Pyrite Resolution Bill 2013 [Seanad]: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to have this opportunity to introduce the Pyrite Resolution Bill 2013 to the House. The Bill represents a very important step on the road to providing sustainable and workable solutions within a reasonable timeframe for home owners affected by pyritic damage, many of whom have had to endure the stress and practical difficulties of living in homes affected by pyritic damage for considerable periods of time.

Developing the structures necessary to provide for a remediation scheme has proved particularly difficult and, regrettably, has taken much longer than I anticipated. I have always been clear in my view that the parties identified in the report of the pyrite panel of July 2012 as having direct or indirect responsibility for the pyrite problem should contribute to its resolution. Following receipt of the pyrite report, I engaged in lengthy discussions with the identified parties to put in place a framework within which these parties could bring about a resolution of the issue, including an appropriate funding arrangement. I was disappointed that it was not possible to get the parties to agree a voluntary solution and, in the absence of such agreement, I sought and received Government approval for the funding of a pyrite remediation scheme from the imposition of mandatory levies on the quarrying and insurance sectors. Unfortunately, legal difficulties arose during the drafting of the required legislation and it was not possible to proceed on the basis of the Government approval.

While I have always said the State is not responsible for the pyrite problem, a view supported by the report of the independent panel, it would be unacceptable to leave affected home owners without a sustainable solution. Alternative funding options were considered, but for various reasons, none was adjudged to be workable. Having regard to the exceptional nature of the pyrite problem and the circumstances in which it occurred, a scheme funded by the Exchequer was the only sustainable and practical way to provide a solution for affected home owners. In spite of budgetary constraints, the Government recently approved initial funding of €10 million, with additional funding provided from a stimulus package to be agreed early in 2014. This will enable the homes identified as being most severely damaged to be remediated over a two year period.

The Bill before us was passed by the Seanad yesterday evening following a constructive and supportive debate. Deputies should note that the current version of the Bill contains some amendments to the Bill published last week. Many of these amendments are of a minor drafting nature, but I will refer to the more substantial ones. The main provisions of the Bill provide for the establishment of the Pyrite Resolution Board on a statutory basis and the operation of the pyrite remediation scheme. Earlier this year I set up the board on an administrative basis and following enactment and commencement of the Bill, it will be established on a statutory basis.

The report of the independent pyrite panel provides the backdrop for the Bill. The principle behind the Bill is to provide a solution for a restricted group of home owners whose homes are affected by pyrite. The scheme is one of last resort and eligibility will be confined to one dwelling per owner, subject to specified exceptions. The scheme does not apply to housing provided on a commercial scale and dwellings owned by builders or developers who constructed the said dwellings, or persons connected with them, will be excluded from the scheme. The Pyrite Resolution Board will establish priorities for remediation based on the severity of damage and the most economic and effective use of resources. It may also group dwellings in need of remediation together for the purposes of achieving efficiency and cost effectiveness through economies of scale.

One of the key recommendations made in the pyrite report was the categorisation of dwellings as red, amber and green as a means of prioritising the remediation of affected dwellings. The Bill follows this approach by providing for a pyrite remediation scheme for dwellings affected by significant pyritic damage having regard to Irish Standard 398-1:2013. This standard was developed and published by the National Standards Authority of Ireland in response to a recommendation made in the pyrite report. This approach is both practical and sensible. The remediation of dwellings is an expensive and disruptive process and it would be unrealistic to expect dwellings not exhibiting damage to be remediated.

Section 14 of the Bill sets out the detail to be provided in the terms and conditions of the remediation scheme and what the board shall have regard to in setting the eligibility criteria of the scheme. The terms and conditions of the scheme will cover such matters as requirements for compliance with the standard for testing and remediation, scope of works to be carried out and, importantly, the certification required when the works are complete. The scheme will apply to dwellings within the geographical areas identified in the pyrite report where the home owner can establish to the satisfaction of the Pyrite Resolution Board that he or she has no other practicable options to obtain redress other than under the scheme. It is not intended that the financial resources of individual applicants will be considered as part of the assessment of available options, although a number of other pertinent factors will be considered, including the extent of structural warranty cover or other form of insurance cover available to the home owner or legal actions being pursued by or on behalf of the applicant.

Provision is made in the Bill to enable the Pyrite Resolution Board to institute civil proceedings to recover damages or costs from a person whom it believes is responsible for pyritic damage to the dwelling of an applicant under the scheme on foot of any arrangement agreed between the board and the applicant. The Bill also contains a provision which requires a home owner who received compensation subsequent to the board completing remediation works or where remediation works have not commenced or have commenced but have not been completed to recoup to the board costs he or she has incurred under the pyrite remediation scheme in connection with that dwelling.

This is not a compensation scheme. Home owners will not be able to seek the recoupment of costs associated with the remediation of a dwelling undertaken prior to the commencement of the scheme. Inclusion in the scheme is predicated, inter alia, on the dwelling being subject to significant damage attributable to pyritic heave and where this can be verified, having regard to IS 398:1-2013, prior to works commencing. This is in line with how similar Government schemes operate or have operated in the past, whereby prior approval is a key eligibility requirement for a scheme. The Bill provides that, in exceptional circumstances, a dwelling which does not meet the eligibility criteria of the scheme in terms of either the severity of damage or on the grounds of ownership may be included in the scheme if it adjoins another dwelling being remediated where the board considers that its exclusion may cause damage to either dwelling.

The scheme provides for a two-tier appeals process. Decisions made by staff of the Pyrite Resolution Board can be appealed to the board and the decisions made by the board can be appealed to an independent appeals officer appointed by the Minister. The initial phase of the remediation programme will deal with circa 1,000 affected dwellings in the red category which are understood to be in need of urgent remediation. My Department and the board are confident that this figure is credible and its validity is supported by a number of positive indicators, including the fact that approximately 850 people have registered an interest on the Pyrite Resolution Board's website to receive an application when the scheme becomes operable. The board will be responsible for overseeing and directing the delivery of the pyrite remediation scheme and it has already made significant progress on developing appropriate systems and procedures. It is finalising work on the proposed online application and processing system and also working on developing other complementary systems, with appropriate checks and balances, to ensure effective and efficient programmes of remediation are delivered to affected home owners. Following the Bill's enactment, the board will prepare a draft scheme which will be submitted to me for my approval and, when approved and made, laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I understand the board will be in a position to accept applications early in the new year.

While the Pyrite Resolution Board will not directly employ staff, it will be supported by staff from my Department and also from the Housing Agency. Using staff from both the Housing Agency and my Department will enable the board to undertake its role efficiently and without the necessity for a separate and costly staffing structure. The board will submit an annual report to me no later than 30 June each year. These reports will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Housing Agency will be responsible, inter alia, for the procurement of competent professionals and contractors, arranging for the testing of dwellings, awarding contracts and making payments in respect of remediation works and all other ancillary costs. Procurement will be in accordance with EU and national procurement rules.

As I mentioned, my preferred approach in dealing with the pyrite problem was for responsible parties to provide a voluntary solution. While this did not prove possible, the Pyrite Resolution Board is continuing to engage with HomeBond with a view to agreeing a process within which it can contribute resources to the remediation process. I know that some people have concerns about the possible role HomeBond may play in the implementation of the remediation scheme, but I want to make it clear that any agreement on the provision of resources will be fully transparent and any role it may play will be under the supervision of the Pyrite Resolution Board and the Housing Agency. At the other end of the scale, some are suggesting that the Pyrite Resolution Board or I should confiscate the funds HomeBond holds under the terms of its structural warranty scheme. This is not possible because HomeBond is a private company and neither I nor the Pyrite Resolution Board have any legal basis to sequester its funds.

