Light touch regulation to blame for the defective concrete scandal in Donegal

Enda Craig

It is generally accepted that light touch regulation is always going to be a recipe for disaster.

Light touch regulation refers to the approach of the government and regulatory bodies to regulate certain industries with minimal intervention.

This approach is intended to promote economic growth while allowing businesses to operate with greater flexibility.

In practical terms, what has that meant for the concrete manufacturing sector in Donegal for example?

In practice, it has meant that the local authority transferred legal responsibility for the proper manufacture of concrete aggregate and concrete products to the quarry owners and concrete product manufacturers.

Quarry owners and concrete product manufacturers are now required to confirm in writing to the local authority on an annual basis that they are applying the relevant and legal EU regulations etc to their activities.

Local authorities, including Donegal County Council market surveillance and product control, now operates on a reactive rather than a proactive basis to the concrete industry.

They respond only to written complaints from the public re illegal practices in the quarries and concrete manufacturing plants.

Donegal County Council states that it has received no written complaints relating to either the quarries or the concrete manufacturing plants under its control.

Who is to blame for the crumbling concrete causing homes and buildings to disintegrate?

Will Donegal County Council hide behind the light touch regulations introduced by the government and claim that it’s in compliance with national guidelines?

Unbelievably, under this light touch regime, surveyors and building control officers no longer carry out spot checks on quarries to determine the quality of their aggregate nor on concrete manufacturing plants to check quality control.

Instead, it’s the sole responsibility of the quarries and concrete manufacturing plants to police themselves and to make sure all concrete products sold to the public is up to EU standard and fit for purpose.

In my opinion, light touch regulation and self policing is mostly to blame for the inferior products that were sold to the homeowners in Donegal.

I will go further and say that self-regulation was a disastrous, delusional concept that has allowed greed to prevail in the absence of proper policing and regulation of the industry.

Each local authority was responsible for implementing its own market surveillance and building control policy.

Donegal County Council must be held accountable for its role in the crumbling concrete debacle.

It must not be allowed to use light touch regulation as an excuse to explain its failure to monitor and police the industry.

Will they adopt the ” we knew nothing ” response even though they were aware for years through anecdotal evidence of the wholesale cracking of houses throughout the county.

Let’s not forget that they were aware that 1300 houses from their own housing stock had been displaying cracks in the concrete.

Where does all of this leave the quarries and concrete manufacturing companies?

Some have already stated their products were manufactured at all times according to the relevant standards.

It is also known that some of these companies no longer exist.

I believe the government introduced the 90/10 grant scheme to cloak the fact that they were primarily to blame for this scandal because of its disastrous self regulation approach that allowed quarry and concrete owners to supply unfit for purpose products.

It seems entirely plausible to me that greed became the overriding dominant factor for the government, the quarry owners and concrete manufacturers.

I believe that we are deluding ourselves if we think that the government or the local authorities involved, are going to take responsibility for their role in light touch regulation that’s leading to the widespread collapse of houses and buildings both sides of the border.

Drawing on my personal experience with Donegal County Council and the government, the chances of either entity voluntarily taking responsibility for their actions is close to zero.

Enda Craig is a retired engineer living in Donegal. His 26 year battle with Donegal County Council and the government ended in 2016 with an EU Commission finding that forced the Irish government to amend existing planning laws.