The following letter was sent to Martin Vaughan, Department of the Environment, Community & Local Government, today, May 2nd, 2014..
“Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land, than passing laws which cannot be enforced.”
– Albert Einstein
Dear Mr Vaughan,
I appreciate you taking your time out to send me a rather lengthy reply to my various letters over the past few months – (Mr Vaughan’s letter here: https://amandagallagherblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/letter-from-mr-martin-vaughan/)
I am afraid to tell you that we still have major reservations about the possibility to build a house in Ireland by direct labour / self building since the introduction of SI 9 and your letter has done nothing to allay our fears.
I would also like to point out to you that our own solicitor has cautioned us not to sign the certificates under any circumstances and our own RIAI Architect has informed us that if our build is to be a self build then he will part ways with us. Now, apart from all the other issues within S.I. 9 these two facts alone render self building impossible for us.
Mr Vaughan, in light of the fact that all the documents within the S.I. 9 seek the signature of: a principal or director of a building company only – we are not convinced by your attempts of persuading us that self building is still viable in Ireland today. I will now go through some of the major worries for us and indeed for all self builders in Ireland. (apologies for the length of this letter, the problems within and surrounding the S.I. 9 are infinite, but I do not need to tell you this!)
IS SELF BUILDING IN IRELAND BANNED?:
It is our understanding that it is now illegal to self build in Ireland – therefore yes, self building is banned in Ireland. Here is why:
• all legal documents within S.I. 9 seek the signature of a principal or director of a building company only.
• Assigned Certifiers will not work alongside self builders.
• the words ‘self build / direct labour’ do not appear once in the entire S.I. 9 or the Code of Practice for Building Control.
• at the Engineers CPD event in January – your Department, members of CIF, members of the RIAI, ACEI & SCSI confirmed that self building will no longer be possible under S.I. 9.
• CIF have been remarkably consistent in confirming that self building is no longer possible.
You say in your letter that the legislation placing CIRI on a statutory footing will not place a restriction on self building – if this indeed is a fact, then why when we attended a CIF Roadshow event in March did Mr Hubert Fitzpatrick (Director of Housing with the CIF) state in an unequivocal fashion that there was a possibility to self build only until March of next year, when CIRI is placed on a Statutory footing. If, however, you are right in your statement, and Mr Fitzpatrick is wrong, I would ask that you request that the CIF issue a statement of this fact as soon as possible.
Regarding CIRI – the Minister claims that the CIRI number request on the S.I. 9 certificates is not mandatory – if this is correct, then in the interest of fair play and competition I think it would be most fitting if you remove any mention of CIRI from the S.I. 9 as this is giving the CIF competitive advantage over the already established National Guild of Master Craftsmen Register.
I want to re-iterate to you that the S.I. 9 forces a self builder to employ a building contractor from CIRI – this is ridiculous – a self builder and a building contractor do the exact same thing – the only difference is that the building contractor gains a hefty profit. In fact, 9 times out of 10 a self builder will be probably a qualified tradesman – making him far more competent than a building contractor, who may be merely a businessman – he may have been a butcher before he called himself a ‘builder’! I do hope you understand why the S.I. 9 is an irrational law to self builders – you would have been so much better of to insist that all building owners employ registered tradesmen.
BUILDING CONTROL AUTHORITY:
Our local Building Control Office informed us that they would accept the S.I. 9 documents , signed by self builders – ‘for now’ – by the way this statement is only a reflection of the absolute confusion that the S.I. 9 have caused to the nation – to the ordinary person & civil servant alike.
Tell me, Mr Vaughan – regarding the BCA accepting a self builder ‘for now’ – Is a law not a law? On Saturday, March 1st the S.I. 9 was made our law – and that law states that to build a home you must be a principal or director of a building company only – how then can the BCA accept a self builder to sign these documents ‘for now’?
If a new speed limit of 65 mph is introduced and someone from the Department of justice tells me I can do whatever speed I like ‘for now’ – the following week I am caught driving at 235 mph – when the Gardaí read me my charges – do you think I will get away with it because I say an official told me I could drive at whatever speed I liked ‘for now’ – not at all – I would be told ‘now, now, what does the law say? – off to Court with you!’
If you are right in your statement that self building can continue as before – can you ask each Building Control Authority to put up a notice to that effect at every counter in the country so that there is no more talk of ‘for now’!
I would like to point out that the certificate of Undertaking by Assigned Certifier in the S.I. 9 seeks a signature also but this reads:
Why could you not have done the same on the Undertaking by Builder? – it is you who claim that a self builder can sign this document if so, there was no need of you to write: to be signed by a principal or director of a building company only, the key word for us is the word ‘only’ – this one little word in that sentence is a ‘definite’. The way that you and Minister Hogan continually tell ordinary people to sign these documents just does not make sense – the whole thing just does not ‘add up’.