The Bill provides a clearly defined legal framework for the delivery of practical and sustainable solutions for home owners. The scheme is fair and transparent and will restore the structural integrity of pyrite damaged homes at minimum cost to the taxpayer. I hope Deputies on all sides of the House will support this important legislation. I commend the Bill to the House.

While Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill, we believe it does not go far enough in remediating the problems faced by thousands of home owners across Leinster. The remediation fund seriously underestimates the scale of the problem, the extent of which has not been fully uncovered and the presence of pyrite will only become fully apparent in the coming years. Home owners who have already spent considerable sums repairing their houses should also be covered by some mechanism for making retrospective payments.

It is welcome that the Pyrite Resolution Board is being put on a statutory footing. The Bill sets out the details of the €10 million remediation scheme for houses in the counties affected, namely, Fingal, Kildare, Meath and Offaly. This long awaited legislation is a significant step towards alleviating the distress endured by home owners affected by the scourge of pyrite.

However, as I stated, it needs to be substantially enhanced and combined with real financial backup if it is to mark an end to the hardship endured by all home owners involved.

There are concerns, which I have expressed in the past, about the methodology used to quantify the number of houses affected by pyrite difficulties. Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, has consistently understated the scale of the problem. The scale that has been mentioned stands in stark contrast to the many tens of thousands of houses estimated to be affected by independent assessments, and I hope the scheme will be sufficiently flexible and well financed, in the future if not immediately, to accommodate the prospect of further pyrite-affected homes being uncovered in the coming years. I reiterate that home owners who have taken the initiative in rectifying problems with their houses should be covered, if not by this Bill then by amendments made thereto, rather than punished by denying them compensation.

The other issue that needs to be mentioned is the failure to address the impact of the denial of insurance to those in pyrite-affected estates, even in respect of homes that are not directly affected at this stage. The property tax exemption should be extended to cover these estates as a whole.

The pyrite report went a long way towards bringing us to this juncture. As I stated, there are concerns 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 could potentially be contaminated with the material from five quarries. This stands in contrast to the 72,500 houses estimated to be affected by independent assessment. Why is there such a dramatic gap between the original estimates and the number found by the panel? What specific methodology was used to quantify the houses affected?

Who are these persons?

The report concluded that the remaining 10,300 ground floor dwellings represent the maximum estimated future potential exposure to pyrite problems. Tackling the problem through the laborious method of removing the pyrite requires major intervention, and the typical cost for an average house is estimated at up to €45,000. This represents a massive cost to struggling home owners. In view of the scale of the problem, the Minister needs to provide strong legal support to these home owners. Home owners who have already taken action to deal with their own problems should not be penalised for taking action. The scheme should also encompass them.

The Government may have to offer additional financial support to bolster the remediation scheme next year to meet its immediate requirements. As the scale of the problem emerges, additional assistance will be required. I expect that the Minister will recognise this in today's debate.

Arising from the report, the board was established in 2012 on a pro bono basis. The board, as the Minister stated, was empowered to take a flexible long-term approach. Is the Minister sure that the €10 million fund is adequate to deal with the real scale of the problem? We do not want a situation in which ordinary home owners are left to pay the price for the failure to directly confront this.

The panel found that the regulatory framework for hardcore in Ireland, prior to the identification of problems with pyritic heave, could be compared favourably with those in the UK and other jurisdictions where guidance evolved in response to specific problems.

Currently, the only way to ameliorate pyrite heave is to remove the ground slab containing the pyritic material and replace it with a new ground slab. The general process involved will see people leave their homes for up to 12 weeks while work is undertaken.

While a number of measures were taken subsequent to the discovery of problems, the Minister must ensure that the regulatory regime remains as strong as other jurisdictions in dealing with the problem. We cannot afford to allow this type of problem to emerge in the future. The Minister's much-vaunted building regulation standards must be adequately enforced by local authorities and kept under revision to ensure they meet the reality of construction on the ground.

My party welcomes the Bill. We acknowledge the work that has been done heretofore by the Minister and his Department in bringing about this solution, however small it might be at this stage. The scope of the scheme is open to further investment in the future if it emerges that the problem is much greater than initially envisaged, and I expect the Minister will make a commitment in that regard. I reiterate my contention that there should be some cognisance of the difficulties that exist and the lack of compensation for those who have rectified the problem already in the absence of adequate insurance, and that there should be some retrospective option for them to apply to the board for funding to be made available to recognise their difficulties and the necessity of saving their homes. My party will not oppose the Bill, but we hope, through the various Stages - no matter how short - to explore its contents in order to ensure that there will be the option in the future of addressing some of the issues I raised in my opening statement.

I welcome this Bill, which represents a long overdue beginning to a resolution of the pyrite scandal. It has been nearly a year and a half since the pyrite report was published.

I pay tribute to Sandra and Peter Lewis and others in the Pyrite Action Group for their sterling work in pressuring and lobbying TDs and the Government to address the debacle that has resulted in this terrible situation facing thousands of families. I would also like to pay tribute to the late Minister of State, Shane McEntee, who put a great deal of work into finding a solution to this issue and was held in high regard by many of the families.

The pyrite issue, like the issues with Priory Hall, Gleann Riada, Balgaddy and others, exemplifies what was so rotten at the core of the Celtic tiger period. Profit was king and people were an afterthought at best. This scandal, like others, is the result of lax regulation and negligent building practices. These hangovers are the result of a greed that possessed the powerful in Ireland in those times. Corners were cut, profits were maximised and responsibility was reduced to lip-service.

This callous greed was shown up clearly by the behaviour of HomeBond. HomeBond was supposed to protect many of these families, but at the first sign of trouble it was found wanting. It has disgraced itself throughout the campaign by affected families for repair works. It abandoned many of its customers and snubbed the Oireachtas committee investigating it not once but twice. HomeBond's insurance should have meant that many home owners would never have needed to campaign at all. Given its conduct, I was disappointed when a HomeBond representative was placed on the building regulation advisory board. Instead of being a great comfort to families in a time of need, HomeBond only made matters worse. Residents who saw their dream homes crumbling as their mortgages were still being paid had to consider the possibility of even more debt to fix the problem and put a secure roof over their children's heads once again.

The Minister, Deputy Hogan, stated repeatedly that the State had no responsibility in this scandal. I disagree. The State allowed quarries to sell these contaminated materials, allowed builders to use them and then allowed companies such as HomeBond to behave as they have. Of course the State did not put pyrite in people's houses, but when regulation fails the State must accept its failure in this.

The quarry and construction sectors are most responsible and it is unfortunate that we enter this new period and the beginning of a resolution without a clear method of recouping the public funds used for the remediation scheme. I am very glad that public money can be used until such a levy is in place, as I called for this from the first instance a levy was mentioned or thought of. The families in homes being torn apart by pyritic heave cannot wait for the details of levies to be ironed out.

I welcome the Minister's continued expression of a desire to see an industry levy in place in the future. The process of repairing the worst-affected homes is an expensive one and I fear that the current level of funds available will run low quite quickly when the priority cases are dealt with. The Minister said that more funds would be announced in the new year, and I hope this is true, as the longer the pyrite remains in those homes the worse they will become and the more expensive the work required will be. This is the reason I question the wisdom of not allowing the owners of houses with lower levels of pyrite to apply for remediation. Priority cases should be dealt with first, but allowing homes to deteriorate before they can be repaired seems like a recipe for a more expensive scheme in the long run.

