In the first instance, I would like to acknowledge the stressful circumstances which the owners and residents of buildings face when defects occur in their homes.
However, 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 important to note that while my Department has overall responsibility for establishing and maintaining an effective regulatory framework for building standards and building control, it has no general statutory role in resolving defects in privately owned buildings, including dwellings, nor does it have a budget for such matters.
Local authorities have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, the Housing Acts and the Planning and Development Acts, all of which may be relevant where fire safety concerns arise in residential developments. Fire services may inspect buildings in cases of defects or complaints in respect of fire safety. They work with building owners to ensure immediate risks are addressed, and put a plan in place for works to bring buildings into compliance. They have enforcement powers for cases where co-operation is not forthcoming, or progress cannot be made on an agreed basis.
In the interest of supporting owners and residents living in developments where concerns regarding non-compliance with fire safety requirements arise, it was agreed that a review be undertaken by an independent fire expert to develop a framework for general application. In August 2017, the Framework for Enhancing Fire Safety in Dwellings was published, 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. The Framework will also be of assistance to professional advisors, both in developing strategies to improve fire safety and in developing strategies to enable continued occupation in advance of undertaking the necessary works to ensure compliance with the relevant Building Regulations. The framework contains the following:
- an explanation of the statutory provisions in respect of fire safety, namely the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2014 and the Fire Services Acts 1981 & 2003, and the respective responsibilities of owners, designers, builders, occupants, local authorities;
- a range of actions that may reduce risk and improve the level of fire safety where deficiencies arise in dwelling houses, apartments and/or the common areas of apartment buildings; and
- a fire risk assessment methodology for professional advisors to prioritise the remedial actions, if any, that may need to be carried out on a dwelling.
The Framework is available on my Department's website at the following link: https://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/framework_for_enhancing_fire_safety_in_dwellings.pdf.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017, and in recognition of fears expressed for fire safety, my Department's National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management was asked to convene a Task Force to lead a re-appraisal of our approach to fire safety in Ireland. In its report, the Task Force acknowledges the importance of fire safety in apartment buildings and makes a number of recommendations in this regard and I have tasked the Directorate's Management Board with implementation of the recommendations within its remit, and oversight of the implementation of other recommendations. The Task Force Report is available on my Department's website at the following link: https://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/fire_safety_in_ireland_-_report_of_the_fire_safety_task_force.pdf.
Additionally, in response to the building failures that have emerged over the last decade, my Department has advanced a robust and focused Building Control Reform Agenda, including:
- Amendments to the Building Control Regulations;
- Establishment of a shared services National Building Control Management Project; and
- The ongoing development of new legislation through the Building Control (Construction Industry Register Ireland) Bill.
These reforms have already brought, and will continue to bring, a new order and discipline to bear on construction projects, creating an enhanced culture of compliance with the Building Regulations.