In September 2011, the Government announced the establishment of an independent panel to explore options for a resolution to the problem of pyrite contamination in private housing stock. The action was taken in response to the very difficult situations faced by homeowners who through no fault of their own, were left to deal with the consequences of pyrite related problems.
The Panel considered that the regulatory framework for hardcore in Ireland prior to 2007 compared favourably with that in the UK and other jurisdictions. Once the problem was identified, timely and appropriate action was taken here to deal with the problem by putting in place additional guidance to limit the presence of pyrite in hardcore and this appears to have contained the problem. The Panel did not consider the State was responsible for causing the pyrite problem and therefore is not liable for the costs associated with remediation. The report clearly states that those parties with direct or indirect responsibility for the pyrite problem should bear the costs of remediation. Those identified with having responsibility include: builders/subcontractors, vendors, material suppliers and insurers.
The Environment Minister Phil Hogan TD intends to move quickly on the report and to this end he has already begun a series of meetings with the key stakeholders, including the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Federation, HomeBond, the Irish Insurance Federation and the Irish Banking Federation.
The Minister comments: “I have asked the stakeholders to come back to me before the end of September with their proposals for resolving this problem and I am hopeful that the outcome of these discussions will provide solutions for homeowners. However, in the absence of viable practical solutions from these obvious stakeholders I will be left with no option but to advise the Government that a solution along the lines recommended by the Panel must be imposed. My preferred option is for responsible stakeholders to take ownership of this problem and to work with me to advance solutions which will lead to a resolution for the homeowners concerned.”
In setting up the Panel, the Minister was conscious of the need to establish the scale of the pyrite problem being dealt with and he has noted that the Panel’s estimate is significantly less that the figures which have been speculated in the public domain.
In general, the pyrite problem appears to be confined to five local authority areas, Fingal, Meath, Dublin City, Kildare and Offaly. Seventy four (74) estates were identified to the Panel during the course of its work as possibly having pyrite. This amounts to 12,250 ground floor dwellings. Of these dwellings, the Panel understands that approximately 850 dwellings currently have a claim with a guarantee provider. A further 1,100 dwellings have already been remediated or are in the process of being remediated.
Taking a pessimistic view, the Panel concluded that the remaining 10,300 ground floor dwellings represent the maximum estimated future potential exposure to pyrite problems.
The Panel concludes that currently the only recognised method of remediation of homes damaged by pyrite is the removal and replacement of the affected hardcore. This requires major intervention and the typical cost for an average house is estimated at up to Eur45,000.
Not all dwellings in estates where pyrite has been identified will manifest pyritic heave and significant damage and the reasons for this are outlined in the report. Recognising this position, the Panel recommends a categorisation of dwellings based on a traffic light system to determine appropriate remediation approaches and these are detailed in the report. It would be unreasonable to expect that dwellings which have not exhibited damage should be repaired simply because they have reactive pyrite in the hardcore but a system needs to be in place to repair such dwellings if they exhibit damage in the future.
The Panel makes a number of recommendations in relation to insurance and also recommends a review of the Statute of Limitations Act, 1957 which it considered would be of benefit to consumers and, in conjunction with his Government colleagues, the Minister will be examining options to see what progress can be made on those recommendations. There are also a number of recommendations that are focussed on preventing similar problems in the future through the development of a standalone specification for hardcore for use under concrete floors, testing, certification and traceability of hardcore by quarries and evidence of periodic testing and certification of hardcore to be required by building control officers. Officials in the Minister’s Department have already begun work on enuring implementation of these recommendations.