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  • 2023-07-13 Housing Committee - Defective Concrete Blocks - Homeowners, Government & Industry Professionals

    Part 1 - Mica Action Group, Clare Pyrite Action Group, North Mayo Pyrite Action Group, Expert Working Group for New DCB Scheme, Engineers Ireland, Society of the Chartered Surveyors of Ireland

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. This morning the committee is meeting. We have two meetings today. We're going to split the session into 90 minutes each. We're meeting today to discuss the defective block scheme regulations and a review of IS.465.

    In the first session we're joined from the expert group, we're joined by Mr. Paul Forde, the chair of that group, Martin Lynch, general manager of the pyrite remediation scheme. From engineers Ireland, we're joined by Damien Owens, director general and Keelan Keogh policy officer. And from the society of chartered surveyors of Ireland, we're joined by Shirley Coulter who's the CEO and Kevin Brady chartered quantity surveyor. And from the MICA action group Donegal, we're joined by Lisa Hone. We're also joined remotely by Martina Cleary of the Claire Pyrite Action Group joining us online and Martina Hegerty of the North Mayo MICA [sic] group. I just checked that you can both hear us okay who are online. Okay, that's great. You're very welcome.

    We've been circulated with the opening statements. Now this is a 90 minute session. We have six minutes to vote. We have six opening statements to be made. So if everybody can keep their opening statements as brief as possible, it'll leave time for questions from members. And the order I'm going to go in for the opening statements is the expert group, Mr. Forde Engineers Ireland - Mr. Owens, SCSI -Ms. Coulter, Donegal group, Ms. Hone, Claire group Dr Cleary, and Mayo group, Ms. Hegarty. So I'll call you in that order.

    So quick note on privilege before we begin. I wish to remind members of the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present during the confines of the place where the parliament has chosen to sit, namely Leinster House in order to participate in public meetings. For those witnesses attending in the committee room, you are protected by absolute privilege in respect of your contributions to today's meeting. This means you have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything you say at the meeting. But members and witnesses are expected not to abuse the privilege they enjoy and it's my duty as chair to ensure that this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if your statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, you'll be directed to discontinue your remarks and it's imperative that you comply with any such direction. For witnesses attending remotely, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and as such, you may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a person does who is physically present. Members and witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. The opening statement submitted to the committee will be published on the committee's website after this meeting.

    So I go first to Mr Forde to make the opening statement on behalf of the expert group, please.

    Paul Forde - Expert Working Group on New DCB Grant Scheme - Engineer

    Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. This morning the committee is meeting. We have two meetings today. We're going to split the session into 90 minutes each. We're meeting today to discuss the defective block scheme regulations and a review of IS.465.

    In the first session we're joined from the expert group, we're joined by Mr. Paul Forde, the chair of that group, Martin Lynch, general manager of the pyrite remediation scheme. From engineers Ireland, we're joined by Damien Owens, director general and Keelan Keogh policy officer. And from the society of chartered surveyors of Ireland, we're joined by Shirley Coulter who's the CEO and Kevin Brady chartered quantity surveyor. And from the MICA action group Donegal, we're joined by Lisa Hone. We're also joined remotely by Martina Cleary of the Claire Pyrite Action Group joining us online and Martina Hegerty of the North Mayo MICA [sic] group. I just checked that you can both hear us okay who are online. Okay, that's great. You're very welcome.

    We've been circulated with the opening statements. Now this is a 90 minute session. We have six minutes to vote. We have six opening statements to be made. So if everybody can keep their opening statements as brief as possible, it'll leave time for questions from members. And the order I'm going to go in for the opening statements is the expert group, Mr. Forde Engineers Ireland - Mr. Owens, SCSI -Ms. Coulter, Donegal group, Ms. Hone, Claire group Dr Cleary, and Mayo group, Ms. Hegarty. So I'll call you in that order.

    So quick note on privilege before we begin. I wish to remind members of the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present during the confines of the place where the parliament has chosen to sit, namely Leinster House in order to participate in public meetings. For those witnesses attending in the committee room, you are protected by absolute privilege in respect of your contributions to today's meeting. This means you have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything you say at the meeting. But members and witnesses are expected not to abuse the privilege they enjoy and it's my duty as chair to ensure that this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if your statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, you'll be directed to discontinue your remarks and it's imperative that you comply with any such direction. For witnesses attending remotely, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and as such, you may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a person does who is physically present. Members and witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. The opening statement submitted to the committee will be published on the committee's website after this meeting.

    So I go first to Mr Forde to make the opening statement on behalf of the expert group, please.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thanks Mr Forde. I will now invite Mr Owens for Engineers Ireland.

    Damien Owens - Engineers Ireland - Director General

    Chairperson, deputies and senators, thank you for the invitation to give evidence to your committee on the operation of the defective concrete block scheme. My name is Damien Owens and I am a Director General of Engineers Ireland and a Chartered Engineer. I would like to introduce my colleague, Keelan Keogh, Policy Officer, also a Chartered Engineer. Engineers Ireland is one of the oldest and largest representative bodies on the island of Ireland with over 25,000 members of which 9,000 are Chartered Engineers. This membership incorporates all disciplines of [the] engineering profession in Ireland, in consulting, contracting organisations, the public sector, semi-state bodies, local authorities and educational institutes.

    The public places large trust in engineers and our survey is indicated 92% of the public placed high level of trust in the profession. Engineers Ireland awards the professional title of Chartered Engineer and now the institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland, Chartered Amendment Act 1969. The registered professional title is recognised internationally and under Irish law. According to the Building Control Regulations, Amendment Regulations Act 2014, Chartered Engineers are one of the three professions which may act as signed certifiers.

    Engineers Ireland has also established and maintains registrars of suitably qualified persons in specialist areas including IS 398, pyrite assessment and remediation, historic landfill and IS 465 mica and pyrite. Our members contribute to the development of national standards and policies with consultative groups across the industry. The views presented here combine the views of many practitioner Chartered Engineers on the IS 465 register maintained by Engineers Ireland. The role of the registrant and engineer in the IS 465 register as set out is purely to prescribe and oversee testing and provide guidance on the appropriate remedial works. The background to the role of the registered engineer was presented to this committee during And in the interest of time we will not present it here. Engineers Ireland has not and does not receive any funding for the establishment and maintaining of the IS 465 register of engineers.

    Since the inception of the IS 465 register, Engineers Ireland has previously provided constructive feedback based on the experience and operation of the DCB scheme. The most recent request for feedback from registered engineers has highlighted a number of areas which are a continuing source of concern including insurance risk. Today Engineers Ireland has delivered six courses on IS 465's standard for potential registrants over a three year period resulting in a total of 103 engineers undertaking the course. Today the IS 465 register has only 32 registrants. The figure does not change appreciably during the last three years.

    There are a number of reasons for this reluctance of engineers to join the register. The key factor is the risk profile of the scheme. Registrants report difficulty in obtaining professional indemnity insurance without which an engineer cannot practice. Though pay insurance [PI?] has become increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain, many registrants also report exclusions to that effect. One such exclusion is, this policy shall not cover any claim or defence costs arising out of or based upon or attributable to the use, specification, testing, remediation, removal or exposure by pyrite or mica and materials or products containing pyrite or mica, whether or not there is another cause of loss which may have been contributed concurrently or in any subsequent loss.

    The lack of professional indemnity insurance cover is especially acute from remediation options 2 to 5. The PI underwriters are unwilling to take the risk of the PI policy being called if there are any claims resulting from cracking in retained block work into the future. Insurance sees the risk as entirely and unfairly being taken by the engineer who carries out the remediation works. They believe that the residual risk of retaining blocks combined with the number of houses affected is too great for them to take on.

    The implications of the restriction of PI insurance cover extends to potentially stifling innovation in the sector. I am aware of at least one company that has developed a novel solution for remediation which reduces the time and cost of remediation. However, the company is unwilling to deploy the solution at scale due to potential insurance liability issues. Therefore innovative solutions which can rapidly address the homeowners remediation may therefore not be deployed and any savings to the state will not accrue.

    The process of deterioration. Our understanding of the process of deterioration of defective concrete blocks continues to evolve and it is recognised that the NSAI is undertaking work in this area. A recent online event hosted by Engineers Ireland provided a lot of insight into these concerns. Some engineers have the opinion that IS 465 is currently not fit for purpose as long as they do not consider sulphide oxidation and Donegal defective block work and the standard should be updated as soon as possible based on available research.

    Almost 10 years have passed since the defective concrete problem was raised with the department of the environment. Dwellings as far back as 1994 have been found to have muscovite mica and pyrrhotite equivalent total sulphur levels above allowable limits. There is still much debate about the causes. It is imperative that meaningful research is carried out and brought conclusion as quickly as possible. The scheme will have to have flexibility to incorporate new findings as they arise.

    One such example of flexibility is that engineers have observed in some cases where homeowners who have had to test a property as part of a house sale only discover block work is defective even though there is no visual damage. These hormones [homeowners] should be included in the scheme. Criteria must be put in place to allow remediated property to be sold and mortgaged. This will provide certainty to homeowners and the conveyancing sector The operation of the Mundic scheme in the UK may provide an example of an enduring model to support commercial transactions of impacted properties.

    A number of operational considerations. For example, engineers are concerned that the process for approval of interim payments at stage 3 could be very low and unweally [unweildy] as envisaged. A certified payment approach should be adopted. This is the construction industry norm and accepted by financial institutions where the value of the completed work is certified by chartered engineers.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Mr Owens, I'm sorry, I'm going to have to interrupt you because we are up to six minutes and I really have to keep people strict. I'm going to move to Ms Coulter of the SCSI

    Shirley Coulter - Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland - CEO

    Thank you, Cathaoirleach. Good morning, deputies. Thanks to the committee for the invite to participate in today's meeting. The SCSI is the leading professional body for chartered surveying professionals working in the construction property and land sectors across Ireland, as well as operating the statutory register for the protected title of quantity surveyor and building surveyor. We undertake research on a wide range of economic industry and practice related issues in the public interest to produce regular reports, including those relating to construction costs.

    In recognition of this construction cost expertise and the independence of the SCSI, we will requested by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O'Brien TD, to provide construction cost information for the government's defective concrete block scheme in late 2021. The terms of reference were agreed with the department on the 7th of February, 2022, which set out the parameters within which the SCSI would produce an independent standalone construction cost report for the demolition and rebuild of homes affected by defective concrete blocks, which were option one, and propose a cost methodology for the partial remediation options two to five. Of particular note, the report is based on the parameters of the defective concrete blocks grant scheme as announced on the 30th of November, 2021. The SCSI had and has no role in the setting the parameters of the grant scheme, for example, which building regs apply, exclusion of foundations, and no role in the setting of the grant amount.

    The SCSI report on construction costs for the defective concrete block scheme was published on the 3rd of March, 2022, and was welcomed by stakeholders. The SCSI undertook this extensive work pro bono in the public interest and was supportive by a significant number of our volunteer chartered surveyor members. The report is appended to this submission. The updated average rebuild cost then. The terms of reference stipulate that SCSI will review the cost for the Northwest annually. A request was made by the Department of Housing to SCSI to review the average rebuild rates for the house types included within the terms of reference report on the construction costs for the Northwest. The updated costs were submitted to the department this year on the on the SCSI website on the 2nd of March. The average rebuilding rates are contained in the table in this submission, which include demolition costs, excluding foundations, and are based on the pricing brief as shown within table 2 within the original report of February 2022. The average rates are informed by chartered quantity surveyors operating within the Northwest region.

    The methodology and analysis are consistent with that of our report from February 2022. It must be noted that due to the multiplicity of house designs, sizes , choice of building materials, site typology, ground conditions, building finish quality and specification to name but a few, there can be significant variances within construction costs. Construction costs will vary based on geographic location, availability of labour and materials, and the competitive tender process. Therefore, the SCSI average rebuilding rates are based upon approximate house sizes specified within the terms of reference using non-complex house design plans sourced from chartered surveyors and built to basic specifications. As stated in the terms of reference, the department informed the SCSI that the building regulations to be applied in the context of spec are from pre-2008 on the basis that the scheme allows for like-for-like replacement and does not allow for betterment. The average rebuild rates are produced within the parameters of the scheme.

    Therefore we have provided construction costs for rebuilding homes at February 2023 material and labour rates but at pre-08 building regulations. While the parameters of the scheme are outside of the scope of the SCSI's cost report for the defective concrete block scheme, it remains the position of the SCSI that best practice is to build to current regulations or to exceed current regulations. The average rebuild costs in the tables include costs for demolition, excluding foundations and reconstruction, concrete path around the house, disconnection and reconnection of utilities, making good to drive and garden professional fees, and VAT at 13.5% on building costs and Costs do not include new foundations, A-rated NZEB [Nearly Zero Energy Building Standard] homes, relevant to the building regs, contents such as carpets, curtains, loose furniture, domestic appliances, out buildings, garages, boundary walls, driveways, except as relating to making good to drive and garden septic tanks for example.

    The average rebuild costs for the Midwest, the Department of Housing requested that the SCSI produce average rebuild costs for the eight house types for the Midwest region. While this exercise was outside the scope of the terms of reference, in the public interest the SCSI agreed to undertake this additional cost exercise. The exact same methodology was used as for the Northwest, utilising the expertise of charter quantity surveyors based in the Midwest. The average rebuild rates were submitted to the Department on 18 April 2023 and posted on the SCSI website on 21 April 2023. Again, the table is attached to the end of this statement.

    The SCSI welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the resolution of this critical issue and undertakes this extensive work in good faith in the public interest. We wish the committee well in your continued scrutiny of the defective concrete block scheme. Thank you.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you Ms Coulter. I am going to invite someone on behalf of the Donegal group.

    Lisa Hone - Mica Action Group - Chair

    Thank you for the opportunity to present to the Housing committee. In the press release and as in the commencement of the defective concrete block scheme, Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien stated a scheme that has been developed that can and will deliver for all concerned. On behalf of homeowners, I will outline when the scheme will not deliver for all concerned and although there are some moves in a positive direction, government's refusal to genuinely listen means that serious flaws persist.

    In the public spotlight, government representatives appear compassionate, yet at the same time spin media stories which misinforms the public and undermines victims They pledge urgent action and then miss every deadline. They promise meaningful engagement and then consciously ignore the lived experience of those affected, scientific evidence, deny pre-legislative scrutiny on the false pretense of urgency, dismiss homeowner legislative and regulatory amendments and inexplicably reject zero cost solutions which would bring much needed flexibility to this rigid scheme.

    The Minister also talks about schemes evolving. This is government's second chance at getting the scheme right and the only reason the scheme needs to evolve is because of the lack of political ambition to get it right this time. Furthermore, the way in which tens of thousands of victims of defective homes across Ireland are treated seems to be based upon their geographical location, the type and cost of damage and how many seats their constituencies are worth at the next general election. This is now a civil rights issue as those affected are not being treated with equality.

    The Leinster pyrite scheme removes all deleterious materials. The work funded is managed and funded by the Housing Agency reinstating all homes on a like for like basis. The defective apartment scheme promises to be nationwide and cover all costs incurred. This is in stark contrast to the DCB scheme which leaves behind deleterious materials, forces homeowners to become project managers, exposes them to rampant construction inflation and excludes homes by county or type of ownership. All victims of defective homes find themselves in this horrendous situation for the same reason, the persistent failure of the state to enforce an effective regulatory and market surveillance system over the construction industry.

