Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 18 Oct 2012

Vol. 779 No. 2

Report of the Pyrite Panel: Statements (Resumed)

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.

There is a provision for a Minister or Minister of State to reply.

I hope the time will be used to respond to suggestions forthcoming from this side of the House.

I am very pleased this issue is finally being discussed formally in the Dáil and I welcome the report and the Minister's response. I take this opportunity to give credit to the families affected by pyrite contamination and the Pyrite Action Group, many of whom have taken the time to come here today. These people spearheaded this campaign and have fought their corner with dignity and unswerving dedication. All they seek is a home they can feel secure in, a very small thing to ask for but which is, unfortunately, for many a tall order in this State. A home is an essential part of living in dignity. It is not simply a roof over one's head but a place where we can feel secure, safe and comfortable.

It should be a very basic right which the State provides for, although for many decades it was the concerted aim of the State to maximise home ownership regardless of the suitability to the populace. It was made desirable to own a home, even if a person could not afford it. It seems people were fools if they did not want to buy their own homes, and mortgages were handed out with little care for details. People were told credit was and would stay cheap, and if a person did not have money now, he or she could pay back the money later.

In the past decade, due to the massive availability of credit for everyone who wanted it, builders and developers were never out of work. Houses, apartment blocks and other commercial and civil buildings were often just thrown up. This was done in a system of few checks and balances, and legislation and resourcing for inspection of these works was wholly inadequate. Self-regulation was expected by the same Fianna Fáil Government that brought us the Anglo Irish Bank debacle.

When competition is high and the jobs are backing up, self-regulation becomes a byword for no regulation. Opportunistic developers, builders, quarry owners and concrete wholesalers wondered why they should regulate themselves at their own expense. Why go by the standards of other more respectable people in the market when they could undercut them or simply raise the profit margin with no consequences? In all cases where under-regulation met greed, there were very real consequences, but the people who faced them were those who in utmost good faith bought their homes on these estates, thrown up by people who did not give the slightest damn about the quality of the work. They paid no mind to the fact they were building family homes which people paid for with hard-earned savings.

The bottom line was everything to those businesses, and so it was for the Government of the day. According to Fianna Fáil, regulation is just another word for lost profits. There remains no mandatory testing of quarries for heave potential. This has been a long drawn-out process, with much investigation having been done. The report produced is of a high quality but we needed no report to tell us that quarries should be tested for a substance which could cause a house foundation to expand and the damage that would to do to the entire structure.

There are houses around north Dublin and Meath being torn apart from the inside because of these very simple but unforgivable failures to regulate. At no point on the chain of supply were sufficient checks made to see if the material being used for the foundations of these houses was suitable. At no point did any regulation require those in the quarry, the concrete suppliers or the construction company doing the work to ascertain the quality of their materials and that substances like pyrite were not present. Self-regulation failed as it always will in most cases, and government regulation was not even in place. This was the case not just for pyrite contamination but fire safety and other standards. We have been lucky not to have had more pyrite-contaminated houses and cases such as those in Priory Hall, Gleann Riada, Balgaddy or The Laurels.

In my own area we have local authority housing such as Avila Park, which is also contaminated. There are five families which have been living in caravans for over two years, waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt. Is the fact these are Traveller families related to their being left in appalling conditions? More than 10,000 homes were identified in the report but there are many more, including local authority housing like in the case of Avila Park. It cannot be stated any more clearly that the State failed these families utterly and so far it has continued to fail them.

We need legislative reform of inspections and building standards which will make these kind of scandals much more rare and easily resolved. In the North of Ireland inspection rates are 100% and they are the same in places like the USA and Britain. We settled for inspection rates of approximately 10% because the economic activity of construction was more important than the housing produced and the people who would have to live in it.

The report found correctly that builders, subcontractors, vendors, material suppliers and insurers were to blame for the failure to carry out sufficient checks and balances to ensure their build quality was up to standard and safe. The report does not, however, state what is obvious in that the State and its laws were completely deficient. It must bear a responsibility and a duty of care to the people affected by pyrite, and it must step up to the plate not just in facilitating a result but in making a meaningful effort to help the families affected at present and in the future while ensuring building practices like those which caused the pyrite problem will never be allowed again.

Part of this process could be a commitment by the State to pay now for the repairs identified as of immediate need in the panel's report. Some 850 homes were identified as requiring immediate repairs due to serious structural damage caused by pyrite contamination. This money could be recouped over time by whatever mechanism is put in place to levy the other responsible parties. A special mention must be given to HomeBond, which denied its duty to customers and gave two fingers to the Oireachtas on a number of occasions over the past year and a half. How it can be let continue to trade after its behaviour is beyond me, but what is most shocking is the appointment of HomeBond's customer service manager to the Building Regulations Advisory Board by this Government. HomeBond could learn a lot about customer service and share some of the profits it recently announced.

It is also essential that part of the State's commitment to resolution of this issue is to see that a fund is put in place to deal with any future repairs which become unavoidable. Some of the homes which are not identified as needing immediate attention are at risk of developing problems into the future and the people affected cannot be allowed to lie in a limbo of having a pyrite problem develop too late for the support we demand for those who need it right now. A comprehensive and systematic notification, testing and remediation scheme should be put in place at no cost to those who require it.

It must be mentioned that thousands of people still work in these industries and in companies which operate on a sufficient level of self-regulation, with no part in the supply chain or construction which led to the pyrite scandal.

We must act in a way which does not put these businesses, which did not act negligently, out of operation due to the acts of others who, in some cases, maybe undercut them by using substandard practices.

The pyrite action group has circulated a number of actions it believes are needed to get the resolution process right and I would be inclined to agree with it. These include the immediate removal of defective infill from all homes found to be at risk of pyritic heave and sulfate attack; remedial works to be carried out systematically in blocks; the independent and professional co-ordination of remedial works; independent structural re-certification, full compliance with the building regulations and a new credible structural warranty; provision of upfront funding in order that remedial works can be undertaken quickly while the State recoups costs from other responsible stakeholders through the proposed levy, voluntary contributions and other appropriate mechanisms over the longer term; and a retrospective waiver of the household charge and forthcoming property taxes for home owners living in affected developments until the entire development has been brought up to standard and can be successfully reintegrated back into the property market. All the Deputies have seen these requests and all the Ministers have received them, including the Minister, Deputy Hogan. We would be hard-pressed to disagree with them and the onus is on us to hold the resolution process to account and strive to have these requests honoured. The State, at the very least, owes these people that.

I would like to go back to the issue of those living in local authority housing affected by pyrite, which is not mentioned in this report. We still have no idea how many there are but there are at least 300 in my constituency. Due to the shortage of local authority housing, these people are also in limbo and are forced to seek temporary accommodation or to live in homes which are unsuitable and possibly dangerous. Local government funding is needed to address this not only in homes, but in community centres, schools and other facilities, which we have all seen.

The Minister promised at the end of September that if he did not get replies from the industries concerned, he would impose a solution. He got replies but they seem very inadequate. This issue is so serious that we demand a better response. The Minister mentioned that he would give it in ten days. I had hoped we would have a definitive answer today on what actions he would take - not a holding position but a clear and unambiguous solution which will cover all those affected now and into the future.

Tens of thousands of people are affected - men, women and children. We are not just talking about 10,000 homes but about tens of thousands of people who live in these homes. They face constant worry about their future and their children's future.

The pyrite report was a good piece of work and I welcome it. In the Elliot case, which the Minister mentioned, work is being done and all the floors and the paths are being taken out. It was not selective. I hope we will not delay by putting in place a resolution board. We will have to go through the whole process of assessing people and their houses. It is very important we get this right.

I welcome the fact we will debate this issue again soon. This issue will not go away and it needs resolution. Without an upfront levy and without the Government putting its name on the chequebook, we will have big problems. It will take time to build up a levy, if that is the route we take. I said that legislation may be needed and we need to assess that as quickly as possible.

I was going to start by welcoming the report which is a substantial body of work and which pinpoints the difficulties and identifies important measures for the future, but having listened to the interpretation put on it by the Minister, I can come to no other conclusion but to say that the panel was established to minimise the State's responsibility in this regard. The Minister's comments were an insult to the people in the Visitors Gallery who took time off work.

I do not make these points lightly but I make them on the basis that Brendan Tuohy, the chair of the panel, attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and said that no one mentioned the State's role in this. That is absolutely not true. I mentioned it, as did many other people. Two of the people on that panel were former members of the Building Regulation Advisory Board and the National Standards Authority of Ireland and they attended all of the meetings. Arthur Cox, the Government's legal advisers, legally advised the panel in drafting and crafting this report.

No one is saying, as the Minister did in his speech, that we want all of the blame for all of the failures to rest with the State. Everyone accepts that the main stakeholders have a role in this, including the quarry owners, the insurance companies, the banks and so on. The idea that the Minister has consistently tried to put forward that the State is not responsible is factually incorrect and will not be tolerated by citizens in this country. We have used similar scenarios to explain it. It is like flood victims and victims of clerical abuse. The State did not carry out the actions which gave rise to them but it has a central role in producing a remedy to sort it out. Unless the State provides the money upfront and then chases the stakeholders, those people will be left in limbo.

It is not good enough to say, as the Minister did, that the State could not have known. I am aware the panel said that as well, but it is wrong. Bodies were employed by this State which were charged with regulating standards. The Building Regulation Advisory Board and the National Standards Authority of Ireland brag in their literature that they are responsible for a continuous honing of technical expertise to ensure we are abreast of all international developments. They did not keep abreast of developments in the area of technical expertise even though the expertise existed.

For 50 years, there was knowledge in existence. Not every engineer had it but it was quite widely known that elevated levels of sulphur in sedimentary rocks containing pyrite increased the chance of a sulphate attack on concrete and steel and swelling-causing gypsum and causing heave. The first published article on this was in Britain in the late 1970s, some 35 years ago. There were other reports in the 1980s and 1990s. There was the Canadian experience, to which the Minister referred, and there was geological knowledge of the rock formation around the Tobercolleen formation in which many of the quarries are located. They should have known.

