Dáil debate on non-compliance with Building Regulations

Following  the Sunday Tribune and Construct Ireland‘s recent publication of an SEI study showing that 98% of the houses surveyed were in breach of the building regulations, Trevor Sargent asked Bertie Ahern questions in the Dáil on the lack of enforcement of building regulations.   I’m posting the transcript because of it’s relevance to the energy standards in Fingal.  It would be funny if it wasn’t so depressing.

February 7, 2007
Leaders’ Questions
Building Standards

   Mr. Sargent: In recent weeks quite a number of people have visited my clinics to complain about the fact that they are living in houses built to a standard that leaves them quite cold and having to use a lot of gas, electric and open fires.  I said I would raise the question with the Taoiseach and I have many examples.  
  A man in Balbriggan occupies one of eight apartments, all of which use whatever heating can be found because it is constantly cold there.  Residents from Ballymun tell me they have moved into brand new houses which are not just cold but damp with mould growing on the walls.  Their children are getting sick and the dwellings are generally badly built.  
  Given the number of people waking up to cold houses, especially in this weather, is the Taoiseach going to take action at the failure to meet building standards?  Last Sunday’s Sunday Tribune stated 98% of houses built in this country fail to meet the Government’s minimum standards on insulation and heat loss.  One wonders whether the Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway races is better insulated than some of these houses.

   Mr. O’Donoghue: We have solar panels.

   Mr. Sargent: It is interesting to hear the expertise from beside the Taoiseach on the front bench.  Why has there not been a single prosecution under this Government for the massive failure to implement its own minimum insulation standards for house building?  As far as the Department of the Environment and Local Government is aware there has not been a prosecution of any builder, architect or engineer.  The Government has no facts on what local authorities are doing in this regard.  Will the Taoiseach apologise to the people of this country forced to live in housing that is not built to the standard set down by his Government?  Does he agree that houses should be insulated to a far higher standard and what will he do about the implementation of Part L of the building regulations?

   The Taoiseach: It was – 3° Celsius at 9 a.m. today, anyone in substandard housing will be in great difficulty and we all wish to see the situation improved in such circumstances.  Having said that, legislation, such as the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and several other Bills we have had here in the last 20 years, have all sought to improve building insulation standards and I think standards have improved dramatically, particularly in local authority houses.

   Mr. Sargent: I am talking about enforcement.

   The Taoiseach: The implementation of existing legislation and related prosecutions are matters for the local authorities.  This is not something that relates to central Government.  There is a new EU energy directive and a Building Control Bill that Deputy Quinn asked me to complete and these will further improve standards of insulation.

   Mr. Quinn: The Taoiseach relaxed the standards by a further two years.

   The Taoiseach: They will improve standards of insulation.  Resources have been made available in recent years to help local authorities with old people’s homes, with insulation grants and energy efficiency grants.  Perhaps the Deputy is suggesting this is not enough.

   Mr. Sargent: I am not alone in suggesting that is not enough.

   Mr. Cuffe: The figure of 2% is a bit low.

   The Taoiseach: In fairness, as I understand, the standard of building regulations in this country is high.

   Mr. Sargent: A 98% failure represents a dreadful record.

   The Taoiseach: The standard of most houses built in this country in the past 20 years—–

   Mr. Cuffe: They do not comply.

   Mr. Boyle: We do not even know if they do.

   The Taoiseach: They are built to high standards.  Older houses—–

   Mr. Sargent: They are new.

   Ms Burton: New houses.

   An Ceann Comhairle: Who is the leader of the Green Party?

   The Taoiseach: There are four of them.

   Mr. Sargent: I believe the Ceann Comhairle knows.

   Mr. D. Ahern: Joint leadership.

   Ms Lynch: It is a collective.

   An Ceann Comhairle: Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

   The Taoiseach: There are four of them.

   Mr. D. Ahern: That is a touchy subject.

   Mr. Sargent: Deputy Dermot Ahern wants to be leader.


   The Taoiseach: If Deputy Sargent is asking me to enforce the existing regulations, he should note it is a matter for the local authority.  If he is saying the existing regulations are not sufficiently strong, that is another matter.  To the best of my knowledge, the only legislative change I know in the area of energy efficiency was put in place by the European Union.

   Ms Lynch: What about an inspectorate?

   The Taoiseach: We have not implemented it.  The local authorities are responsible for inspecting in each area.

   Ms Lynch: There are two for the whole city of Cork.

   Mr. Sargent: I am sorry to say that response was absolutely pathetic.  Not only did not we not receive an apology for the failure or an acknowledgement that 98% is an absolutely abject failure in terms of the flouting of energy rules—–

   Mr. Roche: That is not true.

   The Taoiseach: Ninety-eight percent of what?

   Mr. Boyle: New homes.

   Mr. Sargent: New homes under Part L.  These are the Taoiseach’s own standards.

   Mr. Boyle: It is appalling that in the past ten years—–

   Mr. N. Dempsey: Who measured that?

   The Taoiseach: That is not factual.


   Mr. Boyle: A State agency.

   Mr. Sargent: If the Taoiseach does his homework, he will certainly find that, according to Sustainable Energy Ireland, he is not complying.
  The street credibility of the Taoiseach and Government is not great on energy performance.  The energy performance directive should have been implemented in January 2006 but the Government has said it wants more time, until 2009.  There has been much lobbying by the hollow block manufactures and construction industry to try to ensure that feet are dragged for as long as possible to prevent compliance with the standards.

