Building Control Bill 2005: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It gives me great pleasure to address this House on the occasion of the Second Stage of the Building Control Bill 2005. The Bill was amended on both Committee Stage and Report Stage in the Dáil and has benefitted from a detailed examination in the other House. I believe it will be seen in years to come as one of the most progressive pieces of consumer law to be brought forward in recent decades and I hope it will win cross party support.

The Bill achieves good consumer protection on a number of levels. It will assure the public that people calling themselves architects, building surveyors and quantity surveyors are properly qualified. Perhaps more importantly, it strengthens the enforcement of building control law to ensure that Ireland's high building standards are fully adhered to.

The Bill also makes a further move in implementing the Government's commitment to persons with disabilities by requiring commercial buildings and apartment blocks to be certified as being compliant with the disability access requirements of the building regulations at design stage. It will be an offence to open or occupy a building without this certificate, where required. This provision has serious economic and legal implications for the owner or developer of a building. I am particularly pleased to introduce the measure because it is foolhardy for people to build without providing proper access and shows scant regard for the rights of citizens.

The Bill, as published, had provided for energy rating of houses and commercial buildings as required under the EU energy performance of buildings directive. However, as the Bill had not been enacted on time, I made the European Communities (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2006 on 19 December 2006 and they have been operative since 1 January 2007. Accordingly, these sections were deleted on Report Stage. Ironically, criticism was made of my decision to introduce the regulations early.

The issue of Ireland's building energy rating has been topical recently and was debated in this House before Christmas. For this reason, I wish to correct some misconceptions and misstatements about Ireland's performance in this area. A campaign by one player in the construction sector alleges that Ireland is behind the game in energy performance and the Government has shown bias towards the concrete sector. I expect politicians to be sensible enough not to listen to lobbyists but there is always scope for disappointment. Both assertions are wrong. The first is nonsense while the second is at variance with the facts. Ireland has among the highest standards in the European Union, a point independently verified by the European Insulation Manufacturers Association.

My Department does not discriminate in favour of particular sectors of the construction industry. We introduce standards and it is up to all sectors to respond and meet those standards in the flexible manner allowed under the building control system. The issue is not the building medium but the standard.

We have increased energy conservation standards on three separate occasions since 1997 alone. It should be noted that Ireland's building energy standards compare very well internationally. Data produced by the European Insulation Manufacturers Association showed that Ireland's insulation standards are among the highest in the European Union. We have the second lowest energy loss through walls, behind Sweden, and the lowest loss of energy through roofs. These facts will come as a surprise to those who believe every lobbyist who crosses their path. Furthermore, I will shortly commence a review to increase the energy efficiency of new homes by 40% or more as part of our new national climate change strategy.

It has been also asserted by the same lobbyist source that Ireland is behind the game in introducing the new building energy rating system. This is not the case. Prior to the new EU directive on the energy performance of buildings, Denmark was the only country in the European Union which had a building energy rating system. Four member states introduced the system last year and Ireland is one of seven countries introducing it this year. The suggestion that Ireland somehow lags behind is false, at variance with the facts and a self-serving misstatement by a lobbyist. To illustrate the point, the European Commission has sent a formal legal reasoned opinion to 16 member states, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Spain, for their failure to notify sufficient implementation measures. Ireland does not have such proceedings pending.

It has been asserted that my Department has opposed the introduction by local authorities of higher energy standards. This assertion, which is also made by a particular lobbyist source, is at variance with the facts. In the most recent case involving Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council my Department commended the council on seeking to promote more sustainable development in energy performance of the built environment. I have left papers on this matter with the Ceann Comhairle in the other House.

The Building Control Act 1990 provides the statutory basis for the making of our national building regulations which have been operative since 1992. The regulations specify the statutory requirements for the construction of new buildings and material alteration-material change of use of existing buildings. They comprise 12 Parts, A to M, covering areas such as structure, fire safety, materials and workmanship, sound insulation, conservation of fuel and energy and access for people with disabilities.

The related technical guidance documents provide guidance to designers and builders on how to comply with the various Parts of the regulations. While use of guidance documents is optional, they are in practice treated as the "bibles of building" and used almost universally by the construction industry. They are a best seller, at a modest price, in the Government Publications Sales Office but are also available to view or download, free of charge, on my Department's website at I understand the technical guidance documents are among the top “hits” on the website.

Changes are made in accordance with best practice for modern regulation. Draft building regulations are prepared, in consultation with the broadly based building regulations advisory body, and are subject to widespread public consultation. The net result is that the definitive building regulations generally win widespread support within the industry.

It is now timely to review and update the Building Control Act to meet the challenges of construction today. In particular, there are four areas with which the Bill is concerned. Part 2 is the amendment of the Building Control Act 1990. The Bill provides for changes in the fire safety certificate regime, as recommended by the building regulations advisory body. The changes include the introduction of a seven-day notice or fast track procedure which must be accompanied by a valid fire safety certificate application and a declaration that the applicant will carry out any modification works required by the fire safety certificate, when granted. This will cater for builders who are anxious to commence work on urgent projects without waiting for up to two months for the application to be processed.

In addition, new applications for a revised fire safety certificate will be required where a building design is changed to comply with conditions attached to a planning permission. A further change will be the making of applications for regularisation certificates where buildings have commenced or been completed without the necessary fire safety certificate, subject to the necessary documentation and declaration that the works comply with the fire safety requirements of the regulations. The 1990 Act contained no provision to remedy such cases, although authorities dealt with such problems on a pragmatic basis locally. It was important that we should have an option to do this variation in law.

Part 2 also provides for the introduction of a disability access certificate. Part M of the building regulations, which has been operative since June 1992, sets out the legal requirements for access to and within non-domestic buildings for people with disabilities. This was extended to new dwellings from 1 January 2001. It is often too late to seek to remedy disabled access deficiencies once construction is in progress or when a building is finished. For this reason, the Government has decided to introduce a disability access certificate system, along the lines of the fire safety certificate system, for new non-domestic dwellings. This provision implements a core recommendation of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities.

Once enacted, the legislation will prohibit of the opening, operation or occupation of a building until such time as a fire safety certificate, disability access certificate or revised certificate is granted.

On enforcement, to have a credible building code we must have in place proper compliance with the code and strong enforcement measures. The local building control authorities are at the heart of our building control enforcement process. The Bill will enhance the enforcement powers of the authorities in a number of ways. The powers of building control authorities to seek High Court injunctions will be extended to remove works or stop work on buildings or projects which do not have fire safety certificates, disability access certificates or regularisation certificates, or where there is non-compliance with enforcement notices served by the authorities.

The prosecution process will be simplified by providing local building control authorities with the option to institute summary prosecutions for all building code offences in the District Court, as an alternative to prosecution, on indictment, by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Circuit Court. In the recent past, householders have in good faith engaged unqualified persons who pass themselves off as building professionals to undertake the design and planning of new buildings or extensions. That is unacceptable. Under this Bill, only qualified persons whose names are entered on relevant national registers will be entitled lawfully to use the title of architect, building surveyor or quantity surveyor.

Parts 3 to 5, inclusive, provide for statutory protection of the titles of architect, quantity surveyor and building surveyor by restricting their lawful use to qualified persons whose names are entered on a statutory register to be established in accordance with the provisions of this Part. The Bill provides that the registration system for architects will be administered by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, RIAI, and that the registration system for building surveyors and quantity surveyors will be administered by the Society of Chartered Surveyors, SCS.