When they went looking in 2005, despite that knowledge being there, it took them two years to get an explanation for the cracking. It has been suggested by someone that if they had Googled it, they would have got it in a half an hour but to be honest, there was no explanation as to why it took two years.

The panel compliments Fingal County Council. Let us be clear, Fingal is the area where most of the victims live with the consequences and that is why it is particularly important in this context. When the first case was confirmed in June 2007 to Fingal County Council by HomeBond, it correctly notified Bay Lane quarry where the infill came from and it wrote to all of the developers who had given commencement notices that they were starting development in Fingal alerting them to the possible danger of pyrite in the materials. That was good, but it was not good enough. Why did it not write to the other three quarries in Fingal, which also have pyrite in them, including Roadstone in Huntstown and Murphy's quarry - coincidentally the same Seamus Murphy who is the friend of primary care centres - and so on? Why were those quarries not put on alert? Why did Fingal County Council not contact the developers and the builders of the projects under way? Many of them are probably owned by the people in the Visitors Gallery.

In buildings where the slab floor was laid but where there was no other construction, it would have cost approximately €5,000 to remove the infill at that stage and rebuild the property. Instead, these people have been left with a bill of approximately €50,000 and a house they cannot use. It is not good enough.

It went to the aggregates panel which devised a new standard. That is good but what does it tell one? It tells one that the existing standard was not adequate, so it changed the standard in 2007 but took it six months to do so.

Many thousands more dwellings came on the scene within the six months and one could not come to any conclusion other than that the inadequate standard emerged in 2007.

It is inadequate because Premier Insurance, the second largest insurer in the State, will not insure properties that meet the Irish standard because it is not good enough. Why when most of our standards are similar to Britain's is the standard not similar in this regard? It is because five of the seven members of the aggregates panel are from the industry representing Kilsaran, Roadstone, Irish Cement and the Irish Concrete Federation. They have a vested interest in ensuring standards are kept low and there is no testing because that would be more onerous on them. The panel is incorrect in its repeated statement that five quarries had pyrite. The members were given the names of six quarries with pyrite and I am reliably informed there are seven.

The State is responsible for this lack of standard and oversight but, crucially, it is also responsible for allowing the fraud perpetrated by HomeBond. This company was allowed to pose as the provider of a structural guarantee when everybody knew it was not worth the paper it was written on. This society knew in 2000 when the Law Society issued a warning about that. HomeBond has totally and utterly failed people and both the residents and I reject the notion of the company playing a leading role in the resolution of this process. We know the company has the lists. They should be taken from it and used. HomeBond has €25 million in the bank, little of which will be drawn down for cases other than those relating to pyrite. The money should be taken from the company and used to set up the fund to begin remedial works. Its staff do not have expertise in this area and there should be no question of them having oversight of the remedial works. That has to be done on an independent basis.

The key issue, which has been touched on by previous speakers, is that it is inadequate to address this issue on an individual, case-by-case basis as the panel suggests. There must be a systematic, State-led approach to renovation. There is no other way that this will happen. The residents refute the figures regarding the number of houses affected and the traffic light system. It is not the case that only 850 houses are critically damaged by pyrite. In one case in my area, residents were told 15 houses had been notified to HomeBond - I cannot get verification of that - when they knew of 50 in a development of more than 600 houses. If one's house is in the amber category, which means it has pyrite but is not displaying signs of distress, it will not disappear. It can only go in one direction and get worse. These home owners have a valueless, unfit for purpose noose around their necks about which they can do nothing. There can be no phasing. The only way to deal with this is by a State-led systematic approach on an estate by estate basis and that can only happen if the Minister takes the lead and sets up a fund. It has to start with comprehensive testing and not by people being forced to extend their mortgages to get a loan from the bank to pay for the work. The banks should cough up and fund the entire remediation and testing process. No costs should be borne by the residents and there should be systematic testing and renovation.

This is our responsibility. The Minister made a number of references to the poor residents, the heartache and so on but they will ring hollow unless something is delivered on this issue quickly. He said during the summer when he launched the panel that the members had three months to come up with a solution or he would impose one. That was four months ago and now he says we have to wait another ten days. These people cannot afford to have the can kicked down the road. We have been told €2 billion from NAMA will be spent on capital projects. Up to €1 billion in unspent development levies is held by local authorities. The Minister has been able to transfer the bad debts of councils to the Exchequer. He can, therefore, come up with the money to start this fund. These people cannot be left waiting and they will not go away. This issue is too serious and the State is ultimately responsible and will be judged accordingly whether it comes with the solution or not.

If I was a home owner in the Visitors Gallery listening to the Minister's contribution, Pontius Pilate is the first image that would have to come to mind. I realise that the Government parties are aware of many of the problems now but it is not good enough that the State is saying that it has to go after different guys. It should go after them in due course but the problem the people affected face needs to be dealt with now. The Government must be upfront, fix the problem and then it can chase the people responsible. The Minister cannot just ignore this. The private sector works under the watch of the State and the Minister cannot walk away from responsibility. As Deputy Daly pointed out, the Government did not cause the abuse in religious institutions but it took responsibility for it. The Government might not necessarily have caused the behaviour of the banks but, because the Financial Regulator was not doing his job, it took responsibility for the banks and bailed them out. How in God's name can the Minister not see that the State has a responsibility to deal with this matter upfront?

The affected home owners cannot be expected to chase the quarries. They cannot even deal with the likes of HomeBond, which has reneged on its responsibilities. They certainly cannot deal with the CIF and God knows they cannot deal with the financial institutions. The blame lies everywhere. We can start with the quarries. The stone was not fit for purpose. If I bought loads of stone and it was delivered to the site, I would not have been in a position to test it when it arrived. I could be forgiven for thinking that it was fit for purpose when I bought it. Getting the quarries to take responsibility will be a major problem because some will say they have X amount of responsibility and others are more to blame because the quality of stone varies. Some quarries have a higher content of limestone while others have a higher shale content, which is more liable to result in to pyrite problems. There will be huge division between the quarries as to who will take responsibility.

I reiterate the comment of the previous speaker about the regulation which permits 0.6% sulphur content in Irish stone whereas it is 1% in Britain. How in God's name can we stand over that? That is outrageous. This facilitates the serious players because they think they can get away with a little sulphur in their stone and they will get away with less than they would in Britain and that is not good enough. It is a minimum requirement that we follow the British regulation if for no other reason than to be on the safe side. The fact that the aggregates panel is dominated by people with a vested interest means it would have been difficult to expect them to come to a different conclusion.

The notion that HomeBond is responsible for structural defects is a myth. HomeBond has been a disgrace and a disaster. The company was not even good to work with in the industry because the amount of checking its staff did was minimal. It was a poor organisation which was geared more towards making money than acting as a regulator.

They are the Deputy's people.

I agree; I do not say the building industry was clean. Plenty of people in the industry behaved poorly. The link between the builders and HomeBond was too strong and cosy. Why is the Government even talking to them anymore? These people should not be tolerated. The Minister should have nothing to do with them.

Perhaps the Deputy can use his good offices.

It is outrageous to suggest that the financial institutions do not bear responsibility. If they gave the people affected by pyrite mortgages for their homes, then they sent someone out in advance of drawdown to see if it was safe to part with their money. The agreement was signed off with the banks deeming the homes to be worth the money before granting the mortgages. Now they will walk away from home owners, which is outrageous. The Government must hold them to account.

If ten houses in an estate of 100 houses are found to have pyrite, it is outrageous that the other 90 are not tested because they are no good to the people residing in them. The owners can never sell them because the houses are under suspicion of having pyrite unless it is proven that they do not. If I had the job of testing 100 homes together, I could do it at a fraction of the cost of doing them individually. Any estates with pyrite should be tested so that each house can be certified as clean. Otherwise, it is a stone around the neck of the owners.

I welcome this day and all the speakers. Regardless of politics, everyone has the opportunity to speak. As a rule, I do not prepare a speech and read it out but I do not want to make a mess of what I want to say. This issue has been ongoing for four or five years. I take on board what has been said across the Chamber. Three years ago, I got involved in helping out two families in County Meath to get their houses fixed. Two and half years ago, people tried to shut me up when I was in opposition and I tried to raise the issue of millions of euro being spent on court cases. I got involved with two companies and, instead of fighting it out in court, I got the companies together and the 700 houses are fixed and will be finished in October. I worked on that basis to get where we are today and I am glad the Minister said it will be resolved in ten days. In some ways, that is ten days too long but I guarantee it will be done.

I welcome the statement made by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, at the beginning of this debate. I acknowledge the active commitment of the Minister and the Government in charting a way forward to a solution to this problem, which has brought misery to the lives of so many decent people who are citizens of our Republic. The pyrite problem happened on the previous Government's watch and it did nothing about it, even though the problems were staring it in the face. This Government took it on. The Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, set up the pyrite review panel under an independent chairman and with a clear mandate and resources. I commend the work done by the panel, under its excellent chairman, Mr. Brendan Tuohy. The report set out a roadmap for the remediation of the issue of pyrite in private dwellings. The panel made it clear those with direct or indirect responsibility for the pyrite problem should bear the cost.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to getting Cabinet approval for setting up a pyrite resolution board and, if necessary, a compulsory levy. I call on the stakeholders - quarries, builders, insurance companies, lending institutions and HomeBond - to make a voluntary contribution to the creation and operation of a remediation fund. Having had extensive contacts with HomeBond in recent weeks, I am satisfied it is committed to making its extensive expertise in the area available to the remediation process. In the case of the other stakeholders, their contribution must be, and will be, financial.

The pyrite resolution board needs a strong independent chairperson with deep knowledge and experience of the issue and credibility with the stakeholders. The resolution board should include fully mandated representatives of the various stakeholders - builders, developers, subcontractors, quarries, insurance companies, financial institutions, HomeBond and the citizens affected. From my contacts with them, I am sure the stakeholders will participate fully. The remediation board will differ from the earlier pyrite review panel in that its mandate will be to actively progress a programme of remediation based on, but beyond, the scoping work and analysis of the issue done by the review panel. A new pyrite czar, chairing the pyrite resolution board, must have the total support of the Minister and Government to provide leadership and focus to the remediation programme and, if necessary, to knock heads together to break any logjam and push on to a resolution for everyone affected.

