I propose to take Questions Nos. 461 and 462 together.
The Expert Panel on Concrete Blocks was established by my Department in 2016, to investigate problems that have emerged in the concrete blockwork of certain dwellings in counties Donegal and Mayo.
In 2017, the report of the Expert Panel was published and included eight recommendations, which my Department is actively progressing with the relevant stakeholders, prioritising the implementation of Recommendations 1 and 2.
With regard to Recommendation 1, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) established a Technical Committee to scope and fast track the development of a standardised protocol. The standardised protocol will inform the course of action in relation to remedial works for all affected householders. The standardised protocol was published by the NSAI on 13 November 2018 and ‘I.S. 465:2018 - Assessment, testing and categorisation of damaged buildings incorporating concrete blocks containing certain deleterious materials’ , is available at www.nsai.ie.
The standard can be used to assess and categorise the damage in properties where the concrete blocks are suspected to contain the minerals mica or pyrite. Previously, there was no common way for engineers or homeowners to assess the damage caused by defective concrete blocks, in order to decide what, if any, remedial work could be carried out. The standard:
1. establishes a protocol for assessing and determining whether a building has been damaged by concrete blocks containing certain excessive amounts of deleterious materials (free or unbound muscovite mica, or aggregate with potentially deleterious quantities of pyrite);
2. describes methods for establishing the extent of the problem;
3. describes the scope of any testing required; and
4. categorises buildings, in accordance with the standard, providing competent persons with guidance on the appropriate measures to be taken.
With regard to Recommendation 2, my Department has been in contact with Engineers Ireland in relation to the establishment of a register of competent engineers for homeowners/affected parties’ reference. In June 2019, Engineers Ireland established such a register, which is available at www.engineersireland.ie/Services/I-S-465-2018-Register.aspx.
The register lists Chartered Engineers, who have the necessary direct professional experience, competence and specialist training in accordance with the requirements set out in ' I.S. 465:2018 - Assessment, testing and categorisation of damaged buildings incorporating concrete blocks containing certain deleterious materials’.
In October 2018, the Government approved in principle the development of a grant scheme of financial assistance to support affected homeowners in the counties of Donegal and Mayo to carry out the necessary remediation works to dwellings that have been damaged due to defective concrete blocks.
In May 2019, agreement was reached with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to allocate €20 million to a scheme for this purpose from within the €2.4 billion housing budget for 2019. Funding for future years will be agreed on an annual basis as part of the normal Estimates process.
The full terms and conditions of the scheme are being finalised, again in consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. This process will take account of the engagement that my Department is currently having with both Donegal and Mayo County Councils. In this regard, officials from my Department met recently with both local authority teams to discuss implementation arrangements for the scheme and further engagement will take place over the coming weeks.
On completion of this work, it is intended to revert to Government on the matter. The aim will be to complete the outstanding work without delay in order to ensure that the scheme can get underway as early as possible.