The various Parts specify the eligibility criteria for automatic admission to registers. They also set out processes and procedures designed to ensure all applications are treated fairly and in a transparent way. The Bill provides for the setting up of independent admissions boards; technical assessment boards, together with procedures for assessment of applicants who are ineligible for automatic registration; professional conduct committees to deal with disciplinary matters; and appeals boards to determine appeals against decisions of any of the aforementioned boards or committees. There will be an ultimate right of appeal against decisions of the appeals board to the High Court. It is proposed that the majority of members of the various boards will be non-building professionals and that each board will be independently chaired by a retired judge or a lawyer.

The Bill also provides for the payment of registration fees, appointment of registrars to deal with administrative matters and penalties for misuse of the professional titles. There will be considerable benefit for consumers when seeking to engage architects or surveyors following the enactment of this Bill. They will have access to a statutory register with the assurance that all names registered are those of professionals with proper qualifications. Parts 3 to 5, inclusive, also take account of the recently adopted EU directive on mutual recognition of professional qualifications, which will be relevant in the case of qualified building professionals coming from other EU member states.

Part 6 provides for the preparation of codes of professional conduct and standards by the two registration bodies for registered members of both the architectural and surveying professions. This Part also sets out procedures for the examination of complaints made to the professional conduct committee regarding alleged misconduct or poor professional performance of registered professionals, for a mediation process if considered appropriate, for the conduct of an inquiry into such complaints and for the attendance and examination of witnesses under oath. It further details the procedures to be adhered to following such inquiry and the measures the committee may take where a registrant is found guilty of proessional misconduct.

The professional conduct committee will have the powers, rights or privileges vested in the High Court or a judge of the High Court in enforcing the attendance of witnesses, examining witnesses under oath or compelling the production of documents. Witnesses will have the same immunities and privileges as witnesses before the High Court. There is a right of appeal to the appeals board against decisions of the professional conduct committee, with the ultimate right of appeal to the High Court. In addition, the name of a registrant may not be removed from a register unless confirmed by the High Court. The processes and procedures under this Part are designed to ensure that all professionals against whom a complaint of alleged professional misconduct is made are treated in a fair and impartial manner.

Part 7 provides for various miscellaneous measures for the effective administration of the registration scheme, including provisions regarding the procedures of the registration bodies, terms of office, payments and so on. It also provides for the prosecution of offences.

This is positive legislation which I trust will be welcomed by all parties in the House. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators and I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss this important Bill. I have spoken on many occasions in the House and lamented the delay in bringing legislation before it. This Bill is especially long overdue given the statement by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, RIAI, that it represents the culmination of a campaign that has lasted 119 years since it first sought in 1886 to have registration for Irish architects. In both its emphasis on the registration of architects and its broader implications, I welcome and, in principle, support the Bill. However, there are areas where questions must be asked, answers must be forthcoming and some amendments must be made.

The Bill establishes a register for architects, building surveyors and quantity surveyors, strengthens enforcement of existing building control law, allows for the energy rating of buildings, and legislates for the disability requirements for commercial buildings and apartment blocks. Fine Gael fully supports these aims, many of which are long overdue. We particularly welcome proposals to make regulation of professional qualifications watertight, with special provision being made for the so-called grandfather category.

The first Part of the Bill changes the procedures set out in the Building Control Act 1990 with regard to the fire safety certification and disability access certification of buildings. It was apt that this Bill was put before the Dáil on the anniversary of the Stardust tragedy, the like of which we must never see again. Under this legislation, new buildings, extensions and buildings which undergo major alteration, including a change of use, must have a fire safety certificate and disability access certificate. If a building is found to be without these certificates, the enforcement authorities can require steps to be taken to ensure the requirements are met. It can also require that the building be removed or work on it stopped, or it may prohibit the use of the building.

The disability access certificate is a confirmation by an approved building professional that the designs of new non-domestic buildings and apartment blocks comply with Part M of the building regulations which deals with access for people with disabilities. The Bill increases the fines associated with violations of the building regulations. In addition, it is hoped the enforcement powers of the building control authorities will be strengthened under the Bill. They will be empowered to initiate proceedings for offences under the building code by way of summary prosecution in the District Court rather than through prosecution by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Circuit Court.

The National Disability Authority, NDA, has produced several documents on the accessibility of buildings to disabled people. In a submission to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the review of Part M of the building regulations, it recommended, among other provisions, that the definition of disability used in Part M should reference the Disability Act 2005 and should include people with a range of impairments including, among others, people with hearing, speech, vision, mental health, intellectual or physical impairments, including those impairments that limit mobility, arm movement and hand movement.

The NDA also recommended that significant enhancements be made to the current technical guidance document to increase the accessibility of buildings. It also advised that technical guidance standards for non-residential buildings in the key problem areas should be raised to the best international standards and that the standards set out in Part M should be reflected in other parts of the building regulations.

The Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disability Federation of Ireland proposed that the Bill be amended to increase the sanctions for breaching the building regulations and to ensure that the non-compliant pay the cost to the enforcement authorities of the investigation and prosecution of the breach in regulations. They also recommended that a published consultation process take place before work commences on any construction in all major public developments and that the regulations on disability access and use of a building should be the same in this Bill as in the current building regulations. They further advised that an access statement should form part of the planning application. Fine Gael brought forward amendments in the Dáil that would have covered many of these recommendations. However, they were considered in the main unnecessary and were rejected by the Government. I will raise these issues again on Committee Stage.

The Bill provides for the legal transposition of certain provisions of the EU directive of 16 December 2002 on the energy performance of buildings, including the phasing in over the period 2007 to 2009 of a building rating certification process for all newly constructed dwellings. Poor insulation and energy standards in the past eight years have resulted in the construction of substandard houses and, as I said on another occasion in this House, could leave the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and the State, open to charges and the State exposed to claims for compensation. Whether the owners of the 250,000 supposedly substandard houses constructed on this Government's watch choose to take legal action is entirely their call, but the prospect hangs over the Government's head.

In the light of such deficiencies, there are a number of other measures I would have liked the Bill to contain. There is no reference to sound insulation. One of the miseries of modern life is the ability to hear one's neighbour's life happening moment by moment, even though one is separated by a party wall. There is no reference to public buildings taking the lead on alternative energy and being fitted for geothermal or solar energy technology. Insulation and the issue of cavity blocks are ignored. Senator O'Toole raised that issue in a Private Members' motion some time ago and we had an excellent debate on it in the House.

Other sections of the Bill refer to the proposed registering of building professionals: architects and building and quantity surveyors. The registering of those professionals should mean that the public is protected from unqualified professionals. Those professions will move from self-regulation to State regulation. In the case of architects, the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, RIAI, will be the registration body and, in the case of quantity and building surveyors, it will be the Society of Chartered Surveyors.

As these are professional bodies which represent the professionals involved, there could be concerns about the impartiality of the organisations in becoming registration bodies. Such concerns have been voiced with regard to other professional bodies with a regulatory role such as the Medical Council and the Law Society. Their members may try to use the registration requirement to limit registration or the body itself may try to force non-members to become members against their will in order to register.