With a fund established and cash flow over the next three or four years, which should be started immediately, we can deliver on remediation for the three categories of dwellings identified by Mr. Brendan Tuohy and his team on the pyrite review panel - immediate priority, intermediate and latter stages. No one group or industry is capable of resolving this issue on its own. It is a major undertaking and no one should be in any doubt about it. My involvement and experience with this issue in my county, Meath, over the past four or five years in helping to get estates fixed and helping to resolve the major Menolly Homes and Lagan case has led me to believe that a voluntary approach, within a defined framework, will achieve the outcome we want. It is ridiculous to burn millions of euro, as was the case, in legal fees and costs in court cases that drag on for years while the problem in people's homes gets worse. I could not believe the final figure in one of the cases.

Having spent the period since the publication of the pyrite review panel meeting with stakeholders, with the knowledge of the Minister, together with my involvement with this problem over the past five years, I am confident the various stakeholders are prepared to work together to put a workable remediation programme into action, provided they are clear that no sector will carry an undue or unfair burden under the programme. However, if certain people or institutions continue to ignore the legitimate aspiration to a safe, secure home of people paying their mortgages, the choice left to the citizens will be stark. The people of Ireland, at enormous personal cost, have been supporting the financial institutions. Now is the time for the institutions, in return, to take part and contribute to a resolution of the pyrite issue.

The panel did not consider that the State was responsible for causing the pyrite problem and therefore should not be liable for the costs associated with remediation. The report clearly stated that those parties with direct or indirect responsibility for the pyrite problem should bear the cost of remediation. Among the groups identified were builders, subcontractors, developers, material suppliers and insurers. I want to acknowledge everybody in the Visitors Gallery today for their commitment and determination to get this problem fixed. I acknowledge the support from party colleagues and, in particular, Deputies Catherine Murphy, Clare Daly and Dessie Ellis for working with me in a positive and constructive way. The pyrite review panel has done the State some service by giving us an excellent report pointing the road to a solution. Today, we take our first big steps along that road. We owe it to them, and to the thousands of families whose lives have been devastated by pyrite, to turn the report into action.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part, albeit briefly, in this debate. From time to time, debates in this House lead nowhere and generate no action but we can acknowledge the announcement of the Minister of the establishment of a resolution board as an outcome to this debate. I welcome that and thank the Minister for taking the first small step along the road to a solution. The issue has been consistently raised at meetings of the Whips and Deputy Catherine Murphy has continually pushed for the debate to take place.

I am fortunate that we are not affected by this problem in south Kildare but I am conscious of the extent of the problem in north Kildare and the greater Dublin area. I have direct experience of people coming to my constituency clinics when they are in negative equity. They struggle to cope with mortgages if they are unemployed or have seen the value of their incomes decrease dramatically. I can only imagine the horror and stress that must exist for families trying to pay mortgages, living with negative equity and facing the fact that the home they love and bought as a life investment and a place to raise a family is crumbling around them. We accept the point that the State did not cause the problem, as pointed out by the Minister, but the State must provide leadership towards finding a resolution to the problem. If the stakeholders continue to be derelict in their responsibilities, as they appear to have been to date, it behoves the State to take a strong leadership position and to engage, as the Minister suggests, through the resolution board and to take more resolute action if the engagement does not lead to concrete action.

Identifying the scale of the problem must be the first task. The cost to the interested parties, and ultimately to the State if the State is to pick up responsibility, depends on the number of properties affected. I am not unduly convinced by the report's certainty about the figure of 12,500.

The report says the panel endeavoured to establish the scale of the problem by estimating the number of ground floor dwellings that may have pyritic hard core. It goes on to state: "Therefore, in considering the extent of possible future exposure to pyritic heave, the panel is of the view that, taking the most pessimistic view, there may be approximately 10,300 units." The report goes on to say that three schools have been identified by the Department of Education and that approximately 850 social and affordable housing units have been identified in a number of local authority areas.

The media is full of reports that between 60,000 and 72,000 units are affected. Surely we need a definitive analysis of that figure before we can move towards a solution or get the parties to commit to participation. If we do not know the cost we cannot know the capacity of those responsible to bear the cost or what cost will fall to central Government.

The report of the expert committee seems to indicate that inadequate analysis has been done or, at least, there is not enough certainty about the problem. The Government needs to consider an additional public awareness campaign. Deputy Wallace made a valid point. If ten houses in an estate have a problem, the other 90 householders deserve, at least, to have their houses analysed. It is highly improbable that the material for ten houses would be brought from one quarry and the material for the others from elsewhere.

The executive summary of the report seems to suggest that not all the quarries identified have ceased to operate. We need an assurance from the Minister that action will be taken by his Department or by the relevant local authority to ensure that any quarry that is still operational is closed forthwith, so that there is no possibility of inappropriate material being removed from those sites.

We need to go back to the public and highlight the possibility that other properties may be affected, so that we can properly quantify the scale of the problem. That task will be complicated by the fact that it can take between two and nine years for pyritic heaves to commence. People who are sitting in properties today may discover tomorrow that their sitting room floor is beginning to bubble up in front of them or the walls of their living room are beginning to crack. We must confirm these matters as soon as possible.

I was also struck by the fact that we knew nothing of pyrite in Ireland until 2007, although it had been a problem in other jurisdictions, particularly in Canada. It is not surprising that we knew nothing about it because our schools of architecture and colleges of engineering did not include pyrite in any of their training courses. If the experts in the field were not being educated in this area, it is small wonder that the problem manifested itself unknown to anyone.

Are other problematic materials being used in construction of domestic residences or in the public infrastructure programme? Problems may arise from inadequate testing or monitoring and give rise to difficulties in the future. As I go around the country and my own county, I sometimes notice that while one road has been constructed and lasts for years, another with the same volume of traffic but constructed by another team or contractor in another part of the county disintegrates within two or three years. One suspects this is because materials of different qualities have been used. If we are to learn anything from this, it must be that we insist on proper testing and monitoring of construction materials.

We should see today's debate as one small step forward. The Minister must honour the clear commitment he gave to the House to have engagement over the next ten days. He must come back to the House after that engagement and confirm whether progress has been made. If progress is not made, the Minister will have the unanimous agreement of all Deputies to bring forward urgent legislation to force the parties to this process to make a contribution, by levy or some other method, so that the matter can be brought to a conclusion.

The people who are affected by this problem need to be able to rest easy in their beds and to know the Government will address the matter and insist on bringing about a resolution that involves the restoration of the houses to the standard they have a right to expect.

I thank the Minister for the opportunity to contribute to the statement on the report of the pyrite panel. The report is a significant step in addressing a serious issue for tens of thousands of individuals across north Leinster.

Five years and three months ago the Evening Herald led with a headline about my own estate and published a photograph of a house two doors from my own which was affected by pyrite. The following day, the TV cameras were in the estate and since then the pyrite problem has been simmering in the background.

Nothing was done to tackle the issue by the previous Administration. I pay tribute to a number of Deputies, particularly the Minister of State, Deputy Shane McEntee, and a number of Opposition Deputies, for the work they did in the previous Dáil and in the last months to ensure that this matter was brought to a head with the publication of this report and with the commitments given in the House by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, today and previously.

As someone who has gone through the process myself, having discovered pyrite in July 2007 and having had it remediated last year as a result of a settlement agreement that was much publicised, I know the hurt, anguish and pain other home owners are going through. On top of the pressures of mortgage payments taken out during the boom, cost of living changes, salary worries, job losses and all sorts of impositions placed on individuals in the past years, the knowledge that it would be almost impossible to borrow the €50,000 needed to fix one's home if it has pyrite - never mind if one can afford to get it tested to prove it has pyrite - is a significant worry.

The figure of 74 estates and 12,250 properties identified is probably accurate. I hope it is. It would be entirely unsatisfactory to come back to this issue a number of years from now, having found another pocket of dwellings constructed before or after 2007.

Will the industry and all the stakeholders take responsibility? This is the issue the Government must face. I am heartened by the comments of the Minister when he said the State had a role and a duty to assist home owners in finding a resolution to the pyrite problem. That is a clear and unambiguous commitment.

If the industry does not make a meaningful contribution in the next number of days, a legislative stick will be used to impose a levy to ensure that the home owners in the red category will at least have their properties fixed in the near future.

Anybody who finds themselves in the amber category where there are signs of pyritic heave will have their properties remediated. My personal opinion is that what is proposed for the amber category is not sufficient. If there is pyrite in the floor slab, one cannot sell one's house. If one cannot sell one's house, one cannot move on with one's life. There is a variety of reasons that a person would need to sell their home. They might have bought a two bedroom property and now have two or three children, so they need to move on. I am aware of families with two children living in one bedroom apartments on the first floor of apartment buildings. They cannot move on with their lives because they cannot sell their property due to it being in an apartment building with pyritic infection in the ground floor dwellings. That is a very distressing position for families.

In the 18 months since I was elected to the Dáil dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals have contacted my office, clinics and constituency office about this issue. As my constituency colleague mentioned earlier, Fingal and north Dublin is the hotbed of the pyrite problem and it spread outward from there. I noted Deputy Ó Fearghaíl's comments about the significant contribution we will all make in fast-tracking legislation, if required, if the industry does not step up to the mark in the next number of weeks. I compliment Fingal County Council on the work it did in 2007. The building control unit produced a comprehensive document which was sent to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and which, unfortunately, did very little with it thereafter. However, the report has been used since then and it is mentioned in the pyrite panel's report. I am certain the work undertaken at that time means less work is required now to move this issue towards a conclusion.