    To date, no operator has been brought to account by the government and we recently witnessed headlines of the head of the NBCO declaring a national emergency in market surveillance due to a lack of resource. Although not exhaustive, the following underlines key homeowner concerns. The science. The DCB scheme for homeowners in Donegal is based upon an untested hypothesis as opposed to proven scientific research. In 2023, two independent scientific groups, Leeman et al. in March and Brough et al. in April published internationally peer-reviewed research.

    They identify the high-risk aggregate phyllite was used in the manufacture of concrete blocks. The phyllite rock hosts not only mica but also iron sulfide pyrrhotite. Detailed scientific investigation reveals that oxidation of pyrrhotite causing internal sulfur attack is the primary mechanism of failure, not mica freeze thaw. Researchers from Quebec, Connecticut and Switzerland proves that iron sulfides are present in quantities beyond regulatory standards. It can result in the degradation of even poured concrete.

    All of this research was published prior to the commencement of the scheme and the initial research findings were presented to this committee in June 22 before the legislation was passed in July. Yet the DCB scheme still uses IS465 designed around a mica freeze thaw hypothesis to recommend remediation. To keep using this obsolete standard means decisions are based on solutions for the wrong damage mechanism, options to define retained defective unregulated rocks in homes and all options advise homeowners to build on existing foundations. Yet such options are not proven to be permanently effective against the context of internal sulfur attack.

    The damage threshold focuses heavily on visual appearance which may belie the deterioration of the concrete within, leaving homeowners locked out of the scheme and in limbo for years. It is inhuman to push homeowners to remediate homes without scientific assurance that the home will not fail again. It also raises questions about the responsible management of public funds where hundreds of thousands of euros could be spent on a house destined to fail again.

    Failure to recognize and support homeowners in vulnerable and complex situations. How is it reasonable to ask a couple in their 80s, one with a serious illness, the other a carer to deal with the demanding three-stage application process, strip down a beloved home, a demolition, a rebuild and two house moves? How do a family with a disabled child who require a home adapted for wheelchair access move forward if it is impossible to find alternative accommodation? It is wholly unrealistic to think that two facilitators spread over thousands of affected homeowners and an engineer with a multiplicity of clients can provide the project management and support required.

    We have consistently asked for recognition of those in the most vulnerable and complex circumstances by the support of an end-to-end scheme, flexibility of side-by-side building, the provision of suitable alternative housing or to be able to release themselves from this crisis via a transfer of eligibility, all of which has been denied. The finances. To distance itself from the central role of the origins of this crisis, government portrays itself as a benevolent body, carefully describing the scheme as a grant. To call it a grant scheme, which implies a partial cost contribution and then declare it 100% is contradictory.

    Affected homeowners are exposed to the double whammy of a cost of living crisis plus double-digit construction inflation. Grant allowances are calculated on a basic build to pre-2008 regulations no matter what year the house was built, to what finish or to what energy standards, despite the SCSI recommendation that all construction should employ a minimum of current standards. In 2023, the SCSI reported a 14% annual increase in construction costs, yet there is no recognition of increasing costs in the overall cap set way back in November 21.

    The government in full cognizance of the issues around construction inflation wrote the cap into legislation as opposed to regulations, knowing full well that makes it very difficult to amend. To demolish and rebuild, homeowners in Donegal are currently being quoted between 205 and and 116 per square foot thereafter up to the maximum cap. A current example of a homeowner is in a home of 1250 square feet with a rebuild allowance of 237,000 but has a real build cost of 270,000, a shortfall of almost 33,000 euros.

    Government promised seamless access to the SEAI energy schemes. However, it is not clear how this will work and the redress finance group recently testified to the finance committee about the highly stressful impact of short falls of tens of thousands of euros, cash flow issues and on a helpful attitude from mortgage providers and the lack of engagement from government with both financial and insurance industries.

    Once a homeowner passes through the scheme, their home must be fully insurable, mortgageable and restored to full market value. It is clear that government has not conducted its due diligence with [in?] this regard. How can government assure homeowners of the validity of the certificate of remediation if the home does not have credibility with such organisations?

    Implementation. Not only what is done but how it is done is critical. To date, three years of homeowners' experience of [in?] Donegal with the previous scheme have been fraught. A lack of responsiveness and information have unnecessarily added to homeowner stress. It seems incredible that there is no overall project manager for a multi-billion euro scheme and no timeline set to respond to homeowners.

    The scheme needs to be based on the principle of 100% redress. The definite [definition of] redress is to put right. That is to restore all affected to the situation that they should have been in should this disaster not have occurred. Remediation solutions need to be supported by scientific research which eliminates risk of further damage from deleterious materials. In the absence of certainty, a cautionary approach must be adopted and resourced immediately. If in doubt, take it out. The remediation must ensure the consequences of this issue are eliminated from people's lives forever.

    The finance needs to reflect true like for like costs. The scale and complexity of this scheme requires project management geared to responsive implementation and not only the scheme itself but also parallel positions such as alternative accommodation. None of the issues are insurmountable but they will take a genuine listening ear from government, response and political determination to resolve. Thank you.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I don't wish to have to cut you short but I'm trying to keep everybody to six minutes. Thanks. I'm going to go to Dr Cleary in the Clare group now, please.

    Martina Cleary - Clare Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    }Good morning. Can you hear me okay?

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Yeah, loud and clear, Dr Cleary, go ahead.

    Martina Cleary - Clare Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    Okay. So after three years, very tough campaign. Sorry, it's echoing back here. I'm just going to try to adjust it so I'm not double hearing it. Okay. Can you still hear me okay?

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Loud and clear, go ahead. We can hear you okay, Dr Cleary, if you want to go ahead.

    Martina Cleary - Clare Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    It's just reverb on this side. So after three years of a very tough campaign, County Clare has finally been admitted into the DCB grant scheme. It shouldn't have taken this long for government to admit that the blight of defective concrete blocks was also in County Clare, especially as the Minister himself spoke of the problem of pyrite in Clare as early as 2012. In the three years of reaching this point, our homes have degenerated further and with them also the health and wellbeing of those living through this crisis. On the 3rd of July, there was a sense of collective relief for homeowners in this County who have remained for so long that we're now legally acknowledged and can avail of some assistance. However, there are outstanding concerns regarding the logistical and financial feasibility of this new scheme.

    So these numerically consist of 1) The grant is not 100% redress and there's no doubt that it will not cover the actual cost of rebuilding or remediation, even for the smaller homes that fall beneath 120 square metre tier of calculation. Homeowners will be tens of thousands of euros short in meeting the true materials and labour costs for a simple builders finish. In addition to this, the professional fees incurred for the progression through the stages of the scheme will case huge upfront financial burdens on homeowners. Many will not have these resources nor access to loans to cover these. So the scheme will be in effect inaccessible for many. It falls far short in every aspect of restoring people's homes.

    With regard to the four and five bedroom typical rural family home, it's clear from the SCSI rates and calculations that the cap of 420 from which alternative accommodation, storage and professional fees must be deducted will not cover the rebuild costs. This cap obviously hasn't been raised in line with recent inflation and these homeowners, which are typical four and five bedroom family home, will be facing potentially shortfalls of 80 to 100,000 euros. Penalty free downsizing or rightsizing, a recommendation voted down by the government in July 2022, would have assisted many in the family homes bracket. And this is also particularly relevant for those of advancing years who could downsize and redesign to meet current needs. There are quite many of those coming forward in County Clare.

    These people will not be able to secure bank loans to bridge the current grant shortfall. And many are also depending on the value of their home to avail of the fair deal scheme. They are now discovering that this is no longer a possibility and many are now trapped physically in these homes, [and] often happen to actually live with their children. They are now physically and financially trapped in degenerating homes indefinitely. So navigating the stages of this prohibitively complex scheme within the limitations of the current building environment will also be impossible for many. Retention of percentages of the grant at the various stages of draw down, in addition to the many upfront payments for engineers, tradesmen, designers, architects, etc., will make the scheme even more financially inaccessible than the previous one.

    There is a hugely burdensome and complex maze of schedules to be completed, with stringent timelines imposed on homeowners to progress through the scheme. Deadlines placed on the homeowner at all stages are extremely tight, especially within the current climate, while those for the local authority, Housing Agency and appeals panels seem to be quite open-ended. The difference between this and the end-to-end project management of the pyrite remediation scheme is notable and discriminatory. Overall, project management is needed for this scheme, including a database of professionals, builders and trades who are available, knowledgeable and able to take on the building and remediation of these homes en masse and in a timely manner.

    There is no facilitator in place in County Clare, though I believe this... I have been told yesterday, is in progress. But it highlights an ongoing inequality and there needs to be equality of resourcing and it must be provided for all designated counties currently in the scheme. This includes equal treatment with regard to all aspects of the administration and funding of the scheme, including establishing a housing authority presence in the Midwest. Prioritisation metrics must include fair distribution and allocation of houses entering the scheme, provision of information and support services, regional representation and assessment panels and the processing and remediation of impacted houses in all counties must be simultaneous at the commencement of the scheme and proportionate as well.

    Fast tracking for access to the all aspects of SCSI grant must be implemented to assist the DCB homeowners. This includes full access to the one-stop shop option and this would go a long way helping people to upgrade the heating and insulation requirements, inline with current standards. There seems to be already discrimination being built into that. The issue of rebuilding on potentially faulty foundations is already presenting a problem with builders in County Clare. All approach for quotations have included 20,000 to 30,000 euros to remove and replace foundations as compulsory, not optional, because they're afraid of the potential liabilities if they leave them in place. And obviously this is not included in the grant scheme.

    The fact that there's no letter of assurance for option one, the demolitions, is not acceptable. If government is so sure that leaving these foundations in place is actually viable, then there should be no difficulty or resistance in also including this letter of assurance for these homes. There's no provision or consideration of the economic cost of the disposal of all of this [these] DCB materials, with potentially tens of thousands of homes impacted across the Midwest. This is an indicator of the total lack of long-term oversight and planning on the part of government and you can imagine the environmental impact as well of where is all this material going to go.

    The only mention of litigation within these regulations are potential actions that will be taken against the homeowner. This is grossly offensive and against the principle of a natural justice. Impacted homeowners are the victims of this and an unregulated industry and non-enforcement of existing regulations. This should have been removed and also there seems to be no movement forward in prosecuting the particular parties in this region. I've enclosed a copy of the stakeholder feedback. There were 17 pages of, again, feedback on a draft of the regulations. No written analysis was taken on board in March.

    In conclusion, I'd say that County Clare is very thankful to be in a scheme, but we are extremely worried about now how this is going to be rolled out and that we're worried very much also that the ongoing, I suppose, physical mental health impacts are really manifesting in this county after three years and we're in a dread as well that we're going to be put through what Donegal and Mayo have been put through for over a decade. Thank you.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you, Dr. Cleary. And now I'm going to invite Ms. Hegarty from the Mayo group who is online, please.

    Martina Hegarty - North Mayo Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    Thank you. My name is Martina Hegarty and my home is built using defective concrete blocks in Mayo. Thank you for the opportunity to present to this committee. Over a year ago, I joined this committee to document and discuss the short failings of our government in relation to providing a fit for purpose, defective concrete block scheme for homeowners in County Mayo. A redress scheme, not a grant. A year on, we're still discussing a defective scheme.

    Today, I'm not going to sit here as a campaigner or a homeowner representative. My purpose here today is to place you in the mindset of a homeowner, a person who is experiencing the mental and physical anguish of living with a defective home. I'm going to keep this basic so everyone can follow. You live each day with seeing the cracks in your home. You do not want to admit you have a pyrite. You do not want to give up your home. Your life was built in these four walls. Your memories are here. There is a significant level of traumatic experience that comes to the acceptance that your home has pyrite before you make that first phone call. Do you realize that? None of us were ever supposed to be here.

    For those of us that have applied to the previous scheme, we are told to sit, to wait, to have patience. After more than 10 years of singing from the rooftops about the need for a defective scheme, we are told to have patience. A year after the scheme was rushed through the door with no meaningful amendments from the government, we are told to have patience. We are told that the scheme is 100%, but yet every single homeowner who has done the calculations is going to be paying in part to rebuild their homes. The enhanced scheme was put into law on 3rd July. The scheme was opened by the local authorities on 11 July. There was practically no announcement. Over 2.2 billion schemes were almost rolled out in the dead of night.

    The enhanced scheme was supposed to fix everything. The enhanced scheme has instead created more roadblocks for homeowners. A homeowner must sit, wait and watch their cracks widen until they reach a certain level to reach a meaningless damage threshold that has no interest in science. A homeowner is asked to use a building professional to assess their home. Individuals with no training. The vast majority of whom, without this experience, will consider some of our cracks incorrectly as settlement cracks. A homeowner no longer has an engineer in their corner. The one person the homeowner could rely on to fight for their home. Because yes, that's what this feels like. We are in constant fight mode. Constant battle to get what's needed to rebuild our homes. To move on with our lives.

    A homeowner is relying on the impartiality of engineers who are contracted to the housing agency to decide the fate of their homes. Will the science still be considered as a priority? Homes in Mayo require full demolition. Almost 400 homes have received this to date. Will this continue? We're not convinced. If a homeowner needs to appeal, will the homeowner receive everything they need to appeal? All of the test results? Details of all those that made decisions? Who sits on the appeals panel? How transparent is this going to be?

    A homeowner is required to project manage the rebuild of their homes. Collect endless paperwork. Contact the local authorities. Deal with an online application. Source engineers, architects, builders. Deal with banks, insurance companies. And worst of all, find a location to rent in the midst of a housing crisis. How? A homeowner is at the mercy of builder availability. Builders who think we have a pot of gold. Builders who have been informed by the government that each homeowner is getting 100%. Builders that are under the false impression that each homeowner is going to have 420k available to them to rebuild their home.

    A homeowner has to ensure that they can fund the rebuild of their home, yet they are under a timeline to do so. They have to apply for finance, many of whom are above the age and ability to pay it back. Why do they have to apply for finance? Because it's not 100%. There is a 10% retention. This is how this will work for a grant on offer to homeowners when it's not 100%. What happens when the builders come knocking or walk off site?

    A homeowner is told that they can apply to SCSI [SEAI?], a completely separate process that requires further investigation and paperwork. A scheme that is not open yet, but the government wants people to move on and rebuild their homes And worst of all, you're left in the constant fear of what lies beneath, because foundations are a massive issue that are not covered in the scheme.

    We have yet to hear the word retrospective mentioned. Retrospective for those who had to remediate their homes prior to any scheme being launched. We heard commitments to deliver. Were these more sound bites? The government continues to reference about the need for homeowners to move on. For anyone that has tried, has anyone actually taken the time to reach out to them to see how much it has actually cost them to rebuild their home? A quote is at one point in time. The reality of that quote being delivered at cost is little to none. Was this even considered?

    Have you listened to every point that I've listed? Now place yourself in the shoes of a pensioner. Place yourself in the shoes of a young mother with young kids. Place yourself in the shoes of those that require medical or physical assistance. How do they progress onto the scheme? How do they become project managers? How do they form this? The Department of Housing and Housing Agency has decided to take control of every aspect of the scheme without the control that matters most. They are fully aware it is not 100% and this, in my opinion, is the reason why the scheme is not end to end. They know that they need to offer more funds if they were to rebuild our homes.

    This scheme, after the second time of creation, after more than 10 years of fighting, has done nothing more than condemn homeowners into a bleak future, condemn homeowners to build on faulty foundations, condemn homeowners to homes that will not be fully remediated, condemn homeowners into debt. While the government is waiting and assessing, while the government is seeking more information for the scheme to evolve, homeowners are being hospitalised. Homeowners are on endless medication. Does the government really understand the mental torture that is being placed on homeowners? No dial-up service is going to remedy that.

