PYRITES SPECIAL DAIL DEBATE

For almost a year Ceann Comhairle, I have been asking the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to take personal command of a major investigation and process of remediation and compensation for residential and infrastructural projects which have been badly damaged by defective infill materials with too high a concentration of the mineral pyrite.

A few weeks after Minister Gormley and the government came to office, I first learned of the distress of householders in the Drynam Hall Estate in Kinsealy where floors, walls and ceilings were cracking and a circular on the problem had been sent around by the Drynam Hall developers Mennolly Homes.

A few months later I was informed that the problem also existed in The Coast and Clongriffin developments in the huge new North Fringe urban region in my own constituency. Other reports located the pyrite problem in the vast Castlecurragh estate in West Dublin and indicated that a significant number of developers had contacted Homebond regarding their fears about the matter. Lately, I have heard allegations from the construction industry that at least 60,000 residential units built from 2001/2002 may be infected by the disastrous pyrite infill. Equally alarmingly there are continuing allegations that a number of large infrastructural developments (including urban regeneration projects) are contaminated by pyrites. As I have mentioned several times to the House, pyrites is an iron sulphide popularly known as ‘œfool’s gold’. It reacts with oxygen and water to form sulphuric acid and expands (with devastating consequences for buildings) if exposed to air or water.

In the midst if this enfolding crisis (which itself exacerbated the serious downturn in the construction industry) stands Minister John Gormley who has washed his hands of any responsibility for the disaster. But it was his department which permitted complete self-regulation of building standards in the construction industry. In earlier replies he has referred me to a pathetic circular on building standards which he sent out to the local authorities last Autumn requesting them to implement the Building Control Act 1990 and to the consultation on the National Standards Authority of Ireland amendment to SR 21 on building aggregates. But the Minister has totally shirked his responsibility to thousands of householders who have entered negative equity by his failure to act and he has failed the state generally in terms of possible damage to very costly infrastructural developments.

Can the Minister explain why he has still not ordered a full traceability audit of the 2,000,000 tonnes or so of infill from the affected quarry owned by the Irish Asphalt division of the Lagan Group, given that the location of only 100,000 tonnes (or 5%) of this aggregate has been accounted for so far. Is it the case that the Minister is terrified of the possible results of a thorough investigation of the Lagan Group’s operations at this quarry? Can he confirm if the quarry is still open and why has he not directed Fingal County Manager David O’Connor to close the facility.

Why has the Minister not ordered a thorough invigilation of the other quarries in Leinster allegedly also damaged by high pyrite concentrations and indeed examined the wider operations of the Lagan Group and similar suppliers of quarry concentrates? Why has the Minister stood helplessly on the sidelines while young householders were left to fend for themselves while a company like Killoe Developments failed to respond to the householders’ desperate anxieties about their mortgage investments?

The pyrites infill disaster is not the first infill calamity of its kind in the world. The Minister could easily (following the example of the Mennolly Homes developers) have drawn on the experience of the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec in particular. Yet he has consistently refused to establish a National Pyrite Investigation and Monitoring Agency on the lines of the Quebecois example or even to issue an information document for the benefit of homeowners and consumers such as the Canadian document ‘œPyrite and Your Home.’ Why will he not immediately and publicly implement a protocol for compulsory chemical analysis of all construction infill? Why has he not asked the Taoiseach and cabinet to consider appropriate compensation mechanisms for affected householders and public bodies? Even at this late stage will the Minister call in City Manager John Tierney and County Manager David O’Connor and establish a Task Force to investigate and address all aspects of this appalling affair? Is he aware for example that UK media outlets are enquiring why and if the Lagan Group is considering off-loading and selling quarries in this state and the North of Ireland?

Minister Gormley’s response to this shocking development during the construction boom of the Celtic Tiger is completely unacceptable and must change immediately. I am deeply disappointed that a Green colleague from the first Rainbow Coalition on Dublin City Council should be so lethargic and uncaring to perhaps tens of thousands of our fellow citizens unwittingly caught up in this disaster. If the full dimensions of the pyrites infill problem turn out to be as feared and alleged by sources in the construction sector, the Minister’s days in his department are surely numbered and the local authorities and the state will be left with a possible liability of tens of billions of Euro.

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