The pyrite panel report is a stepping stone in the right direction to getting the problem resolved. We must now ensure that a standardised testing regime is introduced so if a home owner believes he or she has pyrite but has been unable to afford to get a test carried out, he or she can avail of this low cost option as soon as possible. What I found most frustrating was the requirement to get a test carried out that would stand up to the evidentiary rules of our courts, which costs thousands of euro. I know some individuals, Deputies and other public representatives who have had to do that. The cost can range from a few hundred euro to a few thousand. We need a standardised system to ensure residents are aware whether they have the problem. At least they could then move on and provide the test result to prospective purchasers, perhaps, or to the pyrite resolution panel for the purpose of getting an all-clear certificate, or whatever is arranged in the near future.

The Minister used the word "responsibility" in respect of ensuring that we do what we can to ensure the industry steps forward. That is welcome and is probably the most positive thing that was said in the House this afternoon. As well as the standardised testing regime, I wish to refer briefly to Deputy Wallace's comment regarding the suspicion of pyrite. I will not name estates as I do not wish to cause any further distress to families whose homes are in those estates. However, it should be known that there are houses in my estate and others in north Dublin that are pyrite free, while houses a couple of doors down have significant pyrite damage. The first experience I had with pyrite was in July 2007. It was in my neighbour's house and I was able to put my fingers, up to the knuckles, into a crack in a supporting wall in their hallway. That is a significant crack. Thankfully, it has been repaired. It is one of the 700 properties the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, mentioned earlier that are being repaired. However, there are hundreds of other instances where individuals are not in pyrite affected homes but who have the constant worry of the association with pyrite. That is the reason these pyrite free certificates must be rolled out as soon as possible.

In conclusion, I wish to be as constructive as possible about this process. It is easy to point the finger of blame and say the Government did not do this, the Department did not do that and the local authorities did not do the other. What we must do now is stamp out the problem and ensure the building regulations and technical guidance documents are sufficiently robust to ensure this does not happen in the future. The Government will use the threat of the legislative option to impose a levy on the industry to ensure that affected home owners get a resolution as quickly as possible so they can move on with their lives.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhairt ar an ábhar uafásach tábhachtach seo. Many families in this State are locked in pyrite homes that are a living hell for them. Each day they watch their most important investment and possession, their home, disintegrate around them. In other cases, families have been forced to leave their houses because of kitchen units falling out of the walls and parts of the house falling down. In many cases, these people blame the inaction of the Government.

Up to 20,000 houses in the State could be affected. Many of them are in north Dublin but many are also in my home county, Meath, in towns such as Navan, Enfield, Dunboyne, Kentstown and Ashbourne.

Like other Deputies, I have seen the damage that has been done. Cracks are appearing across supporting walls and door frames are starting to disintegrate. It is a heartbreaking experience for anybody. It is mainly affecting my generation. These are the people who were told to get on the property ladder a few years ago because, if they did not, it would cost too much for them ever to own a house. These people scraped and struggled in every way they could to get mortgages to buy houses that are now worth only a fraction of what they paid for them. These people are our friends, neighbours and, in some cases, our families who bought their dream house. These citizens believed they were protected by the regulations of the State, insurance and the surveys that were carried out. Ultimately, the innocent victim of this entire process is the only one who has, so far, been made to carry the can. They bought in good faith, but have been dealt with in an appalling fashion.

The repair bill for these houses runs to tens of thousands of euro. At a time when the Irish League of Credit Unions has reported that most of this generation is struggling to find disposable income at the end of the month, it is clear it will not be possible for them to pay such amounts. It is money they should not have to pay. It is not just the private housing stock that is suffering in this regard. Many local authority houses, schools, public buildings and roads have been affected by this.

The blame clearly lies with sectors of the construction industry - the quarry owners who sold contaminated construction materials, the builders who failed to test the quality of those building materials and the developers who were more interested in a quick buck than ensuring the quality of their product. However, the buck does not stop there. The State had a system of regulation that failed to detect the major problem of pyrite contaminated materials.

The previous regime had a system where surveys were carried out to pass houses as fit but those houses were not fit for habitation. Under the previous regime, the HomeBond scheme was in place but that has failed owners as well. All of this points to an abdication of responsibility, which is simply not acceptable. It is well beyond time these citizens got what they paid for.

It is equally clear the construction industry has abdicated responsibility with regard to this mess. It is unrealistic to expect a voluntary system will resolve this situation. It needs the direct intervention of Government, which must hold these sectors to account.

The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, also a Deputy from County Meath, brought the Taoiseach, then the leader of the Opposition, to a number of houses in Dunboyne, Kentstown, Ashbourne and Dunshaughlin before the general election. The Minister of State said then that he was shocked at the level of destruction he had seen, that these were people's homes and it was an outrage that the then Government was washing its hands of the issue. He said those people were in an impossible situation. Eighteen months later, those people live in exactly the same impossible situation as they did when the Minister of State lambasted the previous Government.

A thousand of those houses have been fixed. The Deputy should get his facts right.

Many of these families are still in exactly the same situation. It is unfortunate a solution has not yet been found. I implore the Government that this living hell should not be allowed to continue for these people.

What must be done? The construction industry must be made responsible for this mess. The Government must step in to stabilise and repair the worst of this damage. It must impose a levy on the industry to make good the full cost of the repairs. While that levy is building, the Government must put the money upfront to resolve the situation. If this Government does not act, it will only compound the despair of the home owners while further damaging the credibility of the political system, which ignores the innocent and fails to hold those responsible to account. We may have our political differences on many issues but we are all on the same page when it comes to recognising the importance of this problem. I understand the wheels of Government turn slowly by their very nature, so I implore the Minister to put as much effort as possible into ensuring no time is wasted and that we do not wait for a levy, but that we make an investment in the houses that need it. I look forward to welcoming the Taoiseach back to Meath in order that he can visit the same houses after they have been repaired.

If that does not happen, however, I challenge the Minister of State and the Taoiseach to go back to the same houses in a year's time and explain why this has not happened. Legislation will be necessary to resolve this problem and I ask the Minister of State to ensure any legislation is retrospective and does not leave a single householder behind.

The Government and Minister of State are seeking to provide a framework within which we can move forward and do all we can to deal with individual cases while putting in place an overall plan to allow us to deal with this issue in its totality. I have visited houses that have been affected by this, both in and near my constituency. I have been in local authority public housing that was built to provide people with good housing in their own communities but there are now cracks in the brickwork and the frames are coming under pressure and cracking. I have been in private housing where, as Deputy Farrell said, a few houses will be unaffected while the other houses will have cracks that a person could put a fist into. There is nothing like seeing this problem and the awful effect it has on people who bear absolutely no blame for the situation. There is clearly a need for the Government to act but it is also clear that the report offers two ways to approach the situation.

The report makes clear that the Government is dissatisfied with the engagement to date by many of those who have been involved and more must be done. It lays out what needs to be done to address the problem. We all have a strong interest in ensuring the fifth, sixth and seventh recommendations from this report are promptly implemented. The fifth recommendation outlines the desired response of the insurance industry for those who have been affected. The sixth and seventh recommendations, however, are the most important recommendations we need to see delivered: how people should engage immediately to ensure these houses are fixed and what can be done to ensure costs are apportioned fairly to those responsible for them in the first place.

I am aware that in some cases, some of the companies responsible for this no longer exist. That will make it more difficult to apportion costs fairly but that should not stop us from doing what needs to be done initially. The implementation of the levy, or the credible possibility of it being implemented, is crucial to getting everyone involved with this to the table. I ask the Department and the Minister not to spare any effort in ensuring this is quickly done. We have a clear responsibility to the people who live in these apartments to ensure those responsible for this happening through the provision of material that did not meet the required standards are compelled to fix the issue quickly. I hope the report being presented to the House will provide a framework for doing that. I am sure the Government will do all possible to have it implemented.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this report and welcome its publication. It is the result of the independent panel established by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government last year. Our home is the biggest investment we will ever make in our lives, financially and emotionally. I can only imagine how I would feel if I had to go through what some of these people who have been affected by this awful occurrence have been through. I think of the people in Edenderry in Offaly who have been in contact with me, and it is appalling to see what they have been going through.

I welcome the findings of the independent review, however, that the figures are lower than estimated for the number of homes affected. I realise that is no consolation to those who were affected but it means the scale of the problem is not as large as we thought. Reflecting on this, a number of issues contributed to it, not least the information deficit in the construction industry. It is difficult to believe that in construction and engineering courses, there was no specific information on pyritic heave. It is extraordinary that people were not even aware this could occur and were not in a position to ensure the chemical testing that should have been done on this hard core was done. From the very beginning, I have seen this as a consumer rights issue and consumers did not get what they paid for. It is still such an issue.

The response of the construction and insurance industries has not been very good, to say the least. It has been appalling. They have a moral responsibility to come with a solution. The hands-off attitude we have seen to date is unacceptable. I am particularly disgusted at the attitude of HomeBond which supplied the structural deficit warranty and withdrew the cover for the pyritic damage. Neither it nor Premier Guarantee will cover testing, which is expensive. Whatever about redoing work that has shown signs of pyritic heave, not to produce the money, which is substantial, for testing in areas of potential damage is disgraceful.

What bugs me is that, since last year, HomeBond would not appear before the joint committee to give an account of itself. It has been invited on numerous occasions and to date it has not appeared. We have discovered it has a representative on the Buildings Regulations Advisory Board. We urge that it not be allowed remain on that board, given the disdain in which it held the joint committee.

To achieve swift movement on the issue, I urge that the pyrite resolution board be set up immediately. The construction industry has had time to figure this out. The board must be put in place and the levies imposed on the industry in order that people can return to their homes and enjoy them, which is what we all want in our place of safety and security. That is what they deserve and what they paid for in the first place. I would like to see them as consumers getting an opportunity to take a class action on this issue to the Competition Authority. I referred to this matter in a contribution in the House earlier in the year and it is something I would like to see them being in a position to do.

I welcome the debate but I wish it was not necessary. However, it is necessary because essentially the industry was given until 30 September to respond, which was a significant amount of leeway, but it gave the Minister the two fingers. In recent weeks it has been dragged back into the system. I acknowledge it is back in the system because the Minister of State, Deputy Shane McEntee, has played an essential role between it and the Government. I noted the difference in the language used by the Minister of State and the Minister in respect of the next ten days. The Minister said he was hopeful that all stakeholders will respond positively within ten days, whereas the Minister of State went a step further and used the word "guarantee". If it is up to the Minister of State it will be a guarantee and I acknowledge that, for a long time, he was a lone voice, particularly in opposition.