There should be some measure in place to support families who, despite heaping great financial hardship on themselves, got repair work done and paid for it out of their own pockets. The Minister indicated that this measure would not be retrospective, but that is a mistake. Those people did not do that because they are affluent but because they were desperate and had given up waiting for a solution that they feared might not come. While they no longer fall into the category of priority focus, they should also benefit in the longer term from a levy taken from the construction and quarry industries.

As the Minister is aware, local authorities such as Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council have conducted repairs of estates and properties damaged by pyrite, which they and the Department have financed. One hundred and six units in Sillogue in Ballymun have recently been successfully restored and are now fully occupied and of the highest standard. Also, Avila Park estate in Finglas is being restored. There are other estates which I will not mention. Those families need a secure home, but the State is not wholly responsible for the presence of pyrite and the quarry and construction industry should face some of the financial burden of the repairs. Some builders took it upon themselves to repair homes they had built in order to preserve their good names. In those cases it was no small undertaking and they should get credit for their responsible reaction and the way they handled matters.

In order for people to prove that they require repair work covered by the remediation scheme they will need to get costly engineer's reports. Such a report can cost anything from €3,000 to €6,000. I note that the Minister mentioned that the Housing Agency might have a role in this. It is important that it does, because the cost of an engineer's report is excessive. Will people be compensated for these expenses, which are required for the scheme to work? At a time when families are struggling to keep the lights on, this essential expense to secure the roof over their heads is not easily undertaken or afforded.

I understand that the primary focus of the scheme is to repair structures to secure habitation, but there is also a serious problem in many estates caused by pyrite in pavements, roads, walls and other structures. What will be done to deal with those issues, of which there are many? A number of the homes affected have had major pyrite damage not only to walls but also to fixtures and fittings. Door frames have been broken, fitted kitchens have been warped beyond use and pipes have been damaged, as have other fittings. This was caused by pyrite present in the concrete used in the build and in the stone underground, sold by quarries and okayed by this State's lax inspection system. Questions need to be answered about this, despite the major headline issue of pyritic heave being dealt with.

It is important that we have an independent appeals mechanism for residents who are affected. We have the red, amber and green system. Does that need to be examined more carefully in terms of the way we categorise these houses? Some of the houses I have seen in the amber category were in very bad condition. We know that 800 to 1,000 houses need to be tackled urgently at this stage, but we are not sure of the overall figure. The Pyrite Resolution Board has given us some figures, but many believe it is not up to speed with regard to the number of people affected.

The Minister mentioned the Housing Agency. Can he elaborate on its role, along with that of the Pyrite Resolution Board? Will it have a stronger role in determining cases? The Minister indicated that it would examine and determine each individual case. How will that be done? The Bill should take into account dwellings that have been affected, and it should be retrospective in its scope to include people who got works done and paid for it out of their own pockets.

What will happen with regard to the taking in charge of many estates where issues remain? Will the local authorities be pressurised into taking in charge many of these estates? In some cases the builders have gone and we will not see them again. My experience is that it takes years for councils to take estates in charge, even small estates.

I first encountered this problem more than eight years ago when I visited Avila Park. These houses had been built only a short while before, yet there were holes in the walls and gaps in the houses. The kitchen counters were warped in the same way as the floors, such was the level of the damage. Will the replacement of these fittings be excluded from the scheme? There is some indication that many of these fittings may not be included. I believe they must be included because people bought these houses with the kitchens fitted. They were bought as part of the scheme. Will the Minister take that into account?

We know that on average these units will cost €30,000 to €60,000 to complete. Some of the companies involved are better than others and some of the ones that have done work in Ballymun have done an excellent job. We want to get value for money from those who will do the work on the houses, and that should be closely examined.

We will not oppose this Bill, but more needs to be done. I do not accept that people should be excluded in any way, because if they can prove their case that damage has been done to their properties over the years they should be compensated.

I call Deputy Clare Daly. I understand the Deputy is sharing the 15-minute time slot with Deputy Catherine Murphy. Is it seven and a half minutes each?

Yes. The Minister will understand why there is no fanfare today. It is exactly a year to the day since we read the press release from his Department that up to €50 million in bank loans and levies to pay for the repair of pyrite-affected homes was on the cards. That was followed up by the Minister for Finance telling us that the victims of pyrite would have their property tax sorted out. I note the Minister's press statement from that day in which he stated: "While much work remains to be done to complete the jigsaw, I am confident that the end is now in sight for affected home owners." I do not personally blame the Minister for the situation, but he will appreciate that many people will say they have heard that announcement many times before.

The Pyrite Resolution Board website was launched to fanfare in May, with the initial sum of €50 million, which was not enough, downgraded to €10 million. One year later, no applications have been accepted. We must be conscious of the families, many of whom are desperately hoping this is the pathway to a solution to the issue. I firmly believe we need a scheme up and running in order to be able to adjudicate whether that is the case. On that basis, I support the legislation because it is necessary to provide a legislative basis for remediation.

I thank Deputy Clare Daly, she is very generous.

I do not think the remediation is adequate. I will support this for no reason other than to prove the Minister wrong in some instances. We must be mindful of the fact many families have already paid hundreds and thousands of euro getting tests done. They have completed the building condition assessment and have been evaluated as category 2 damage. Their houses are deteriorating rapidly as each day goes by yet the Pyrite Resolution Board cannot accept applications. The Minister tells us that, once the legislation is in place, it will lay the basis for that happening. We have heard that before and we really need it delivered upon urgently.

The Minister made the same point he has made every time since his election and since we first discussed the issue, that the State is not responsible. I must correct him in that regard. No one is saying the State organised this but negligence by the State authorities which were to oversee regulations was a contributing factor to the situation. The Building Regulations Advisory Board and the National Standards Authority of Ireland bragged in their literature that they were on top of best practice, technical expertise and keeping abreast of international developments. However, it did not know about pyrite found in Britain and Canada many years previously. There was knowledge of the geological composition of the Tober Colleen formation, in particular, being susceptible to pyrite and the fact that quarries were located there. The State was found culpable and found wanting. State action, by virtue of the fact the aggregates panel had to devise a new standard in the area, was an admission that the existing standard was not good enough. The Minister has acknowledged that. That Premier Insurance, the second-largest insurer in the State, will not insure properties up to the new Irish standard is indicative that the new standard is not good enough. It is not surprising because the aggregates panel is made up of precisely the people from the cement and concrete industry, including many quarry owners whose quarries have been deemed to be legally responsible for the material ending up on the market. Another vested interest has been exposed in Irish society.

One of the greatest offenders in this debacle must be HomeBond and I am glad the Minister gave some time to it. However, I am sorry he did not address the point we have been making. HomeBond was set up by the Construction Industry Federation as a structural guarantee but it was not. There were warnings in the public domain as early as 2000 that the scheme was in difficulty and had a financial difficulty. It was allowed to continue. HomeBond is now a proper insurance scheme so there are no further draws on its funds other than, potentially, pyrite. Why do we allow it to sit on a €25 million bank balance when this scheme will kick off with a paltry €10 million? It does not make any sense. What makes it a greater insult to home owners is the organisation closed the door on these families, turned down their claims, and told them they did not have pyrite. When the courts said the quarries were responsible, HomeBond accepted that the houses had pyrite but said it was no longer the responsibility of HomeBond. The idea that these people have expertise and may be involved in the remediation process is an abhorrent prospect for home owners and they will not wear it.

