Dáil debates: Mick Wallace and Minister Hogan- Pyrite

by Bregs Blog admin team

Mick-Wallace

Pyrite Issues: 17 Jun 2014: Dáil debates

In this recent Dáil debate concerning the new cases of pyrite discovered last month, Mick Wallace TD put this statement to Minister Phil Hogan:

“… the major problem is that all along, the Construction Industry Federation and not the State appears to determine what is happening… The Minister’s system of assigned certifiers will crack up within the next couple of years… Does the Minister honestly believe the architect will employ someone to be on site continuously to check that things are done right? As I have stated previously, if a load-bearing beam is being used for which a 32 mm steel bar is specified but where no such bar is on site and if the builder substitutes a 16 mm bar instead, how will the architect know what is in it, even though he will be signing off on it?”

Minister Hogan places the blame for current pyrite problems firmly at the door of Local Autorities:

“…We cannot be on every site but I have asked the local authorities to become more proactive about enforcement of regulations for quarries and the suppliers of these raw materials. We have inherited serious problems because of their inertia in the past and because they did not comply with European standard regulations for blocks and requirements under the construction products regulations.

For full text of Dáil debate click link here

Extract to follow:

_____________

Mick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)

64. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government his views on the recent interim advice note published by the Association of Consulting Engineers on the apparent discovery of pyrite in concrete blocks provided by block manufacturers; if he will outline the required testing standard and testing method for concrete blocks; his views on the implications for affected buildings and the way responsibility for same will be dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25602/14]

Mick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)

The Minister is aware the Association of Consulting Engineers published an advice note on 15 May about cases of apparent pirate content in concrete blocks provided by block manufacturers. The Minister has been assuring us for a while that with the new regulations everything would be well but clearly everything is not well. How will the Minister address the latest problem?

Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)

The reason I introduced the new regulations is because everything was not well. I acknowledge the proactive approach of the Association of Consulting Engineers in highlighting this matter. It is entirely appropriate that all professional bodies involve themselves in disseminating such relevant information among their membership.

Under the construction products regulation, manufacturers are required to provide robust and reliable information in a consistent way for construction products which are covered by harmonised European standards or European technical assessments. Since 1 July 2013, manufacturers are required, when placing a construction product on the market, to make a declaration of performance and affix the CE mark to each product. The relevant harmonised European standard for concrete blocks is IS EN 771-3:2011 Specification for masonry units – Part 3: Aggregate concrete masonry units (dense and lightweight aggregates).

Harmonised European product standards provide the methods and criteria for assessing the performance of construction products in relation to their essential characteristics. The harmonised standard includes the technical data necessary for the implementation of a system of assessment and verification of constancy of performance including third party oversight. The National Standards Authority of Ireland has also produced additional guidance to some harmonised European product standards in the form of national annexes or standard recommendations which set out appropriate minimum performance levels for specific intended uses of certain products in Ireland.

The relevant building control authorities are taking appropriate actions under applicable legislation to deal with this issue and the Department, in conjunction with the building control authorities, will continue to monitor the situation. Testing has been carried out in a number of affected developments which has confirmed the presence of deleterious material in the concrete blocks, including pyrite and sulphate.

My Department understands that in each case, the costs of the resolution are being pursued, in the first instance, with the contractors and suppliers. The actions taken thus far by the relevant parties involved suggest the regulatory system is functioning effectively and that an appropriate means of redress is being pursued through those who were responsible for this building failure.

Mick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)

The Minister has stated the system is working well because the culprits are being chased. While he has told me about all the wonderful European legislation and regulations that are place, we must go back to the same chestnut. If pyrite has arrived in blocks, the threat is dangerous to any block that has additional sulphate and that gets moisture. Many blocks do, such as all the blocks under the ground, as do the blocks in the outer leaf even though they are plastered. The reason there is a cavity is because the outer leaf gets damp. There will be huge problems if this is widespread. The point is that were the system working properly, this would not have happened. Quarries are notregulated well enough and while they are regulated for dust and for movement of trucks in and out, there is no real quality regulation of standards. For example, in the case of quarries quarrying 1,000 tonnes and 20,000 tonnes, respectively, of stone per week, is there a stipulation as to how often they are tested? The big elephant in the room again is that while the Minister has stated there is a facility for third-party checks, the major problem is the local authority lacks the facility, the manpower and the money to be a serious third party that checks to ensure everyone is behaving well.

Michael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)

While I will come back to the Deputy, I call the Minister.