I take issue with a statement made by the Minister that a strong statutory framework for regulation of construction activities exists under the Building Control Acts 1990 and 2007. If that was the case, we would not have some of the problems being experienced. The reason the mandatory compliance certificate is being introduced is that previously there was a lower standard, an opinion certificate issued by various sectors. The mandatory compliance certificate was provided for in legislation but it was not signed into law, as we discovered at the joint committee meeting last week. I challenge the Minister on the issue of a strong framework. For some time I have expressed the need to license builders in order that we have a sector from which people are confident to purchase their homes. We must learn from the experience.

I hope the debate will move the issue to the point where we see the A to Z and the timeline on how to resolve the problem. As it is a structural failure, it needs a structural response. It is not about a piecemeal response. It has to deal with issues such as testing, how the testing will be conducted and who will pay for it. Will it be done in a systematic way? We have to deal with the issue of certification in order that when houses are found to be pyrite free or remediated, there is no blight that continues on if the house runs into difficulty in regard to insurance issues and needs to be resold. Those are practical issues that need to be dealt with as well as the most urgent issue of remediating the problem.

The pyrite action group, which has co-ordinated some of the people affected, compiled many documents. It has indicated what it sees as the effects of pyrite: heaving, the lifting of ground-bearing concrete slabs, bulging and cracking of internal partition walls supported by floor slabs, cracking above doors and windows, even on the outside, internal doors jamming to the point where people have been locked into rooms, and bulging and cracking of floors and walls. I have seen structural cracking of outer walls which interferes with damp courses, cracking shower trays and fireplaces, staircases, fitted wardrobes, kitchen tops and other units separating from the walls, and causing damage to underground piping, such as sewerage, gas and water pipes. Then we find the HomeBond structural guarantee is not really a structural guarantee. The Minister referred to its expertise. The expertise I see from HomeBond is that of avoiding the problem. It is an absolute disgrace. I have no confidence in its expertise because of the way it has handled the issue, which is nothing short of a disgrace.

HomeBond was established by the Construction Industry Federation and the Irish Homebuilders Association in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Department is not a disinterested party in respect of this organisation and the problem as a consequence. There must be consequences for HomeBond rather than allowing it to participate in the solution when there is a doubt about its credibility.

I have been in an estate where apartments have been affected and often it is the people on the upper floors who are most affected. There are practical issues in the upper floors that do not control what happens on the ground floors. In some case, some of those apartments have not been sold. Where the downstairs area is affected by pyrite, the upper floors suffer the consequences. Many other issues need to be dealt with. People talk about stakeholders getting involved. We need to know from a practical point of view what will happen where the builder is in receivership or ceases to exist or if the developer is in NAMA. That is the information we had hoped to get from the report. Much of what was done in the report was necessary but what is missing is the A to Z on when and how the problem can be remediated. We need to know what will be the role of the banks and the lending institutions. They should not be let off the hook as they are central to the problem. They required a certificate from an organisation such as HomeBond or people would not have got a mortgage.

How can they dissociate themselves? It is unfortunate we are at this point. In addition to the threat of the levy, organisations such as the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Insurance Federation and the lending institutions have had an open door to Government. There should be a consequence for these organisations and should they have less access on the issues they want to discuss with Government unless they deal with the issues Government wants them to address. They should face Government sanctions.

The Deputy has one minute remaining.

It would be of enormous importance if the Government could show it could take an issue such as this and resolve it to the satisfaction of the people who are affected.

The pyrite action group has sought the following: the immediate establishment of a comprehensive and systematic notification, testing and remediation scheme not at their expense; the immediate removal of defective infill from all homes, including the ones in the orange category which are of no value in terms of reselling unless the pyrite, if identified in those homes, is removed; that it be done systematically in blocks rather than in a piecemeal approach; independent and professional co-ordination of the remedial works; independent structural recertification; and a ten or 15 year guarantee once the work is done so that there is not an issue when people subsequently sell their homes or have to insure them. Disgracefully, the insurance industry and mortgage lenders are causing serious problems from that point of view.

The Deputy's time has concluded.

The group also seeks provision of upfront funding. Attention has already been drawn to the €1 billion in the development levy fund and the levy on quarries. However, there needs to be an upfront fund if this is to be dealt with. How can a property tax be applied on something that is falling down around the owners and causing nothing but grief? It is valid to expect a waiver from any household charge or forthcoming property tax. We need to take strong action against those identified as the cause of the problem. We need to close the door on them unless they open the door to those who have been subjected to this horrific problem.

I call Deputy Keating, who is sharing time with Deputy Regina Doherty.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important issue, which has caused enormous distress to many people. I very much welcome the substance of what the Minister told the House earlier. As someone who was a member of a local authority for 12 years, I share many of the thoughts expressed here today. On countless occasions families have moved into what they regarded as their home - perhaps for life - and experienced some of the difficulties outlined today of cracked doors, dampness, warped floorboards, etc.

A number of years ago I received a letter from a resident advising me that on the day she got a letter from the housing authority indicating that she was being provided with a home, she thought all her dreams had come true. However, a few years later she was in a nightmare situation with little or no recourse.

I am mindful of the insurance issues and the role of the insurance industry in such major problems. I welcome the Minister's approach to ensuring that the issue is addressed. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 14,000 houses have been affected. We must remember that those houses are family homes. I can only imagine the frightening experiences many people have in that situation, particularly following such a massive downturn in the economy following the so-called Celtic tiger years when many people bought homes. However, I agree with the Minister that the State should not be liable in such cases. Notwithstanding that, the issue must be addressed and those responsible must be held accountable. I am satisfied that the Minister is trying to do that, particularly in the case of those in such a situation today and also in the event of future occurrences.

The Minister has said that not only is he considering ways in which the State can enhance and help those 10,000 families affected by this problem, but equally importantly he has made a commitment to ensure regulations are put in place. If such instances arise in future, legislation will be introduced to ensure the industry makes available a fund to carry out such repairs and ease the problems of the families affected. I very much support the sentiments expressed in the House today. It is very important to debate the issue for the sake of those families who in many cases have had the quality of their lives destroyed because of this problem.

I have spoken to people in my constituency who been unfortunate to have come across pyrite in their homes. We are all aware that it is not just about devastation to buildings, but also about devastation to people's lives. Tens of thousands of home owners are suffering the agony of having their homes either disintegrate around them from pyrite-induced heave or because they have become serious fire hazards in consequence. In my part of the constituency, three estates are seriously affected - two in Ashbourne and one in Dunshaughlin. The people living in such houses are innocent victims who bought what they believed were beautiful homes. During the property bubble they found themselves paying exorbitant prices for them. They must now cope with the stress of trying to meet those often unsustainable mortgage payments while their crumbling homes are either in serious negative equity or in most cases worthless.

Most people now know that pyrite affects a house by cracking walls, rising floors and doors jamming. However, there are also unseen effects, such as the effects on water, gas and sewerage. Some people in my constituency are living in fear of the possibility of gas leaking or exploding in their houses as they go to bed at night. These are not things people should have to worry about in houses that are only seven or eight years old.

I do not want to mince my words. The complete inaction by those responsible to resolve this situation in recent years has been nothing short of a disgrace. The builders, the quarries, the insurance companies concerned and the vast majority of stakeholders involved have walked away from the issue, disowning the householders and leaving them to face this disastrous legacy completely on their own. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, said today that empathy and sympathy are not sufficient and that what is required is action. We would all agree that emergency intervention is now needed. These people need the necessary work done to rectify their homes. These are not investment houses for most people but homes where families are rearing their children. We need a mandatory levy on the construction and quarry industries to pay for the damage done.

There is a small upside to this proposal as it would create an estimated €1 billion worth of work for the depressed construction industry and could create 10,000 to 14,000 badly needed construction jobs.

It is time the funding to commence the remediation works was provided. Following this, a levy should be placed on the construction industry, which would be a fair apportioning of the blame and responsibility for this issue. Obviously, such a levy would have to be long term and mandatory so that it does not crucify the industry in the short term. Financing of the remedial works in this manner is the only way of fixing this problem given our current economic situation.

The recent pyrite report was critical of the stakeholders, including the construction, insurance and banking sectors, for their complete reluctance to engage with home owners. The report contains approximately 24 recommendations, including that stakeholders should fund the cost of the repairs, that a resolution board be established, that certification be developed for homes affected by pyrite and that the insurance industry should not penalise home owners in estates where pyrite is identified. Nothing much has been done to date in terms of implementation of those recommendations. The time has come for all involved to step up to the plate. This is crunch time. Those involved need to come together and provide the reparation services or, as stated earlier by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, the Government will be forced to make them do so.

Given the building control fiascos that continue to unfold, I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Hogan, on his announcement today that current building regulations, which have allowed dodgy developers to flourish, are to be replaced with a new tough policing regime. This Government is finalising the new building control legislation which will ensure standard regulations are met. The industry has relied on self-certification in terms of architects, engineers, surveyors and builders certifying that new buildings comply with statutory regulatory requirements. That light touch regulatory regime introduced in 1990 by the then Minister, Pádraig Flynn, is outdated and needs to be changed. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Hogan, on doing so.

There are moral and legal responsibilities involved. It is well past time the issues of responsibility and low standards were tackled so as to prevent this type of fiasco occurring again. We cannot change the past but can help the people involved to move on to a safer future, which is the very least they deserve.

I pay tribute to the home owners enduring the nightmare of pyrite affected homes and all the suffering that entails, some of whom have come together as Pyrite Action to campaign for justice for themselves and all others experiencing this problem. The local authorities and successive Governments have been slow to respond and keen to wash their hands of any responsibility for the remediation of those homes affected. Fingal County Council was commended in this House for a report in 2007. However, that council has failed to enforce regulation on builders who constructed local authority pyrite affected housing estates in its area, including Mulhuddart. My colleague, Ruth Coppinger, was criticised by council officials and councillors in 2010 for raising this issue on the basis that it was not helpful and would devalue homes. There has been a washing of hands on this issue and a desire to cover up the situation.