    Did any of you ever take the time to walk a step in the shoes of an defective concrete block homeowner? Did anyone ever think that homeowners, while this scheme was built, been created? Why are the most vulnerable families involved in this crisis not placed front and centre? Why are they not enabled? Why did they continue to be condemned? Thank you for the time.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you, Ms Hegarty, and apologies. I think I called you by the wrong name when I introduced you. Thank you for that. I'm going to move now to members and I'll go to the first slot, Fianna Fáil slot, and that's Senator Fitzpatrick, please. You have six minutes, five minutes, sorry, five minutes.

    Mary Fitzpatrick - FF - Senator

    Yeah, Go raibh maith agat, Cathaoirleach and for the benefits of the committee. I am here at the Leinster House unfortunately. I can't be in the committee room. But I want to thank everybody who has attended the committee today. I want to especially thank the homeowners for giving up your time today to share with us your experience, but I suppose for all the work that you're doing every other day as well. And your testimonies are incredibly passionate and incredibly compelling.

    I suppose for all of us, buying our home and getting a home, our first home, it's very exciting but it's also arguably the most stressful thing any of us will do. up there will be divorce and bankruptcy and the loss of a family member. So I can only imagine, and I can only imagine because I'm in Dublin and I'm not living in your communities with you and with your neighbours, the stress and the anxiety that must be living with the uncertainty and the constant undermining of your sense of security in what should be the most secure place for you. So I hear you, I genuinely do hear you and I want you to know that as a member of Fianna Fáil, my colleagues, apologies from Minister Dara Calleary and my colleagues Lisa Chambers and Niall Blaney and others, they're not here today.

    But I do want you to know that you are heard and I think that is really important. We have this session this morning with yourselves and then we have a session later this afternoon with the Department and others and the CCMA, the local authorities. And the points that you've raised, I suppose I want you to know that we are raising on your behalf. And each of you, and I'm not going to go through each of your testimonies and I appreciate the time was short and the chair was doing what he needs to do to keep the contributions equal. But each of you were very stark and critical.

    You talked about civil rights, you described it essentially as a humanitarian crisis, as you are experiencing it. So I guess my first question to you is, and you've all been at this for quite a long time and it's going back almost 20 years from when it was first detected. But I suppose this revised scheme has been at least two years in the making and it is enormous amount of public funds that are being allocated. And the criticisms that you've made are very stark. And I suppose just before we get into our next session later on, I'd like to hear from the three of you.

    Are you so critical that you think that where the scheme has got to now, it should be entirely scrapped? Or do you think that there is scope within this scheme to actually meet your needs and those of your community? So if we could start with maybe Martina. There's two Martinas and then Lisa, I would really like to hear from the three of you.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I don't think we've two minutes and I don't think really we're going to get three contributions. So if somebody wants to take that on behalf of the homeowners, do that.

    Martina Cleary - Clare Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    Yeah, I can say to Ms. Fitzpatrick that already we've been going through it for three years. In our last meeting with homeowners, there was testimony of one homeowner having a stroke. I know of heart attack. There was testimony afterwards of potentially four suicides. So this is real. It's huge. And it's not been, it's this idea of counting the cost of bricks and mortar materials is the human impact. It's going to have a massive, massive long term. And if we're looking at a 40 year trajectory as well for the remediation of all these homes, heading to and making it so complex, it's just putting oil on the fire.

    Mary Fitzpatrick - FF - Senator

    But do you think Martina, I suppose my question is quite specifically , do you think it should be like that the iterations that have been made and the amendments that have been made, that it actually should be scrapped that we need to go back to the start again with this whole thing?

    Martina Cleary - Clare Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    I think that the idea of scrapping a scheme that has been in planning now for two years. I think that's, you know, it's a non-runner. I think, however, we have put it in, in March, I put in 17 pages of responses. There were over 300 submissions to the draft regulations. None of them were taken on board. And that was from a huge stakeholder survey. And it was a very lengthy process. It delayed us in Clare another year from the point of ratification to actually admission. So you know, there's, it's about time that the government started listening to the work we've already put in and actually listening and acting upon these things that we're saying and that we're seeing here again today. You know, you cannot just throw the whole thing out, but you can change it. And in autumn, my understanding is the Minister could make decisions coming in autumn. For example, looking at the cap or, you know, instantly straight away for County of Clare facilitator giving us an estimate, an annual estimate on what are the amount of houses that are going to be covered and remediated. You know, these are very real deliverables will help people psychologically as well to see that there's hope to progress through what we have. You know, this, this is, this is what's needed.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Okay. Thanks, Dr. Cleary. I'm going to move on now to the Sinn Féin slot and I think Deputy McLaughlin is next please.

    Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - SF - Donegal

    Yeah, thanks, Cathaoirleach. And my question, my first question, I'd ask you to be fairly brief if you don't mind in the responses. I'm very conscious of the need for the homeowners to particularly and the victims to have their say today about the issues with this scheme. But my question is, I find your presentation and thank you Damien and thank you Keelan. I'm not surprised, but I'm very alarmed in relation to your frank outlining of the fact that your members were struggling to get insurance, the limitations of that insurance, clearly the insurance industry doesn't have confidence in IS465. So you know, this whole scheme, the government have said it's billions of taxpayers' money is based on a standard that is not fit for purpose. And you've been, you've made that clear today and you said the opinion of some engineers, but I would say to most engineers that I'm interacting, do not believe it's fit for purpose. Can you just maybe elaborate on that about as professional engineers, what your concerns are and why we're continuing to insist that homeowners adhere to this standard when it's not fit for purpose?

    Damien Owens - Engineers Ireland - Director General

    Thank you Deputy. The key issue is the standard when it was written, focused on mica and pyrite as the mechanism of deterioration. Since then, and as samples were taken from homes and sent to laboratories for testing, some of the results have come back inconclusive. So strictly speaking, if you're testing against the standard, those homeowners are left in the limbo because it couldn't be said with certainty that the deterioration of their properties was caused by the causes outlined in the standard. And then this gave rise to, I suppose, exploration of other mechanisms of deterioration, which other people here have alluded to. And I think as we move forward and understand there's research going on with the GSI and NSAI, we need to progress that and get that conclusion as quickly as possible. I think some properties are now being in the process of being demolished and remediated. I think that gives a living laboratory where we can actually take samples from those properties, see exactly what the mechanism of deterioration is. And then I think based on that knowledge, the standard can be amended and other mechanisms can be included.

    Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - SF - Donegal

    Just for the record, the members of your organisation, professional engineers, have recommended that over 200 homes be demolished in Donegal and those recommendations have not been agreed with and have been referred to the Housing Agency. That's the mess we're in. We have engineers who can't agree as to how we resolve this, but homeowners are supposed to work with this scheme. The next question is for the homeowners. Thank you all for your presentations. Obviously it's harrowing listening to it. We are going to be having the Department of Housing later on and they are stressing, as the Minister is stressing, about the consultation with the stakeholders and how they took on board so much. Can you guide us as to what questions, what are the immediate concerns that we should prioritise from the Department of Housing and what questions would you put to them if you were here today? If you could do the same.

    Lisa Hone - Mica Action Group - Chair

    The first thing I would say, due to time constraints, we have tried to concentrate on the key issues. The first thing, the 100%. We hear over and over again, it's 100%. It is categorically not 100%. The government is 100%, it's 100% and then there is a big parenthesis after that. Big bracket, except X, Y and Z. It's not 100%. That has to be addressed because as we have outlined, there is almost no one going through this process already who is not looking for additional finance.

    We are not talking about insignificant amounts of money. We are talking about tens of thousands of euros. I gave the example of the homeowner who is housed at just over 1200 square feet. That is a real-life example of somebody going through the building process right now. It is as current as I can get it. It is real. That actually is a generous because it doesn't include some other costs that they have taken on as well. The 100%, the finances have to be bottomed out. It has to be bottomed out or you have to come in and do an end-to-end scheme.

    You have to be able to allow people to move forward because at the moment, people are cobbling things together, looking for extra finance. We heard last week about the issues with the banks, etc. That is a roadblock. If that is not resolved, it will continue to be a roadblock, especially for those who have very limited access to savings or being able to raise a loan, for example. They are absolutely trapped, as colleagues in other areas said.

    What do they do? What is the answer from the Department of Housing for somebody who is looking at maybe they cannot progress through? Again, with regard to vulnerable people, we have people in situations they are literally trapped in their home because there are roadblocks that will not allow them to progress. We know that alternative accommodation is an issue. For lots of people, finding accommodation is an issue anyway, but if you have any kind of special or complex need, it is almost impossible. Therefore, they are trapped.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you. I am going to move now to deputy.

    Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - SF - Donegal

    I should acknowledge the presence of the Redress focus groups in Donegal. There are two members here in the audience.

    Emer Higgins - FG - Dublin Mid West

    Thank you to all of you for being here with us today, in particular to the homeowners for sharing not just your lived experience but the lived experience of many of your neighbours. Thank you also to the society chartered surveyors who have volunteered their time and expertise to help those homeowners who, as Martina said, are going through mental torture. One thing I was glad to hear was that the issues are not insurmountable I think that was a key message for me to hear from homeowners today because I really want to make sure that this works and that this is done right. I have a couple of specific questions to inform me as to how we can improve things a little bit better. Two are for Engineers Ireland. Firstly, could I ask, you made the point that remediated properties must be allowed to be sold and mortgaged and you referenced the Mundic scheme. I am not familiar with that. Could you elaborate on that? My second question, I suppose it was already raised by the previous speaker, is in relation to the professional indemnity insurance. This sounds like a huge challenge and I would like to tease that out a little bit further to see how we can overcome that so that homeowners are protected. The companies like the one you have referenced who may have alternative solutions aren't too afraid to come forward and put them on the table because we need innovation when it comes to this issue. Then I suppose just to ask the chair of the expert group having heard testimonies today in relation to the 100% except and the exclusion of foundations and the responsibilities that are being put on homeowners in terms of project managing, a whole rebuild and the practicalities of that, having heard those, and I know you have done a huge amount of work over the last number of years in terms of recommendations that have been put forward to government, Do you think the scheme is adequate? Do you think it needs to be improved? If so, how?

    Damien Owens - Engineers Ireland - Director General

    The first point on the scheme, it was deterioration of blocks in the UK, Devon or Cornwall.

    Emer Higgins - FG - Dublin Mid West

    How did they overcome this hurdle around being able to sell the properties?

    Damien Owens - Engineers Ireland - Director General

    They put in a scheme that looked at the level of deterioration of assessed properties and kept records of the deterioration. Therefore, properties were given a classification. This allowed the properties to be conveyed, sold, remediated later on . It was put in as an enduring solution recognising that this issue would last a number of years. On the second part of insurance, the key issue there is the willingness of some insurers to cover the work space because of uncertainty and the risk profile. One way around it may be some level of indemnification. We know engineers who work in the Housing Agency are engaged by the state, but the engineers on the other side of the table are doing the assessment or design and signing off, they are not indemnified. The indemnification is coming from the insurers and that is where the risk is. We need to get them into this committee? Maybe if the engineers are taking the design and implementing the remediation on behalf of the homeowner, they should be indemnified. Thank you.

    Paul Forde - Expert Working Group on New DCB Grant Scheme - Engineer

    I think your question was in two parts. One was, do I think the scheme is suitable? The second one was the inclusion of foundations. I answered this question last year. I think it is a pity that I am here a year later and I am still encouraging the NSAI to finish their review of the IS465. I said last year that it is my belief that if there are problems with foundations, they will be sorted. I am a member of the engineering department. If we are on a project, we won't walk away from a foundation problem. So as it is excluded from the costs and that is outside my remit, as a professional engineer, we would not certify something that is not right. My understanding at the moment is that the approach being adopted by the Housing Agency in terms of rolling out the scheme is that while they are inspecting, while they are an engineer, the second engineer, the Housing Agency, while they are assessing rising walls, the intention is to expose foundations and examine the foundations. That is not a full answer because I can't guarantee what is going to happen. I know as a professional engineer, if we see a problem, and my expectation would be that if the Housing Agency's appointed engineer sees a problem with foundations, they will address it. That is my expectation. I will move on to the next slot.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Is that the view of engineers Ireland and has that been relayed to the Minister?

    Damien Owens - Engineers Ireland - Director General

    It is the view of many of our members. The standard is clear in what it covers and it does not cover some of the mechanisms that have been discovered from testing samples. Therefore, the standard needs revision. We understand that is enhanced.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    The standard allows the testing for mica and pyrite, but it does not allow for other potentially deleterious materials. That is the contention from some of your members, but has that been relayed to the Minister to say, in our expert opinion, as a group involved in this, we feel the standard is not

    Damien Owens - Engineers Ireland - Director General

    We have raised concerns previously.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    That's grand. Thank you.

    Paul Forde - Expert Working Group on New DCB Grant Scheme - Engineer

    I understand that NSAI has been charged with investigating that. I would love to see the conclusion.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    We have NSAI in the next session. I want to go to one of the representative groups. I might go to Ms Hegarty on this. For people who are so closely involved, like people who are living in Clare and Donegal and Mayo, there are a lot of people in the rest of the country who would not be as closely involved and know the ins and outs of this. When we hear of a cap of 420,000, and then we see figures for rebuild for SCSI, could you just outline where that shortfall is? Do you consider this a 90% scheme? Would that be your view on it? I put the question to Ms Hegarty but if Dr Cleary or Ms Hone want to come in. We have four minutes left on this.

    Martina Hegarty - North Mayo Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    Right now, we are in a situation where we do not understand what percentage of a scheme it is. As homeowners have just received the updated square foot rates or square meter rates that is associated with rebuilding a home. Basically, the government are offering the homeowners a pot of money and that pot of money is supposed to be used by them to rebuild. When you look at the square foot rates that have been provided by the SCSI in particular, they were under pretty strict terms of reference in relation to rebuilding a home as if it was to be rebuilt in 2007.

    The reality is none of us can find materials that were available in The cost of source the materials, the cost of labour, the cost of pretty much everything that you can think of, or the aspect of rebuilding your home has increased and has changed. Because of the terms of reference, SCSI were restricted in relation to what they can offer as Shirley Coulter mentioned, a basic rebuild for your home. But even if we were to rebuild a like for like, which many of us have upgraded our homes, many of us have homes that were built after 2007, we are not in a situation that we can rebuild a like for like, which is what the scheme is basically asking us and providing for us to do.

    You're looking at the Finance Committee gave great insights last week in relation to the amount of funding that's actually taken from the 420 cap prior to you actually putting down one block. Your 25K, whether it's rent, whether it's storage, whether it's providing patchwork to your house, depending on what level of degradation is in it, you 're talking about fees gone. You're talking about probably over 100,000 taken from the scheme and from the money that's available to you before you can do anything.

    The other huge challenge for us is the availability of builders. Right now, there is a few homeowners that's moving in relation to trying to rebuild their homes.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    So you've given two figures there, say 25,000 for rent and storage and maybe 20,000 for engineers. Where do you make up the other up to 100,000, I think you said, possibly, where does that come from?

    Martina Hegarty - North Mayo Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    Yeah, so you're talking about that. You're talking about inflation, you're talking about the access and availability of all of these builders. Like realistically, you're looking at the type of rebuild that you're looking to basically have as well. You're looking at, previous to this, planning permission. You're looking at architect fees. It really depends on what area or what solution you decide as a homeowner is most suitable for you. That's going to have a huge impact on the cost bundle that's available to you.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Okay, look, thank you. We're just out of time on that. Just a quick question to SCSI. Those figures that you present in your document, that's to build to a Is it not to build to 2021?

