490. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to improve the pyrite remediation scheme in view of documented shortcomings. (Question 20124/18 asked on 08 May 2018)

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Damien English): I propose to take Questions Nos. 489 and 490 together.

The Pyrite Resolution Act 2013 provides the statutory framework for the establishment of the Pyrite Resolution Board, and for the making of a pyrite remediation scheme to be implemented by the Board with support from the Housing Agency. The pyrite remediation scheme is a scheme of “last resort” and is limited in its application and scope. The full conditions for eligibility under the scheme are set out in the scheme which is available on the Board’s website, www.pyriteboard.ie.

 The Act also sets out the broad parameters which the Board must have regard to when establishing the eligibility criteria for the pyrite remediation scheme.

The restriction in Section 15(3) of the Act preventing applications being made under the scheme by a person who purchases a dwelling on or after 12 December 2013 (the publication date of the Bill) applies where that person knew or ought to have known that the dwelling was constructed using hardcore containing reactive pyrite.

Following a number of requests for clarification in the matter, my Department has recently sought legal advice on the Board’s interpretation of Section 15(3) and I will be in a position to consider this matter further following the receipt of the legal advice. However, it is important to note that ultimately the interpretation of the law is a matter for the courts.

My Department is in regular contact with the Board and the Housing Agency in relation to the implementation of the scheme and is satisfied with the arrangements that are currently in place.

In regard to the pyrite remediation scheme, the scheme is applicable to dwellings which are subject to significant damage attributable to pyritic heave established, in accordance with I.S. 398-1:2013 - Reactive pyrite in sub-floor hardcore material – Part 1: Testing and categorisation protocol.  In this regard, it is a condition of eligibility under the scheme that an application to the Board must be accompanied by a Building Condition Assessment with a Damage Condition Rating of 2.  Dwellings which do not have a Damage Condition Rating of 2 are not eligible to apply under the scheme.  This ensures that, having regard to the available resources, the focus of the scheme is on dwellings which are most severely damaged by pyritic heave.  I have no proposals to amend this eligibility criterion.

The Report of the Pyrite Panel (June 2012) recommended a categorisation system as a means of prioritising pyrite remediation works in recognition of the expensive and intrusive nature of pyrite remediation and the unpredictability of pyritic heave. The independent Pyrite Panel was clear in its view that only dwellings with significant damage due to pyritic heave should be remediated and that it would be unreasonable to expect dwellings not exhibiting such damage to be remediated.

Dwellings which have no significant damage but have reactive pyrite in the hardcore material should be monitored and only remediated if they display significant damage due to pyritic heave. This remains the position with regard to dwellings which do not display significant pyritic damage.

On foot of this recommendation of the Pyrite Panel, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) published I.S. 398-1:2013 Reactive pyrite in sub-floor hardcore material Part 1: Testing and categorisation protocol in 2013.The standard provides the means by which dwellings that may be affected by pyrite can be tested and categorised.

In late 2015, the NSAI commenced a review of I.S. 398-1:2013 in the light of practical experience since the standard was first introduced in January 2013. The standard was updated and revised to reflect the on-site experiences and evidence gathered by technical experts, such as engineers, geologists, professionals providing sampling and testing services and other technical experts, who have been using the standard over the past four years and was published on 4 August 2017.

I welcome the revised standard published by the NSAI and in this context I signed the Pyrite Resolution (Standard for Testing) Regulations 2017 (S.I. No. 556 of 2017) on 6 December 2017. These Regulations provide that pursuant to section 14(9)(a) of the Pyrite Resolution Act 2013, the “standard for testing” for the purpose of the Act shall be Irish Standard 398-1:2017 Reactive pyrite in sub-floor hardcore material - Part 1: Testing and Categorisation Protocol, as published by the National Standards Authority of Ireland on 4 August 2017.

Any amendments which the Pyrite Resolution Board consider are required to the scheme as a result of the revised standard will be given full consideration should they be submitted to me in accordance with the requirements of the Act.

The latest figures available indicate that a total of 2,031 applications have been received under the scheme.  Of these, 1,594 dwellings have been included in the scheme and the applicants notified accordingly.

A further 85 applications have been validated and referred to the Housing Agency for the Assessment and Verification Process, while another 225 applications are at the initial Application and Validation Process stage. 127 applications under the scheme were not successful.

Of the 1,594 dwellings that have been included in the pyrite remediation scheme:

- 284 are at remedial works planning stage,

- 85 are at tender/tender analysis,

- 208 are under remediation, and 

- 1,017 are complete. 

A sum of €30 million was announced under Budget 2018 to fund the operation of the pyrite remediation scheme this year. This allocation will facilitate the remediation of some 430 additional dwellings and is a clear signal of the continuing importance attached by Government to addressing the issue of significant pyritic damage in private dwellings.