The Irish Times view on building defects: an indictment of the industry

A report on defective apartments means taxpayers will be compelled to shoulder yet more the costs from shoddy Celtic Tiger practices

The report on defective apartments brings with it the inevitability of taxpayers being compelled to shoulder yet more the costs from shoddy Celtic Tiger practices.

The assessment for Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien sets out a litany of woe in apartments built between 1991 and 2013, buildings supposed to last lifetimes that are now beset with problems. The proportion affected by severe defects is gauged to be between 50 and 80 per cent, a startling sum that implies up to 100,000 homes may need remedial work. Such figures and the estimated cost of works – between €1.56 billion and €2.5 billion, roughly – show that serious flaws in design, products, inspection, supervision and workmanship ran very deep indeed.

With fire safety problems in up to 70 per cent of properties, water ingress possibly in half and structural safety defects maybe in a quarter, poor standards were rampant. Safety concerns carry potential risk for residents, with implications also for the market value and sale potential. This is infuriating for homeowners, an indictment of the construction industry that made plenty boom-time money and further proof of grave laxity in building regulations and their enforcement. For O’Brien, it is more than a headache and decisions he must take will carry costs for many years to come. That it follows the unresolved mica debacle and the pyrite affair shows yet again that corners cut invariably lead to expensive problems when the builders are long gone.

The lack of financial accountability is glaring. We are told it is “not feasible” retrospectively to impose a penalty on individual firms responsible for defects, Moreover, there is little prospect of legally pursuing company owners for financial redress. The same is goes for any claims against third-party sub-contractors or suppliers who may have been negligent.

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The report recognises that a general industry levy would target all participants – including those who did not contribute to the problem – but finds the option should be considered. A similar levy is already under examination for mica. Yet such a charge – which would carry the risk of costs simply being added to the prices their customers pay – would still be more likely to reduce the State burden than eliminate it. Heavy public costs are also implied in the option of “low-cost” loans for remediation work, which are unlikely to be provided by private lenders without State intervention. State-funded grants would impose a similar kind of burden, as would tax concessions.

Careful evaluation is required. But it should never have come to this – and there are lessons too for building regulators and planners. From a construction boom flows yet more destruction. First the banks, then the public finances, then fiscal sovereignty. Now the cost of fixing the buildings themselves.