THE LAW SOCIETY:
The Law Society of Ireland recently issued guidance on the BC(A)R 2014. In this guidance they advise Assigned Certifiers not to take on the role of Certifier for self builders. The IAOSB recently wrote to the Law Society and it can be read in this link:
I note that the Law Society say they were also excluded from the now famous ‘key stakeholder’ talks and that they have much sympathy for self builders. I am sure it was the Law Societys’ intention that their advice within the guidance notes on the BC(A)R 2014, would assist the professionals but it has done immense damage to the Departments attempts to reassure the nation on the issue of self building. I would request that you write to the Law Society to retract the paragraph advising Assigned Certifiers not to work alongside self builders. In fact, this advice has turned self builders into the ‘Lepers of building control’ – this is no exaggeration!
I note that you say in your letter that the Department sees no reason to doubt that Assigned Certifiers will work alongside self builders. As I have said our own architect – a member of the RIAI informed us months ago that we would have to part ways with him if we intended to self build. Since then, we have not found one Assigned Certifier to work with us – why is this? In light of your statement on this issue, I would appreciate if you could write to the representative bodies of the three professions – RIAI, ACEI, SCSI – and inform them that if a self builder requests their services that they will have to comply or you will have no choice but to get them struck off their professional register. It is only fair, as these professions have somehow picked up the wrong message from the S.I.9 and they refuse to work with self builders!
SELF BUILDING IN EUROPE:
You say, Building Control is a matter for National Administration, that is a good thing to hear – because even the Troika will frown upon the S.I. 9. They will not agree to any legislation that hinders economic recovery. They will certainly not agree with banning self building, as they think it to be a most courageous and admirable endeavour – to construct a home or one’s family.
Every country in the world permits self building – the U.K. have just introduced the ‘Right to Build’ Scheme for self builders – all the other countries in the world reward, encourage and support self builders. In Europe, the volume of self builds differs – the rate of self building varies from country to country with Austria having the highest volume at 80% of one-off houses being self built – while the Netherlands have only a 30% rate of self built homes – Ireland used to have (prior to March 1st) a 60% rate of self builds – with reports now surfacing of a 90% rate in Co Mayo – how sad that this beautiful tradition has been erased by seemingly intelligent ‘key stakeholders’ – I really am astonished that the S.I. 9 were the best you all came up with over a period of two years.
DAMAGE TO THE ECONOMY & REPUTATION OF IRELAND:
In relation to commencement notices lodged since March 1st. A total of 70 for one-off houses was recorded in March last as opposed to 320 lodged in March 2013. This is a massive blow to the economy already. So, no matter what commencement notice figure you tell me – I tell you, that the Economy of Ireland has been irrevocably damaged in the Month of March 2014 because of the S.I. 9.
The reputation of Ireland as a democratic, tolerant, just country has also been tarnished due to the S.I. 9 as the Irish Government are now seen a s a ‘Regime’ who has shown favouritism to the CIF builders and developers, instead of the ordinary citizen, the very people that are to be protected and assisted on all levels. Our reputation can be ‘polished’ up again if there is a redemption – if self builders are re-instated to their rightful position in the construction sector.
Mr Vaughan, Priory Hall – that symbol of ‘Ireland’s Property Madness’ was built by a developer, signed off by architects, engineers and surveyors – that was a scandal then – self regulation was a scandal then also. But, the S.I. 9 is the scandal now, as absolutely nothing has changed: a developer will build an apartment block and it will be signed off by architects, engineers and surveyors – there is still the scandal of self regulation in the Construction Sector. Here is a link to an article which will explain to you why there are no new safety measures for the consumer:
THE ISSUE OF FRAUD:
You say that a self builder can indeed sign the Certificates of Compliance & Completion, in the place where it states: to be signed by a principal or director of a building company only. I do not understand how you can say that we can sign these documents as we have nothing to do with a building company. This is what I mean by ‘fraud’ – I really do not think it is fitting for an ordinary citizen to explain the definition of ‘fraud’ to a Government official – however, here it goes: ‘a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.’
You see, Mr Vaughan, I would expect you to know what I meant in my previous letters by ‘fraud’ – I really hope that if I gave you a legal document and asked you to sign your name where it read: to be signed by a Supreme Court Judge ONLY – that you would not, under any circumstances sign it! And ‘who exactly would be defrauded?’ you ask, my answer is, everyone who ever looks at that certificate will be defrauded, from BCOs, Bank officials, architects, Insurance companies, conveyancing lawyers, judges etc.. It is most serious.
Self builders are not principals or directors of building companies – and to ask them to deceive others by claiming to be, is to be quite frank, immoral and is in fact ‘fraud’.
To build a house in Ireland today, one must employ a main building contractor and an Assigned Certifier must also be employed – therefore for us to build our new family home ‘legally’ the above does indeed double our budget. To put it in simple terms our planned home will now never exist – the State will continue to house us for the rest of our days – I find this fact very economically ‘backward’ – do you not?
