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Tom Hely, Tulla, representing his Ennis grandparents at a Pyrite protest. Sinn Fein's Eoin O Broin has said tighter regulation of building materials and processes must be introduced so that Clare’s pyrite scandal is never repeated.  Picture: Arthur Ellis.

Tighter regulation needed to ensure pyrite scandal not repeated

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TIGHTER regulation of building materials and processes must be introduced so that Clare’s pyrite scandal is never repeated. 

Making the keynote address at a major conference on the impact of defective concrete blocks, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin said that those responsible for the pyrite and mica issues must be held accountable.

The Sinn Féin spokesperson on housing is also the author of major study of building regulation in Ireland.

“This is not simply about apportioning blame,” he told the ‘Losing Your Home’ conference, hosted by the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS).

“It is important to understand who is responsible in order to cover costs and to ensure that families and homeowners get support. We also need to fix the system to make sure this never happens again. We have to use this opportunity to fix the mistakes of the past because no-one else should suffer.”

The author of Defects – Living with the Legacy of the Celtic Tiger, said it is right that the focus of action groups remains on securing 100% redress. ‘We need a much more robust regulatory regime,” he said. “If not, even if families do get justice, there is the potential for future scandals.”

Deputy Ó Broin described the history of building regulation in Ireland, outlining that until the 1990s, there was no State-wide system of controls. An attempt at regulation in 1976 failed and following the 1981 Stardust fire, the judge appointed to investigate noted that a lack of building controls had contributed to the severity of the tragedy. 

Another Bill drafted in early ‘80s was not passed until the 1990s. This was despite warnings over self-certification proposals and a lack of protection for home buyers. “It became the sole responsibility of the local authority to inspect if they so chose and to enforce [the law] after the fact,” Deputy Ó Broin said.

“No additional resources were provided to local authorities and then came the explosion of the Celtic Tiger and the building boom. There was a weak system of regulation and massive money to be made from construction.” 

Deputy Ó Broin said that, to him, regulation must tackle the issue of defective material as well as poor building practices. 

“Around 2014, we had the emergency of pyrite in foundations in Leinster as well as the issue of Priory Hall,” he said. Action taken in their aftermath brought some improvements, Deputy Ó Broin said, but it still fell short of introducing an independent regime of regulation by local authorities. 

“The situation today is not that different to what we had in the 1990s,” he said.

“Local authorities have powers to inspect local areas where materials are sourced and made. There is no statutory obligation and no target number of quarries to inspect. There is no paper trail for block manufacturing or quarrying.

“I asked a senior official if there had been any significant change to prevent these situations from recurring. They said that nothing has changed that would stop this from happening again.

“Local authorities are now more alert, but a robust, independent regulatory regime is needed. We absolutely need an independent building control and consumer protection agency. That should have the power and resources to properly regulate all aspects, from material supply to processes. It could also include a 100% redress scheme.

“That doesn’t mean anyone would have to wait for that agency to secure redress. It would be done in parallel with the update of the scheme. We also need the Building Control sections of local authorities to be properly resourced. These are professional people who are often treated like the poor cousin of Planning Sections, and treated as if they are peripheral to local authorities.”

Deputy Ó Broin said that in addition to the campaign for a fit-for-purpose grant scheme, legislators have to improve the regulatory regime. “There is a much bigger battle that we need to advance,” he said.

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