When enacting and protecting any professional occupation, the concerns of consumers as well as competition concerns must be taken into account. Consumers must be protected from unscrupulous practitioners, but not at the expense of restricting competition in the sector. The Competition Authority recommended that the registration body be independent of the representative bodies to allay competition concerns. The Bill in its current form does not do that.

Of particular concern to me is the so-called grandfather category of architects who are without formal qualification but who have been practising in excess of ten years. When exemptions are sought for this group, as I intend to do, we must not lose sight of the influence of many of our most prominent architects who are responsible for changing the face of our built environment, such as Michael Scott and Sam Stephenson, both of whom could be said to have had mixed training.

I have received representations from the Group of Independent Architects in Ireland, GIAI, which, with the Architects and Surveyors Institute, the Incorporated Association of Architects and Surveyors and the Irish Architects Society, has contributed to a document entitled A Framework for Registration of the Architectural Profession in Ireland, the framework document. That document indicated that, in any new regime or in the event of the regulation of the profession, a grandfather approach would have to be taken to persons who were practising as architects without having formally qualified as such. The document also outlined the method of assessment to be applied to persons falling within the grandfather category which would enable them to register as an architect based on training acquired by practical means while also acknowledging their established right to practise without formal qualifications.

However, at variance with the approach proposed in the framework document, the RIAI, the proposed designated registration body under the Building Control Bill 2005, is determined to impose a technical assessment based on recognition of prior learning, RPL. The Competition Authority's report states that the RIAI will face a clear potential conflict of interest between representing the interest of its members on the one hand and regulating in the public interest on the other.

RPL requires a candidate to demonstrate an achievement of learning outcomes and is not based on experience per se. It is entirely inappropriate, therefore, and against the spirit of the framework document that such an approach should be used to assess those I described who fall within the grandfather clause. The GIAI has serious reservations about this assessment system being used for the purpose of assessing so-called grandfathers under technical assessment. This grandfather group is de facto a mature group, currently in practice, with the majority running their own practice with employees, and the assessment process should reflect this group’s status as a finite grandfather group.

In addition, the GIAI submits that the application of this assessment system is entirely inappropriate on the grounds that it is neither equitable nor consistent with the assessment procedures adopted by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when previously assessing those persons who are now on what is known as the Minister's list and which category of person is referred to in section 12(2)(d).

The GIAI fully supports the aim of this Bill to introduce a system of registration for architects and for the elimination of rogue architects, but while its members do not have a formal architectural qualification, they have gained many years' expertise through practical learning. This Bill fails to prescribe the method of assessment to be used for those seeking registration. It gives the new registration body a free hand to choose any method of assessment it wishes.

What is of major concern to the GIAI and to me is the fact that the mechanism for the assessment of existing architects as proposed under the Building Control Bill would, by its inherent flexibility, permit a departure from the approach envisaged in the framework document in recognising a grandfather group. This occurs because of the failure of the Bill to prescribe the actual method of assessment to be used. The grandfather group has the qualifications and I believe their concerns, and those of the GIAI, are reasonable. I will press this issue further on Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the introduction of the Bill. The legislation deals with a complex area, namely, the quality and sustainability of our housing and public buildings. The measures to be put in place, and some of those already in place, will ensure the future quality and sustainability of our buildings. As the Minister pointed out, we have high standards in this country regarding the way buildings are designed and built. This legislation will reinforce many of the measures in place and, for that reason, it is to be welcomed.

The Bill is good news in particular for people with disabilities. There have been major strides forward in the past ten years in terms of access and services for people with a disability and this Bill is another step forward in that regard. The disability representative groups and bodies will say that those with a disability do not want to be treated differently from other people. They want to be treated equally. My experience of dealing with various disability groups is that they accept that major changes have taken place.

However, able-bodied people can only imagine how it feels not to have access to a public or private building. It is only by talking to such groups and the various representative organisations that we get a feel for what it must be like not to have equal access to certain public buildings, including cinemas, pubs and clubs. The changes made in the Bill will be welcomed by the majority of the bodies concerned. I welcome that all new buildings will be required to be certified as having disability access. I agree with basing it on the same lines as the fire certifications.

Senator Bannon mentioned the Stardust tragedy and there have been other incidences which, fortunately, have been less grievous. Certification and enforcement of fire safety regulations is crucial, especially in public buildings that hold large crowds for sporting or social occasions. The licensing and certification of the safety of people who use these premises is crucial. Over the years, we have had issues with compliance and the enforcement of regulation, particularly in the area of fire safety. The resources have been invested in this area in recent times, especially in the local authorities. The fire chiefs and the fire services in the local authorities have responsibility for enforcement and inspection to ensure compliance with the required conditions for fire safety. The Bill makes it easier to enforce safety regulation by supporting the fire safety authorities, which is a welcome introduction.

Following the Stardust tragedy changes were made. The public need to have confidence in our fire safety regulation and its enforcement. I welcome that people now have far more leisure time and are spending more time in public places. This legislation will ensure the safety and protection of those people.

I wish to speak about apartments. The past ten years have seen an explosion in the development of apartment dwellings in my area. There are plans for up to 10,000 more units in the next five to eight years. They represent a different way of living for people given that we have always had a culture and tradition of two-up two-down, semi-detached or detached houses on a small piece of land. That has changed dramatically in recent times. Incentives were given to developers to provide accommodation when it was really needed and people were crying out for decent housing. At the time, I remember the argument was whether the apartments being developed then would become the slums of the future. Most of the apartment complexes that were built ten to 15 years ago have proved to be anything but slums. They are well built, well maintained and well managed. People are quite happy to live in them in an urban setting in the centre of Dublin city.

However, this does not apply to all apartment complexes. Some of them have fallen through the net and have been of very poor quality. Some of them have major issues regarding the materials used and with the functionality of lifts, electrics, windows, etc. However, in my experience the majority of apartment developments are completed to a very high quality. While there are issues regarding size and the numbers of bedrooms, such matters are being addressed by the Department on an ongoing basis. A number of reviews are taking place into apartment quality, size and the facilities that accompany apartment buildings.

This legislation will ensure that all apartments built in the future will be sustainable. In a small number of the complexes in Dublin, the apartments were not sustainable. There were no common areas, access was very bad, and very little parking space was provided in a number of them. Simple matters such as storage areas, including hot presses and space to store kitchen utensils, can be crucial to people living in apartments. The issue of noise and its abatement also arises. Apartments represent a cultural change for people and we are still coming to terms with it. In countries like France, apartment dwelling is a natural part of life and has been for many years. We need to ensure that apartment complexes, whose residents are forming very organised, settled communities, continue to be sustainable in the future. All the services that we enjoy in suburbia, including schools, shops, etc., should be provided. I welcome the huge improvement in the quality and design of apartments and the materials used in the past ten years.

The Bill introduces measures regarding professional qualifications. When people hire the services of a professional, such as a dentist, general practitioner or architect, they expect that professional to be fully qualified and a legitimate practitioner of that profession. Over time, there have been questions about who is qualified and who can use titles such as architect and building surveyor. The Bill finally gives people getting a small extension built at the back of a house, business people investing in a business and developers building housing of any kind recourse to verifying on a register that the person they hire for a professional service is a legitimate practitioner. The Bill will provide an element of comfort to people hiring the professional services of an architect, quantity surveyor or building surveyor. I welcome the sections that provide for the management of such professions. Each of those areas will have a technical assessment board, a professional conduct committee and an appeals board. At the end of that process in the case of a dispute, people will have recourse to the courts.