    None

    Correct to 2008 standard.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Okay, thank you.

    Paul Forde - Expert Working Group on New DCB Grant Scheme - Engineer

    I shouldn't be asking SCSI, but I thought that the costings there are today is costings. So we can clarify that.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I can't let witnesses question witnesses. Somebody may wish to ask that question. I'm out of time. I have to be fair. I'm going to go to the independent slot and Deputy McHugh please.

    None

    Thanks chairman. I think it's just by pure chance that I get to speak at this committee because I'm not on the committee and there happens to be no independents here. So I don't have the Fine Gael whip. So I appreciate this chairman. I would also like to acknowledge your own inquiries and also your own interest in this area. We sit beside each other in the chamber and you are always asking about it. I would like to thank the homeowners and representatives today for their contribution. In my short time, I want to go back to the issue around exclusion, exclusion from the professional indemnity. Just to follow the contribution, this is something we have heard about, people are talking about. To see it written down here today, it is the kernel of the problem. People have on their own accord taken off the outer leaf. People have gone through the scheme and taken off the outer leaf. On the other hand, I share Paul's frustration in terms of the delay with respect to the standards and inquiries and research. But to cut to the chase, if we had a boulder sitting in front of us today, the science would be very clear and black and white. The science would be if you have a pyrite on your inner leaf which carries your roof, which carries the weight, which carries the bison slabs, that is a problem. No builder, no engineer would stand over it. So I am glad to see that you have put down in black and white, you have relayed and you have reflected a concern within the engineers. Any builder worth their salt, my own father is a builder and has built many blocks over a long number of years. He keeps talking about the same thing. That weakness in that inner block will not go away by just replacing the outer leaf. So I think what we have here now, we have a scheme very much relying on an endless time, an unknown time threshold in terms of investigations and inquiry. It will be good to have the group in here in the next session. But I think what we can do constructively here today is to ensure that the knowledge that you have, the science that you have, also the frustration, Paul, that I share with you in terms of this was supposed to be completed at the end of last year, all that inquiry, the IS465 is not fit for purpose. Every homeowner knows that. So now my question here today, and maybe to get either Paul or Damien to reflect on this and maybe Lisa or somebody, one of the homeowners representative, how do we bring those two time constructs together? On the one hand, we are waiting on science and research. Everybody in the room already knows what the science here is. If you've got pyrite or mica on an inner relief wall or in your foundation, that is a weakness. And the other time vacuum that the homeowner find themselves in where trauma has been compounded upon trauma. The words that we use today as even adding to that trauma today, how do we bring those two timeframes together where we allow in the one hand every second of every day, every minute of every day, every day of every week where people continue to go through the trauma, it's intergenerational now. How do we stop this by bringing forward the results that the science that we already know, and I think therein lies the problem. And I suppose the meeting today with the department officials will have to be very focused on this issue as well. And I don't think it's fair for one department to be trying to carry the load of this 2 billion euro scheme. I've said that from day one because there's officials within the department of the environment listening to officials from the department of finance and the department in deeper saying we have X amount of money here, we have to work within this timeframe . And maybe my one question to you Damien is in conclusion, it is remaining a grant scheme. Is that a question of culpability? Maybe you're not in a position to answer that. Because it remains a grant scheme, does that mean that it's not taking responsibility for the problem and it's just repairing a house even though a lot of houses today have been demolished? Can we get a very brief reply to that question please?

    Damien Owens - Engineers Ireland - Director General

    So I can't really talk about whether it should be a grant scheme or whatever nomenclature you'd have, but in relation to how can we move forward in this, I think we're looking for certainty where certainty doesn't exist at this point in time. And I think our mechanisms, be it the standard or whatever, would have to evolve. If we know another mechanism of deterioration added in, we may discover more. So we may not get information on all the mechanisms of deterioration at the same time, but allow the situation to evolve and not look for certainty where it doesn't exist at the moment.

    Lisa Hone - Mica Action Group - Chair

    Could I just interject?

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    As briefly as possible.

    Lisa Hone - Mica Action Group - Chair

    The science is so, so fundamental. It cannot be overstated how fundamental it is to get this science right. Homeowners at the moment cannot move forward because they cannot make informed decisions. The issue around fundamentals, around foundations, is a huge road block. We have to have the answers. And if government and the NSNI and other bodies who are involved with regard to the research cannot produce that research, a very precautionary approach has to be adopted. If you do not have the science and you do not have that certainty and you cannot guarantee to homeowners that what remediation has done to their house will actually give them a lasting permanent repair to the extent where this issue is eliminated from their lives entirely, that has to be the aim of this scheme. If a cloud of uncertainty and anxiety hangs over homeowners for years to come because they don't have credibility and belief in what's being done, and it sounds like the professionals don't either, then that is inhuman. It is immoral. You have that knowledge right now. And if you don't have the science and the government has had more than enough time to do this, more than enough time.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I'm going to move on now. Deputy Callaghan, please. Five minutes, please.

    Cian O'Callaghan - SD - Dublin Bay North

    Thanks. And thanks particularly to the homeowners for the very powerful and strong testimony they've given. I think the state is compounding the stress and the trauma for homeowners instead of the alleviating it. I think that is not forgivable. I think there is one take away we have to take from this, all of us, it should be that we need to listen to the homeowners who have been living through this So I just want to ask about that in terms of the IS465 and foundations. Just on the foundations, we were told if they see a problem with the foundations, it will be addressed. But what if the problem with the foundations isn't seen, it is not going to be addressed. And just to take the analogy, we wouldn't dream of if a house was on fire and had been burnt down and we had any question of the embers from it not being put out or there being a risk of the fire respreading, there would be no question of rebuilding the fire until you were certain about the safety of that. So why are we in a situation where there isn't a certainty on that?

    Paul Forde - Expert Working Group on New DCB Grant Scheme - Engineer

    I would love to see the scheme start and I would love to get at it. And I said earlier, and I stand by it, if my company are involved in that, we will be checking the foundations. And if there is a problem, I believe they will be sorted. That's my professional opinion. And it is my understanding of how the agency are looking at the scheme. So I would love to see it start. I was involved very briefly at the very start of the pyrite remediation. There were terrible fears all across the North County Dublin. Once houses started being remediated, confidence started coming with the scheme. I just feel the fact that it's not let move forward is compounding people's worries. And encourage NSAI, get to the end of the science. I'm an engineer. I'm not going to ignore it. The blocks are going to be tested. This isn't guesswork. My understanding of the scheme is that the Housing Agency appointed engineer who will be paid by the Housing Agency. So to Martina, I think that the previous scheme where the homeowner was funding the engineers, and if it was costing 18 grand, I wouldn't mind being one of those. My understanding now is that the homeowner will fund the initial building report which is estimated to be 500 or 600 euro. And then the heavy lifting will be carried out by the Housing Agency appointed engineer from a panel of engineers. So that cost has transferred. And as a professional engineer, if my company are involved in that, we will be checking foundations. - [??] Do any of the homeowners want to respond?

    Martina Hegarty - North Mayo Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    I would like to jump in if possible. Just in relation to the 18K, the 18K is associated with the rebuilding of your house. It's nothing got to do with the actual testing, which was 7K at the start. Just in relation to getting the scheme up and running and trying to get people moving, the only people that can physically move forward now is those that has additional finance available. Those that are actually in the position to put themselves into debt and those that are going to dip into their savings. They are the only people that is able to move forward. Nobody else is not. Everybody else is time-bound. And the big concern in relation to the new scheme from a homeowner's perspective is this constant knee-jerk reaction of we can't approve you, so we're going to reject you. And it's not anything in relation to, well, let's sit down, let's look at your documents, let's see how we can help you, let's see how we can support you. This scheme is built to say no and then you can appeal. How is that going to enable a scheme to grow and evolve when there's a constant door being shut on homeowners?

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Ms. Hone, you wanted to add to that? Just as briefly as you can, please.

    Lisa Hone - Mica Action Group - Chair

    A quick response with regard to the issue of foundations. The first thing is when you say you're going to look at foundations, how are foundations going to be looked at? I'm informed that it's going to be a visual inspection. We know from the science and the core samples that have to be taken, you cannot visually inspect something to know whether it's... So we have to follow the science, that's the first thing. And the second thing is it is impossible to say get the scheme up and running. You are potentially driving people into years and years of anxiety because you're not addressing the root cause. You cannot ask people to build on something that may or may not be fit for purpose. It is just untenable. Farmers are living in fear that they will go ahead, they will spend, they'll get into debt and years from now they're going to be catapulted right back into where we are now. It is inhuman and the government has to recognize that and a way more precautionary approach has to be taken. The untested foundation, that's the... Yeah, but at the moment nobody knows. Nobody knows because we don't have the science. Nobody knows whether the foundations would be fit for purpose or not. What we do know is from the science that relates to internal sulphur attack is that that oxidation, that internal sulphur attack can degrade even poured concrete. You cannot eliminate that as being a possibility.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Okay, thanks Ms. Hone. Then we go to the final slot and Deputy Conway Walsh and Deputy O'Broin are going to share this slot. I understand. Is that right?

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    I'm going to take this and Rose will take the first slot in the next round.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Okay, fine.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    Thanks, Chair. Thank you very much. First of all, thank you all of you for coming before us. Also thank you all for being so frank and giving us information, particularly to Lisa, Martina and Martina. Thanks again for coming here. I know it must be incredibly frustrating to have to tell our committee the same things as you said to us the last time, but please don't think that it's not valuable or important for the work we're doing. I think two things. First of all, there is nobody here saying the scheme shouldn't get up and running. In fact, the homeowners have been pleading for the scheme to get up and running as quickly as possible. But I think the message that is loud and clear to this committee is there's a parallel piece of work as the scheme gets up and running to fix all of the problems that not just the homeowners, but in fact the engineers in the room have outlined. I think there are many of us in this committee who are more than willing to give a commitment that we're going to continue to try and have those problems that have been raised here resolved. Some of those will take changes in legislation. Some of them will take changes in regulations. Some of them will just take changes in policy. But I think we all want this scheme to work in the way that the homeowners have asked. I have two very specific questions which just relate to the operation of the revised scheme. It's not because I'm not taking on board the things you've said about all the other issues. I think they've been well rehearsed. First of all, and it's a question both for Donegal and Mayo, obviously for those homeowners who are in the existing scheme, there are so-called transitional mechanisms to be moved from the existing scheme to avail of the changes in the revised scheme. I'm hearing some concerns that those transitional mechanisms may be too burdensome in terms of the administrative burden on homeowners who have already gone through two years of the existing scheme. So I'd like to invite you briefly, do you have any concerns specifically about those transitional mechanisms? Are there things that we can be highlighting with the department to try and make it as easy as is possible for those homeowners? The second question is, I heard John McLaughlin from Donegal County Council on the radio yesterday, and he seemed to be suggesting that if somebody just forgot to submit some of the documentation, there wouldn't be a process by which somebody would pick up the phone and just say, "You've missed a document. Can you resubmit it?" People would be forced into appealing on refusal. Do you have concerns for new entrants to the scheme that the level of bureaucracy that's imposed and Martina Hegerty, you spoke to this briefly, is a concern? And then finally, we have an opportunity, Martina Cleary, just in terms of Clare finally getting into the scheme. Where is that at and are there things we need to be saying to the department to make sure you're not waiting an undue amount of time before you actually have access to funds? Thanks, Chair.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Deputy Ó Broin.

    Lisa Hone - Mica Action Group - Chair

    I'll just begin and address those. Yes, we have huge concerns with regard to the transition arrangements We have homeowners who are desperately in need of... They're a part way through building. They desperately need... Their situation needs to be addressed. They don't have timelines in terms of when that is going to happen. Also with regard to the unknown, we have hundreds of applications that have also been passed over to the Housing Agency. At the moment, you might as well put them in a black hole. We have no information in terms of how they are going to be assessed, the timelines, how this process is going to be conducted.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    We'll ask for information on that in the next session. That's okay. I'm just conscious. I want to let the other two Martinas in and we have a minute and a half. I'm genuinely very sorry. We'll come back to that.

    Lisa Hone - Mica Action Group - Chair

    Okay. Yeah. No worries.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    Martina, Martina?

    Martina Hegarty - North Mayo Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    Just one point I'd like to add, and that's in relation to those that had already commenced testing in Mayo and are pending their report from their engineers. The scheme that's open at the moment is requesting a BCA and we need to understand if the report and the testing results that's currently being collected by those engineers are going to understand, or if the homeowners are going to be forced to start the process the whole way over again. That's a significant gap. In relation to the transition, we're pending the transition plan from the local authorities and we're hopeful that will come any day now.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    Okay. Then just finally Martina Cleary on the clear inclusion.