In May 2011, I raised the issue of pyrite with the Taoiseach during Leaders' Questions and pressed for a task force to be established as a matter of urgency. Even then, the Government was not prepared to give a clear answer. A pyrite panel was subsequently established but it took a year to report, which is too long in the circumstances. However, I welcome that the issues laid out in that report are before the Dáil for discussion today. The issues involved are not complex. I reject the pyrite panel's conclusion that this situation could not have been avoided and, as stated by the panel in a letter, that pyrite was a perfect storm, as if it were due to mysterious forces coming from some strange outside source that could not be controlled. It is true that the chemical reaction of pyrite and iron sulphate with moisture and oxygen to create the expansion of the affected rock with incredible force, which causes devastating structural damage to homes, could not be controlled. However, what could and should have been controlled was the arrival of that pyrite infill at a building site, let alone into the homes now affected.

It is manifestly not the case that there was no knowledge of pyrite heave prior to 2007, which this report attempts to imply.

I understand Deputy Higgins is sharing time with Deputies Broughan and Nulty.

There are ten minutes in this slot. Is the Deputy taking all of this slot?

There is no time limit on this debate.

No. I am pointing out that there are ten minutes in this slot.

I may speak for ten minutes.

Yes, if the Deputy so wishes. I had been informed the Deputy was sharing time.

No. This is the first I heard of it.

Okay. The Deputy may continue.

I want everyone who wishes to speak to have an opportunity to do so. As there is no time limit on this debate I can speak for ten minutes and other Deputies who offer will be given time to speak, as per Standing Orders.

Yes, that is fine.

There were warnings in civil engineering literature in Britain 30 years ago with regard to pyrite. Some 25 years ago, there was also a detailed paper entitled "Cause and Significance of Heave at Llandough Hospital, Cardiff - A Case History of Ground Floor Heave due to Gypsum Growth". In 1992, there was an international conference of the construction industry and civil engineers in Bristol at which the implications of ground chemistry for construction were outlined in detailed submissions. Are we expected to believe that major Irish construction companies and suppliers of infill, including Irish Asphalt Limited, Roadstone Limited and Kilsaran Concrete, some of which are billionaire enterprises, had no knowledge of this situation? That does not stand up. Detailed testing should have been carried out, thus avoiding this problem. The reality is that the Building Regulation Advisory Board and the National Standards Authority of Ireland did not apprise themselves of the situation and insist on proper standards and testing.

What needs to be done is not complex. This is laid out clearly and succinctly in the letter sent by Pyrite Action to Members, including the immediate establishment of a comprehensive and systematic notification, testing and remediation scheme at no expense to home owners. There must be no tip tapping around individual homes as problems come to notice. There must be a comprehensive examination of all homes followed by the immediate removal of defective infill from all homes. The Minister's statement today that he agrees with the panel that it would be unreasonable to expect dwellings not exhibiting damage to be remediated simply because there is pyrite in the hardcore is incredible. The Minister also said this has been agreed by the High Court. I do not care what the High Court says. Where there is a risk of pyrite going into expansion mode, that pyrite must be removed. It is crazy to suggest one should wait until the house starts falling apart. If a bomb is found under one's home, should one leave it there hoping it will not explode and take care of the consequences later if it does? This suggestion should be rejected out of hand.

It is also recommended that independent and professional co-ordination of remedial works should be carried out, that there should be independent structural recertification and full compliance with building regulations, which is crucial. I will deal with the issue of funding later. The reality is that pyrite is only one awful symptom of the greed that drove the home construction industry in the ten years of the property bubble. The profiteering of that industry led to an entire generation of young working people being shackled with 40 year mortgages at unsustainable rates and afflicted with these problems. The reality is that building regulations were not written by the State or local authorities but by the profiteering construction bosses when they gathered to shower Fianna Fáil with funds at the infamous tent in Galway and subsequently the regulations were simply not implemented.

In the Dáil in the days of the bubble the parties then in opposition, such as the Fine Gael Party, were silent on what was going on in the construction industry. Look at the fire hazards in which thousands of people live. Priory Hall is only one horrendous example.

I urge all Members to read the letter sent yesterday by a Priory Hall resident to every Deputy and Minister on the heartbreak these people face. Stephanie Meehan writes that little did they know a year later they would still be asking questions and wondering when, if ever, they will get to go home and where their homes will be. This is the reality. They are the victims of this greed, just like those suffering because of pyrite.

I am appalled at the reliance of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the corporate entities responsible for this scandal to put it back together. I will give a simple example.

Who else would fix it?

If the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, were-----

Let everyone walk away.

I do not know whether the Minister of State is a small farmer-----

-----but if he were, and a bunch of foxes broke into his henhouse and created mayhem and havoc, would he round up the same foxes to go back to repair the damage they did? It is quite ludicrous. The question is who will pay for the pyrite scandal and the remediation of the homes affected. I say all those who had their snouts in the property bubble trough must pay. These are the big builders, the big bankers, the insurance companies and the quarry owners. However, they will now start a process which could go on for years of trying to evade responsibility and paying up. Home owners cannot wait and put their lives on hold while these corporate entities slug it out. We need a public fund immediately. We can put this public fund in place and take civil engineers and construction workers off the dole and put them on a publicly funded scheme to remediate all the homes, and in the meantime begin to take massive levies from these people. We cannot leave home owners waiting for these issues to be decided by these entities. Those leaving the House today must have certainty, a time limit and a schedule of when the work will be carried out. Nothing less is agreeable to us.

I commend the people who have suffered because of the pyrite scandal in my constituency and other areas, particularly in north Dublin, Kildare, Meath and surrounding areas. It is something that can happen to any family and home. Those responsible for this disastrous crisis are the unscrupulous and cowardly people who sold quarry material which was defective and completely inappropriate for family homes. I am very concerned that according to the report only 850 homes require immediate remediation. It is required by far more homes than this. To resolve the pyrite crisis we need the immediate establishment by the Government of an independent and expertly co-ordinated testing and remediation scheme to identify the full extent of the problem and to resolve it.

It is right and proper that the construction industry pays for the crisis, but families should not have to wait any longer. The Government should fix the problem now and claw back the resources from the construction industry. The Minister stated he would give the construction industry until September to resolve this. It is now mid-October and he is sitting on his hands as usual, doing nothing. Where is he today? Why is he not doing anything about this? The people who have suffered for years because of this demand action today and I commend and salute them.

We need action by the Government to tackle the pyrite crisis and we need it urgently. The pyrite panel report can lay the foundations for a path out of the pyrite crisis. It is nowhere near perfect but it is a basis from which to begin to resolve the crisis and this process must begin now. In July, when the much delayed report was finally released, I stated I saw no reason to delay the establishment of a functioning pyrite resolution board.

The Minister gave stakeholders three months to come up with voluntary proposals to resolve the structural problems in pyrite damaged homes. The past three months have come and gone and to no one's surprise, no voluntary resolution measures are on the table. It is now down to the Minister and it is time to act. It should be funded by a levy on the construction and quarrying industries, which was recommended in the pyrite panel report. This would be a progressive and continual funding source for the resolution board. I note the Minister's intent to take steps after a further ten days to progress this, but it is essential this is not a rolling ten days used by some stakeholders to stall the process. The fund should not be solely based on an industry levy. It needs to be front loaded and based on future funds flow from the levy to resolve this national crisis, and this needs to be done as soon as possible. The State can then recoup these costs in the years and decades ahead from the growing levy fund.

There are also the developers, some of whom built the homes of people sitting in the Gallery today, who are still solvent and trading and presumably still earning revenue. There is a well-founded belief that these developers have hunkered down over the past 18 months waiting for the results of the pyrite panel report and have refused to engage actively with affected residents during this period. I know because I have met some of them. These developers need to be forced to cough up. The pyrite panel report states that stakeholders were far too slow in addressing the legitimate concerns of the home owners, often appearing more concerned about defending possible claims against them rather than in remediating the affected dwellings. I acknowledge the reputable developers who are taking their responsibility seriously and are remediating homes.

Recommendation 22 of the pyrite panel report deals with home insurance issues and recommendation 22(e) states that "the insurance industry should not withhold standard household insurance cover to dwellings specifically affected by pyrite". Recently I have received a number of representations from constituents refused basic building and contents insurance from reputable blue chip insurance companies for pyrite-related reasons. An e-mail I received this morning states a big insurance company refused building and contents insurance as it was not aware of the knock-on effects of pyrite. Just when people afflicted by issues with pyrite felt they could not be hit any further, they were faced with the refusal of even the most basic form of home insurance. This is a disgrace. Insurance is a basic requirement for selling a home and without it a house can be deemed worthless. These homes were bought in good faith and although the natural order has seen house prices decrease in recent years, pyrite affected homes are at a very real risk of being deemed worthless. We need to act now.

I wish to refer to suggestions that HomeBond might be involved in some aspect of the resolution process. HomeBond has lost all credibility to deal adequately with this issue, based on the relationship between its members, developers and builders. HomeBond should only re-engage to meet its financial obligations to home owners. It has lost all credibility to actually resolve the structural damage to the homes.

The pyrite panel report states that successful implementation of the recommendations will require one body, possibly the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government or a body in its aegis, to have responsibility for monitoring, co-ordinating and managing the report's implementation. The report also states that wider Government support and engagement is absolutely critical to the successful implementation of the recommendations. I fully agree with this. I am ready and willing to support practical and visible steps forward as I am sure is every Deputy. However, all of us, in the Government and Opposition alike, request urgency from here on.

I welcome the comments made by the Minister at the conclusion of his contribution that people should be in no doubt he supports the homeowners in this debate. It is now time to end the debate and proceed with haste to a resolution. People and families throughout the country and in the Gallery today deserve nothing less.

I wish to read from a note I received today.

It states :

We have now completed the assessment of your claim and following receipt of appropriate advice from our experts, we are pleased to advise that based on the information presented to date Underwriters confirm cover is available to you for Major Damage to the Structure of your property caused by defective materials utilised in its construction. It is now our intention to move matters swiftly along and advise you will shortly be contacted by one of our Adjusters, who will manage your claim from here-on-in.