In any fair system that would be legitimate. If somebody wants to employ a professional, he or she needs to have a guarantee that person is properly qualified in the area in which he or she is practising. If there is a problem with the service being provided, there needs to be a place to which one can go to make inquiries and remedy the situation and, if not, to take some action. That is a legitimate right for anybody who employs a professional. The safeguards provided in the Bill will ensure professionals who provide that service will have to comply with the regulations and that it will be in their own interest to do so.

The codes of conduct and fitness to practise sections will ensure the service being provided by these professions will be at the standards required. We are complying with EU directives in respect of qualifications and professional qualifications, in particular those of other member states. That can be of benefit to us. We need quantity surveyors, town planners and people to help us plan into the future. If we cannot get them in this country, we will have to them elsewhere. The legislation will ensure everybody is on a level playing pitch. The way in which it is framed will be to our benefit in the long run.

I wish to share time with Senator Norris.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister to the House and listened to his erudite explanation on issues dealing with insulation and heat loss, on which he and I disagree. I tend to agree with the other player referred to in the construction industry on that argument. When watching television last Friday night, I said to my wife that I might take the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, and Gerry McCaughey to lunch some day and sit between them and try to get this issue sorted out.

It would be an interesting lunch.

I was not going to go down the road of either person's argument. I was about to suggest looking at it differently. I agree it is a mistake not to outlaw hollow block building. I believe we should do that and there is an overwhelming argument for doing it. In terms of independent surveys, there is one to match the other. The Minister can say one, I can say Nicholas Stern. The Minister can say another, I can say UCD. The Minister can say "heat loss", I can say "heat maintained". I would prefer to use the international figure for the amount of energy it takes to heat a cubic metre of house space per year. We can argue up or down, one way or the other. I raised these issues with the Minister previously.

I noticed recently in one area in Spain a decision has been taken that all new houses must have solar panels installed. Why could we not insist in this legislation that every new house has solar panels attached to it? What would it cost? I have costed it and I have had it installed and know the exact energy savings. That the grant scheme has not been extended to cover wind generators is a mistake. That should be done. In terms of the carbon footprint, etc. the Minister and I know that methane is 20 times as dense as carbon and that methane is the real problem.

Despite the fact that we have promised, time and again, to charge for waste collection by volume, weight or bin, why is it there are still local authorities that charge an annual amount? One can send out a barrow load every week and nobody makes any change. While that is not the main issue being debated, perhaps the Minister would examine it.

Two years ago I made the point here that the two greatest issues facing communities in Ireland and which would cause local authorities most aggravation — a hearing is taking place today — were energy and waste disposal. Why not look at a situation where if local communities are prepared to look after their energy needs and waste, they would be given a tax break? That is a sensible idea. It is a properly incentivised approach and it would work. One would then get a real debate.

The Minister will recall that I tend to agree with him on the question of incineration. From what I read, incineration must be part of any future discussion. Like the Minister, I disagree with the idea of nuclear energy but I would like to hear a discussion on the balance between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion, a debate which has never taken place in this House. At least nuclear fusion is controllable. If there is a need for a compromise, that is where it should be. These debates have not taken place. They are issues for another day and, perhaps, I will set up that lunch for the Minister and Mr. McCaughey and act as referee to see if we can write an agreed minute and move it forward.

I wish to deal with the protection of the term "architect". I chaired the audit review group. Having done that, it has been accepted by the Committee of Public Accounts that we failed to protect the term "accountant", which was not possible at the time. In the meantime, legislation has been passed to protect all sorts of nomenclatures of different people in the medical area, veterinary surgeons and others. We are now looking at the issue of architects. I wish to share my experience. I agree with what the Minister is doing in the Bill. I agree with the idea of protecting the title of "architect" and the other titles. I agree that the Competition Authority's report on architecture makes some valid points, but I do not agree completely with it.

Let us look at the argument Senator Bannon and the independent architects have made. It is not rocket science. I do not agree with all their arguments but they made a fundamental point. If I were advising them, I would them I would advise them to stick to the fundamental point. People who are doing a responsible job in the community deserve protection from this legislation. How can one go about doing it? Can it be done? It has been done in many cases previously.

In one former life I dealt with it in the case of what used to be called untrained teachers. We had to find a way to deal with the issue when we brought in the teaching council and regulations. It required flexibility, training, education, an openness of approach and recognition of a transition period between where we were and where we wanted to go. If we are certain about where we want to go, we know we will arrive there. If compromises must be made, we should make them. That should be done by means of a structured process in a responsible way. We did it for teachers by establishing courses to allow them avail of various training. What was the qualification of the man or woman who designed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? What was the architectural qualification of the builder and designer of the Pyramids——

They were both members of the RIAI.

——or the Ponte Vecchio in Florence? We must assume there are good architects who never had a qualification. The independent architects may have gone overboard with the argument but they have made the point. We have moved from there to architects and professionals developing at the knee of the master. That is the way the profession developed. The independent architects must recognise that we have moved on to another level and they should accept that. In fairness, I think they do.

The independent architects have one objection. They disagree that it should be the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland that decides. I have no problem with the architects doing it but the way they do it must satisfy me. The concerns of the independent architects are well founded. I am also a member of the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority which has always had to deal with it in terms of independent auditors and accountants and which had to make changes and be flexible without dropping standards. We had to raise standards all the way. I would like us to reassure the independent architects that we do not want to bury them and that we are trying to attain standards and, by agreement with them, to find a way to move them into this system in a way that will protect them, their livelihoods and the decent work carried out by those good people in that area.

I thank my colleague, Senator O'Toole, for making his time available to me. This is a very important matter. Architecture is a most important and honourable profession. I regret that my university does not have a faculty of architecture, which is a great shame. There is one in the National University of Ireland. I wonder why, even under this Bill, people with architecture degrees are not automatically regarded as professionally qualified architects. They should be regarded as such. It seems a nonsense to have a qualification but not be regarded as professionally qualified.

The need for this kind of regulation is perfectly obvious in my neck of the woods. A scandalous situation arose where some gobdaw up the road in Gardiner Street got several Georgian houses, painted them green, sectioned off everything and stuck a group of immigrants into them. It was an appalling business. This man claimed to be an architect and nobody could deny him that. He just said he was an architect and nobody could take it away from him. That person should not be allowed to practise. The really horrible situation was that, while he was in court being convicted of one thing, the planning department of Dublin Corporation gave him permission for exactly the same thing in the back yard. There is something really rotten in that.

This is why we need a body that is independent. The RIAI is a wonderful body. I have spoken at various charity functions and know some of its presidents. I delight in the appellation "royal", but it is as odd as the Friends of the Library, of which I am chair. The RIAI has not had a proper election in 50 years. It does exactly what we do, namely, go into a darkened room with a few bits of cigar smoke, poke out all their pals and say, "Here is the next president", to which everybody replies: "Yes". That is it and good for them. That is the way things should work, but it is not the way things can be seen as independent.

I noticed that the Minister did not take on board a reasonable amendment from Deputy Quinn, even during the guillotined debate in the other House. This amendment would have secured a degree of independence. If one wishes to regulate things properly, one must have independence.