I appreciate that this is the skeletal outline and that we will have the detail of the scheme later. We can deal with the detail on Report Stage tomorrow. However, there are some glaring omissions. Families in the State have paid tens of thousands of euros to do the work themselves. They did not do so because they were rich or had nothing better to do with their money; they did so because there was no other way in which dairy could make their homes safe. There are excluded from the provisions of the Bill. Pyrite Action Group and the home owners lobbying on this issue have not given up the ghost for those home owners who need justice. In the same way as the Minister has clauses in this that the industry should be challenged to foot the bill legally, if compensation comes from one forum then the same should apply to home owners. An issue has been raised in respect of who is eligible to access the scheme. The Minister said that those who were eligible will be those who have exploited all other avenues. There is a question mark over those who have initiated court action in desperation. Are they to be prevented from accessing the scheme? We need clarification on that.

I am glad that houses in category 1 are being included and that some that do not fit the Bill are included. All along, it has been argued that the only way to deal with this is a State-led, systematic, estate-by-estate approach rather than an individual case approach being copperfastened in legislation today. We will find it out to our detriment. There is an urgent need to get these applications live for saving on that basis and we will support the Bill even though we will table amendments on Report Stage.

The debate on this legislation is welcome. Like others contributing to the debate, I am aware of others who are at a critical point in that they are close to the point of moving out of their homes. I know some of them personally, as most contributing to the debate do. They are doing so for reasons of pyrite heave, doors not opening and closing and part of the ceiling collapsing and walls cracking. It is critical that remediation occurs as soon as possible. I acknowledge the legislation and initial funding of €10 million. It is progress, even if it is more limited than what we wish.

The pyrite panel report was issued in June 2012. What we are doing today is substantially different from what was anticipated in it. The executive summary states:

The Government should ensure that strong leadership is provided to influence the engagement of the construction industry and related players in facilitating a resolution of the pyrite problem. A Resolution Board should be set up by the Government to handle cases which cannot be dealt with by other means. This should not be funded by the Exchequer but could be funded by, for example, a levy on the construction/quarrying sector or other means. In respect of paying for the remediation, it is accepted by all with whom the Panel met, that it should be paid for by those who have responsibility for the problem.

Court cases are in the pipeline. It is critically important that whatever action can be taken will be taken by the Government should the court cases open up new possibilities from the point of view of natural justice and accumulating sufficient funds to deal with the many thousands of households affected. Section 14 is the central part of the Bill, making provision for a pyrite remediation scheme. It is anticipated, and it is right, that the housing units worst affected are dealt with first. I do not anticipate any difficulty in grouping semi-detached, detached and terraced housing with various degrees of damage, even if they are not the worst. We do not want to see a piecemeal approach, which will be much more costly.

The Minister has pointed out that this is not intended to be a compensation scheme, but there is a serious problem for people who have pyrite in their homes but at a level that falls below the threshold. The value of these homes, should people wish to or need to move, is basically zero, but if they try to put zero on a property tax assessment, another organ of the State, the Revenue Commissioners, would quickly challenge the valuation. These people should be included in the scheme if the level of damage is low, as there will be a hierarchy anyway, with the most affected dealt with first and the least affected dealt with afterwards.

Excluding those individuals - rather than developers - in multi-unit developments who begged, borrowed and re-mortgaged their homes very heavily when they could not continue to live in them is again a matter of natural justice. I know some people with very hard stories in this regard and they are at the pin of their collar in trying to pay second mortgages. In one case a Velux window in a bathroom smashed into a thousand pieces on top of children. What can be done in such a position other than repairing the damage? If there is a hierarchy of action, these people will fall below those who require remediation in the first instance, and I do not understand why that has not been considered. If these people are not included in the scheme but there are successful court actions against which funding can be leveraged, will the legislation further punish people who take action in advance of its passage? I urge the Minister to include these people, as it is essential for them to be in the scheme.

A certification process is essential both for the people whose homes will be remediated and for those who have carried out remediation already. There is a blight that comes with pyrite, and I frequently get phone calls from people who are thinking of buying properties, although not many people are buying now. Where there is movement in estates, I am asked whether there are pyrite issues, which means there is a clear difficulty where people are affected. There should be certification so that people can have some certainty about the future. The banks and insurance companies have been incredibly unfair in this regard; they may refuse insurance or a mortgage on a house in an estate affected by pyrite. A certification process is therefore really important.

We anticipate that this will be a rolling scheme in terms of the funds available, with public moneys used to front-load the process and a levy to fund the rolling scheme. As Deputy Daly has pointed out, we have held on to every bit of information. This day last year, the Minister anticipated that there would be an up-front fund of €50 million to establish the Pyrite Resolution Board to oversee the implementation of a comprehensive remediation scheme for pyrite-affected dwellings. At that point, agreement in principle from HomeBond, the Construction Industry Federation and the Irish Concrete Federation had been reached to establish a special purpose vehicle for a not-for-profit entity that would operate the remediation scheme. Where did that co-operation go? Why should these groups constantly need to be legally bashed into doing something that is ethical? Is there a prospect of re-engagement in this respect?

The proof will be in the scheme itself, as it has been talked about for a while. When we see houses being remediated a bit of confidence will be built, but much more needs to be done. I know the Minister would acknowledge this, and also that €10 million is wholly inadequate. We are all-----

I was at a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I have not yet managed bilocation.

This is where it is all happening.

I know. The Minister might have arranged this for a different time to suit me.

When we see the scheme in operation, confidence may build, but so much more needs to be done.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Alan Farrell.

Deputies will have to forgive me; I am out of breath, because I ran from the Department of the Taoiseach to be here. I thank the Acting Chairman. To say I am delighted to be speaking on this legislation and seeing it before the Dáil is possibly the biggest understatement of the year. The legislation means so much to so many people who have put up with pyrite for so many years in what can only be described as an absolute nightmare, and it will finally mean an end is in sight for the problem. As I am sure everybody knows, this legislation is personally important to me, as my dad became involved in the issue very early in his Dáil career. I hope the Minister does not mind me saying that it is only because of him that we are here today and that it has got this far. It could not be any more fitting that we are debating the Bill today and tomorrow, which is his birthday. It all ties together well.

I remember that when I came home from college one weekend some years ago, before I started working with my dad, he told me he had visited a young man's house that was affected by pyrite, and he explained what pyrite was, how it was in the infill material and what damage it did. He told me he could almost fit his hand in the crack in the exterior wall of this man's house and I could not believe what he said. The problem seemed to grow legs afterwards, and although the issue was raised in the Dáil by my dad, unfortunately Fine Gael was not in power at the time and the Government did not want to know about it. For those living with the problem at the time, that was unacceptable, and we are in our current position - with issues such as Priory Hall, as well as other similar cases - because of poor enforcement of building regulations. Essentially, there was self-regulation, which did not work. People needed to step up to the plate at the time but, unfortunately, as the economy was booming, this was not a priority.

It must be said that there are builders, contractors, subcontractors and some quarries that have come up to the mark on this issue. They have not walked away from the people who bought these homes or turned their backs on people who put their trust in them. These people are fixing the affected homes, either with their own money or through insurance from companies that are paying out because of partial responsibility. It is not easy to place the blame on one party, but the people who are trying to help should be commended. On the other hand, there are builders, contractors, insurers and banks that have walked away from their responsibility completely, leaving the affected people high and dry. I really do not know how these people sleep at night, because nobody would want to find him- or herself in this position. Everybody was given an opportunity to be part of the solution but, unfortunately, not everybody decided to take part. That is why this important piece of legislation is needed and why we are here today.

