I propose to take Questions Nos. 238 to 241, inclusive, together.
In response to the emergence of building defects in dwellings, my Department and representatives from the local government sector reviewed the existing building control regulatory framework, in collaboration and consultation with industry stakeholders. This has led to a multi-faceted Building Control Reform Agenda, which commenced implementation in 2014 with the introduction of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014.
Under these Regulations, the owner of a building must assign competent persons to design, build, inspect and certify building works he/she has commissioned. They in turn, must account for their contribution through the lodgement of compliance documentation, inspection plans and statutory certificates. The roles and responsibilities of owners, designers, builders, assigned certifiers, etc. during building works are set out in the Code of Practice for Inspecting and Certifying Buildings and Works, which is available at the following link: http://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/2016-10-21_code_of_practice_for_inspecting_and_certifying_buildings_and_works_final_version.pdf. This has brought clarity and accountability, a focus on compliance with Building Regulations and a new order to bear on construction projects.
Enforcement of the Building Regulations is a matter for the 31 local building control authorities, who have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under the Acts and who are independent in the use of their statutory powers.
The National Building Control Management Project (NBCMP) was set up to provide centralised oversight, direction and support for the development, standardisation and implementation of building control as an effective shared service in the 31 Building Control Authorities. Under this project, the Building Control Management System (BCMS) was developed and rolled out. A Framework for Building Control Authorities was prepared to standardise work practices. A compliance support facility has been established and a training programme is being developed. Also, and most fundamentally, steps are in place for the continued strengthening of the inspection regime in Building Control Authorities to carry out meaningful risk-based targeted inspections of building works.
The Government has also approved the General Scheme of the Building Control (Construction Industry Register) Bill to establish a mandatory statutory register for builders and specialist sub-contractors. The main objective of the Bill is to develop and promote a culture of competence, good practice and compliance with the Building Regulations within the Builder community of the construction sector. The establishment of a robust, mandatory, statutory register of builders and specialist sub-contractors provides consumers with assurance that they are dealing with competent and compliant operators.
These reforms have already brought, and, through their full implementation, will continue to bring, a new order and discipline to bear on construction projects, creating an enhanced culture of compliance with the Building Regulations.
The reduced risk of defective buildings has provided insurance underwriters with sufficient confidence to introduce new latent defect type products in Ireland, despite a general retrenchment and conservatism in the wider insurance industry. These new products are first party insurance policies which cover damage and breaches of building regulations claims, to varying degrees. This means that the purchaser does not have to make a claim through the builder but can submit a claim directly to the insurer. This would be of particular benefit to a homeowner in circumstances where the builder or developer has ceased trading.
My Department is planning to engage further with Departments and Agencies with responsibility for insurance and consumer protection and industry stakeholders in order to ensure that homeowners and buyers are aware of products and options that are available to them when purchasing a new home.
However, it is important to note that under the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2014, primary responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the Building Regulations rests with the owners, designers and builders of buildings. As such, in general, building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved, the homeowner, the builder, the developer and/or their respective insurers, structural guarantee or warranty scheme. It is incumbent on the parties responsible for poor workmanship and/or the supply of defective materials to face up to their responsibilities and take appropriate action to provide remedies for the affected homeowners.
My Department does not hold a central record of building failures that have emerged. However, the Government has supported homeowners through a number of expert reports and investigations into legacy problems such as the Report of the Pyrite Panel (June 2012) and the Report of the Expert Panel on Concrete Blocks (June 2017). I also published a Framework for Enhancing Fire Safety in Dwellings (August 2017), which is intended to be used as a guide by the owners and occupants of dwellings where fire safety deficiencies have been identified, or are a cause for concern.
Where apartment buildings that are defective from a fire safety perspective come to the attention of the local authority fire services, they work with management companies and other stakeholders to ensure that appropriate levels of fire safety are achieved to minimise the risk to life. Actions are taken on the basis of case by case fire safety assessments.
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and in recognition of fears expressed for fire safety, the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management in my Department was tasked with co-ordinating a high-level Task Force to lead a re-appraisal of fire safety in Ireland. The Task Force's report, which was published recently, is available at the following link:
Report of the Fire Safety Task Force
The report makes a number of recommendations in relation to fire safety in apartment buildings, including, including:
- the registration of fire stopping sub-contractors;
- the roles and responsibilities of Building Management Companies e.g. to review and maintain fire safety arrangements, to keep a Fire Safety Register, to advise residents on what to do in the event of a fire alarm (in particular the evacuation arrangements); and
- that local authority Fire Services should offer training to Building Management Companies on key life safety issues.
The National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management has been mandated to carry through the recommendations of the report which are within my Department's remit and to oversee and report on the implementation of the report's other recommendations.