What about the money? A total of 10% of the RIAI's money comes from subscriptions. What about the other 90%? Where does it come from? It concerns me. The Minister is very clever, nimble on his feet and a great smear artist. He shoves in a piece here about one player who says this, that and the other. He should name and shame his pal. Senator Leyden is a great one for naming and shaming. Why does the Minister not come right out and wallop it to them, whoever they are, and let Members know? However, we all know that his Government and party have been unhealthily close to the construction and cement industries. The Minister can laugh, smirk and snigger as much as he likes, but we know this is true. We must ensure the body that regulates the architectural profession is not only clear of this but seen to be so.

What method of assessment will be used for these people?

It struck me that Senator Norris must come to that lunch.

I would be delighted to come. I accept that Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were not qualified. There is a need for a so-called grandfather clause of some kind, but I do not see any reason there should not be proper assessment. It seems quite reasonable to me.

However, there are a few problems with matters such as certification. I have been supplied with some hypothetical situations which are worth putting on the record. What about somebody who won a court action on the basis of technical evidence supplied by somebody who put himself or herself forward as an architect but did not have the kind of qualification required and is not subsequently recognised? Could that judgment be nullified retrospectively? If a client lost an action before the enactment of the Bill, could he or she go back to the court and say he or she lost it because the person who gave evidence against him or her subsequently failed to have themselves registered and acknowledged as an architect? Is this possible?

The question of fairness and anomalous situations then arises. I have been presented with a hypothetical case. I received a letter from a proud father which stated:

My son is an architecture graduate from UCD and has just returned home after working for twelve months as an architect in Germany. One of his European colleagues has returned with him, and both are seeking new jobs in Dublin. My son's friend is able to assert that he is suitably qualified and has no examinations or tests outstanding that bar him from Registration in Ireland. (See Article 46 of the EU Directive, 2005/36/EC.) However, my son must work for a year more before then being permitted to take an obligatory test in order to be Registered as a architect, here in his own country. Both have EU recognised architectural degrees, both were treated as equals abroad and both have one year’s working experience. Why are they not equals here?

I have an affection for the RIAI. I have been in its premises in Merrion Square and enjoyed the company of its members. However, Joan O'Connor stated in a radio interview that architects are not exactly immoral, they are amoral. Like barristers, architects are guns for hire.

The Minister should look at some of the crap that is being perpetrated in this city. The phrase may be unparliamentary, but I use it advisedly. Look at Telephone House in Marlborough Street.

The Senator is using it in a Joycean sense.

Absolutely. Look at Telephone House in Marlborough Street where a row of perfectly fine 18th century domestic dwellings were demolished. The site was sold off to the pension fund of a British trade union and that monstrosity was built and won an architectural award because of the slime running down its wall. It is an appalling monstrosity. They have carried out some titivation on it so it is not quite as bad. When the IRA finally decommissions, will the Minister decommission whatever gelignite it has left in that site——

The Senator's time has concluded.

May I make a final point?

Very briefly.

Will the Minister try to ensure that there are fewer one-bedroomed apartments with no parking spaces in the city of Dublin? This creates a volatile, transient community whose cars are parked on the street. Having alienated all my friends who are architects, I thank God that few of them are graduates of Trinity College and I leave Senator O'Toole to deal with the backwash of anything I said to him last night.

The latter point is being dealt with.

I welcome the Minister to the House and commend him on bringing this Bill before it because this issue has been going around for some time. It was left on the backburner for a long time and not given great priority, although European directives were involved. The Bill involves more than the registration of architects because it is a building control Bill. It is essential that a number of its features are introduced.

The feature which has created the greatest degree of interest is the registration of architects. I will declare an interest. I am a member and fellow of the Irish Architects Society. The RIAI has decided to bring the society under its umbrella when this Bill is passed. It is important for me to put this on record. Although I am not involved in it, I am still in the registration system in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I am concerned about the fact that the registration system for architects will be administered by the RIAI, which I expect to be a member of after this Bill is passed. I would still prefer if it was administered by an independent organisation, as opposed to one group. This concern has been expressed by many.

I have some concerns with aspects of this Bill which will affect certain architects who currently practise in this country. I refer to the section of the Bill which outlines the procedure for the registration of architects. There is a fear on the part of some architects that this Bill may put them out of a job. This is a matter of deep concern to them. They are recognised as architects, have a number of buildings behind them, have a proven track record, have been practising for more than ten years, are successful in their trade and have made a major contribution to the economy. However, under the terms of this Bill, they may have their livelihood taken from them, which is their great fear.

I regard it as unconstitutional to deprive someone of their livelihood, irrespective of European rules and regulations. If people who have been practising in the architectural profession up to the time of the enactment of the Bill can prove they have practical experience of architecture and have been working as architects, they should not be deprived of being registered as architects under this proposed legislation. Proof of their case could be the use of the word "architect" in a letterhead or in signing documentation. It would be a great injustice if we were to deprive people of their livelihood. Following enactment of the Bill, to use the title, "architect", it will be necessary for people to have qualifications and apply for registration. That is a fair warning to anyone who wishes to practise in this profession in future. If a person wishes to practise as an auctioneer and valuer, he or she must apply to the courts for registration.

The independent group which represents professionally trained architects without formal qualification who have been practising for more than ten years has voiced concerns about the method of assessment to be used to assess those seeking registration. The new registration body to be set up as a result of this Bill can choose its own assessment procedure. This may mean an academically focused test could be put in place and this method of examination may not be the best way of examining practically trained architects with years of experience behind them. It would be preferable for them to be judged on the quality of the buildings they designed.

There was a closing date for registration of architects in 1997, and many were informed soon afterwards whether they had made it on to the list of eligible architects. However, many architects were not informed by the Department of the closing date or even that there was such a registration process. I expect the Minister will reply that advertisements were taken out in the national media to give people adequate warning. I have sought to get a list of registered architects from the Department. I do not know whether the Minister intends to make that list available on the Department's website or elsewhere. It does not appear to be available currently. I would like to know how many names are on the list and I also want to check whether my name is on it.

People have been left out in the cold on this issue and it is important that we remedy it. To apply rules retroactively to a group of people who have been practising architects for many years is a costly and time-consuming business. It is also unfair and puts undue pressure on professional practising architects. In general, when introducing a new rule, it was thought wise to apply the rule to all future situations, while letting existing situations carry on as they were. This has come to be known as the grandfather clause. While I do not like the name, I agree with the sentiment behind it. It is a question of acknowledging experienced practitioners of the architectural arts. Many successful practices have great track records and employ other qualified architects. A commonsense approach is required.

The Minister is a practical politician with vast experience. I do not think it is his intention to put anybody out of business but this may be a consequence of enacting the Bill as it stands. People are concerned. I have received numerous representations, as I am sure has the Department, from the group concerned that represents approximately 60 architects. These, and the list of people who were excluded, may constitute the maximum number of individuals who will be affected. If somebody without qualifications wanted to practise as an architect from today, it would be difficult for him or her to justify the case for registration. I do not intend to table an amendment to the Bill and I accept it may be difficult for the Minister to have to bring it back to the Dáil but I urge him to examine the views put forward by Members of this House who are being fair and reasonable about the approaches made to them.

I met a practising architect yesterday who is very concerned about the future. We are all facing a test in a few weeks. The Minister will face the general electorate and I will face the Seanad electorate. That is our profession and we must put our names before the people for ratification. I hope the Minister will be successful and will return to Government again. When people have been practising architecture daily, rearing a family, paying debts and making a contribution to society, they should not be deprived of their livelihood by legislation enacted by this House. That is my concern and I hope the Minister will devise some procedure to ensure the recognition of those who have accumulated years of practical experience working as architects and who can put forward a portfolio of the work they have executed over a number of years as architectural technicians, draftsmen or architects.