    Martina Cleary - Clare Pyrite Action Group - Chair

    Yes. Well, just a revision to the initial submission on Monday. As of Tuesday evening, the portal is open for people to apply. However, access to, for example, experts in this region that can conduct the BCA, I phoned and obviously as a representative for homeowners as well, they're experiencing it. We don't have, it's to do with project management, an actual list of people that will conduct this initial BCA. We're relying on somebody from Mayo potentially or somebody from Limerick. We've no facilitator in place. What would... We really need on this issue of prioritisation and transparency? We need an indication of projected figures. How many homes are they estimating? I've already asked this per county that they're going to be aiming to address per year. Also there's such a vagueness in that prioritisation metric in the hands of the Housing Agency of... Where, relative, the damage threshold relative to what, this relativity issue. Like... Are we being compared relatively to homes that have been 15 years, say for example, in Donegal, deteriorating? I have asked that question during some of the working group meetings with the Minister and with the Housing Agency. I was told that no, no, it's going to be, the scheme is for every county, but that there's no transparency there. The figures that are coming out from Donegal, for example, on how many homes have actually been remediated since the initial scheme was open, they're shocking. They're so low. There needs to be a massive upscaling here of telling people, right, we're going to go aim for this many houses per annum, per county and then annual check in as well as to what's been delivered.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    Thanks, Chair.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    That concludes this portion of the meeting. We're going into a second meeting shortly. I want to thank all the witnesses for their attendance and I apologize for having to strict. So I think I was equally strict and annoying to everybody. So I think we'll go into the next session in five minutes and of course witnesses are welcome to remain in the visitors gallery for that session. Thank you.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Welcome back, everybody. We're into the second meeting of our Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage this morning to consider the defective block scheme IS 465. We're joined in this session from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage by Mr. Feargal O'Coigligh, the Assistant Secretary and Koen Verbruggen Director of the Geological Survey of Ireland, Derek Rafferty, Principal Officer and John Wickham enior Advisor in Building Standards. From the County and City Management Association, we're joined by Mr. Kevin Kelly, CEO of Mayo County Council and Mr. Liam Ward, Director of Services for Mayo County Council. From the National Standards Association of Ireland, we're joined by Geraldine Larkin, Chief Executive Officer, Ken Murphy, Senior Scientific Officer and Yvonne Wilde, Head of Standards Technical. I just have to read a note on privilege before we commence. You're protected by absolute privilege in respect of your contributions to today's meeting. This means you have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything you say at the meeting. Witnesses are expected not to abuse the privilege they enjoy and it's my duty as Chair to ensure the privilege is not abused. Therefore, if your statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, you will be directed to discontinue your remarks. It's imperative that you comply with any such direction. We don't have any witnesses attending remotely, so witnesses are reminded of the longstanding parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticize or make charges against a person outside the House or unofficially by name. There are such ways to make him or her identifiable. The opening statement submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. The order I'm going to go in for the opening statements, I'll go first to Mr O'Coigligh on behalf of the department, then to Mr Kelly on behalf of the CCMA and then to Ms Larkin for the NSAI. Mr O'Coigligh, please.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    Thank you for the invitation to talk about the concrete block scheme. I'm Assistant Secretary in the housing policy and governance division In that role, I lead on housing remediation matters. I am accompanied by my colleagues, Principal Officer Derek Rafferty and Senior Advisor of Building Standards John Wickham and Koen Verbruggen, Director of the Geological Survey of Ireland. The new enhanced concrete block scheme was launched two weeks ago. It provides financial support to affected homeowners in counties Donegal Mayo, Limerick and Clare whose dwellings were damaged by the use of defective concrete blocks in their construction. The scheme provides for grants of up to 420,000 euro for affected homeowners depending on the work required. The improved package of measures under this considerably enhanced scheme should help to mark a new beginning for those who need to remediate their homes. The vast majority of those who need help will get all the financial assistance they need. It is important to remember that the defective concrete blocks grant scheme is not a compensation or redress scheme. Rather, it is a grant scheme of last resort put in place by government in order to voluntarily assist homeowners in a very difficult position with no other parent options open to them to remediate actual damage to their homes. Key features of the new enhanced scheme include 100% grants subject to an overall maximum grant of 420,000 euro per dwelling, grant rates in keeping with advice from the SCSI, a government guarantee in the form of a second grant option if required for 40 years, a revised application process that removes the financial barrier to scheme entry, an independent appeals process for applicants, alternative accommodation and storage costs and immediate repair work to a maximum value of 25,000 euro, the expertise of the housing agency in assessing applications, inclusion of RTB, registered rental properties, inclusion of Claire and Limerick in the enhanced scheme upon commencement and the option for other counties to enter the scheme. Exempt development status for like for like remediation works completed under the scheme. The scheme is now open to new applicants. Transitional arrangements for transferring applicants from the current scheme, often called the 90/10 scheme, are in place. Existing applicants to the original scheme will also benefit retrospectively from the enhancements introduced under the new scheme. The enhanced scheme has been legislated for following extensive consultation with all relevant stakeholders. The Minister, departmental officials and relevant local authorities work closely with affected homeowners on the development of the enhanced scheme. I would also like to thank John O'Connor who acted as a liaison with local groups for his great assistance. This engagement continued over the past months as we worked to final ise the implementing regulations and accompanying guidelines. The department appreciates the patience and diligence of all those involved in this final stage. Discussions were always open, helpful and constructive. As a result, the scheme is now in place to deliver significant improvements for all concerned. Furthermore, the positive working relationships developed during the process will hopefully be carried through to the implementation steering group comprised of officials from the relevant local authorities, the department, the Housing Agency and the homeowners' liaison officer. Given the complex nature of the scheme, it will be essential to keep the operation of the regulations and guidelines under review. This group will meet in the coming weeks and help to ensure the smooth and successful rollout of the enhanced scheme. It will be tasked with further working through issues as they arise and making recommendations if further changes to the regulations or guidelines are needed. This group will also prepare a first report within six months on the operation of the scheme as requested by the Minister. I understand the focus of concern for thumb, some have been detecting issues around what precise standards should or should not apply as assessments are made in terms of eligibility of the scheme. The IS 465 assessment standard dealing with testing and categor isation of damaged buildings incorporating concrete blocks containing certain materials is currently being reviewed by the National Standards Authority of Ireland. The department is supporting the NSCI to deliver a wide range of research in support of the review. An interagency defective concrete blocks technical matter steering group has been established to support and inform the NSAI standardisation programme about technical issues. Steering groups include representatives from the department, NSAI, GSI, sustainable energy authority of Ireland and the Housing Agency. The steering group has agreed on a process to specify, procure, fund and manage research projects. The GSI has also established a procurement framework for the provision of laboratory analysis services to support GSI's Irish construction materials project concrete products. Research proposals developed by the relevant NSAI technical committees including research to investigate peritite oxidation in concrete blocks and the potential impact of deleterious material and foundations have been commissioned and are making progress. The department and the NSAI are also working closely with Construct Innovate Ireland's new national research centre for construction technology and innovation based in the University of Galway on several research topics to inform the technical advancements of standards relevant to concrete blocks. My colleagues and I will be happy to answer as many questions as possible. Go raibh maith agat.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you.

    Kevin Kelly - Mayo CC CEO / County and City Management Association

    I won't read out every paragraph of it. Chairman and members of the committee, I am Kevin Kelly, chief executive mayor of the city and county management association, committee on housing, building and land use and accompanied here today by Lee Moore, director of services. On behalf of the CCMA, I would like to thank the committee for its invitation to contribute to the discussions regarding the defective concrete block scheme and the review of IS465. The distress that defective concrete blocks have caused to property owners primarily in counties Donegal and Mayo to date is widespread and palpable. This long-standing issue has impacted thousands of homes, consequently affecting families and indeed entire communities. The defective concrete blocks grant scheme enacted on January 31, aimed at mitigating the problems in the counties Donegal and Mayo. But the complexities inherent in the situation and the untested aspects of the scheme resulted in slower than anticipated progress. Appendix 1 sets out the position in respect of applications in both Donegal and Mayo. In response to this issue, Donegal County Council and Mayo County Council established local committees comprised of councillors, action group members, homeowners and council executive members. These committees have been engaged in extensive discussions to facilitate greater understanding and to address the multifaceted complexities associated with this issue and its resolution. As we advance the implementation of the new regulations, it is crucial that the functions of local authorities and the Housing Agency are streamlined as much as possible. While the FAQs and ministerial guidelines set out the steps in some detail, issues will undoubtedly emerge during implementation and we must collectively work to resolve these issues quickly. In this regard, the establishment of an implementation steering group made up of officials from the relevant local authorities, the department, the Housing Agency and the homeowners, liaison officers to ensure the successful roll out of the enhanced scheme will be beneficial. The Minister has acknowledged that the scheme will evolve and that given the complex nature of the scheme, it will be important to keep the operation of the regulations and guidelines under review. The implementation steering group will be tasked with working through issues as they arise and to make recommendations to the Ministry of further changes to the regulations or guidelines needed. The setting up of an engineering team within the Housing Agency supported by consultants to focus and deal with engineering aspects of the enhanced scheme is a positive step to address some of the challenges within the existing scheme and is welcomed. This provides for a single engineering decision maker for each application on the eligibility of the dwelling, the appropriate remediation option and the grant amount. It remains to be seen if further recourse to the Housing Agency will be required at later stages of the process such as if there is any deviation by the homeowner from the agreed remediation plan. Obtaining the government grant and the payment of the actual monies must be streamlined and timely in order to build confidence and to get through the workload. The quick turnaround of monies to builders and suppliers will help maintain essential cash flow and retain those builders and suppliers in the marketplace. However the spending of this level of funds must also stand up to normal public scrutiny and the required oversight and certifications will be required at the necessary intervals by the responsible and accountable professionals. The professional engineering services for the enhanced scheme will be provided by the Housing Agency and its consulting engineering firms on behalf of the state. The professional engineering/architectural services of the homeowner will be provided by the homeowner's private engineer. It has therefore been outlined that the Act requires designated local authorities to carry out a series of administrative checks only and at no stage does a local authority have to make any adjudication in relation to already certified engineering decisions. Therefore the role of the local authority is clear in this regard and it is important that all understand the reliance that will be placed on the engineer's certifications. It is noted that there is provision for the extension of the period for carrying out the work by up to 24 weeks due to exceptional circumstances beyond the control of the applicant and it is important that there is a clear and consistent approach across local authorities in this regard. The homeowner is required to have their building construction professional provide a certificate of compliance with the planning commission for the existing dwelling. While it is clear that local authorities are entitled and expected to rely on such certification, the provision of same may be difficult for agents given that many developments may contain some modifications and queries may arise in respect of compliance or substantial compliance. The funding for both storage and temporary accommodation as part of the enhanced scheme is positive for homeowners but significant challenges may remain in securing temporary accommodation within a limited rental market. Given the level of funds that may be administered under the scheme, a streamlined and efficient process for local authorities to receive reimbursement for any financial outlay without delays is essential and the CCMA supports any digitalisation of the application and processing systems to ensure speedy processing and communication, thereby reducing confusion and delays. The act suggests that development consisting of the completion of an approved remediation option shall be exempted where honest completion is not inconsistent with or materially different from the appearance and character of the relevant dwelling in respect of which the approved remediation option is to be or has been completed. The planning exemption is described as a like for like and the guidance deals with issues around planning, building control, foundations, etc. This is an area that the implementation steering group may need to examine to ensure that the limits of the flexibility that appears to be intended by the scheme is correctly understood by homeowners and their agents in the context of planning law generally and in particular what deviations from the current building will attract the requirement for a planning application. It was a concern that until now the scheme did not include social houses impacted by defective concrete blocks but it is noted that the department has signaled the introduction of a scheme to extract or fund local authority and approved housing body owned social homes that have been damaged by defective concrete blocks and this is welcomed. The CCMA supports the initiative by government in tasking the National Standards Authority of Ireland with a crucial role of reviewing the current IS465 standards supported by the interagency defective concrete blocks technical matter steering group In conclusion, the remediation of properly damaged due to defective concrete blocks is a significant task and it necessitates a concerted effort across government, local authorities, the Housing Agency and homeowners with the right steps including streamlining processes and clearly defined responsibilities we can address this issue efficiently and the CCMA's objective remains to deliver prompt and beneficial outcomes for the homeowners affected by this crisis.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you Mr Kelly. I will invite Ms Larkin for NSAI.

    Geraldine Larkin - NSAI - CEO

    Thank you very much and I would like to thank the committee for the invitation to assist in your deliberations on the issues in today's discussion. My name is Geraldine Larkin, CEO of the National Standards Authority of Ireland. Today I am accompanied by my colleagues Ms Yvonne Wild, head of standards technical and Dr Ken Murphy, senior scientific officer and secretary to the NSAI concrete block technical committee. We are here today to assist you in your work and to address any queries you may have. In this session we hope to give you an overview of the work that NSAI was requested to undertake by government pursuant to its letter of 15 February 2022 including review of IS 465. At the outset I would like to acknowledge the homeowners, representatives of whom this committee have already heard from earlier today and the impact that the issues with defective concrete blocks have and continue to have on them and their families. I would like to assure all stakeholders that NSAI and its technical committees which are comprised of voluntary experts have made and are continuing to make every effort to expedite work while maintaining integrity of the process. Review of IS 465 standard and its application. At our previous appearance before this committee in December, the NSA I confirmed that work is underway by the relevant technical committees to inform the revision of IS 465 2018 and that this work will address requests by government to consider matters relating to deleterious materials such as peritite and other matters including questions around foundations and insulation raised by the working group on the defective concrete block grant scheme which comprised a broad range of stakeholders including homeowners, representatives, local authorities and government agencies. At that time NSAI also noted that the requested work is critically dependent on further technical information becoming available. NSAI can now advise that substantial progress is being made through the defective concrete block technical matter steering group chaired by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to procure relevant data and research to advance knowledge for this work. As a result we can confirm that research programs are now underway to establish the long-term impact of peritite in walls, rising walls and foundations which will inform consideration of the structural performance of retained block work post remediation Analysis of the defective concrete block grant scheme reports are underway and data gathering and analysis is continuing. Following an open call to identify other data sources, substantive data relating to dwellings currently outside of the DCP grant scheme has recently been procured and this data will be analysed in conjunction with data available from the relevant local authorities from DCP grant scheme applicants. Modelling of behaviour of full-fill insulated walls has been carried out and those results are being considered. Substantive progress has been made on establishing a research program to explore the long-term efficacy and longevity of alternative remediation options currently referenced in IS 465. The output from these research programs will also be used to inform other questions raised by government including the questions of consistency of interpretation of test reports and criteria defining categories for remediation. Related work being undertaken. In conjunction with this work, a review of the guidance associated with the design and construction of masonry concrete block walls is also being carried out. Research referenced above will inform the evolution of associated European and national standards and/or guidance by providing further technical insight into performance of aggregates, blocks and block work construction. The revision of SR 325 recommendations for the design of masonry structures in Ireland to Eurocode 6 will be informed by an extensive range of climate- related research and data procured or being procured including recently updated climatic data from Met Éireann, modelling of moisture ingress through concrete block walls and impact of freeze -thaw and other climatic conditions on the long-term integrity of masonry wall construction. In its letter of February of 2022, the government also requested NSAI to consider such other matters as the provision of guidance on procurement certification and traceability of concrete blocks, consideration of a minimum cement content for blocks, consideration of a maximum specification for content of deleterious materials and a review of the impact of pumped cavity fill and related guidance in SR 54 code of practice for the energy- efficient retrofit of dwellings. SR 54 is being revised following a systematic review and this together with other work previously referred to will be informed by relevant learnings from the research programmes underway. It should be noted at this point that the experts serving on the NSCI technical committees for the above work are very conscious of the need for timely updates of their work outcomes and they therefore will keep under continuous review the possibility of issuing interim guidance should this be considered useful or proportionate. In summary, NSAI understands fully its important role in relation to these standards and all the standards developed by its technical committees right across the board spectrum of standards for construction. I hope this statement has given you an overview of our work and we are happy to address any further questions you may have. Thank you.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you very much. I'm going to move to members now and we will take six minutes slots on these because I think we have a little bit more time. Because we started late I'm going to go to 12.50 with this meeting. I'll go to Senator Fitzpatrick. First please.