That is a note received by a home owner under the Premier guarantee scheme. The woman handed me that letter this morning. The good news she received is what the people in the Visitors Gallery urgently need.

This debate has been a long time coming. I was glad to hear the firmness in the Minister's statement today and I will go into the details of that later on in my speech. The families who are sitting in the Visitors Gallery watching this today have all been waiting a long time for some resolution. They want answers. They do not want to just sit here and listen to a debate today. They came here to get a resolution. They are the ones who are living with the pyrite problem day in and day out. They have been tirelessly campaigning for a resolution of this issue. I know from meeting with the pyrite action group the amount of selfless, hard work many people involved in the group carry out to make sure this campaign keeps going.

The Minister of State and I are very aware of this problem. Unfortunately, it affects many of our constituents in Meath. We both know that estates in places like Ashbourne, Dunshaughlin and other towns are suffering from the pyrite issue. It must be noted that the Minister of State has done a lot of work on this issue but we are not there yet, although we are near a resolution. I find it very difficult to see a family's home being ripped apart by pyrite. I know how important a house is to a family and the pride that families take in their homes. I understand how difficult it is to have a house where windows do not sit in their frames, doors are leaning forward, gaps are appearing all the time and cracks in the walls are so big that one could fit one's hand into them. When one sees these problems in people's houses, one understands the constant fear the families are living in. One understands that when they go to bed or go to work, they worry that there might be another extension of the cracks. It they have children, they might worry about the impact of this on them. We all want to feel safe in our homes, especially families with children, but it must be very difficult when one goes to bed not trusting the very foundations of the house one is living in. This is the harsh reality for people not just in County Meath, but in other counties around Dublin as well. The Minister knows that these people bought their homes in good faith and were unlucky but it is time that this good faith was rewarded.

Since this problem began, I have been working with the Minister and have submitted a number of parliamentary questions to try to find a resolution. He will know from receiving many questions from me on this issue that nobody will be satisfied by a quick-fix solution. We all agree that when the pyrite panel was announced, a roadmap would provide us with the way forward and a way out of this nightmare for people suffering from this problem. I remember meeting with the pyrite panel in the Custom House on a number of occasions over the past few months, listening to what it was planning to do and giving feedback. Three months after the recommendations of the report and three weeks after the end of consultation with the relevant stakeholders, it is time we gave the people some answers and the Minister gave some of these this afternoon.

I am happy that the terms of reference for the resolution board are currently being drawn up and will be ready next week. I am also happy that a levy is going to be imposed on those who should bear the brunt for the mistakes they have made and not the home owners. It is not fair to expect home owners to pay for this. However, like previous speakers, I am concerned that the levy will not start to bring in money for some time. The worry is that we might not see people getting the resolution they need for many years. Can we look at sourcing other forms of finance for this? We could then use the levy as a way of paying the money back. There are options that the Minister might like to consider, such as looking at the National Pensions Reserve Fund and seeing whether there might be money available from that source. Alternatively, we could go to the European Investment Bank or other sources of finance and ask for a short-term loan which could then be paid off when the levy starts to bring in money.

There is the opportunity here to create jobs in the construction sector. People will need skilled construction workers to carry out the repair work so we can get some of them off the dole and back into employment. It would also give them a chance to gain new employment afterwards with their renewed skills so there are a number of benefits here. We could help reduce the number of people who are unemployed while at the same time giving resolution to the families in the Gallery who have been waiting a long time for this. I urge the Minister to look at ways of funding this in the short term through a loan so that people can rest assured that we are going to bring about a solution to this nightmare they are living through.

We must move quickly. Thankfully, this is not an issue that affects my constituency of Dún Laoghaire. However, I want to show my full solidarity with and extend my support for the thousands of families and householders who are affected by this pyrite disaster and tell them that if there is anything I can do, I will be very happy to do it.

It is a double whammy for the families and households affected by pyrite. Like the rest of us, they are no doubt the victims in all sorts of ways of an economic crisis and recession caused by the activities of bankers and developers and politicians who failed to regulate those people in respect of activities which pumped a construction bubble and led to this crash. They are affected by all of the things everybody else has been affected by. Many of them are no doubt in negative equity and are struggling to pay their mortgages or are victims of the economic crisis in terms of job and income losses. As if all this were not bad enough, they must also deal with this intolerable situation. As with almost every issue we face, the powers that be - corporate interests, such as the construction industry in this case and insurance companies, and governments - pass the buck between one another, blame everybody but themselves and seek at every turn to avoid taking responsibility. One group of people who are not in any way responsible and are the innocent victims of this situation are the home owners themselves. Yet they are the ones who must deal with the consequences and suffer as a result of the inaction of those who are responsible, whoever they are. It seems to me that the political authorities, those who failed to regulate, HomeBond, the insurance and construction industries and the quarries are all responsible. They did not put in place proper regulation and safeguards and a proper insurance regime so that ordinary people who sought to do nothing more than put a roof over their heads did not find themselves in this intolerable situation.

Given the clear unwillingness of those in the construction and insurance industries to assume their responsibility, it is the duty of those elected by the public and whose job is to be the guardians of the public interest to act in this interest and worry about how we pay for it or apportion responsibility afterwards. The victims should not have to wait any longer. They need certainty and safety. I am not an expert on this but what will happen if sulphuric acid is released as a result of pyrite in the foundations or structural damage becomes so serious that serious accidents might happen?

Must we wait for that before somebody acts? If it happens, will we still have buck-passing, with everybody pointing the finger at one another without action being taken? I hope the Government will not let it come to that pass.

It should do what the families are asking for, namely, make available upfront a remediation fund to ensure the homes of everybody affected will be subject to remediation immediately. Others who suspect their homes may be affected should have the resources necessary to test for and remove pyrite so the danger of further structural or other damage will be averted immediately. We can worry further down the line about how we make those responsible pay.

Although I have not followed the discussion in as detailed a manner as some of the Members from Dublin West, Dublin North and other affected areas, I believe the banks should be brought into play. Almost all of the homes affected were bought for extortionate prices during the economic bubble. The owners are paying extortionate mortgages and many have difficulty paying these. It is even more appalling that people are paying off mortgages if there is pyrite damage. The banks that we own and recapitalised could be directed to offer a write-down or some relief on mortgages of those people affected. In addition, a fund should be put in place. The affected families should receive an immediate, unconditional waiver on all property charges. That they would have to pay these charges is utterly unacceptable given the circumstances in which they find themselves.

The problem requires a serious regime of regulation, inspection and management of the construction industry to prevent cowboy builders and cowboy insurance companies - such as HomeBond, it seems - so the problem will not recur. A man to whom I spoke at the protest outside was absolutely disgusted that the builder who built his home, which is literally falling apart, is back in business. I cannot mention the builder as the company is subject to legal action. The builder is walking around building sites with a hard hat and building again under a new company name. His family members are on the board of directors and the victim to whom I spoke and many others are left to carry the can for what was done to them. Those who carry on building are not held to account.

I commend the pyrite action group and all those in the intolerable, unacceptable circumstances I have described. I appeal to the Government not to delay action on this matter any further. Whatever can be done, however complex or difficult, to force the stakeholders or those responsible to pay for remediation over the longer term should be done but householders should not have to wait over the longer or medium term to have remediation. They have waited long enough and their circumstances are intolerable enough already. Therefore, the Government should put in place the necessary resources to allow the affected householders leave Leinster House today saying the Government did something for the people who elected them.

I am sharing my time with Deputy Broughan.

I welcome the report. It is easy for us, as legislators, to do so but the experience has been more painful for those who live in houses affected by pyrite. I hope progress has been made, although it has taken some time. I listened carefully to the Minister's contribution this morning on the publication of the report. I have listened to most of the contributions by the other Members who have spoken and noted that we are at one in agreeing that this matter must be resolved as quickly as possible. As other Members stated, what occurred has been distressing for the affected families. It is not just a Dublin problem as some Members have received mail from other counties about it.

I am encouraged by the recommendations in the report. The Minister outlined his frustration with the stakeholders and their lack of co-operation. I was encouraged to hear his views. He has probably had enough and wants to put an end to the problem. That is good and it is what people like myself want. We want progress made fairly and to give due recognition to those who are living with the pyrite problem.

I welcome the establishment of the resolution board and the timeframe for it. I hope we may not have to return to this House on very many occasions to discuss this topic. All of us want the problem resolved in the interest of those who have suffered. They did not cause the problem. We all know who created the problem, and this is recognised in the report and the Minister's contribution. I stand with the Minister in dealing with those who created the problem, irrespective of whether the relevant period is ten days or 12 days. Let us solve the problem in the interest of those who have had to live with it.

I thank the Technical Group and Deputy Catherine Murphy for allowing me and my Labour Party colleagues to say a few words. I welcomed the publication of the report of the pyrite panel last June. Astonishingly, this report was the first comprehensive response to the worst construction disaster to occur since the foundation of the State and which may have affected tens of thousands of home owners in north and west Dublin and across the mid-Leinster region. I have raised this appalling issue countless times in this Chamber, particularly with former taoisigh Mr. Bertie Ahern and Mr. Brian Cowen and the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley. I was almost blue in the face asking Mr. Gormley to take responsibility for this appalling crisis. I first learned of the problem in July 2007 when Drynam Hall, Clongriffin and The Coast estates in my constituency reported appalling damage to homes.

In my initial analysis of the pyrite report, I concluded it provided a useful technical analysis of the pyrite disaster as it unfolded since 2007. In the report, it was estimated that more than 12,250 ground floor dwellings in 74 estates across the country could be contaminated by pyrite. Of these, approximately 850 have made a claim with a guarantee provider, and approximately 1,100 have been remediated or are in the process of being remediated, on 12 estates. I remain convinced and have told the Minister, Deputy Hogan, several times in the Dáil that these estimates may be too conservative given the estimates that I received from industry sources in 2007 and 2008. Disastrously, up to 60,000 housing units may be affected. One of the most striking points in the report is that abnormal cracking in dwellings was being investigated as early as 2005, yet, seven years later, many residents are still left suffering and in limbo.