In fairness, an appeals system, the details of which the Minister outlined, will be in place. Ultimately, I hope nobody will be deprived of a livelihood and I know that is also the wish of the Minister. I urge him to recognise the experience of architects who have been practising for years as opposed to academic qualification alone.

I welcome the opportunity to raise some issues regarding the Bill. Previous speakers touched on most of the major issues. I agree with what Senator Leyden said in his opening remarks, that this issue has been long-fingered in recent years, which is a pity in light of the scale of construction that has taken place in the past ten years. I refer in particular to the grading of insulation for new developments. Perhaps the Minister can confirm or deny a statistic I read recently, namely, that somewhere between a quarter and a third of all housing units in the country have been built in the past seven or eight years. If it is correct, that is an astonishingly high figure. We should have gone down this route a number of years ago.

I share Senator Leyden's reservations about some aspects of the Bill but, on the whole, I welcome it. He objected to his inclusion in the so-called grandfather category of architects. I will not refer to him as that.

I am not in that category.

He is in the godfather category.

It is essential that those who have full architectural qualifications would be acknowledged, but equally, people who have practical experience of working in the business over many years should also be acknowledged. There will be an opportunity for further discussion in that regard.

An area of particular concern to me has been that of enforcement in planning. While there has been an improvement in local authorities, there is still not enough enforcement among the local authorities with which I deal. There is not enough follow-up by planning departments to ensure adherence to all of the conditions of planning.

I agree with the sentiments raised by Senator O'Toole and others in a Seanad debate six months or a year ago on the use of hollow blocks in construction. There is a compelling case for banning the use of hollow blocks in new developments. They are not used in most parts of the country but they are in certain areas, especially some parts of Dublin city.

We must extend the environmental grants scheme introduced 18 months ago. We must also examine installing solar panels in new housing developments. Some people suggest solar panels are not practical in Ireland but they should be included in Government buildings and civic facilities. Improvements have taken place but not enough has been done.

I welcome the Bill but we must examine the so-called grandfather category mentioned previously. The categorisation of houses based on the standards of insulation must also be addressed. There has been much poor development over the past 12 years in terms of insulation and architecture and perhaps this Bill is a case of locking the door after the horse has bolted. The Government can ensure that new developments will be much better than those over recent years.

I echo Senator Norris's comments on the recently constructed building. There have been shocking examples of apartments in the most unsuitable places. I come from south Kilkenny but my local town is New Ross, County Wexford. The Minister was born in County Wexford. Some of the apartments built in New Ross are examples of appalling planning, even worse than the bad planning in Dublin city. I welcome this Bill if it can ensure such bad design can be avoided. I may have a deeper discussion and table amendments on Committee Stage.

I am disappointed by the lack of historical imagination shown by some speakers. People have no idea how ancient civilisations were organised if they believe the wonders of the ancient world, such as the pyramids or the hanging gardens of Babylon were jerry-built by people without qualifications. Just because we cannot decipher the hieroglyphs or the library of Alexandria has been lost does not mean these professions were not regulated. The master guilds were closely regulated in the Middle Ages, in a hierarchical manner. They existed under the ancien regime until the French Revolution. If we had examined the Statute Law Revision Bill some of the Acts repealed related to crafts that are no longer in so much use.

The Minister has a clever formula for controlling admissions. The professional bodies are in charge of admissions but the majority of the admissions board is appointed by the Minister, a reasonable compromise. The codes of conduct are important. In the economy in which we live, mutual recognition of qualifications across the EU and, subject to qualification, elsewhere is desirable. The hidden protectionism we and other countries had for the past 20 years is not appropriate to the thriving global economy we now have.

If enforcement is to be effective there is no point in fines being payable to the Exchequer because there is no financial incentive. If fines are paid to local authorities they have an incentive to enforce. Enforcement has left much to be desired in the past.

We approve of disability access and fire safety measures in buildings. Energy performance and insulation is important. We have forgotten how raw the Irish climate can be. One realises this when reading the records of the number of soldiers who died of climatic effects waiting for the battle of Kinsale. Climate and poor habitation had quite a bit to do with the 1 million people who died during the Famine of the 1840s. We have improved our housing stock beyond recognition. We should pay tribute to the quality of public and social housing during the early decades of the State. Many have lasted very well and have undergone improvement in private hands. They look very well and compare favourably with what was built 40 years later.

We now have choices that we did not have 30 years ago. Apartment living was not a possibility, with very few exceptions. It is widespread on the Continent in both capitals and provincial towns. More apartments are now being built in provincial towns and the standard of many of them is excellent. At the lower end of the scale, one wonders how well small, box-like structures will last and to what extent they will keep their value. I came across some apartments in Cork city that were very damp. This should not happen and, now that we have overcome the shortage of accommodation, there should be more emphasis on quality rather than quantity.

I encourage people to adopt alternative energy supplements. I would not make it compulsory but conservation and efficiency are important. If one lives in an older house, too much insulation leads to dry rot. One must be careful. Concern was expressed on the Order of Business with regard to apartments entirely taking over the city, removing facilities such as hotels, filling stations and schools run by religious orders and invading green spaces and clubs. Many of the finest capitals in Europe — Vienna is one example — have green squares at regular intervals. I am utterly appalled at suggestions by people with so-called environmental credentials that we should allow half of St. Anne's Park in Raheny to be used for housing. We should value our green spaces and not lightly give up any of them except for the most pressing and convincing social purposes, and certainly not just to make speculative profit for builders.

The Minister is probably aware of a problem I increasingly encounter, that is, interruptions of the water supply. Public water supply is just as essential as electricity. Interruptions might be due to a combination of factors, including the effects of global warming and all the building taking place throughout the country. However, when I was canvassing last Saturday with a councillor, he was constantly dealing with telephone calls about the water supply being cut off for several hours for the second day running in a local village. In some cases interruptions are due to upgrading works but our water supplies are coming under pressure. The Minister and his successors will have to seek more money from the Department of Finance to ensure people can be confident of their water supply in the same way as they are, broadly speaking, confident of their electricity or gas supplies. Water is vital for many forms of economic activity, particularly in the tourism industry.

People of certain political tendencies tend to throw around comments about my party's closeness to the construction industry. There has been huge development in this country in the past 20 years. Not all of it was good but the majority was. We should be proud of that development. Dublin is a terrific city compared to what it was 20 years ago, when it was rather run down, or 50 years ago, when it was shabbily genteel and contained many slums.

In most provincial towns people welcome development. They are glad when new housing is built and that there will be a larger population to support better commercial, recreational and sporting facilities. For a long time there was no development and the population was declining. Most villages in my constituency have small housing estates, with many of them built in the past two years or so. Incidentally, they appear to be high quality housing in so far as I can judge. We should welcome that and be proud of it. If that type of development is one of the engines firing the economy, so be it. There is nothing wrong with it.