    Mary Fitzpatrick - FF - Senator

    Thank you all for attending this morning. I don't know if you had the benefit of hearing the earlier part of our session but it was very strong and compelling testimonies from homeowners in Mayo and Donegal and in Clare. And appreciating the extensive work that's gone on now for many years from each of your organisations and departments which is all very welcome and there was a very clear I suppose direction from the homeowners that while they have very real and significant concerns and criticisms, direct criticisms of the revised scheme, they absolutely want to in parallel to I suppose addressing those concerns and move ahead with the scheme. My question I suppose is to the department and Feargal if you could respond. I appreciate we've only got six minutes but I suspect my colleagues on the committee are going to be looking for answers to these questions as well. And if we can kind of work through systematically the criticisms, you know, it starts with everything from I guess the science of the scheme, the criticisms and appreciating the last contribution there from NSAI but the criticisms of working from the standards, the to the actual implementation, the frustrations and the challenges that homeowners feel in terms of the complexity of the operation of the revised scheme. Their concern that it doesn't cover 100% of their costs, that it doesn't cover for example I can't remember if it was Martina or which one talking about how it doesn't cover 100%, their real concerns of the exclusion of foundations, the exclusion of downsizing and their talk about the need for direct local coordination but also project management. They repeatedly referenced a requirement for an end-to-end scheme. I suppose I'd like to hear firstly from the department how they would respond to those criticisms and then if we can take it from there.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    Thank you. I had the benefit maybe hearing the beginning of the session when we were in the custom house before we left but then travelled over so I didn't hear the second part so I only heard some of it. And the very strong contributions from the people affected in Donegal and Clare and elsewhere. This has been for the people who are living with this stress in those counties, this has been a very long campaign. There is, as you pointed out, there is a tension between ongoing concerns and an impatience to get moving. I heard this morning criticism of deadlines being missed because we promised to finalise regulations and we lost a few weeks. There is that impatience to get going while some of the concerns and criticisms that have been there from the beginning are still there. From the department's point of view, we now have an act, we have Dier octes has laid down a scheme, it has laid down a funding mechanism, it has laid down certain limits, it has laid down mechanisms to increase those limits in a particular fashion. So that is our operating and writing instructions right now. The act has a three year review clause. I think from the department's point of view, our concern is let's get this up and running. People have been waiting a very long time. The frustration, understandable frustration in relation to the science, because our knowledge is deepening time and time. As we have gone through this, our knowledge continues to deepen. We are very rich and we are funding a very deep research programme which will be informing not just our own standards but European standards as well. As we are going into territory and detail in relation to issues around pyrrhotite and sulphides, that probably hasn't been going into this at this level. We are cutting new ground here. The criticism of the 465, I think our view is, and we have that from the Housing Agency, that there is sufficient flexibility within 465 to talk to any issues around pyrrhotite, any of those issues that can be addressed. The issue of interim guidance as well, if that is helpful. I think we can work through these issues. What I can say is, it is in nobody's interest to hide anything. It is in nobody's interest not to uncover anything. Nobody's interest to deny points of view from other technical experts They all have to be investigated thoroughly and bottomed out. Sometimes the arguments set up with micro versus pyrrotyte, it doesn't really matter. We have to get to the bottom of this and ensure that both houses are fixed and that these issues don't arise again. It is not as if a huge amount hasn't been done to prevent issues arising again. We can get into that in more detail. In relation to the complexity... The complexity, if you look at the guidelines and schedules, a huge amount there, but that is to guide people through. The Housing Agency is now involved, I think it will be very helpful. Issues around foundations, and I think you may have heard that before To date there has been no evidence of failure in foundations, but research is going on. So that is just briefly.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I will move on to the next slot. Sinn Féin's slot. Deputy Conway Walsh, you are going to read the summary.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    Thank you very much. I have a number of questions and I appreciate some straight answers. The first one is for you, Kevin. Martina raised the tests that have been done so far, the building conditions surveys. Are they now going to be accepted on to the new scheme without going back on those further? Just yes or no? Kevin, if we could just... I'm just going to go through and answer each.

    Kevin Kelly - Mayo CC CEO / County and City Management Association

    My understanding is yes.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    So yes, definitely. Those will be recognised.

    Kevin Kelly - Mayo CC CEO / County and City Management Association

    And if any work that is done so far will be brought in and fed into the scheme as part of the transition.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    OK, good. Do you agree that homes must be fully insurable, and restorative to full market value? That is what 100% means. - [FO ]I think we have from experience in the scheme that once the homes have been remediated, and the certificates of completion are open, and we have indications from the insurance industry and banking industry that they will work with that.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    You mean that they will? No, I really need to get to the bottom of this and I need to get to it straight. Because we have heard from engineers in Ireland that the homes won't be insurable. That they are not going to stand over. Can I just tell you that they won't get professional indemnity insurance on the basis of this scheme because it is not fit for purpose. Do you agree with that or do you disagree with it?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    The engineers brought forward some testimony this morning which is, I am not sure that is the position. The Housing Agency has worked with engineers.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    But you agreed to the bottom line that houses must be fully insurable , and restorative to full market value. If you agree with that.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    The intention is to remediate homes.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    You agree with that statement?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    That is the intention.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    That it has to be. It has to be for all homeowners. On the retrospectiveness that was brought up by Martina Hegarty, the Minister promised publicly that we would have a retrospective in this scheme. We don't see retrospective anywhere mentioned. That was for the people whose homes were collapsing and they had to do work on it. Where is the retrospectiveness? I am not sure in terms of The Minister promised retrospectiveness. We have at least one homeowner in Mayo. That they had to conduct works to stop their house from falling down. The Minister promised that would be there. Where is it? I am not sure on the particular issue. It is a very significant issue. It needs to be in this scheme. Could I ask you to please go back on that? In terms of the thresholds, people in Mayo are concerned that the thresholds will exclude some people from it. The visual impact of it. People will have to wait and sit and watch their homes while they further deteriorate, knowing they will have to rebuild them at some stage. Will people be excluded because of the damage threshold? Will people be excluded in Mayo that have pyrite that demands a complete rebuild? Will they be excluded from the scheme at this point?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    The scheme lays out a particular format and a particular way of assessing damage. So that is what the scheme provides.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    Can I say to you that the scheme in providing of that will exclude people and will ask people to continue in the torturous situation where they have to watch and wait for the cracks to get a little bit larger before the scheme is done. That absolutely has to be looked at. I want to put a real life situation to you in terms of how you say This is not a made up one. This is absolutely real. It's a home in Westport. €296,000 is what the builder's quote is. That is the best builder's quote. The new scheme will give 2,045 per square metre. The house is 94.5 square metres which will give a grant of 193.34 leaving a shortfall of €102,666. Can you tell me how that is 100%?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    In terms of the Oireachtas, it is now legislated for a particular scheme. It's generously funded up to 420,000 euro. We are confident in the vast majority of houses.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    I'm really sorry but I've been dealing with this for 10 years and I'm running out of patience. How can we call this scheme 100% when we have this real life situation of 102,000 shortfall? I could give you other examples as well. This is a specific one.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    I think I have explained the position to the deputy.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    So it's not 100% scheme. When you say the vast majority, I know there are others, this is a political situation, people involved in devising this scheme, you say the vast majority of those who need help will all get the financial assistance they need, except for some of them. We always, the test for this scheme was that everybody who was impacted would have a rebuild, would have their house put back to the original situation. I need to ask another question. In terms of using the 2008 standards, why? What is the evidence behind that? What is the science behind the 2008 standards? For people who have improved their homes, who have done different things, we now have new information and new regulations. Just tell me why. Give me a rationale for the 2008 regulations.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    This is the SCSI stand. I think we went to the SCSI as an independent professional body.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    If we can have the rationale for it.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    This is the costing standard.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    Did you ask them for a rationale for it?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    The department went to the SCSI because it is the best independent body to advise on costings.

    Rose Conway Walsh - SF - Mayo

    No, it is not. Really, honest to God, I think you are coming in here.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I'm out of time on that slot. I'm going to move on to the Fine Gael slot.

    Emer Higgins - FG - Dublin Mid West

    Thank you to all of you for being here with us and giving us the updates. The enhanced scheme will evolve is the main message we continue to hear. It does need to evolve according to homeowners who are the people at the absolute heart of this. They want 100% in the true sense of the word. They want clarity when it comes to the foundations of their homes. They want support when it comes to the project management and all of the complications that will come with this from their perspective. They also want parity of process between local authority homes, AHB homes and private homes. Insurance seems to be a real challenge in terms of being able to achieve that. Maybe I would like to hear from the department on the insurance issue to see if that has come up and if there is anything that the government can be doing to help in terms of that insurance for private homes. NSAI, we heard an awful lot this morning and in December and last year and the year before in relation to IS465. I know you are working hard to get it updated. Appreciate the updates you have given us in terms of the data. That is now going to be fed into that review. But is there a timeline? When will it be updated?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    Just in terms of the insurance issue, generally, we have maintained and the Minister has met the insurance industry on more than one occasion. We will continue to do that to ensure that issues to ensure that people's houses can be insured. We have good experience that that has happened in the past. I don't see why that shouldn't happen in the future.

    Emer Higgins - FG - Dublin Mid West

    That seems to be a real concern for homeowners. There is a feeling that they won't be insured.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    That is not the indication in writing we have had from the insurance industry.

    Emer Higgins - FG - Dublin Mid West

    Is that possible to share with the committee? That would be really helpful. Thank you.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    In terms of NSAI?

    Geraldine Larkin - NSAI - CEO

    You asked the question in terms of the length of time the research is going to take. At this point in time, it is estimated that the research will take approximately 12 months. At the same time as that research is going on, the committee will obviously be working on any interim findings. And then at the end of the process, it will take a minimum of six months more to complete the standard. The reason you are probably going to ask me why is the research going to take so long? The core part of that research is to conduct on an accelerated basis the aging of the samples taken from the various properties. We need to be sure that the research has the time to test out how the various aspects will withstand a longevity of 50 or 60 years. Scientific accelerated aging that is driving the research process.

    Emer Higgins - FG - Dublin Mid West

    That makes sense. #18 months, we could be talking 2025. Homeowners are really living in fear. Many of them feel that the issue is in concrete and foundations. reality. When it comes to the context of the scheme in the meantime. Is there any initial indications? Is there anything that can be shared that can be helpful at this stage? Could you come in?

    Koen Verbruggen - Geological Survey Ireland - Director

    I could come in. Geological survey. Feargal laid out a series of research that has been funded by the Department of Housing that has been managed by Geological Survey [Ireland] feeding into the committees. There's four research programs at the moment that are underway. Separate to some of the ones underway by NSAI. One of them, if I can go quickly through in terms of timing. There's a report by the company SLR on pyrite reactivity based on petrography. We should have a finalised copy of that this quarter. There's a report by the company Petrolab in the UK which is a metadata analysis of work they have done on samples received in respect to defective concrete blocks and conveyancy. Essentially undamaged. We expect to have a report on that before the end of the year. We already have a draft report. The work on accelerated ageing that Geraldine referred to does take 225 days. That will take longer and it will be potentially the end of Q1/24. The largest research project is the one being led by the University of Ulster. It involves a consortium of several experts. Some of them referred to earlier in Canada, Switzerland, the States and Norway. That is looking at the broader view of damage mechanisms. That is funded to run to up to three years. Interim results are expected from that before the end of the year.

    Emer Higgins - FG - Dublin Mid West

    What will happen when the interim results happen this year?

    Koen Verbruggen - Geological Survey Ireland - Director

    As soon as interim results are received, they are brought back to the committee which includes NSAI and the Housing Agency and the department. Everyone is briefed on those and fed back into the standards. Also importantly into the Housing Agency's work as the scheme goes forward. As Feargal outlined, there is flexibility within the scheme to adopt that data.

    Emer Higgins - FG - Dublin Mid West

    So that makes sense. Can I ask, the actual IS465, will that be updated only when we have Geraldine's report done as well? Or will it be updated in the meantime based on these three reports? Because if it is not updated before those three reports, that is no use to the homeowners, right?

    Geraldine Larkin - NSAI - CEO

    The standards committee and the NSAI are committing that where there is those valuable updates, we will absolutely come forward with those. As they happen in real time? As they happen. But obviously, that is taking the science and having the technical experts agree on the science. It is the consensus of the agreement of the technical experts. Once we have consensus, we are committed to releasing in-term progress.

    Emer Higgins - FG - Dublin Mid West

    Thank you. Thanks....

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I will take the next slot. I might continue on that line of questioning. Is there remediation working out at the moment on homes without the foundations being tested? Does anybody have an answer to that? Maybe CCMA?

    Liam Ward - Mayo CC Director of Services /County and City Management Association

    I assume that would be the case.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    One of the issues that was raised was, and I think Mr Ford said it in the last session, he would like to see the scheme started and some progress being done. Maybe paraphrasing that, but we would fix the problems as they arise. From the perspective of a homeowner, who would be getting the remed iation work done without having the foundations checked, if the further research that we talked about does show that there is potential for issues with foundations, what happens to that homeowner that has had that work done on the foundation? Do you go back and retest? I know I'm doing a lot of hypotheticals here. You can understand the concern of a homeowner who has lived through this once, goes to the remediation scheme. With that worry there, what about my foundations?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    All we can do is deal with actuality. That is the issue. There are a lot of hypotheticals. We do know that to date, there have been no issues, as Paul Ford pointed out, with foundations. In terms of the scheme going forward, foundations will be inspected where they are uncovered. I understand there will be some core testing. The housing agency will be carrying out core testing on foundations as it goes ahead. That information will be compiled and feed into future research. At the moment, there is absolutely zero evidence at this point that foundations have become an issue. In addition to all these schemes, they address actual damage rather than hypotheticals.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    That would generally be the evidence we have heard from today and in previous sessions. There have been issues with foundations to date. Hopefully, that will give some confidence. What will give real confidence is evidence-based testing.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    That is part of it. I think the Deputy Higgins may have covered it as well. Their opinion is not fit for purpose. I asked if they had written to the Minister to express that. They said because the testing was not for other materials, this testing will go beyond that. Would it be your view that that will give confidence to Engineers Ireland? I don't want you to speak for them. Will it cover the issues they have raised?

    Geraldine Larkin - NSAI - CEO

    The standard at the moment specifically calls out mica and pyrite. The test methodologies identified within the standard already allow for the identification of other materials. I would hope the current research will bring further clarity to that work. There is that assurance for all users as a standard. To take what is already there, the science will go that one step further and bring even more information to all users.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    When would your expectation be that we will have results there or conclusions that you can stand over?