It is a very positive piece of legislation. Although I will not go through every section, there are some items to be noted. I welcome the fact that the resolution board, along with the Housing Agency and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, are being given the responsibility of putting together this scheme which they feel will address the problem in the most appropriate manner. It will give them scope to use their knowledge in the best possible manner and make judgments in order to roll out the scheme as efficiently as possible.

I welcome the inclusion of category 1 with progression in the category of significant pyritic damage. Many people have been very concerned about the possibility that in order to get into this category their homes would have to have a damage rating of 2. This provides much clarity and gives the board the scope to see how it can roll this out. I welcome the fact that each financial year, the Minister, with the board, can make a grant to the housing association which can be used for implementation of the remediation scheme. It provides clarity on the fact that there is no time limit; when people require this help, it will be there. Section 12 refers to gifts, but are these likely to come from people in the industry? Does this relate to offers to provide assistance with no gain for themselves?

Overall, the legislation is very clear in what it sets out. I realise we could not include the people who have already fixed their homes.

Perhaps we might examine that issue later. Obviously, the people concerned are in the same boat as those who have not fixed their homes at this point.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, and his Department. There are many people who have put a lot of work into this legislation and gone beyond the call of duty. I include the Minister and his staff in that regard. I also include the staff of the Pyrite Resolution Board who have done a great deal of work to date. I could not be happier for all those involved in Pyrite Action. What has occurred is an early Christmas present and I look forward to the first application being accepted in January.

I thank the Minister for putting this Bill on the legislative agenda. It follows a very long delay, not one for which the Government or my party is responsible, although there was a slight delay in bringing the legislation before us.

This matter was first brought to my attention in 2007. In that year I had an unwelcome caller at my door to tell me that my estate, Drynam Hall in Swords, was very much affected. I learned that 12,500 houses - more than the 10,000 estimated by Deputy Barry Cowen - were affected to the extent that remediation was required. The previous Administration not only ignored this issue and the technical guidance document amendment suggested by the building control unit in Fingal County Council but it also even failed to acknowledge receipt of the letter I sent four times as Mayor of Fingal. I sent a letter four times to the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and on four occasions failed to even receive an acknowledgement from his office such was his level of interest and that of the Department in the issue. To suggest this is a very significant day, as Deputy Helen McEntee has done, is an understatement.

I pay a particular tribute to a great number of Deputies. My constituency colleague opposite and a great number of other colleagues across all parties have contributed significantly to this discussion to put in place a remediation process for the tens of thousands of others who, like me, are affected by this issue. I include Deputy Dessie Ellis and others in Sinn Féin and other parties. What has been achieved is not the legacy of one individual, although I should say in the presence of Deputy Helen McEntee that her late father, Shane McEntee, played a very significant role in bringing the Bill to the House. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to him on a day close to his birthday than raising this issue in the Dáil and for Deputy Helen McEntee to speak to us today about it. I commend her for doing so.

Deputy Dessie Ellis spoke about dream homes crumbling. I had this experience, as I know the Deputy knows. In 2005, arguably at the peak of the boom, I bought my home for more than €300,000 only to find that, by 2008, it was valueless. Owing to the actions of some of the developers and builders whom the Deputy acknowledged wished to do something about the issue rather than run away from it, as so many have and which is why the Bill is required in the first place, my home and thousands of others in Fingal, County Meath, County Louth and other areas have been subject to remediation.

As this is a Second Stage debate, I will use my time carefully. I am not speaking from notes but speak because I am an affected person who has lived through the problem for the past eight years. I speak from the heart and on behalf of so many of my neighbours, friends, constituents and fellow citizens across Leinster who have been affected by this issue through no fault of their own. As Deputy Dessie Ellis correctly outlined, they bought a dream home or place where they could hang their hat, have a family, move on with their lives, pay off their mortgage and contribute to society, but, unfortunately, because of the greed and - I dare say - borderline corruption of others, so many have been left without recourse to justice. Developers have gone out of business and liquidators have been unable to provide any funding towards the remediation of houses across Leinster. Since many have been left with absolutely no recourse to remediation, I acknowledge the Minister's suggestion that further funding will be made available next year and the year after for remediation schemes, acknowledging the great gaps in which one could put one's hand such as those described by Deputy Helen McEntee. I noted these gaps in my dwelling and they were evident in thousands of others.

I acknowledge the work of the Department, the Minister, in particular, and our deceased friend and colleague, the late Minister of State Shane McEntee. I acknowledge also the work of my colleagues opposite and many members of the Government parties who have contributed to the Bill which I commend to the House.

I am sharing time with Deputy Joe Higgins.

It is definitely to be welcomed that the State is doing something about pyrite problems. However, given what has occurred and the position the Government took before now, it is hard to credit that it has not been able to get the private sector to take responsibility. It is a little frightening.

Perhaps the Deputy might help.

I would love to.

The people in question are the Deputy's colleagues.

I will not defend the ethics of the construction industry. Of course, there were plenty of people who behaved properly, but in general, the sector left too much to be desired. There was no chance it would give us any money if it could get away with it. The same goes for the banks and the insurance bodies.

Bearing in mind that it has been possible for those concerned to wash their hands of the matter, it is blatantly obvious that the stone delivered to the sites was not fit for purpose. The quarries have a responsibility. It is a big problem if responsibility cannot be pinned on them.

What is insurance? Is it available at all when trouble hits the fan? If the insurance companies can get away without taking any responsibility in this regard, what will be the status of insurance companies under the new building regulations? If someone builds an apartment complex with 100 units and it turns out to be a disaster such as Priory Hall, will there be access to the individuals who worked on the project in the insurance company? We need to examine this issue before the problem recurs. If those concerned can get away with this, I fear they will get away with just about anything.

During the statements today on the European Council meeting I was talking about the imminent transatlantic trade and investment partnership. I assure the House that if the European Union and its member states sign up to it, laws helping large corporations and businesses will be enhanced and the possibility of holding them and the potential to hold them to account will be reduced. This will be at the expense of the citizen. Does the Minister not believe this is a massive area that will be very significant in terms of the new building regulations? Some structure must be put in place. I do not know whether a universal insurance scheme is practical or how it could be operated.

There is no point in people hiring insured professionals when, if something goes wrong, there is no cover to deal with the problem. That is what happened in the pyrite situation. The quarries had insurance - they were not allowed to operate without it. Why is that insurance not being called upon? The banks signed off on these houses. They employed professionals to inspect the houses. They had a responsibility to check every aspect of the construction of a house before parting with money for it. The professionals were employed so that the banks, when giving out loans for €300,000 or more for a house, could be happy that things had been done right. Even though they might not have been very au fait with pyrite, they still have a responsibility because they loaned money to people on the back of professional advice which they assumed was sound. The people hired to give that professional advice would not have been hired by the bank unless they had insurance. Why can that insurance not be tapped into?

Does the Minister agree that insurance is going to be a major issue in the context of the new building regulations? As currently drafted, the regulations provide that the architect is the person of last resort in terms of signing off on projects. Does the Minister think that architects will be able to get insurance against the possibility of having to foot the bill for faulty construction? I am not so sure that will be possible.

On 25 May 2011, a full two and a half years ago, I raised the pyrite crisis with the Taoiseach during Leader's Questions, with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government sitting beside him. At that stage, the Government was, to put it mildly, not anxious to get involved and was attempting to adopt a hands-off approach to the problem, hoping that some other agencies would sort it out. During that exchange in the House I called for a task force to be set up immediately and for a remediation scheme to be put in place but the Government pointedly refused to take that course of action. Subsequently that has been done but it should not have taken two and a half years to get to this point, considering the enormous suffering that people are enduring, with the acute anxiety and distress of watching their homes disintegrate around them because of pyrite heave. It should have been the subject of immediate and emergency action rather than the long, drawn-out process we have seen.