   Mr. Roche: That is not true.

   Mr. Sargent: Meanwhile, local authorities – it seems the Taoiseach does not even know what they are doing—–

   Mr. Roche: Prove it.

   Mr. Sargent: Fingal, Wicklow and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councils are exceeding the Government’s minimum standards, with which it is not even complying, and insisting that there be higher standards because of the need for energy insulation in addressing climate change, quality of life, the cost of living and many other issues.  Given the Taoiseach’s record, which is appalling, and his belief that circumstances should be better—–

   An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy’s time has concluded.

   Mr. Sargent: It is important that the Taoiseach answer—–

   Mr. Roche: Facts are important also.

   Mr. Sargent: —–why the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is saying to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council that the Department’s own system should be introduced in January 2007 as it provides a better basis for expressing the required performance of buildings and that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s proposed targets are quite onerous.  It is suggesting one should not go there.
  If the Taoiseach is actually asking local authorities not to install proper energy insulation, he has got some answering to do.

   Mr. Roche: It is not what we are saying.

   Mr. Sargent: Not only are people freezing in their homes and not only will climate change cost this country dearly, the Taoiseach is seeking to prevent local authorities from improving the standards.  He must answer for this.  Why is he preventing the introduction of higher standards by local authorities?

   Mr. Gormley: It is disgraceful.

   Mr. Roche: The same authorities made a mess of the register.

   The Taoiseach: There are building standards and legislation, and the legislation should be implemented.  If people want to go beyond that, it is another matter.

   Mr. Sargent: Why not?

   The Taoiseach: Local authorities are the bodies that arbitrate in these matters in their own areas and they cannot be stopped.  It is a function—–

   Mr. Sargent: The Department is trying to stop them.

   The Taoiseach: I am not coming in here to answer for Fingal, Kerry or Wexford county councils.

   Mr. Gormley: The Taoiseach should answer for himself.

   The Taoiseach: There are standards and they should be implemented.

   An Ceann Comhairle: Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.


   Mr. Roche: Let the truth seep through.

   The Taoiseach: Deputy Sargent should raise a question with the line Minister.

   An Ceann Comhairle: Allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

   Mr. Roche: Deputy Sargent should stick to the truth for a change.

   An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Minister to allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

   Mr. Sargent: The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government—–

   Mr. Roche: The Deputy is deliberately misleading the House.


   An Ceann Comhairle: Please, Deputy Sargent.  The Deputy should control the three Members around him also.

   Mr. Sargent: I have good reason to be angry.

   Mr. Boyle: He is jumping out of his seat.

   Mr. Roche: They are the same crowd that made a mess of the register of electors.

   The Taoiseach: I do not want to argue unnecessarily with Deputy Sargent but he knows himself that it is nonsense to quote figures such as the statistic that 98% of houses in the State are cold or below standard.  He knows it is not factual.

   Mr. Sargent: It is the truth.

   The Taoiseach: It is not the truth.

   An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach without interruption.

   The Taoiseach: It is entirely—–

   Mr. Cuffe: The Taoiseach should read the report.

   The Taoiseach: Did the Deputy write that himself?

   Mr. Sargent: I did not write it myself.

   The Taoiseach: He should not be showing me authority facts.

   Mr. Cuffe: The truth hurts.

   The Taoiseach: If Deputy Sargent is saying 98% of the new houses built in this country are in breach of the existing guidelines, it is not true.

   Mr. Sargent: That is the result of a study.

   Mr. Gormley: It is true.

   The Taoiseach: It is another study of ten houses picked by the Deputy himself.

   An Ceann Comhairle: I ask Deputy Sargent to be quiet.  He had his opportunity and he went well over the time allotted to him.  He cannot take up the Taoiseach’s time also.  This is a democratic Assembly and the Taoiseach is entitled to be heard.

   The Taoiseach: Every time we check a figure thrown up by Deputy Sargent, we find it has no basis, is not factual and does not stand up in any area of the city.

   Ms Lynch: Who did the Taoiseach ask?

   The Taoiseach: Both local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government bear this out.  When we check the figures to determine their basis, there is never a basis.


   Mr. Roche: The Deputy should be very careful.

   An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

   The Taoiseach: There are standards and legislation and local authorities arbitrate on these and carry out the inspections.  I concede that the standards and specifications of the local authorities are very high.  When people seek mortgages, clearings or valuation certificates, the issues in question are checked.  The standards are high but not so high in some of the old properties.
  The Government has given money for both senior citizens’ accommodation and local authority accommodation to improve the standards.  We have given money to Energy Ireland and have invested considerable resources to make the grants available.  If in the new European directive there are even higher standards, I concede we should move on them.

   Mr. Cuffe: The Taoiseach’s Minister is saying "No".

   Mr. Roche: The Deputy should tell the truth.

   Mr. Gormley: The Minister said it.

   Mr. Sargent: It was the Minister.

   Mr. Roche: The Deputy is making it up.

   The Taoiseach: The Deputy should not be saying 98% of all new houses in the State are insufficient in this regard – it is nonsense.


   Mr. Roche: That is the crowd that made a mess of the register of electors.

   An Ceann Comhairle: That concludes Leaders’ Questions.  We will move on to questions to the Taoiseach.

   Mr. O’Donoghue: Gulliver’s travels