I note the Minister accepted amendments to the Bill in the Dáil. That made a substantial difference to it. I hope he will also listen to us in this House and that he will see fit to accept amendments which will improve the Bill. The Bill deals with many issues. I agree with the last point made by Senator Mansergh. I am tired of being targeted with the accusation that we are the builders' friends. I have never heard anything so ridiculous. Of course, we should seek to have proper buildings and developments and to provide affordable and social housing for people. However, that does not imply one should be labelled the builders' friend or carry that tag. I would love to have builders as my friends but I do not. It would be nice to have such friends.

I have two reasons for raising the following issue, one of which is education and my awareness that there are several ways to acquire proper qualifications in addition to simply having technical titles after one's name. I refer to a group of people who are a long time in the business of designing buildings, surveying, making bills of quantity and doing all the other tasks required to produce proper housing developments. There has been some consultation with the Department on this matter. The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, RIAI, will decide the assessment of the people who are a long time in the business and seek recognition under this Bill. I am worried about such an arrangement.

I do not know if the Minister is listening to me or writing, but what I am saying is important.

I am taking down every word.

The Minister is not, and I know he is not. I would be glad if, instead of writing up other people's comments, the Minister might listen to mine.

The RIAI by its nature, regardless of how fine the individual members are as architects, would be elitist. Its members have got their qualifications and are, as it were, kings of the walk. They would seek to put a cordon sanitaire around those whom they would allow into their enclave. In that regard, I am uneasy that the RIAI will be the assessor of the qualifications of people who have been in the business for a long time and who seek recognition under this Bill. I say this from the education point of view. I am well aware that when people seek to enter third level college as mature students, what is taken into account is not so much their record of prior learning, although that has its place at a basic level, but life experience, the various positions those people have held, how they influenced events and how events have influenced them. That type of experience is often better and can be assessed.

I hope the Department could become the assessor of people with prior experience who were admitted to the building business under the grandfather clause. I dislike that term as I find it somewhat denigratory. However, it is in common usage. I was lobbied about this issue and received extensive documentation on it, as is probably the case with every other Member. As I read the documentation I thought about all the people I know who went into third level education but who did not, perhaps, have a leaving certificate or the necessary points. However, they had lived life and that life experience stood to them.

These people have lived their lives by working in a particular profession, be it quantity surveying, surveying or architecture. That has been their business. That experience should be the telling fact, rather than prior learning. I hope our spokesperson, Senator Brady, with the Minister's help, will be able to put forward an amendment which will take cognisance of this factor. I feel strongly about it because I know many people who have gained so much knowledge and have gone so far after getting their third level qualifications. They simply did not have what one should have had when entering third level education. Life experience should be taken into account. I have always felt strongly about this, particularly with regard to women.

I hope the Minister was generous enough to take amendments when the Bill was taken in the Dáil. I hope he will take on board amendments which the Seanad may bring forward.

The Leader is giving us homework.

I must apologise that my mobile telephone went off. I never bring it to the House and that was the first time.

I welcome this detailed Bill that recognises many aspects of building controls such as fire safety, disability access and parking in new developments and building standards authorities. Credit is due to architects and surveyors for the work they have done in building developments. Irrespective of what profession, there will always be the odd exception. However, my dealings with architects and surveyors have been very professional and I found them very thorough in their approach.

Members commented on the various types of buildings and fire safety. It must be recognised the number of people promoting different types of building. I am a strong advocate of concrete-built buildings. I have seen situations where minor fires were controlled because the concrete was able to hold them. I recall a timber-structured building that went on fire. In less than an hour, there was nothing left but the steel scaffolding around the building. It brings home the importance of fire safety in construction design. Thousands of timber framed buildings are being erected. Those involved in this type of construction must err on the side of caution for fire safety in design and construction.

The proper inspection process for foundations is a necessity. They must be checked to see if piling is required so that there will not be problems in the future. Section 4 provides for a seven-day notice to a building authority before commencement of a project. This is important. It is also important that the building authority has the adequate professional staff to ensure detailed inspections are undertaken. Section 5 provides that buildings over 1,000 sq. m. have alternative energy systems in place. We know errors have taken place. Often in building projects, there have been changes to the design adding extra costs. It is always asked who is responsible. It must be ensured that professional bodies are properly bonded and that a Government body or local authority will not be left carrying the can.

I welcome the appeals process for professionals who may be affected by decisions of the admissions board to their professional bodies. Credible building codes are to be welcomed. I compliment all concerned with the developments that have taken place in this regard. It is easy for the media to highlight how a development may not fit into its environment. In time, it may be shown that the development was architecturally outstanding.

Senator Mansergh spoke about the importance of proper and good water supplies. It must be recognised that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has allocated substantial funding to local authorities to enable them to put in place excellent water schemes. If local authorities were doing their job and planning ahead with development plans, the problems with water supplies would not be happening.

I compliment the Minister on the Bill and hope it sees speedy passage through the House.

I listened with great interest to various valuable contributions. Senator Norris, my good friend, introduced a sense of levity to the situation. However, we are dealing with a serious issue and this legislation was long overdue. As Senator Bannon stated, the longest lobby in democratic history must have been the one to register the name architect.

The Bill has three main objectives. First, it is to strengthen the enforcement powers of local building control authorities. Second, it aims to improve the accessibility of buildings for people with disabilities, a matter precious to me. I am pleased to be the Minister pushing this through and I know all Members share my anxiety in that. Third, it provides for the registration of the titles of architect, quantity surveyor and building surveyor.

Contrary to Senator O'Rourke's assertion, I was listening attentively to contributions, including hers. It is safe to say there is universal support in the House for the introduction of a disability access certificate. I want to make such universal access a reality and believe this Bill will achieve that.

Senator Bannon asked that local authorities be able to take summary prosecutions through the district court, something for which the Bill provides. The Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, undertook in the Dáil last week to consult the parliamentary draftsman regarding amendments tabled by Senator Bannon's party. Those amendments would allow local authorities to recover the cost of enforcement action, and I am considering that.

The Senator also mentioned that all sides of the House have welcomed the registration of architects, quantity surveyors and building surveyors. There is more or less universal agreement that the time has come to protect consumers from unqualified persons passing themselves off as building professionals. Among the great scourges in planning are those characters who draw houses essentially on the back of an envelope, trying to pass themselves off as architects. Some quite extraordinary charlatans are operating. I have seen in various local authority areas, including in my constituency, the appalling efforts that have been accepted. Young couples have had to pay through the teeth for the results of the extraordinary and slipshod approaches taken. It is very important that the titles of architect, quantity surveyor and building surveyor should be registered.

Architects will have the option of joining the RIAI, which is not mandatory. Senator Leyden, in an interesting contribution, asked regarding the list and mentioned previous difficulties in getting hold of it. I have therefore made arrangements for it to be placed in the Library.

Several Senators, including Senator O'Rourke, who has unfortunately left the Chamber, raised the technical assessment process for non-graduates. In particular, she and several others mentioned the Group of Independent Architects, the GIAI. The procedure for that assessment will be carried out by the technical assessment board to be established under section 19 of the Bill. However, that will have a majority of non-architect members, appointed by the Minister. As Senator Mansergh correctly spotted, it is quite an elegant solution to the problem that Senator O'Rourke and others raised, namely, that there might be an element of incestuousness.

Senator O'Rourke also mentioned concerns regarding elitism. The RIAI was agreed as the registration body by all the other architectural bodies, including the Irish Architects' Society, the Association of Building Engineers, the Architects' and Surveyors' Institute, and the Group of Independent Architects. It was not picked because of the appellation "royal" or any sense of elitism. On the issue of control, the RIAI will have to prepare annual reports and detailed accounts, and registration fees will be approved by the Minister. Senator Norris mentioned his concerns on both those points, which will be addressed.