Mick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)

That is the major problem across the industry. Moreover, the Minister’s new building regulations will flounder unless he reinforces the local authorities with funds.

Michael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)

That was a very long question.

Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)

The issues raised by the Deputy have nothing to do with the new building regulations yet, as they have only been in operation since 1 March. However, standards have been in place for these concrete blocks going back to 1987. The problem is with enforcement and I completely agree with the Deputy that the building authority must do more to enforce the regulations that already are in place. The standards in place, which initially commenced in 1987, were revised in 2003. Consequently, I am conscious that there are people who are not observing what already is in regulation. Moreover, there probably is not sufficient enforcement or visits to sites, as the Deputy advocates, by the local authorities. I intend to take up this matter with the local authorities to ensure they actually engage in more enforcement. An opportunity has arisen in recent years, because of the revised manner in which staff operate in local authorities, particularly in planning sections, for them to have more time to carry out more enforcement works regarding these problems of pyrite and sulphate in concrete blocks. However, there are people in all these cases who have not gone into liquidation or receivership. There are people who certainly have decided they do not intend to observe the regulations and they will be pursued.

Michael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)

Deputy Wallace, in a final supplementary question.

Mick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)

It was obvious back in 2007, when the first regulation on checking for pyrite in stone was brought in, that theregulation in question was not as onerous as the British standard. I acknowledge this was changed in February 2013, which is welcome but the major problem is that all along, the Construction Industry Federation and not the State appears to determine what is happening. Public building control must be strengthened if these problems are to be addressed in the future. The Minister mentioned that what I am referring to has nothing to do with the new regulations which came in March but the principle is the same. The Minister’s system of assigned certifiers will crack up within the next couple of years. He should not ask me how they will deal with the insurance implications arising from trying to stand over absolutely everything without on-site checks. Does the Minister honestly believe the architect will employ someone to be on site continuously to check that things are done right? As I have stated previously, if a load-bearing beam is being used for which a 32 mm steel bar is specified but where no such bar is on site and if the builder substitutes a 16 mm bar instead, how will the architect know what is in it, even though he will be signing off on it?

Michael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)

The Minister, in a final reply.

Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)

Deputy Wallace is referring to a different regulation than the construction products regulation to which his question referred.

That regulation has been in place for years. Deputy Wallace will be very familiar from his previous working life outside the Oireachtas about what can happen if people want to cut corners. We have cut corners in the past on the building side and I inherited some of the problems which I am trying to sort out—–

Mick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)

The bigger the builders, the more corners they cut.

Michael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)

Please, Deputy Wallace.

Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)

The Deputy had his chance. In this specific case raised by the Deputy, the report from the Institute of Construction Professionals found that the relevant local authority did carry out a site inspection on 7 April 2014 in respect of the manufacture of the solid 100 mm concrete blocks which it was alleged were contaminated with pyrite and sulfates. Following a site inspection and a visit to the quarry or the block manufacturer concerned, the local authority requested detailed information as required under the legislation to establish the precise nature and extent of the problem, including where the blocks had been supplied, the actions taken or being taken by the supplier to deal with the problem as well as the necessary evidence to demonstrate compliance with the harmonised European standard. We have the procedures in place and they are being followed—–

Mick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)

The procedures are reactive, not proactive.

Michael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)

Please allow the Minister to conclude.

Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)

We cannot be on every site but I have asked the local authorities to become more proactive about enforcement of regulations for quarries and the suppliers of these raw materials. We have inherited serious problems because of their inertia in the past and because they did not comply with European standard regulations for blocks and requirements under the construction products regulations.

Other posts of interest:

Quick history of pyrite- press articles – click link here

Dáil Questions: Minister Hogan and Pyrite – click link here

Radio: Drogheda houses affected by pyrite – click link here

PYRITE & THE ASSIGNED CERTIFIER – click link here

Government Reports & Professional Opinion Ignored in S.I.80 – click link here

RTÉ Radio: Pyrite Alert – click link here

Building Control Officers need help! BC(A)R SI.9 – click link here

RIAI PRACTICE ALERT: Pyrite in blocks – click link here

Practical Post 16: Pyrite and certification? – click link here

The regulations ignore key recommendations of the Pyrite Panel – click linkhere

Assigned Certifiers facing jail? BC(A)R SI.9 – click link here

Clear and auditable trail: consumer protection? BC(A)R SI.9 – click link here

Legal perspective: consumer benefit? BC(A)R SI.9 – click link here

 

Advertisements