For example, I heard a few days ago that houses in another large estate in my constituency, Belmayne, might be contaminated.

The panel's report contains 24 key recommendations. However, as the Pyrite Action Group has stated, the report is only a "partial solution to the pyrite crisis". A large stumbling block in achieving a resolution has been the appalling lack of engagement by many stakeholders, particularly the construction, quarrying and insurance industries and the banking sector, as noted in the report. I was attending a meeting and did not have a chance to listen to the start of the debate, but I understand the Minister stated he was moving towards what he would consider to be a full and satisfactory engagement with these stakeholders in a resolution process. I learned from my colleague, Deputy Hannigan, that the Minister is proceeding with recommendation No. 14 on the establishment of a resolution board, which would be welcome.

The Minister promised repeatedly earlier this year that, if there was no action from the stakeholders by 30 September, he would make them take action, force a resolution, levy them or do whatever else was necessary. Must he introduce further legislation or statutory instruments to ensure that this occurs? Will the Government provide upfront funding for a proposed remediation scheme to reflect the State's failings in the matter?

When this horrible situation developed in summer 2007, I was directed to consider the province of Quebec in Canada, which had faced this disaster in the late 1990s and early part of this century. I noted that, after two or two and a half years, its Government had spent €70 million Canadian dollars and the federal Government in Ottawa had put up additional funding to resolve the situation. Many new estates along the Montreal shoreline had been affected by disastrously high levels of pyrite in their infill. This approach should be examined and I commend my Labour colleagues on asking that similar action be taken in Ireland. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, might bring it to the attention of the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputies Noonan and Howlin, respectively.

This situation reflects the lack of regulation of quarries and the abject failure of local authorities to enforce building regulations. We are well past the Minister's 30 September deadline.

Recommendation No. 2 in section 8.4 of the report proposes a system for clarifying affected housing of red, amber and green, wherein red is a house that requires immediate remediation, amber denotes a house that requires ongoing monitoring and green denotes a house that requires no further action. Some 850 pyrite-affected homes have been designated red and in need of urgent remediation, but the owners of pyrite-affected homes, including the outstanding Pyrite Action Group and Lusk village action group, which regularly brief me, other Deputies and householders in my constituency, strongly believe that all homes with reactive pyrite must be remediated.

People bought their homes in good faith. They believed they were buying decent products in which they could live. A house is the largest purchase anyone can make. Those people were sold grossly defective products. It is the Minister's job to ensure they will have the same quality housing as those of us who have not needed to deal with this plague. As Deputy Boyd Barrett stated, they should not be expected to live in crumbling and potentially dangerous homes with only an expectation of remediation works if they have been designated in the red category. How will the definition of "significant damage" referred to in the red and amber designations be estimated? Will a system be put in place in the proposed amber category, for example, to conduct the monitoring on an ongoing basis and how will this be paid for?

Previously, I asked the Minister to implement recommendation No. 13, which would exempt pyrite-affected homes from any proposed property tax until such time as they were remediated and fully certified. Will the Minister confirm whether he intends to make this case to the Minister for Finance and his Government colleagues? I ask my Labour colleagues to make the case strongly. We are discussing unfinished houses on unfinished estates. In fact, they have not even been started. The idea of imposing a property tax on them is outrageous.

A key concern of home owners affected by pyrite is the review of structural guarantee policies, as laid out in recommendation No. 22. Home owners believe the structural warranty provider must be independent of developers or any person or company involved in the construction of the homes. The Lusk village working group has rightly described the HomeBond model as "fundamentally flawed", as its core relationship is between HomeBond, its members and the developers. Residents believe that HomeBond is basing applications for pyrite damage on the basis of the assessment of the developers-builders who built the homes in the first place and used the disgraceful infill, and not on an independent and transparent invigilation of the house in question. I am sure the Minister will agree that the role of HomeBond in the pyrite catastrophe has been deplorable. Residents rightly have little or no faith in the competency of that organisation to manage the remediation or any other part of the resolution process.

I have also raised the disgraceful failure of HomeBond to appear before the Oireachtas environment committee. The Minister responded to my parliamentary question on this matter last week. My colleague, Deputy McCarthy, is the committee's chairman. He should call HomeBond to attend and ensure that it does.

In a reply to me in a previous debate, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, mentioned the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI's examination of pyrite testing standards and the development of a remediation method statement for the certification of pyrite-affected homes. The establishment of both standards is key to enabling householders to sell their houses if, as any of us might do, they wish to move and give a good product to the householder who moves in after them.

I hope the Minister will report to the Dáil on the recent Fingal consultation on quarries, a matter I raised with him in a previous debate. Specifically, will he report on notice 216A relating to the quarry at Bay Lane, Kilshane, Dublin 11? Having read the report, the council's planners gave the quarry planning approval, but did not indicate that additional work needed to be done. What about the product it was producing? It is allegedly the source of much of the problem under discussion.

Recommendation No. 14 on a resolution process is in train, but the owners of pyrite-affected homes have set out a clear and reasonable series of measures that they believe must be adopted to resolve the crisis. The north fringe of Dublin city should be an area of the highest quality housing and commercial development, an asset to our city and a place where people will visit. It is close to the coast and a beautiful area with a high value and many amenities. We want to finish the north fringe to the highest standards. The Minister can help us in that regard.

The home owners' demands include the immediate establishment of a comprehensive notification, testing and remediation scheme to identify and invigilate the full extent of the pyrite problem, the immediate remediation of all pyrite-affected homes, the undertaking of remedial works in co-ordinated blocks of work programmes rather than in a piecemeal ad hoc fashion, the independent and professional co-ordination of remedial works, an independent structural recertification process, the provision of upfront funding and a retrospective waiver of the household charge and forthcoming property taxes.

Will the Minister address the position of pyrite-affected householders who are buying their homes through an affordable housing scheme, but who are being treated in the same way as fully private home buyers, given the fact the local authority is the vendor? It is astonishing that a number of local authorities bought houses suffering pyrite problems without having carried out basic certification works on quarries or the inspection of homes. The Minister's building regulations should go much further.

Aside from the banking disaster consequent on the blanket bank guarantee of September 2008, which I am delighted the Labour Party voted against, the pyrite contamination of a large proportion of the yearly housing bubble output from approximately 2002 to 2008 is perhaps the greatest economic disaster in the history of Ireland since Independence. In my constituency, quarry owners, developers and builders bear the primary responsibility, but a grave responsibility also attaches to Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council and the State. Unlike the governments of Quebec and Canada, this Government, like the former Minister, Mr. John Gormley, and the Fianna Fáil-Green Government, has failed to discharge its responsibility to our constituents, who have suffered so disgracefully. I hope today will be the starting point of a different course of action that will resolve the crisis.

I thank all Deputies who contributed to what has mostly been a constructive debate on these issues. I also thank them for the honest way in which they brought to the attention of the House their experiences on behalf of the home owners who we are all trying to help.

Legitimate questions have been asked about how the problem arose and the length of time that people whose homes have been affected by pyrite have been left without solutions. Mindful of the distressing and challenging situation with which those home owners have been coping, I set up the independent pyrite panel last year to table proposals to assist in providing them with solutions.

It was a legacy issue that I found in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and although I did not want to meet it I had to take it head on. I am the only Minister to have done something about this by setting up an independent panel to establish once and for all the extent of the problem rather than having figures bandied around like snuff at a wake. We now have a comprehensive report with recommendations I intend to implement.

The conclusions and recommendations that Mr. Tuohy and his team formulated are very carefully considered, with much consultation having taken place with groups and individuals, including people in the building and construction sector, banks and insurance companies. Everybody was consulted in comprehensive fashion. I thank the public representatives, particularly those in the affected constituencies, for their engagement with the panel and for helping to bring information to its attention before it formulated conclusions.

I agree with the view of the pyrite panel that it would not be reasonable to expect dwellings not exhibiting pyrite damage to be remediated simply because there is pyrite in the hard-core filling. Currently, the only recognised remediation method for pyrite-damaged dwellings involves the full removal and replacement of the infill. It is a disruptive and expensive process, although some research is being undertaken into a number of alternative preventative methods that could provide solutions in future. That will not in any way deal with immediate concerns.

The number of affected dwellings has given rise to some speculation and debate but the methodology used by the panel in arriving at its figures is robust. We could argue all day about the extent of the problem but we are not here to argue about figures rather to discuss helping people with the problem now or those who may have it in the near future. The panel was very clear about where responsibility lies, and I have already dealt with that issue. I want to ensure that in dealing with those who are responsible for the problem, there will be a speedy resolution to the matter in the form of financial contribution to a fund to help homeowners. I have asked Department officials to finalise arrangements for the establishment of this proposed resolution board and to give the terms of reference to stakeholders. They can be examined over the next ten days and if some parties wish to make voluntary contributions, as has been indicated, I would encourage such an act over the next ten days. There is a narrow window of opportunity in that regard.

I assure the House and the people affected by pyrite that I will implement the recommendations as quickly as possible and seek Government sanction to impose a mandatory level to fund the remediation process if stakeholders do not come to the table with the necessary responsibility and proposals to rehabilitate the reputation of the industry which caused these problems.

If people want to play politics with the issue, either in the professional or political sphere, that is fine, but I am only interested in finding solutions for homeowners and ensuring that the people who caused this problem will pay for the resolution. I commend the constructive approach of the Pyrite Action Group in helping me to help its members. I will report progress to the House in due course and subsequent to the Government decisions that I will ask to be made with regard to the recommendations of the pyrite panel. I will also bring forward new proposals for building regulations to make up for the problems of the past and to ensure homeowners of the future will not have to suffer in the same way as the people who are affected now, either by pyrite problems or building deficiencies such as those evident in Priory Hall or other areas. I am very much on the side of the consumer and homeowner in this regard and I am determined to ensure the recommendations will be implemented in full.

Sitting suspended at 3.25 p.m. and resumed at 3.40 p.m.