    Geraldine Larkin - NSAI - CEO

    At the moment, I am looking at the longest test. On current indications, that test is going to take upwards of 12 months. The standard will take a period of probably six months after that. We are looking at the end of 2024. That being said, if we get earlier findings that the experts agree on in terms of agreeing on the science, we will release that information sooner. I want to acknowledge all the support the NSAI is getting in terms of funding for the Department of Housing and technical support from GSI and others in this space.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you. To try to get a question on the like for like replacement, I am confused by some of the answers I get. If you have a 1600 square foot detached home built in 2010 or 2008, does this scheme allow you to replace that 1600 foot square home built to 2021 standards of energy efficiency?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    The scheme provides for the replacement of the home to the standard of the building regulations required at the time it was built. It doesn't require the rebuilding of a home to the building standards required now.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I don't understand the sense in that you are asking someone to retrospectively build something that was a standard 20 years ago so it can be like for like, where the cost of doing it to an A or B2 rating now would probably be when you try to replicate that.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    That is the legislative framework that was laid down on the principle of not providing for betterment. That is the principle that is laid down on which we are working within. So if somebody has to build a 2008 standard, can they avail seamlessly of the SEAI grant to add to that then so it is an energy efficient retrofit?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    Exactly. That is the intention. The government has decided that would be the case. We are in discussion with SEAI to ensure that the two schemes speak to each other.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you. I will move on.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    If you rebuild, you can choose to rebuild to the higher standard but the grant won't provide for that.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you. I will go to the second Sinn Féin slot.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    First of all, thanks very much for being in front of us. I was saying during the interval to members, given the scale of the financial commitment underpinning the scheme and the large number of families and homeowners it is affecting and tenants of the private sector and social housing sector, I think it would be useful if this committee every six months does a session like this where we hear from homeowners experts and the organisations in front of us because I think that would be a useful scrutiny mechanism to track progress. With that in mind, I was pleased to hear that there will be a six month report and I think it would be very useful if you were able to communicate to the Minister. That would be really great if the conclusion of that report would provide the occasion for us to actually have that six month scrutiny. To pick up on Rose's point, there are very many people across Donegal Mayo and Clare currently who are calculating on the basis of estimated costs and the rates that they are not going to get, even 90% let alone 100%. Rather than me having a row with you over whether that will happen or not, I think that report that you are going to produce should actually record the gap between the full cost of remediation as set out within the regulations and the legislation and the grant level. I actually think if your six month report had that information, we would not be speculating and arguing on anecdotal evidence. We would actually have some hard facts. Likewise to pick up on Eimear's point with insurance, I think again, the Housing Agency because they have research functions and are obviously at close proximity to this could assist if there was a recording of where there are insurance issues, where remediation is completed or where engineers or certifiers are having difficulty with their PI insurance because I think that would be really important data. It would be a shame and Feargal I'm not accusing you of this, but it would be a shame if the report just highlighted the positives and there are going to be positives from this I'm sure for many people without also highlighting the issues because what was very clear from the homeowners today is they want the scheme, they want it open, they want in, but they have a very, very long list of concerns and if the evidence as we go through this scheme validates some or all of those concerns, then the scheme is going to have to change. I think your report would be key. So I just want to make that as an opening point. My questions aren't going to relate to the legislation. That's a battle we'll have with the government and the members of government who voted for that legislation. So I'll save you that pain today, but I'm particularly concerned with both the transitional arrangements and the new entrance to the scheme, both in terms of the potential level of bureaucracy that has to be processed by applicants and by our local authorities. And I'm particularly concerned about the staffing requirements and additional staffing requirements of the local authorities, given the huge pressures that they're already under. So I suppose Feargal, my first question to you is, how can you give comfort to this committee that both those people who are in the existing scheme will be able to seamlessly and effortlessly transition across to the new scheme? What comfort can you give that new applicants aren't going to have the same experience as applicants to the existing scheme, just in terms of the processing? And to the CCMA, are you satisfied that you have the staff? And I'm particularly concerned about Donegal, just because the scale of cases is much larger. But we all know the pressures that your housing departments, your planning departments, your building control departments are under. So can you speak to that as well?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    Just on the generality, thanks very much. I think that's probably a good idea to come back after the operational report. Just to assure you, the review of the operation of the scheme is not to say everything is fine. The review of the operation of the scheme is to say, actually, we're now operating, we've hit these bumps in the road. Some of the things we've solved, we might be tweaking the guidelines and updating the guidelines on a regular basis. Some need the regulations to change. And we will be reporting to the government to administer on that basis. So it is absolutely not a, this is how wonderful the scheme is going to report. We're all working together trying to implement it ourselves. Housing agencies, local authorities, we've hit a number of these issues. We think things need to be tweaked. And that's what we need to do.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    And my apologies for cutting across my meeting into my own time , but just on that, on the issue, for example, of foundations, and I don't want to over use my time on that. If core testing and testing by the Housing Agency and engineers starts to find that it is a problem, obviously part of the difficulty of course is that's not covered under the grant or whatever the grant is. Will those reports also have the scope to be able to make recommendations to government as to change the legislative basis under the scheme from a policy point of view, given new issues that may emerge?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    If new issues emerge, they will go into the system and will be considered by the Minister. The Act calls for a three-year review of the Act. So what we're saying is we'll have a six-month review of the regulations, a three-year review of the Act. Should something significant change in relation to different foundations, we would have to deal with that information as it comes in. The issues around insurance, access to funding from financial institutions, we are engaged on those issues as well. They are outside the technical implementation group, but I think in terms of a department reporting to the Minister in six months, I don't see why we wouldn't update the Minister on those issues and come back to committee to discuss them. In relation to transition arrangements, the documents we sent out are very extensive. The idea is to try and guide people through the process as far as possible. I wrote to the chief executive in Donegal a few weeks ago and said we want to help and if there are issues around resourcing, let's come and talk to us. We are very mindful of that. It is not our interest to make this scheme work. In terms of the local authority point of view, Kevin?

    Liam Ward - Mayo CC Director of Services /County and City Management Association

    Thank you very much, chair. In the context, there are two pieces there. In the context of the transition arrangement, to say at the outset, from the local authority point of view, we are very much committed to making the scheme work. Very much committed to making it work. As efficient a manner as possible for the benefit of the homeowners. Currently, we will have a number of applications, I think it is of the order of 850 or thereabouts, under the previous scheme, which have received confirmation of eligibility. They have passed that stage I approval. Now, we will have to receive revised calculations based on the new scheme. That will take a bit of time to do that. We have already commenced work on it. We have determined a priority order in which those applications will be considered. As we look at the point of view of those further down the line, they may need actual money to pay for work that is ongoing. That is the order in which we have decided to tackle it.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    We are up to eight minutes.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    Just on the transition arrangements, for those that were stuck in stage I, because there was not the flexibility that there appears to be, they are going to the Housing Agency. What is the expectation and timeline for decisions on those? Do you know from your discussions with the agency? Briefly as possible, please.

    Liam Ward - Mayo CC Director of Services /County and City Management Association

    I don't have a clear line of sight on the timelines within the housing finance agency. A number of the applications have already been transferred over to the agency. In excess, about 350 applications to date have already been transferred over to the agency. We have received three new applications as of the new scheme being available. It was opened on Monday of this week. We are receiving considerable volume of calls and queries as we can fully expect. In the context of staffing, absolutely acknowledge what Feargal has said in terms of the department support. We have an existing complement of staff. We know that will be under pressure. There's additional staff that have been recruited to join the team in light of the expected increase in applications. It is something we will be keeping under review with the department. Thanks, Mr Ward.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I will now go to Deputy McHugh.

    None

    Thanks Chairman. I would like to welcome everybody here today. A couple of familiar faces that we have worked together in the past. Thank you for letting me in. I'm not a member of this committee. Just firstly, I want to welcome, Feargal, what you said, the department has nothing to hide. The public needs to hear those words. With that in mind, and with the... your line on page 3, Feargal... It will be tasked with working... the implementation steering group will be tasked with working through issues as they arise and making recommendations that further changes the regulations or guidelines are needed. It is obvious from this presentation this morning that this scheme is going to evolve. It has to evolve because there are plenty of shortcomings. On the other hand, I do understand the fact that we have to have a scheme. We have to try to get it moving. But there are so many areas that need to be addressed here. My suggestion, and I'm not looking for a yes or no answer today, I'm doing it on the Bonafide of the nothing to hide. My suggestion is on that implementation steering group, that you actually have the voice of the homeowners. We have been listening to the voice of the homeowners for so long now at committee level, at public demonstrations, here this morning. And in order for all of us, I don't have mica. I try to understand it. I have been involved in it for 10 years. My neighbours have it. Relations have it. I know so many people that are going through trauma. But I don't fully understand what that is until you actually live in it. My suggestion would be to have a voice from the homeowners. Let them decide who those individuals should be on that implementation steering group. You're very, very lucky that you have a homeowners liaison officer in John O'Connor, whose credibility amongst the homeowners is very, very high. John is very sincere and is excellent at his job. But I also think that you need the homeowners' voice. I really, really do. And if you're going to have six months intervals and producing reports, that voice has to be there. Because one of the big feelings of this whole campaign was the communication around that where the voice of the homeowners didn't feel part of the solution. And that creates antagonism. That creates bad feeling. And that creates a vacuum as well. And my fear and my brief knowledge of being in different departments is once a box is ticked, once a scheme is introduced, you're so busy and you're awarded and you have so much going on and you have so many housing issues and all that, that bit's done. Let's move on. We can't allow this to happen with a scheme. Because the scheme is not the scheme. It's too complex. It's too big. It's too wide. It's too varied. It's too challenging. I would sincerely ask today for you to think, Feargal, not even looking for an answer today, out of respect and out of respect for yourself over the years and having worked with you, I'm asking for the voice of the homeowner to be represented on that implementation committee. And it's great to hear, I was speaking to Cooghan earlier to tell me that Dr Paul Dunlop is represented on the technical matter steering group. That's really, really important. It's important that the public know that as well. The second question, Chairman, briefly, the Engineers Ireland made a recommendation today for the five to ten engineers to go to each local authority to provide more oversight of the sector. It's a no-brainer. The campaign groups have been calling for this for years. Liam and Kevin, not looking for a yes or no answer today because you'll have to bring it back to the council. So what I'm asking you is, bring that suggestion back to the council and obviously, Feargal and your team, you're the people that have to pay the money and write the cheques. But I think it would be a very, very prudent and worthwhile suggestion for five or ten engineers to be appointed within the relevant local authorities to provide that oversight, that much needed oversight that was missing. Lastly, Chairman, and please, Geraldine, this is not, you're the messenger here today, so this is not a personal criticism of you in any way because you happen to be the voice here. Eighteen months is too long. Eighteen months is outrageously long. To go back and to put your feet into the shoes of the homeowner, the biggest fear from the people I've contacted with over the years is to face into another wonder. So mica homeowners, pyrrhotite homeowners, they're facing into another winter. We're telling them here today, face into another two wonders before that's put to bed. It's not acceptable. You've widened your brief to bring in the Eurocode 6, which is all good and that's all important and climatic data from Metair and an impact of freeze-thaw and other climatic conditions. That's nothing to do with sulphur. I do believe that this particular job needs to be compartmentalised in a shorter timeframe. I know there's constraints. I know there's resource issues. I know you have to carry out the science and Lisa talked about this morning, the science has to be right. I totally understand that. But if you're expecting somebody to, in good faith, to go into a scheme, I'll do the option #2 to 5, I'll take off my outer leaf, maybe the underblock might be okay, fingers crossed, the foundation will be alright. That's no way to treat people, especially people who have lived this nightmare, continue to live the nightmare and absolutely dread facing into another wanter Because facing into another wanter means that they're thinking on a chimney in a two-storey house that what will happen when it falls on the bison slabs and what happens when the bison slabs comes in the lower bedroom. Like it's to even contemplate what it's like, Geraldine, for those homeowners to be telling them here today, yeah, we'll get this sorted but give us another two winters. Morally in every way it's wrong. It's not a criticism of you Geraldine, you're the messenger here today, but I would ask you to go back to your colleagues, go back to the department, that there's some way of compartmentalising this piece of work away from the wider work that you need to do as well. Thanks, Chairman.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thank you, Deputy McHugh. We're almost out of time on that slot. If anybody wants to answer briefly or just to consider the recommendations.

    Kevin Kelly - Mayo CC CEO / County and City Management Association

    Just very briefly, thanks Deputy McHugh. I'm just not clear on the oversight piece, right? A couple of things. Different local authorities have taken slightly different approaches in terms of...

    None

    Sorry, Kevin, I'll give you the script from Engineers Ireland so there's a specific request.

    Kevin Kelly - Mayo CC CEO / County and City Management Association

    But just to explain, right? In terms of our future role, we don't have a technical role, it's more administrative, you know, so I don't know where the oversight comes in. We have used external assistance to date in terms of that technical piece. And just a general comment on the resource piece. With the best will in the world and with the support of the department, there's a very significant time lag now in terms of getting resources into local authorities. And I think what I alluded to in our paper is that we all collectively, everybody, there's a lot of movement parts in this, we all have to be very nimble in our feet in order to make sure that we're delivering as good as we can for the affected homeowners.

    None

    Just to be clear, it's not oversight for the scheme, it's oversight for the concrete blocks that are leaving the concrete yard today to build another house?

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Okay. Very briefly, Ms Larkin, if you could just respond directly to the question.

    Geraldine Larkin - NSAI - CEO

    Thank you, Chair. Just to say, Deputy, that the work that we're doing is purely related to this. We're doing the research work is directly related to this. As I committed earlier, if the science gives us clear messages, clear direction at any stage before that, we absolutely will come forward with that information as soon as ever we can. And I think in my opening statement, I outlined a number of different sources of information and we'll be working through all of those. Absolutely. It's our foremost priority to be able to assist and contribute what the science is telling us in this space for the assurances of homeowners. Thank you.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I'm going to move now to, I'll go back to Deputy O'Callaghan, please. And then I go to Deputy McLaughlin.

    Cian O'Callaghan - SD - Dublin Bay North

    Thanks, Chair. I just want to ask the department in terms of the testimony that we got earlier from Engineers Ireland about insurance risk and IS465. They say there's a key factor in terms of engineers not signing up for the IS465 register is the risk profile scheme and getting professional indemnity insurance. They specifically say the lack of professional indemnity insurance cover is especially acute for remediation options 2 to 5. Professional indemnity underwriters are unwilling to take the risk of the professional indemnity policy being called on if there are claims resulting from cracking of retained blockwork in the future. So just earlier you were disputing, I think, that testimony. Do you accept that test meet from Engineers Ireland or not?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    Just to clarify, I wasn't disputing any testimony. That's the point of view to put ahead. You have a different view, is what I'm asking. What I'm saying is my understanding was that the Housing Agency last year did some surveying in terms of engineers who would be willing to take part in the scheme and it didn't identify this issue. This could be, I understand, we were talking in the foyer, this seems to be recent correspondence which the department hasn't seen to date. That's something we have ongoing discussion with the insurance industry. I haven't seen that text before and we will certainly bring it up to the insurance industry and we will talk to Engineers Ireland. But that's new evidence to us as well.

    Cian O'Callaghan - SD - Dublin Bay North

    I don't think that's reasonable to say it's new but you are taking this seriously. Just in terms of your opening statement, you say the vast majority of those who need help will get all the financial assistance they need and you reiterate the That absolutely flies in the face of what homeowners have not just said today, they have been saying for a long time. They have gone into detail about that, gone into detail about in terms of the scheme, how only people who have savings or are able to take on additional debt will be able to avail the scheme, how people on low incomes, pensioners simply won't be able to proceed with the scheme, which contradicts what you are saying here. Do you accept what the homeowners are saying on that?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    The homeowners are raising issues that they feel need to be raised. The department is not shying away from any issues. What the department has to do is operate a scheme laid down by the Oireachtas and legislation. They are the tramlines within which we operate. That's what we can do. In terms of access to finance, the financial institutions have a role in this space. We have dialogue with the financial institutions if there are issues around that.

    Cian O'Callaghan - SD - Dublin Bay North

    I completely accept that the department operates the legislation that the Oireachtas passes. That's totally reasonable. You have come to our committee today and made a statement that the vast majority of those who need help will get all the financial assistance they need. That completely contradicts the experience of the homeowners. Not just today, but for a long period of time. Why are you telling us that?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    That's the position of government. That's the position we have stated.

    Cian O'Callaghan - SD - Dublin Bay North

    So you don't accept the testimony of the homeowners?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    I think the homeowners have raised particular cases. I'm not disputing. In terms of the majority of people getting fully remediated, that is our view.

    Cian O'Callaghan - SD - Dublin Bay North

    The vast majority, you say. - {FO] That is our view.

    Cian O'Callaghan - SD - Dublin Bay North

    Just in terms of the trauma and stress of homeowners have gone through clearly in this, I think it is incredibly important. I don't expect everyone to have the same views on all of these things It is incredibly important that they are listened to and respected. Given what they have gone through, given what they have said, to come into the committee and reject what they have been saying.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    I did not reject what they said. That is unfair.