We are dealing here with the poisonous legacy of the buccaneering speculators and profiteers in the construction industry - in the housing sector in particular - in the course of the property bubble. There was criminal negligence in terms of the quality of homes produced by a range of developers and builders, as we have seen to such enormous cost to ordinary people. Profits came first and safety and other standards a very poor second. The Minister keeps repeating that the State has no responsibility for this situation, which is absolutely untenable. The question is - where was the oversight in regard to all of these issues and the huge problems that have emerged? On the issue of fire hazards for example, Priory Hall and a number of other housing projects which have come to public attention are only a very small percentage of the number of potential fire traps that were built in this State. Where was the oversight by regulators, local authorities and so forth? The same question applies with regard to pyrite. The pyrite problem has been discussed and debated in construction and engineering literature for at least 30 years. Detailed reports were published 20 years ago on the problem as it emerged in parts of Britain. It is quite clear that since pyrite can have such a catastrophic effect there should have been a process of testing for the iron sulphide which causes pyrite heave.

While the State bears a big responsibility in this, undoubtedly the main culprits are those in the construction industry who cut corners and did not adhere to proper standards. I support this Bill in so far as it goes but it is far too restrictive. It does not in any way recognise the extent of the problem. To talk about 1,000 homes as if that was the limit of the problem is to fail to face reality. Unfortunately, the number of homes affected is far greater than that and will be found to be so. A lot more will have to be done. In 2011 I called for upfront emergency funding to be provided by the State so that people would have not to wait for years for cases to go through courts to force the speculators and developers to provide remediation funds. However, I said that the funds provided by the State must be clawed back very quickly from those who carried the main responsibility for this situation. I believe that the major players in the construction and quarrying industries and the developers who are responsible for this problem must be levied so that the tax payer is not left to carry yet another can, on top of the billions they are carrying for the speculation of the banks in the self same industry in the course of the property bubble.

The Bill before us has major implications for the thousands of home owners who have been or may be affected by pyrite damage. I must say at the outset that I am disappointed by the amount of time allocated to debate the Bill in the House, particularly that allocated for the next stage. The approach taken by the Government to the ordering of Dáil business this week is pretty shocking. As I said to the Tánaiste last week, we are rushing through three major Bills this week, any one of which would have formed the business of an entire week in previous Dáil terms.

I welcome the fact that legislation dealing with the pyrite issue is finally before us. The problem of homes affected by pyrite first came to my attention in the Drynam Hall estate in Kinsealy in the summer of 2007, when the parents of a young householder in the estate alerted me to the shocking news that her home was infested with pyrite.

The Minister of State will well remember that when the 30th Dáil resumed, I immediately raised the matter with the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley, and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who totally washed their hands of this outrageous fraud on young home owners and mortgage payers. Unfortunately, a few months later the first shocking reports came through of possible pyrite damage in the massive Clongriffin estate in the north fringe in my constituency. From that time I have raised the matter on literally hundreds of occasions in this House, particularly on behalf of the householders affected by pyrite damage in my constituency. The further atrociously long delay of nearly three years by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, in getting his act together to tackle the pyrite problem has meant that home owners affected by pyrite damage have been languishing in their homes for years with little or no hope in sight of a resolution to the damage done to their homes.

I welcomed the recent announcement by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, that €10 million of initial funding was to be allocated by the State to the pyrite remediation scheme. However, following the announcement I expressed my strong concerns that the fund was to be restricted to homes with pyrite damage in the so called red category. More important, I expressed even stronger concern that the entire funding for pyrite remediation was to come from the Exchequer. I know the Acting Chairman, Deputy Mathews, is interested in the phenomenon. One could ask what happened to the pyrite levy which was a key recommendation contained in the pyrite panel report of 2012. In addition, what happened to the proposal that people responsible for inflicting damage on others would be made accountable for their wrongdoing and gross carelessness? It is welcome that some home owners will benefit from vital assistance in carrying out remedial works to their homes in instances of significant pyritic damage. It is also welcome that the Pyrite Resolution Board will be put on a statutory footing. However, this very belated Bill is a poor enough attempt by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to address the pyrite debacle. The Minister has also missed an opportunity to prevent a disaster of this kind recurring by not including provision in the Bill for the inspection of quarries to determine the presence of pyrite in infill. Furthermore, the apparent problems in the building regulations due to be brought into effect by the Minister in the coming weeks are not being addressed in the Bill or elsewhere. There seems to be a complete determination by the State and its agencies not to take responsibility for the building industry and not to make it responsible to the State for the work it does in spite of the huge commitments made by young families.

In moving to the content of the Bill, I wish to highlight my major concern that there is not even a hint of those responsible for pyrite being held to account. Over the past six or seven years the key questions my Dublin Bay North constituents have continually asked are twofold. First, whether those responsible for the egregiously careless invigilation of construction suppliers and grossly deficient building works will be held to account for their actions. Second, whether those responsible will be made to pay for the grave financial damage done to citizens and householders. I note that section 7 provides that grants from the Housing Agency, subject to sanction by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, will be used to implement the pyrite remediation scheme and ancillary matters. The implications of the section are significant. The Minister has apparently done a U-turn on his view that a pyrite levy was to be imposed on the quarrying and construction industries. I note in the wake of the publication of the pyrite panel report in 2012 that the Minister said a pyrite levy would be on the table. Throughout the pyrite panel's considerations, there were constant reports and spin from Government that the building, construction supply and insurance industries and other professions with a direct responsibility, including banks, would be levied with the bill for the repair of the damage. In the autumn legislative programme, a Pyrite Levy Bill was No. 10 on section A of the programme. The purpose of the Bill as outlined in the programme was "to provide for the imposition of levies on the quarrying and insurance sectors to fund a remediation scheme for certain pyrite damaged dwellings and to establish the Pyrite Resolution Board on a statutory footing".

The decision to drop the levy has significant implications for the public purse and it means the State will carry the can ultimately for pyrite damage. As more and more estates in north and west Dublin, Meath and other counties were reported to have pyrite damage from 2007 onwards, I was given an astonishing estimate by some builders that the number of houses requiring remediation would be up to 60,000 housing units with a rebuilding cost of up to €20 billion. I accept the pyrite panel estimate was approximately 12,000 units but even if there are, for example, 20,000 pyrite-damaged housing units, the ultimate cost could be at least €1 billion. The pyrites disaster was second only to the banking disaster and had we not had the collapse of banking it would be the greatest scandal of modern Irish history. Of even more concern is the very real fear that if the funding for the scheme is subject to sanction by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, it could be restricted to the most severe cases only and many others with varying degrees of pyrite damage would be left without recourse to assistance in carrying out remedial works. I will table an amendment on Committee Stage tomorrow, which I hope will not be ruled out of order, to call for the imposition of a pyrite levy to be included in the Bill.

In a similar vein, I am most concerned that the Bill does not provide a mechanism to address future potential construction incidents similar to the pyrite disaster. By not providing, for example, for the inspection of quarries, the Bill is merely responsive to the current problem without seeking ways to improve the quarrying and construction supply industries. I note that reference is made in the Bill to the NSAI standards on pyrite. However, it would have been far more useful to have also included provision in the Bill for inspections to determine the presence in infill of pyrite or any other problem stone, and to make arrangements for the suspension of quarrying activity in the event of pyrite being found. Approximately 18 months ago planning staff in Fingal County Council carried out the first systematic review of quarrying in the county on its seven major quarries in accordance with the Planning Act 2000.

