Some quarry owners are deliberately “suppressing” information about the existence of deleterious materials in concrete and a number of politicians may be aware of this, an Oireachtas committee has been told.
The Oireachtas Committee on Housing was told by consultant engineer Aidan O’Connor that some quarries are doing “side deals” with affected home owners and are still producing unsatisfactory building materials, as he suggested some TDs may be aware of the issues.
“We have got experience of 12 counties where we have seen damage and, as of last week, we are on county number 13. So that is a substantial number of properties to be inspecting and reviewing,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Some of the difficulties we are having, and I understand this is a public forum, but some of the difficulties we are having is the quarry owners recognise they have a problem and they are suppressing the information and some of the damage and doing some side deals with home owners.
“Ultimately, I believe it is going to come out, where all of these locations are.”
He encouraged TDs to come forward if they had knowledge.
Mr O’Connor said some quarries are still producing building materials knowing they are “wholly unsatisfactory”.
He said he believed some TDs knew this to be the case and added: “I encourage them to use their authority to get it stopped.”
The comments were made in the second of three committee hearings ahead of the publication of legislation to give effect to a new enhanced scheme for grants.
Officials from the Department of Housing appeared on Thursday evening and were asked about the claims.
Questioning the Department, Soc Dems TD Cian O’Callaghan said the committee was told “by a highly qualified and experienced engineer with expertise in this area that he is aware of at least one quarry that is still producing sub-standard material that is leading to serious structural damage in homes. So that is what is actually happening right now today in this country at the same time as this piece of legislation is in front of us, which is going to involve considerable expenditure.”
Senior advisor in the Department of Housing John Wickham pointed towards the market surveillance office and called for any information about unsatisfactory practices to be brought “to the powers-that-be who are more than competent to deal with that.”
He said it was “important that everyone in the supply chain takes responsibility for the proper materials that they put into buildings”.
Acting assistant secretary Caroline Timmons said the Department was conscious of trying to improve standards in the industry.
The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) appeared before the committee and said that it would take around three months or more to create a new report to determine what construction costs might be when the enhanced scheme commences later this year.
The SCSI produced a standalone construction cost report for the demolition and rebuilding of homes affected by defective concrete blocks and gave rebuilding rates for eight house types.
This included typical estate-type homes and one-off homes ranging from €145 per square foot to €165 per square foot, and their report was priced at February 2022 material and labour rates.
TDs at the committee questioned whether a more up to date report might be needed when the scheme is actually started given other price-driving factors like inflation.
Kevin Brady of the SCSI said it would take a number of months and would be a significant body of work.
The SCSI said the primary drivers for the current price inflation are high price volatility across a range of building materials, particularly insulation, cement, plasterboard metals and fuel, labour cost increases and the high demand for projects.
Paul Forde, the chair of an expert group set up by the Department of Housing, was asked by TDs about worries homeowners have about the existence of another deleterious material known as pyrrhotite. He said the National Standards Authority of Ireland was conducting a review of the protocol underpinning the scheme and that this may be part of that review.