    Cian O'Callaghan - SD - Dublin Bay North

    Fair enough. The vast majority of those who need help will get all the financial assistance they need. That flatly contradicts what homeowners have been saying. Not just today, but for a considerable amount of time. I'm wondering if they are being listened to, are the concerns they are raising being listened to, heard or understood? If they are, then why are provocative statements like that being made

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    I don't think the statement is particularly provocative, deputy. = [CC] Thanks, Chair.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Thanks, Deputy Callaghan, I will go to Deputy McLaughlin next. [PM] Vast majority of those who need help will get all the financial assistance they need. Have you any idea how offensive that is to the people I represent in Donegal, the homeowners? Have you any idea how offensive that is that you are the, I'm just going to read out your title, you are the assistant secretary in the department. Assistant secretary at such a high level to make a statement like that today. I appreciate that you didn't draft this legislation. You are implementing the legislation. You are curtailed. You couldn't change what was brought into the legislation last year. There is very little change made from where we were a year ago. A year ago. I can't tell you how offensive that is and I'm going to tell you why now, okay? Engineers Ireland have come in here today who represent engineers across the country, represent the engineers who have been working with a scheme on the ground and they have said that this is not fit for purpose. They said some, when I said the majority of engineers, if not all of the engineers I know in Donegal, they didn't contradict me. The majority of engineers say it's not fit for purpose. We have the Standards Authority of Ireland telling us that they can't stand over this. It's been reviewed. It could take up to the end of next year. Yet you make no provision for foundations in the funding so that that's excluded. You have the SCSI saying that they would not at all recommend building houses to 2008 regulations. How on earth can you say that this is the vast majority of people getting 100% redress when you exclude the ability to build to modern regulations, when you exclude the provision for foundations? The chief executive of Donegal County Council has said on Hilah Radio in recent days he would personally recommend the foundations be taken out. He's a qualified engineer, a respected engineer like all the engineers in Donegal. No provision for foundations and you put in a sliding scale. Where did the sliding scale come out of? The SCSI didn't provide you a sliding scale. Feargal, how on God's earth can you make a statement like that? Do you not understand how offensive that is? I'm an intelligent man. You're an intelligent man. It is not the vast majority getting 100% redress. So please don't insult people. Do you want to respond to that?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    Look, Deputy, we are operating the legislation as provided to us by the Oireachtas. That's what we can do. Those issues that you mentioned in relation to foundations and so on, that's the scheme that's been laid down by the Oireachtas and that's what we have to implement.

    Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - SF - Donegal

    Do you seriously believe the vast majority of people are getting 100% redress?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    The view is that the majority of people will get 100% redress and that's the view that the government has taken.

    Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - SF - Donegal

    Do you wish to retract what you said in your opening statement?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    The vast majority of those who need help will get all the financial assistance they need.

    Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - SF - Donegal

    Do you wish to retract that, the vast majority?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    No, I can't retract that.

    Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - SF - Donegal

    And then you go on to say that it is not a compensation or redress scheme, it is a grant scheme. This is the thing that drives homeowners mad. This is deeply hurtful. You heard the testimony, maybe you didn't hear all the testimony from earlier on, what this has done to people's lives. I live in Buncranna, I look to my right hand side of my house and I see the quarry that was predominantly responsible for all of the homes. People's lives have been utterly destroyed. People of my generation who were good, honest people who built their own homes, who did what we were supposed to do, work hard, pay our taxes, build our home their lives have been utterly destroyed. They're intelligent people. This is not a redress scheme. It's a grant scheme. It is not 100%. It will be tens of thousands out at best and in some cases 100,000, They are the facts. So I just have to put that on record today that this is not the vast majority. The vast majority will not get 100% redress. Do you agree with that?

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    I said that is the statement, the department is anxious to press ahead, get the scheme up and running, get it implemented, get people's houses fixed. I am well aware of the issues faced by the people of Donegal. In terms of my mandate to operate the scheme that has been legislated for the better act is we will work together with our partners in the Housing Agency and the local authorities to get people's houses fixed. That is our number one priority.

    Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - SF - Donegal

    I hope in the future you reflect on that type of language. I want to work constructively with you to find solutions but please reflect on that type of language when you come back to the review in six months. I am absolutely convinced when you do the review you won't use that language again. In terms of yourself, Geraldine and the Standards Authority of Ireland, I want to absolutely concur with my colleague Deputy McHugh. We cannot have a message going back to people in Donegal that it will be the end of 2024 before we have this. I am appealing to you as soon as possible. I appreciate your [???] to science but I also know there have been serious delays in commencing some of these research projects. Serious delays. A year ago, it is hard to believe, we dealt with this legislation and it was concluded. One of the big problems was that nobody can stand over the science. Literally nobody can stand over IS465. Nobody will say we guarantee that is the way to remediate homes on the basis of that. That is why it is being reviewed. Surely there can be some type of finding in terms of foundations. Would you agree right now with John McLaughlin, chief executive of Donegal County Council, you couldn't ask people to continue to build houses on the same foundations because there is no scientific basis for doing so?

    Geraldine Larkin - NSAI - CEO

    Thank you very much. Firstly, to say to you that the standard that we have was based on the science and the data and the scientific data at that point in time. As I said earlier, that standard and the tests prescribed in that standard are showing through the presence of deleterious materials. For us, and I take your point as I said to Deputy McHugh, we absolutely will produce interim findings as soon as they are available. In addition to the various research projects we have underway, we have gone and sourced data related to the household of themselves, other data that is available and broad-based data as described by my colleague from GSI. We are looking at as many sources as possible to advise and inform the overall piece. As soon as we have the scientific material available, we will produce that. We will produce that material. It is in nobody's interest, certainly not NSCI's looking to support and help homeowners that we delay that. That is my absolute priority of the space.

    Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - SF - Donegal

    Just if you don't mind, I am a layperson. I describe this so many times, people in Donegal, when I get in an airplane, I trust that the pilot can fly the plane. I trust the mechanics of the plane in good order. We put our trust in professionals. Right now, this is a huge dilemma. Nobody can professionally say that the standard in which we base the scheme on is fit for purpose. It is one that can be trusted. You will appreciate what a massive dilemma. Deputy McHugh has outlined this too. We need the experts to arrive at a consensus. We had the engineers. Whenever the scheme has been, this is the previous scheme, the so- called 90/10 scheme, very quickly, within months, some engineers started to challenge that scheme, started to speak out. I thought any day now, somebody from the Standards Authority of Ireland or the panel or the experts, because I am a layperson, somebody will speak out and put them at ease and say, don't worry, your concerns will be addressed. It never happened. Nobody ever came forward to reassure those engineers and the concerns grew and grew to the point, I don't know, a single engineer implementing the previous scheme, what a disaster. We have a multi-billion euro scheme based on a scientific premise that has no standing. I am appealing to the collective wisdom and ability of those who have the expertise to please arrive at a consensus so we can rebuild people's lives and not have the fear that they are going to go down this road again. I only get this opportunity once a year, once every six months. We have to get this sorted. The experts have to reach a consensus and get this sorted out.

    Geraldine Larkin - NSAI - CEO

    I might bring in my colleague, Yvonne Wylde, who is close to this, but to your point, the work we are doing has a number of purposes. The first is to understand what has happened and why this happened. The next is to understand the remediation that has to take place such that we can appropriately guide engineers, householders, in terms of what the science is telling us. That is based on how the remediation will last over 40, 50, 60 years. It's really important that we have that confidence there. As many speakers have said, this is a complex area. There are a lot of different factors coming into play and we need to make sure that we are not guiding householders to one solution based on one piece of data. That there is comprehensive coming together of the scientific data such that there can be exactly the trust of those householders. What they are doing now will see them through a lifetime. I just wanted to refer to my colleague.

    Yvonne Wylde - NSAI - Manager Standards Technical

    Thank you for inviting us today and for the opportunity to explain a little bit more on this particular issue. I suppose it's important to remember that the experts in this case are a lot of them engineers and engineers Ireland is represented on the committee that wrote IS465. I think it's also important to remember that if you do take out foundations, it causes additional problems for those who want to get their houses fixed. The question of removing foundations is a very serious one and it has huge implications for the homeowner. It is like it has already been explained and I won't go over that again. In this case, if we rush to a decision about removing foundations where there is no evidence and engineers Paul Ford has said it today, engineers Ireland have not provided any evidence. We have gone out to tender, to public tender looking for evidence. We have received none. At this point in time, the engineers have discussed this in committee even though they weren't asked to. I think it was at the point in time when there was an amendment issued by the expert panel who wrote the original report, that was in 2019. The engineers and committees have discussed it. At this point in time, there is no evidence. They are not happy that there is no proof it is OK, but there is no proof that it is not OK. On that basis, as engineers, they feel obliged to make a reasonable judgment. To do that, they need the data. In the absence of that data, they cannot make a decision. So while we do acknowledge how important and we are so conscious of it, we think it would be wrong to make a quick decision that leads to foundations being removed which would cause additional problems for everybody. I hope that helps. Thank you.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    I am going to conclude now, but can I ask in terms of the breakdown between scheme houses, as in terraced houses or detached houses versus singular houses, is there a breakdown on the assessment of the number of houses affected? I am not aware of that, deputy. Maybe CCMA colleagues might have evidence. Anecdotally, I am going in the direction of this in economies of scale, but if you have to mobilise on an individual one-off site, that obviously incurs more costs than a contractor arriving where you may be able to do a semi-D block or a terrace. So I wonder what is the breakdown on the type of house impact?

    Liam Ward - Mayo CC Director of Services /County and City Management Association

    Chair, obviously we have a good idea of the overall number of houses impacted, but I wouldn't have a breakdown between scheme houses built in estates versus one- off. I wouldn't have an accurate breakdown of that.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    But there obviously is terraced or semi-D houses impacted by it. So where you would go in to do, if you have a semi-detached house and one of them is badly impacted by damage and the other isn't, would you do both of them at the same time?

    Liam Ward - Mayo CC Director of Services /County and City Management Association

    This is something that the individual house owners have to deal with. So ideally, in this scenario, you would have a scenario where people would work together. But theoretically, you could have a scenario where one house is being done and the other house isn't. We can certainly get the information on the breakdown between house types. I know from my own planning list that quite a few of them that I have seen are typical estates in houses, semi-detached and so forth. So there isn't a coordination mechanism at the moment in terms of if you have ten houses in the estate, they could all be doing their work individually as opposed to some sort of a collective mechanism. It is a private issue for the homeowner.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    For example, Martina Hegarty, who gave testimony, is in a terrace of three. She is an end house. The other end house are both in the scheme and the middle house isn't eligible for the scheme, not because the house isn't affected by pyrite but for other reasons in terms. That is obviously a very precarious position because you are going to build two new houses because they have to be demolished and rebuilt that are going to rest on a property that is not going to be eligible even under the new scheme as I understand it. I have a couple of very specific technical questions, only three or four minutes left. Just with respect to social housing and local authorities, if we could get a little bit of an update on the pilot but also what relates to the scheme nature of the testing. So for example, if a local authority in AHB has a social housing scheme of 20 or 30 units, under the terms of the pilot, will every individual unit have to be surveyed and will fully be allocated on the basis of individual surveys or what is the plan there? That is the first question. The second is, I think there might have been some confusion between yourself and my colleague Rose Conway Walsh. Her question really wasn't as to why SCSI was asked to do the job because they are most qualified. The terms of reference were decided by the department and SCSI made it very clear that they had some issues. I don't see in the statutory instrument where the 2008 building reg requirement is. So it is not in the legislation from memory, it is not in the statutory instrument. I know James, you know this stuff inside out, I would just like some guidance so everybody is very clear on the legal basis of that 2008 building regulation requirement where it sits in the legislation. The third is, obviously because a lot of people have to do a lot of this work themselves, there is a need for, I think, written guidance on SR 325 which obviously has to do with the design of masonry structures. It is not something I understand at all. I am sure James you have a good understanding of it but it is very long and very complicated. Has that guidance been issued or will it be issued? Also John McLaughlin, he has been referred to a couple of times today in his absence, but he also described a scenario where if somebody applies to the scheme, and I think I mentioned this earlier, and if some of their paperwork isn't fully in order, rather than being asked to submit accurate paperwork to be refused and forced to appeal, is that actually the case? That is the simple thing that surely can just get fixed. If I put in a social housing needs assessment application today and I forget a piece of documentation, I am not refused. My application might go back to the bottom of the pile and I have to resubmit, so can you clarify that? Then finally, just on Clare and Limerick and Sligo and other counties that hope to enter, Martina highlighted two significant issues. One is whether or not there are qualified professionals to do some of the works and also where those local authorities, because at least with Donegal and Mayo, they have been working the existing schemes so they have built up some expertise, what is the department going to do to ensure that the two new counties that have entered already and other counties that may enter, that those local authorities are brought up to speed and given additional resourcing, particularly because, as Kevin rightly points out, it is one thing getting sanctioned for staff, it is another thing getting staff recruiting on the ground. A little bit around the staffing supports for the new entering counties. Five questions, chair.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    On the social housing pilot, we have been concentrating on getting the regulations out and the main scheme stood up and we will be turning our attention to try and get that up and running as quickly as possible. In relation to That means on the testing question, you haven't No, we need to sit down. That issue about John McLauhglin mentioned the refusal, the Act says there is no obligation to refuse, but that is one of those implementation issues. How do we make this work sensibly?

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    It doesn't have to be refused, is what you are saying.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    It is a flexible approach.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    Do the local authorities take the same view on that?

    Kevin Kelly - Mayo CC CEO / County and City Management Association

    I think within that my reading, you can ask for further information, you can ask for clarification, but we have agreed across local authorities, we will take a pragmatic approach. We know this is difficult. We know there are a lot of different agents. We know from planning processes and so forth. The standard of what you get in can vary a little bit. So we will be taking a pragmatic approach to ensure that we don't add to the distress of homeowners.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    Just briefly on the other three

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    In relation to Limerick and Clare, Derek has been keeping in touch with the relevant directors of service, they will become part of the group. The benefit of the implementation group is for the local authorities who are implementing it on the ground and learning from each other's experience and working through issues, they will be part of that group. I am still a little bit confused. Is it the requirement to build in accordance with the building regulation standard at the time? Is that the question? There is a provision in the Act and we will find that and maybe come back to you separately in that.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    It would be good if you wrote to the committee on that.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    We address it specifically in the guidance.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    I know it is in the guidance but it is not in the SI.

    Feargal O'Coigligh - Dept HLGH - Assistant Secretary Housing Policy Division

    There is a reference in the Act to 2007, the regs, and the SR 325.

    John Wickham - Dept HLGH - Building Standards Advisory Unit

    As Geraldine has outlined, the review is ongoing. While that is taking place, the department has published some guidelines on the marketing and use of concrete blocks in Ireland to the appropriate standard. We have liaised extensively with stakeholders in that regard, just to be able to ensure that people are aware of what the standard exists today, what everyone's roles and responsibilities are. It is freely available on the department's website. It has been widely disseminated by the stakeholders. I suppose to give reassurance to people who are deciding to build with concrete blocks or replace their concrete blocks, it outlines all of the provisions that have been put in place since 2010 and onwards from learnings from defects and obviously the reinforced provisions of the construction products regulations and the BCAR process as well.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    That covers your SCSI terms of reference. I want to thank you for your attendance today. I think it has been helpful. One thing that became apparent during this session and previous engagements is that the homeowners still have a lot of questions. As a committee, we are probably going to invite those questions from those groups and write as a committee to the department to try and get some response back on that. In regards to the reporting and the further investigation and research that you are doing, I am conscious that when you do that level of new research that you are doing at the moment, it can alert us that you have to keep asking more questions. If we could be kept up to date on the progress on that, I think it would be very helpful. As the scheme starts to pick up speed and more gets done on it, we get quarterly update reports off from the LDA. We have requested it from An Bord Pleanála and all that as well. I think it would be helpful for the committee to get a quarterly update broken down into commencements, inspections, transitional, all of that. That would be helpful for members.

    Eoin Ó Broin -SF - Dublin Mid West

    I don't know if they were biannually or quarterly, but they had a standard reporting mechanism and it was really useful. I am very keen on the six-month report and for us to have that in the first instance. I think replicating at some point what the Pirate Remediation Board for this scheme would be exceptionally useful. Just to say that to you.

    Steven Matthews - G - Wicklow

    Yes, I think that would be helpful. That concludes the meeting. I want to thank you all for your attendance. Just before we finish, I want to thank the secretariat for all the work they have done for our committee. It is probably one of the busiest committees there is. We couldn't do it without the help of Anne-Marie, Tommy, Orla and Sue Thank you very much. We are adjourned now until Tuesday 19th September at 11am. Thank you everybody.