I strongly welcome the placement of the Pyrite Resolution Board on a statutory footing. The establishment of the board was another key component of the recommendations of the pyrite panel report 2012. Part 2 addresses the necessary legislative provisions for establishing the board. I note that the board is already in place on a de facto basis.

I further welcome section 13 which sets out the arrangements for the board in establishing the pyrite remediation scheme. However, I note that section 13(1) makes reference to the draft scheme having to be prepared by the board and sent to the Minister for his approval "as soon as may be after the establishment day". I have tabled an amendment seeking that a limit would be put in place so that the draft scheme would have to be prepared within six months. We have waited long enough for the pyrite remediation scheme to be put on a statutory basis and I would be fearful that without an express time limit in place the scheme could be delayed further. I am opposed to the guillotining of the three historic and vital Bills being considered this week in the House but I did not oppose the Order of Business – neither did the Acting Chairman, Deputy Mathews - on the Pyrite Resolution Bill because we have waited long enough for action.

Section 4 refers to “significant pyritic damage”. I note that section 4(a) defines significant pyritic damage as follows: "(i) damage condition rating of 1 (with progression), consistent with pyritic heave, or (ii) a damage condition rating of 2, consistent with pyritic heave, in each case established on foot of a building condition assessment carried out by a competent person...". I am concerned that this definition appears to restrict the applicability of the pyrite remediation scheme to the most severe cases of pyrite damage. However, many hundreds if not thousands of households have been affected by significant pyrite damage, albeit not all at the upper end of the scale to date.

Members are aware that Homebond stopped compensating home owners for pyrite damage in August 2011. However, I understand Premier Guarantee continues to process claims for pyritic damage. HomeBond's suspension of processing pyrite claims means that a large number of home owners are not receiving any remediation for pyrite damage. The definition of significant pyritic damage in section 4 could, in practice, be rather restrictive and could therefore potentially exclude thousands of home owners from the scope of the pyrite remediation scheme.

I wish to raise some concerns about the new provision contained in the Bill as passed by the Seanad. Section 19 provides for the deferral of decisions of the board on applications under the pyrite remediation scheme in circumstances where "a builder or developer of a dwelling has instituted or invoked dispute resolution procedures arising out of or in connection with pyritic heave affecting a dwelling owned by an applicant...". I assume the amendment has been introduced on the basis of the need to allow the legal process to conclude before a decision would be made on an application for pyrite remediation to the board. However, one could ask what happens to the home owner in this instance. I note a home owner may make a submission seeking that the decision not be deferred. However, the decision on whether to defer will be at the discretion of the board. I have concerns that, in effect, the legal process could be used to deny assistance to home owners under the scheme, which would be a very negative development.

While I warmly welcome the legislation to finally establish the Pyrite Resolution Board, I must express my opposition to the approach taken by the Government to many aspects of the legislation. The absence of a pyrite levy or any provision to put a levy in place is a shocking indictment of the Government and its lack of will or ability to tackle the wrongdoers and help out ordinary citizens who are really struggling. The Bill protects big business, the flotilla of developers and their out-of-control friends in the banking industry – whom the Acting Chairman, Deputy Mathews, has so eloquenty spoken about so often in the House - from their obligations. It also absolves the totally quiescent previous Government of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. The behaviour of the Green Party on the matter was among the most disgraceful I have witnessed in this House. I refer to the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. Gormley, and his ministerial colleague, the current leader of the Green Party – or the remaining tiny faction of the party – the former Deputy, Mr. Ryan. They were in power in this House for three and a half years and did not lift a finger to help so many hard-pressed householders. I welcome the fact that at long last we are taking action on the matter. I note the presence of Deputy McEntee, whose father played a tremendous role in pursuing the matter vigorously on behalf of those affected in County Meath and north Dublin.

It is fitting this legislation is now in place. The Minister should have kept his promise on the pyrite levy, however.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. I share the constituency of Dublin Bay North with Deputy Broughan who eloquently laid out the issues in question. Both of us raised this matter with the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, and his predecessor from the Green Party for some time. The Bill is a major step in the right direction in helping residents of pyrite-affected homes.

When in opposition, I, along with the now Minister, Deputy Hogan, the late Shane McEntee and the now Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, visited some of the residents affected in the Santry area. It is one of the legacy issues of the rapid construction of homes throughout Dublin and other areas during the Celtic tiger, a sign of the madness that prevailed during the building boom.

The Bill provides for the establishment of the pyrite resolution board which will be responsible for implementing the pyrite remediation scheme. The initial funding of €10 million is quite small, however, for what will be required. The Government will provide up to €50 million to cater for an expected 1,000 affected homes. This problem, however, might be bigger than that. My colleague in the Seanad, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, has claimed over 10,000 homes could be affected with total costs coming to €460 million. Will the Minister give some clarity as to what the final costs will be?

It must be remembered the consumer is the innocent party in all of this. Home owners discovered the HomeBond guarantee is sadly not worth the paper on which it is written, with those affected by pyrite left out to dry. I have seen at first hand the difficulties caused to relationships by this issue. On top of that, many of the home owners have to deal with negative equity and mortgage arrears. I am glad the pyrite resolution board will do what it says on the tin.

Like Deputy Broughan, I am concerned by the substantial costs for the taxpayer if a pyrite levy is not imposed on the industry which allowed this to develop. A standard testing method must be introduced as there are varying costs associated with the various testing methods currently available. While the Government claims there are only 1,000 homes affected, up to 10,300 could be affected and it will not be for many years that their problems will emerge.

The repair work to affected homes is very intrusive and home owners have to leave their properties during the remediation. It has been claimed that the costs of flooring will not be covered under this Bill. Will the Minister clarify this? I am concerned that some affected home owners cannot get home insurance as a consequence of informing insurance companies of their pyrite problems. While I know the Minister does not have regulatory control in this area, I hope the Financial Services Ombudsman can investigate this issue to ensure further obstacles are not put in the way of home owners once their homes have been repaired. Will the Minister confirm the date of the establishment of the pyrite resolution board?

There were several high profile court cases in this whole matter such as Mennolly Homes against Irish Asphalt and the Lagan Group which ran for 159 days. It was one of the most expensive legal cases in the State’s history. The moneys spent on legal costs could mean there is less to help the home owners badly affected. Credit must be given to Mennolly Homes which was the first construction company to publicly admit to having a problem with some of its homes, not like other developers and builders who went to ground and disappeared through bankruptcy.

Deputy Ellis raised the issue of Dublin City Council having to remedy local authority builds in Ballymun. It had to take Irish Asphalt to the High Court where, after 50 days, the judge found against the latter. This, however, will be appealed to the Supreme Court which causes more concern and stress for the residents affected.

I welcome the Bill. All affected home owners should get the necessary remediation and should not find themselves with no financial support to put right a problem which was no fault of their own. The Government also had to deal with the other issue of Priory Hall, another example of what went wrong during the Celtic tiger years. I am glad there is some white smoke in sight for home owners affected by faulty construction in the boom. The sooner the Minister gets the pyrite resolution board established and the remediation works completed, the better.

It looks like we have arrived at a point where the Minister of State can make her concluding remarks.

I know that the Minister was hoping to get back in time to reply to the debate, so I am not sure if it is in order for me to share my time with him if he gets back to the Chamber.

That is fine. I am advised that the Minister has been given a ten minute slot, so you can open that slot on his behalf.

