Why is there such a dramatic gap between the original estimates and the number found by the panel? What methodology was used to identify and quantify the houses affected? It is important that the roadmap for dealing with the problem accommodates the possibility of a problem on a far larger scale than the official report indicates.
The panel found that the affected homes stretch from Fingal into my constituency in County Offaly, with estates in Edenderry badly affected by pyrite problems. Of these dwellings, only 850 have submitted claims to guarantee providers. A further 1,100 dwellings have already been remediated or are undergoing work. The majority of these works were primarily due to a court case undertaken by a builder against the quarries involved, as the Minister mentioned. The report concluded that the remaining 10,300 ground floor dwellings represent the maximum estimated future potential exposure to pyrite problems.
Tackling the pyrite problems by the laborious method of removing it requires major intervention and the typical cost for an average house is estimated at €45,000. This represents a significant cost to struggling home owners. Given the scale of problem, we need to provide them with strong legal support. This underlines the need to support the legislation to which I referred.
The Minister alluded to another matter. Many of the affected homes have not been formally identified. In some cases, this is because of the attached stigma as well as fears of worsening levels of negative equity. This is particularly true, given the fact that the location of the seven quarries that provided the houses' building materials is widely known. These factors increase the figures indicated by the report.
Putting in place effective standards is a critical part of tackling the pyrite problem in the long run. The panel considered that timely and appropriate action was taken and the problem was successfully contained after it came to light in 2007. The panel was not informed of dwellings commenced after 2007 that were the subject of pyrite-related claims to guarantee providers. This would increase the report's indicated figure.
The panel has found that, prior to the identification of the pyritic heave problems, the regulatory framework for hardcore could have compared favourably with that in the UK and other jurisdictions where guidance evolved in response to specific problems. While a number of measures were taken subsequent to the discovery of problems, we must ensure that our regulatory regime remains as strong as other jurisdictions that are dealing with the problem. We must ensure a regulatory regime similar to UK standards is in place and, more importantly, adequately enforced.
It would be remiss to examine this issue and fail to address the broader issue of building regulations that the Minister is dealing with under the 2012 building regulations. A national building inspectorate should examine at least 40% of the buildings under construction. A system of licensing or registering builders should be put in place. Designers or contractors who are negligent in their duties should be fully prosecuted. An open register of inspections and prosecutions and reports of inspections should be made public. A private inspection regime should be implemented to ensure that another Priory Hall can never be built. The decision to carry out an inspection should take into account the past history of the builder and any other available information that may indicate potential problems with the development. Information on builders should be shared among the relevant authorities.
The proposed regulations make no mention of a local authority being required to carry out due diligence in respect of certificates. At a minimum, it should verify that the person carrying out the inspections is suitably qualified and properly indemnified. It should be mandatory rather than discretionary for a developer to lodge a bond with the local authority. That bond should not be returned until such time as the council is satisfied that the development is complete and meets the required standards.
In the absence of a stakeholder solution, it is time for the Minister to introduce a levy, publish the contributions of the stakeholders, reform the building regulations, provide exemptions to home owners affected by pyrite and bring this drawn out process to an end.
The Minister stated that it is his intention, having consulted with the stakeholders and the expert panel, to meet the stakeholders within the next ten days.
That would be around next Tuesday week. Does the Minister, as is his responsibility, wish to preside over a negotiated settlement? Is it his intention to impose a levy in the absence of a negotiated settlement? Is it his intention to have legal advice available setting out a potential train of action in the absence of an imposition of a levy? Ultimately it is the Minister's qualified responsibility, on the part of the Government and the people we represent, to preside over a process by certain means. He has gone to enough lengths to engage with the stakeholders, apart from what is planned for the next week. Despite our misgivings about what is within the expert panel, it has had enough time to act.
It is ultimately incumbent on the Minister to act and we will hold him to account. We want him to come back within the next two weeks with the result of the agreed settlement with the stakeholders. In the absence of that, he should put to this House a train of action to bring about the desired result, even if it is by imposition and with legal expertise attached. I assume the Minister will respond to today's discussion.