Construction Bill aims to stop abuse of subcontractors
LAST week saw the passing, by the Dail, of the Construction Contracts Bill 2010. It will no doubt be welcome news for the thousands of hard- pressed subcontractors across the country when it becomes law next week.
Introduced initially in the Seanad as a Private Members' Bill back in May 2010 by independent Senator Feargal Quinn, this new law will offer greater protection to subcontractors in an industry that has seen hundreds of firms forced out of business and many thousands of jobs lost due to a culture of poor and unfair payment practices.
Welcoming the passing of the bill, Senator Quinn said he was confident that it would help address the issue of non-payment to contractors and subcontractors who had completed work on building projects.
"My aim in bringing forward this legislation was to reduce subcontractors' exposure to non-payment and to remove the possibility of payments being unfairly withheld for extended periods of time," he said.
"Under the new legislation subcontractors will have greater clarity of when and how much they will get paid and will have the legal right to suspend work in circumstances where they have not been paid for work already completed," he added.
A welcome aspect of the new legislation is the provision to deal with disputes in a more timely manner through the introduction of a fast-track and cost-effective adjudication process.
Back in February 2010, as the then CEO of Smarthomes, I raised the issue here in the Sunday Independent of what I saw as the blatant abuse of subcontractors by some developers and large building contractors.
I highlighted how existing laws, covering the sale of goods, allowed suppliers in some sectors to repossess their goods in circumstances where they have not been paid.
However, the building sector is unique in that, once items such as windows, doors, kitchen units, bathroom fittings, electric cables and plumbing have been installed, they effectively become part of the fabric of the building and therefore cannot legally be removed – even if not paid for.
Where developers go out of business, their properties can be sold to pay off the developers' debts while the subcontractors who supplied, paid for and installed such goods often do not get paid.
As a follow-up to the article, I wrote to every TD and senator to highlight the issue and called for urgent legislation to be introduced. It was Senator Feargal Quinn who responded immediately.
"I consulted with lawyers here in Ireland, and drew on legislation already successfully in place in the UK and other countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the Isle of Man, in order to draft the Bill," he explained.
Last week, Senator Quinn acknowledged the all-party support he had received and praised, in particular, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Brian Hayes TD, who championed the bill through to Oireachtas, as well as the late Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan TD, who came into the Dail the day before leaving Government in order to introduce the Bill into the Dail.
He also praised the co-operation of the CIF and many other industry stakeholders.
Feargal Quinn is an outspoken advocate for the retention of the Seanad. It's a place where, he believes, good legislation can emerge. In his time there he has initiated many bills, including one that led to a ban on passports for sale.
"In a week where we move towards a referendum on the proposed abolition of the Seanad, the passing of this Construction Contracts Bill is a real example of the Seanad at its best and what could be achieved by retaining and reforming, rather than abolishing, it," he said.