On behalf of the Minister, I thank everybody who has participated in the debate. There has been a wide and strong interest in this issue, particularly from Deputies on all sides of the House who know from their constituents of the awful trauma that has arisen for people who suffered from pyrite in their homes. I know that this problem has been continuing for a number of years. I also wish to acknowledge the difficulties for the householders themselves and the extremely stressful situation they have had to endure over a long period of time. Deputies have also acknowledged that the primary responsibility for this problem does not rest with any Government, but with the industry. It is very much related to a period in the history of our country when the activities that went on in the construction industry left an awful lot to be desired. We have many legacy issues now, including pyrite, Priory Hall and unfinished estates, all of which we are addressing in one way or another. The Minister has been able to announce Government decisions on Priory Hall and on the pyrite issue, and that is the reason for this Bill today. Under my responsibility in the Department, we are working through the issues of unfinished housing estates, and we are making progress in that respect as well.

It has been acknowledged in the debate that no action was taken up until the time this Government took over. It has been a slow process. Everybody acknowledgers the complexity of it, the fact that there are issues involved, and the fact that there were different bodies that had to be engaged with. I know officials from our own Department put in much work to engage with the complexities of the issue, consulting with a variety of interests. Deputy Flanagan just referred to the insurance industry, and that industry's response proved to be very disappointing. There were legal issues that had to be addressed. However, we are in a position today where we have a Bill before us that addresses the problem and that has Government support. I welcome the fact that Members are very supportive of the issue, although I understand that they will want to tease out certain issues on Committee Stage, which is coming in the very near future.

The people living in houses affected by pyrite want to see a practical resolution to their problems, so that they could back to living a normal life that the rest of us assume we can have in our homes that have not been affected by pyrite or by any other of the legacy issues of the Celtic tiger, and that is the intention of this legislation and the Government. Putting this legislation on the Statute Book will allow us to implement the recommendations that were made, to set up the board and establish the process that continues from there. As we are able to bring the legislation forward, we will be able to move forward with the follow up from that.

A number of questions were asked about the timeframe and so on. I am sure that the Minister will address those in the debate on Committee Stage. It is also important to point out there is not always an immediate and obvious solution to problems in cases like this. It first needed a focused examination, followed by focused action on behalf of the Government. That will now be put in place.

I would particularly like to pay tribute to Deputies and former Deputies. I acknowledge the presence of Deputy Helen McEntee here. I know that her father pressed very strongly on the Government the need to resolve this issue, and I think it is appropriate that she is here today for this Bill to see that progress has been made. I would also like to acknowledge the role that has been played by other bodies that engaged in the process. I hope that we will now see progress in the very near future that will address the difficult problems that people have had to tolerate in their homes.

I want thank the Deputies for their contributions to the debate here this evening on this important Bill. I would also like to acknowledge the work and support of Deputies from all sides in House in trying to find a resolution to this appalling problem. Deputies have also mentioned the very important contribution of my friend and colleague, the late Deputy Shane McEntee, made to providing significant support and encouragement, and ultimately contributing enormously to bringing stakeholders together and finding a solution to this issue.

Deputy Cowen and others have suggested that the scale of the problem is understated, and a figure of 10,300 has been mentioned as being the number of dwellings that may be affected. While this figure is consistent with the pyrite report, it cannot be taken in isolation and must be seen in the context of the other figures in the report. In compiling its report, the independent pyrite panel included all dwellings in estates which were identified as having a potential risk to pyrite, irrespective of whether there was any evidence of pyritic damage or not. For example, in 23 estates with 3,250 ground floor dwellings, there was little or no evidence of pyritic damage, but nonetheless those estates were included to ensure that the figures for potential exposure took account of all possible situations.

It is certainly the case that not all dwellings in the estates identified to the pyrite panel as having a potential risk of pyrite problems will manifest pyritic heave, leading to significant damage, and the reasons for this are detailed in the report. They include hardcore material coming from multiple sources, different builders being involved in many of the estates and the fact that some estates were built over a period of time. At the time the pyrite panel undertook its study in March 2012, approximately 1,100 dwellings were remediated or in the course of remediation. It is likely this figure has increased since then. The figure of 1,000 dwellings which are believed to be currently in need of repair is supported by a number of positive indicators including the number of homeowners - approximately 850 - who have registered with the pyrite resolution board to receive an application when the scheme becomes operable, and also the number of homeowners who have applied for the exemption from the local property tax due to pyritic damage which I believe to be approximately 1,000. There is no evidence to support the contention that the figures are massively in excess of those. I was surprised that Deputy Cowen mentioned a figure of 72,000 as a potential number of-----

I do not know from where these figures are being plucked-----

From the lads who built them.

-----but I have commissioned a reputable, independent report to support what I am saying this evening.

The scheme is a targeted one to assist a restricted group of homeowners who have no other practicable options to access redress. It cannot be expanded to apply to all dwellings where there may be some minimal damage as well as to buildings other than domestic dwellings and to dwellings which have already been remediated. Mindful that the scheme is being funded from the Exchequer, we have to be realistic and understand that the scope of the scheme cannot be open ended. The funding available must be used judiciously to achieve the most efficient, cost effective and equitable outcomes. It is a scheme of last resort to repair homes affected by significant damage where the homeowner has no other practicable option for redress. The benchmark for inclusion in the pyrite remediation scheme is significant damage due to pyritic heave; this is defined as having a damage rating of 2 in accordance with the IS 398-1:2013.

I agree that those responsible should bear the costs and I have done everything possible legally to make sure that was the case. I engaged in protracted discussions with the stakeholders to try to broker a voluntary industry-led solution, and when I failed to get agreement from the parties involved I sought and received approval from the Government to impose levies on the quarrying and insurance sectors as a means of funding the scheme. However, there was a risk that if legally challenged, we would lose the case.

It would take some time for the case to go before the courts and the home owners who are badly affected would be left for another protracted period.

What about legislation in the public interest? The Minister could have done it.

There are constitutional issues on which the Attorney General must advise me. Deputy Broughan is an eminent lawyer.

We did it with the banks.

There was an agreement with the banks. There is no agreement here.

There was no agreement with the banks. We forced them.

Deputy Broughan has more legal advice at his disposal than the Attorney General, and I accept that he may have, but I have to go on the advice I get. The €10 million is initial funding with additional funding being allocated from the capital stimulus programme in early 2014 over a two year period. This scheme will be reviewed in 2015 and post-2015 funding requirements will be considered at that stage having regard to developments over the interim period. While it is not possible to confirm the number of dwellings that will require remediation after 2015, the considered view is that the numbers will be a small fraction of the number of dwellings identified in the pyrite report.

I again thank Deputies and my officials for painstakingly seeking to improve the scheme over the last while. It is ironic that we are approving this scheme in the week that is in it, the first anniversary of the untimely death of the late Deputy Shane McEntee, to celebrate the great, Christian involvement he had with so many families over the years regarding this matter. I hope we will be in a position to conclude the legislation tomorrow and to end 2013 by giving hope to a considerable number of people with this scheme.

The €50 million we were expecting to receive from the financial institutions was a loan to be paid back by the levies we were imposing on the quarrying and construction sector. For legal and constitutional reasons there was a doubt about it being possible to implement that. I will take every opportunity I get to extract necessary financial support from any sector, quarrying, construction or insurance, based on the legal cases before the courts and an analysis of the outcome of those cases. I will seek redress from those sectors at the earliest opportunity.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?


Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 19 December 2013.

Sitting suspended at 6.55 p.m. and resumed at 7.30 p.m.