Senator Leyden mentioned the question of providing a way for people with practical experience to register, as did Senator O'Rourke. Section 20 sets out the procedure, which enables a person to put forward information on projects that he or she has carried out, the very point raised by Senator O'Rourke. The technical assessment board, which will have a majority of lay members, will conduct an interview.

Senators Brady, Norris, Mansergh and others touched on the need to improve the standards of apartment buildings. I could not agree more. I am fully aware of the slime-coloured building mentioned, as well as one or two other monstrosities. Senators Norris and Brady will both be interested to hear that I have issued proposals on improved standards for apartments, particularly their size and layout, in order that there might be a better mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments.

The last category will suit families, and Senator Brady pointed out that if we are to achieve greater housing density and prevent urban sprawl, we must create apartments that are user-friendly and family-friendly, with basic amenities such as storage facilities and laundry rooms. There are now some very good examples, especially where the Dublin Docklands Development Authority is making a very real effort. I know from talking to the Taoiseach that he takes a more than merely constituency interest in it. It is interesting to see what is beginning to be realised.

Senators Brady, Norris and Mansergh spoke about the need to improve the standards of apartments and their general appearance, a suggestion to which I would sign up. Senator O'Rourke asked about restricting an architect from practising if he or she has not registered or was unsuccessful in the assessment process. It simply means that such a person will not be able to use the title of architect.

The assessment process, to which several Senators, in particular Senator Leyden, referred, was carried out in 1996 in connection with a proposed amendment to the EU architects directive then current. Some 170 architects were successful, just more than 50% of those who applied for the assessment, and as I have already said, the list is in the Library.

Senators Mansergh and Moylan both touched on water supply. Senator Moylan in particular raised a favourite point of mine. I am increasingly impatient with the level of delivery. Last Thursday in Castlebar, I was in the very happy position of announcing the biggest allocation ever made by a Minister in the history of the State towards rural water schemes. We have invested hundreds of millions in the past two years. The president of the Group Water Scheme Federation said he had never thought he would see the day when one could envisage an end to second-rate water in the rural countryside. The money is there, as is the building capacity, and I urge councils to be much more ambitious than hitherto.

Senators Mansergh and O'Rourke also mentioned the building and construction industry. I am at a loss as to how people in the Oireachtas and politics in general can continue to demonise it and the political choices it has made. Let us remind ourselves that 250,000 men and women now work in the industry producing first-rate houses and commercial buildings at a higher rate than anywhere else in Europe. In 1988, just 20 years ago, there were 71,000 people in the building and construction industry. If I were a carpenter, plumber, bricklayer, roofer or building supplier, I know I would have a political preference, and people have the right to make such choices in a democracy. There has been continual demonisation of the industry. They are not all saints or devils, and I cannot understand it.

The issue of technical assessment was touched on. The RIAI will not set the technical assessment for non-graduate architects. That will be done by the technical assessment board to be established under section 19. The procedures are set out under section 20. The suggestion that there might be some incestuous attempt to protect vested interests is refuted. The RIAI will be the registration body, and section 11 requires the establishment of an admissions board. A prudent balance has been struck in this case. Three architects will be appointed to the board, together with four non-architects nominated by the Minister. It will be chaired by a retired judge, solicitor or barrister.

Senator Moylan mentioned fire issues regarding timber construction. Fire safety is imperative irrespective of the building medium, and any medium subject to fire obviously imposes its own specific constraints. The Senator mentioned a particular instance, and a recent case in north County Dublin caused me concern; a tiny spark on an external balcony led to a fire in internal wall cavities that destroyed at least five homes. Questions will have to be asked in that regard.

A general issue raised was the energy performance of Irish buildings. On occasion I suggest things to the media, who do not always listen, but I make the following suggestion to Members of the Oireachtas and the public in general. A myth has developed that energy performance in Ireland is uniquely low, but that is a complete untruth. It has been put about by one particularly powerful and loquacious individual with deep pockets who is a timber lobbyist. I would argue that people should look at each medium on its individual merits. The suggestion that the Government shows bias to the cement industry is risible, particularly given my own relationship with some of the bigger people in the concrete sector where I have been regarded as one of the biggest thorns in their side. It is astonishing that this mythology is trotted out repeatedly.

The first point, that there is a particular bias towards concrete, is an absolute myth. The fact that this myth is peddled in the self interest of one lobbyist is demonstrated by the fact that the timber industry——

The Minister ought to name and shame him.

It would be improper for me to name somebody who is not in the House. The Senator's colleague has already done it.

Will the Minister tell me privately afterwards?

I will tell the Senator privately afterwards. However, the self-serving myth that has been put around is nonsense. It has been very well put around by a lobbyist who buys a lot of advertising space. If it were true, one would have a hard time explaining the wonderful penetration which has been made by the timber sector in building and construction. Some great work has been done there. I believe it is a very good medium which has made a major contribution towards allowing us to build out. We should therefore stop dealing with the myth and deal with the reality instead.

The second and more important point, however, concerns an argument that is simply untrue. It is suggested that Irish homes are somehow or other sub-standard, whereas we have houses that are among the highest standards in the European Union. The proof of that is as follows. The European insulation manufacturers' association, which has no specific interest in arguing the case for one medium or another, made the point that Irish standards ranked very highly. They found that we have the second lowest energy loss through walls behind Sweden, and the lowest loss of energy through roofs of any EU state. So a myth has been propagated in that regard.

The second myth that has been propagated is that somehow or other we are lagging behind Europe. I will deal with this matter again because it annoys me. In the last ten years alone there have been three separate occasions on which energy ratings have actually increased in this country. I have made a proposal that we will shortly increase the energy efficiency of Irish homes further, by 40%, which is part of the climate change strategy.

Another extraordinary point has been made which shows that those who make it know very little about Europe or reality in general. It is the suggestion that Ireland is behind the game in terms of European comparisons. In my introductory remarks, I mentioned that prior to the EU directive being put in place, Denmark was the only EU member state that had a building energy rating system. Four member states introduced such a system last year and we became the fifth, having introduced it as and from 1 January this year. That suggestion is therefore simply untrue. It is a myth that is put around by a particular lobby yet, amazingly, without ever checking the facts, people in our media accept it. It is disappointing that people in the Houses of the Oireachtas have also accepted it.

This year, some seven countries will adopt energy rating systems, of which Ireland was the first. To illustrate the point further, the European Commission has sent formal, legal, reasoned opinions to 16 member states. Ireland was never part of that process. It has also been asserted that my Department has been reluctant to support local authorities in this area. The charge was not made in this House but in the Lower House. In fact, we have commended Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for its efforts.

I wish to thank and compliment Senators for their contributions, some of which were scintillating and in Senator Norris's case, Joycean — written in a language that most people do not understand, but that was Joyce.

Too vulgar for the Minister, I am afraid.

Yes, vulgar too, that is right. I wish to thank Members of the House for their contributions, however. I have always believed — and I have said so in this House so many times that I have probably said it to the point of tedium — that wisdom does not reside in any one side of this House or of the other Chamber. I am always willing to listen to any amendments that are proposed.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 13 March 2007.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.