I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee. It is a great privilege for me to be invited to appear today. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about myself, in the sense of my experience and qualifications, as well as the Pyrite Resolution Board, which I hope to serve as chair. I will try to answer the committee's questions as comprehensively as I can.
I have spent most of my career working at senior level in local government, including working as Cavan county manager for ten years from 2004 to 2014. Before that, I was with Offaly County Council and Dublin City Council as director of services and senior executive engineer level. I worked in all service areas, including housing in particular, where we constructed quite a number of houses during a period when local government did construct a lot of houses.
The first decade of my career was in the private sector as a consulting engineer in large practices in Dublin. That is particularly relevant in that I understand the mentality of consultants and also managed a lot of contractors in that time. I hold an honours degree in civil engineering from University College Dublin and have postgraduate qualifications in accountancy, personnel management, public management and leadership. I am a chartered engineer and a fellow of Engineers Ireland.
For the past three years, since I finished in Cavan, I have worked in leadership development, strategic planning, organisational development and project management with a variety of bodies and boards in the public, private and voluntary sectors. I am currently chair of several boards and committees including the national rural water services committee, which oversees the whole rural water area, and the national rural water expert group, which allocates the finances. I was recently chair of the boundary review committees for Athlone and Drogheda. All of these appointments were made by the Government.
I currently chair a number of other bodies, including Cavan Sport and Leisure Company Limited, a private company running facilities in Cavan, and Cavan Institute, a post-second level institute with 1,400 students. That appointment comes to an end in September I was chairman of Cavan County Enterprise Board from 2004 to 2014. I serve on the board of the National Library of Ireland and chair its readers' advisory committee, which liaises with the people who use the library. My academic work includes lecturing in leadership and strategic planning in the Institute of Public Administration at levels 9 and 10.
When I was county manager in Cavan, I focused on strengthening governance processes and oversaw the establishment of the council's first audit committee. I drew up its risk register and achieved high levels of compliance in all Government and EU audits. In addressing challenging societal issues, in which I am particularly interested, I achieved a balance, I hope, between facilitating the voice and catering for the needs of citizens - including those in challenging situations - on the one hand and achieving value for money for the State on the other. By focusing on results and processes, successful outcomes were achieved in many areas and Cavan became an award-winning county in many fields. My principal focus at undergraduate and postgraduate engineering level was on soil mechanics, a topic very relevant to this post, including dealing with challenging ground conditions. I understand the construction industry and all its facets and diverse players.
The Pyrite Resolution Act 2013 sets out the respective functions of the Pyrite Resolution Board, PRB, and the Housing Agency. The Act mandated the PRB to draw up a scheme for the remediation of significant pyritic damage to dwellings, to accept applications from affected homeowners and to direct and oversee the implementation of a pyrite remediation programme. The pyrite remediation scheme sets out the conditions that must be satisfied to qualify for remediation under the scheme.
The Pyrite Resolution Board was established by the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government following the commencement of the Pyrite Resolution Act 2013 on 10 January 2014. The pyrite remediation scheme was made by the board on 12 February 2014 and amended on 5 February 2015. This scheme constitutes the framework for the application of the provisions contained in the Act and first came into operation on 13 February 2014. Its mission statement is "to procure the remediation of certain dwellings with damage caused by pyritic heave of hardcore under floor slabs in a fair, efficient, transparent and cost effective manner." The committee may be familiar with the terms. The hardcore is the stone underneath the slabs in a house; it expands and causes these horrific cracks to occur.
The PRB must be acutely conscious of the need to ensure that the expenditure of public funds is managed carefully, consistent with achieving the scheme’s objectives. To ensure value for money, framework panels have been set up for building professionals and building contractors following open tendering procedures and contracts for individual projects are subject to further tendering from these panels. Exchequer funding provided for pyrite remediation purposes is routed through the Housing Agency and the audited financial statements pertaining to such funds are contained in the Housing Agency’s annual report. There is a partnership approach with the Housing Agency.
The original geographical scope of the scheme was limited to the areas identified in the pyrite panel report of June 2012, namely, the counties of Meath, Kildare and Offaly and the administrative areas of Fingal County Council and Dublin City Council. The majority of the cases were in Fingal and the second highest concentration was in Meath. However, during 2014, reports were received of pyritic heave in a number of houses in two estates in the administrative areas area of South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councils. On investigation, the Pyrite Resolution Board was satisfied that damage attributable to pyritic heave was present in dwellings in those developments and recommended an amendment of the scheme to include those areas.
The process works as follows: the Pyrite Resolution Board accepts and validates applications under the scheme and oversees the implementation of the pyrite remediation programme for approved dwellings. The scale of the programme is determined by the availability of funding and other factors. The Housing Agency, subject to the direction of the PRB, remediates approved dwellings affected by pyrite and implements the pyrite remediation scheme. The Housing Agency also assesses and makes recommendations to the PRB on applications from homeowners for inclusion in the scheme. An audit and risk committee assists the board in fulfilling its oversight responsibilities and operates to the board’s approved terms of reference. The committee meets quarterly, comprising of a chairman, five board members and one external member with experience in financial accounting. The board's tasks include overseeing the process I have just described, and ensuring that a robust risk management system is in place.
The funding of pyrite remediation works is from voted Exchequer expenditure, allocated by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. The PRB approves expenditure profiles by the Housing Agency in respect of costs, commitments and expenses to the householders. In 2016, expenditure on the pyrite remediation programme amounted to almost €27 million, a very significant sum.
The status of applications at the end of June 2017 are as follows: the total number of applications that have come in is 1,798. The number of dwellings under remediation at the moment is 127. There is a scheme set up whereby a stream of things is happening. There are about eight stages in the process. That would be a typical number. Included in the scheme so far we have 1,309 dwellings. The difference between the 1,798 total applications and the 1,309 is that a number are awaiting validation. The number of closed cases is 109, which were not approved for various, mainly administrative reasons. I can give the committee further details on those cases if members are interested.
Looking ahead at the next three years, the challenge will be to maintain the progress. We currently have something that is working quite well but it would need to be assessed and perhaps improved as time goes on. We want to complete the requisite number of repairs. The need to deal with applicants fairly, with empathy, objectively and consistently and in accordance with legislation will underpin the work of the board, as it has to date.
Comprehensive oversight of the complex processes involved in inviting and initially assessing applications, overseeing the work of expert consultants and contractors, focusing on minimising disruption to the families involved and delivering value for money will demand that the board performs its functions efficiently and effectively. If it happens, a family will leave the house for a 12-week period and expenses will be paid for board. It is a huge disruption to the family to have mini-JCBs in their living room digging up the floor. An ever-increasing emphasis on corporate governance will result in ongoing significant focus on this area.
I hope I have demonstrated to the committee that I have the expertise and corporate governance experience to chair the Pyrite Resolution Board. I thank the members for their attention to this matter and I am very pleased to answer any questions they may have.