THE BLACK MARKET:
This issue of the Black Market is quite a touchy subject at the moment with self builders, especially, as it was the CIF lobby who persuaded the Taoiseach that S.I. 9 was needed to eliminate black market practices. I would ask you to research how every other country in the world copes with black market practices. A Government register of qualified tradesmen would sort this out immediately and would also generate much needed revenue for the State. You know that for water connection worth €1,400 you MUST employ a contractor from the list in the Local Authority. I cannot fathom why for a house worth hundred of thousands the State does not insist on the same? Wouldn’t this sort out the Black Market? By the way, I would like to research the statistics for CIF members in the past who have been caught in Black Market practices or worse still, caught not paying sub-contractors their much deserved wages! To deny a man his wages is a far greater sin than any Black Market practice!
I, along with many other ordinary people, professionals and politicians alike are astounded as to the influence that the CIF Lobby have had on Minister Hogan and yourselves in the Department regarding Building Control. I even hear whispers that the CIF have permission to word the S.I. 9 Ancillary Certificates for sub-contractors! Mr Vaughan, this is outrageous – these are the ‘boyos’ that the laws must control – why on earth are you letting them have so much input into our laws? This is like handing the keys of your car to a gang of drunken teenage boys – it will only end in disaster.
MINISTER & DEPARTMENT MISLEADING THE NATION?:
The talks regarding the formation of the S.I. 9 were very secretive – and no representative from the self build sector or indeed from any consumer agency or a representative of the Tradesmen of Ireland – the only people who were at the talks were all those who would have a vested interest in the outcome. In fact the IAOSB have requested an investigation into Minister Hogan’s misleading statements at a recent Seanad Debate on the subject of self builders and their inclusion in these talks, here is the link to the IAOSB complaint to Minister Hogan:
So, we are now left in a situation whereby the key stakeholders hold a de facto monopoly on the construction sector – this is a terrible, unjust outcome to building control regulations that are supposed to protect and include every sector of society.
In light of the mis-information that is still coming from the Minister and the Department I regret to inform you that you are all, in fact, misleading the Nation and the Nation no longer has confidence in the power of this current Government. One day we will all look back on this awful time in building control and we will see, as clear as day, the fatal errors that occurred;
• It was a fatal error that the BRAB were disbanded in 2012 and never, ever reconvened.
• It was a fatal error that the CIF were ever listened to and included in the key stakeholder talks.
• It was a fatal error that representatives from the self build sector, lawyers, consumers or tradesmen were excluded from the talks.
• It was a fatal error on Minister Hogan’s part not to defer these laws when asked – after all ‘a delay is better than an error’.
•It was a most fatal error on the Minister & his Departments part to continually mislead the Nation at a time when the Nation deserved to be told the horrible truth – that ‘yes, the CIF have somehow convinced the Irish Government to ban self building.’
So, let us recap:
If you could organise the following letters to be emailed to me at your earliest convenience:
• a statement from the CIF (on headed paper) stating that when CIRI is placed on a statutory footing there will be absolutely no restriction on self builders to continue to build homes for their families.
• a copy of your letter to all BCAs in the country re: a notice at their front counters stating that ‘we will always accept the certificates of compliance and completion signed by self builders and self builders will always be welcome at this office!’
• a copy of your letter to the Law Society informing them that they must retract the paragraph advising Assigned Certifiers not to work with self builders from their original guidance on the BC(A)R 2014.
• a copy of your letter to the RIAI, ACEI & SCSI informing them that they must, if approached by a self builder, take on the role of Assigned Certifier.
Until, these letters are forwarded to me, I regret that we will look on the statements from the Minister and your Department stating that “self building can continue as before…”, as mere ’empty words’ – at this late stage, the only thing that will satisfy us is if we receive concrete proof that self building can continue – and that ‘proof’ can be the letters as outlined above.
Mr Vaughan, I am very concerned for all who have been affected by the S.I. 9 – my family, for other families intending to self build, for all the people who have become unemployed or have their workload greatly reduced, for the burden placed on Assigned Certifiers and for all who will be affected in the future – we all want to see a fair system of building control in Ireland, one that does not exclude and does not place a financial burden on families – if the key stakeholders had that same goal in mind during the talks – well, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
This fair system of Building Control is an option to you, it is never too late for the Minister and his Department to make a U-turn – the ‘Collins & O’Cofaigh – A Better Way’ is a system that would solve every single issue that lies within S.I. 9 – I would like to hear just one good reason why this cannot be implemented? Regardless, I, myself, have every faith that sooner or later common sense will prevail.
I know that Minister Hogan’s intentions were excellent – we need safe, sound buildings in society – and I would not like to think that it was intended that the S.I. 9 would erase self building – but, unfortunately, that is what it has done and it needs to be sorted asap. I also know that you now find yourselves in a very difficult position, as do we. I am always available to help you work out how to help self builders and for your own sake, I urge you to discuss this letter with your colleagues and Minister Hogan, you must ignore this major problem no longer and you must not continue to mislead – remember, there is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience!
Regards to you at this most difficult time in Ireland,