President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here this evening to launch the Commission's Consultation Paper on Multi-Unit Developments, and I want to thank you, President, and the other members of the Commission, for inviting me here this evening and giving me the opportunity to do so.

The subject-matter of this Consultation Paper could hardly be more topical: in the last 10 days or so there has been extensive media comment and discussion of the problems and difficulties arising in relation to the management of multi-unit developments and the operations of property management companies.

The great value of this Consultation Paper is, firstly, the overview it provides and, secondly, the detailed consideration it gives to the specific problem areas that the Commission has identified in relation to the management of multi-unit developments and operation of property management companies.

The Commission's analysis of these issues is particularly beneficial because - as the Paper shows - the increasing use of multi-unit complexes for residential purposes is of fairly recent origin in this country, and the lack of familiarity with this mode of dwelling goes far towards explaining the 'understanding deficit' which is a consistent theme throughout the Paper. It also helps to explain why the current legal framework is ill-suited in many ways for dealing with the problems and difficulties arising in relation to this type of accommodation.

I do not intend to comment on the detail of the Consultation Paper this evening but I want to make a few general points.

Firstly, I welcome the emphasis in the Paper on the cross-cutting nature of the issues arising in this area and the need for Government to address them in a comprehensive, 'joined-up' manner. Clearly this will require action across a number of important policy areas, including the planning and development code, company law, consumer protection law and the development of regulatory structures.

In recognition of the wide range of policy areas involved, I am pleased to announce that the Government has approved my proposal to establish a high-level, interdepartmental committee, comprising representatives of relevant Departments and Offices, to assist in the development of a coherent legislative response to the issues arising in relation to property management companies.  This Consultation Paper will provide a useful starting point for the committee's work.
  
I believe that addressing the problems that have been identified in the Paper must commence at the initial planning stage. I tend to share the views of those who say that the preponderance of one and two bedroom units in multi-unit complexes together with a general lack of the facilities that families need, has tended to encourage short-term lettings and this has resulted in a more transient residential population that has little interest in, or commitment to, the governance or overall maintenance of the complex.  It is very difficult to engender and develop a sense of community and stakeholder responsibility in such circumstances.  This lack of interest on the part of transient or relatively short term residents may be readily understandable, but the lack of maintenance of shared facilities and common areas will eventually lead to deterioration in the fabric of the building and devaluation of the property.

I know that my colleague, Dick Roche, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, has a particular interest in policy relating to multi-unit developments and I have no doubt but that issues identified in this Paper as relating to his area of policy responsibility will be addressed by him and his Department with energy and conviction.

Issues relating to the governance of property managements companies as well as a need for increased consumer awareness have been highlighted in recent publications by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and the National Consumer Agency (NCA) respectively. I want to take this opportunity sincerely to thank Paul Appleby and Anne Fitzgerald for the important contributions they are making towards promoting public awareness of the issues and providing helpful and practical advice and guidance for those who already own apartments in multi-unit complexes or are considering the possibility of purchasing such a unit.

Improved awareness of their rights - and an understanding of the corresponding duties and responsibilities of developers and builders - will encourage these owners to assert their rights as company members, become involved in the management of their company and combat abuses and sharp practices. For this reason, I want to encourage the ODCE and the NCA to continue with their important awareness-raising and consumer protection activities in this area.

As regards future reform of company law, the Paper outlines in some detail the work already under way to accommodate the particular needs of property management companies in future company legislation.

In this context, I think it is important to bear in mind the voluntary nature of the role of director in property management companies, and the fact that the owners of units within a multi-unit development who make up the company - and from whose ranks the directors are necessarily drawn - may have little or no experience of running a company or complying with the formal requirements of company law. In effect, these companies are a type of residents' association' - albeit with a corporate structure - and this has to be taken into account in developing new company models for such entities and devising future reporting arrangements.

I also believe that current strike-off provisions which are designed to penalise commercial companies that do not comply with company law requirements - and which may lead eventually to a company's dissolution and the vesting of its assets in the Minister for Finance - are particularly ill-suited to the operation of property management companies. This aspect also needs to be addressed in the ongoing company law reform process.

As regards improving the future regulatory framework for management companies, the Consultation Paper contains an important and interesting discussion of the relevant issues. As noted in the Paper, the Government has already accepted last year's recommendation of the Auctioneering/Estate Agency Review Group that the licensing system to be operated by the new Property Services Regulatory Authority should be extended to cover property management agents.

The Consultation Paper contains much useful material on possible future regulatory arrangements for property management companies. This is an important issue which needs to be addressed in a coherent and practical manner by the newly-established high-level, interdepartmental group. I am very conscious of the valuable work that existing statutory bodies such as the ODCE and the NCA are doing, and the real and practical contributions they are making to improved governance and consumer awareness in this area. Planning authorities around the country and the Company Registration Office also have important supporting roles to play.

What all of this means is that the future architecture of a regulatory system for property management companies must be designed in a manner which clearly identifies the tasks to be undertaken while at the same time avoiding duplication and overlap with existing statutory bodies. This will of course require legislative change but I am convinced that real progress can also be made through improved consumer awareness and by providing practical guidance and support for the members of such companies.

The task, among others, for the high-level, interdepartmental group will be to identify the key legislative and administrative actions to be taken and to determine a timescale for implementation as soon as possible.

In conclusion, I want again to commend the Law Reform Commission for producing a timely and thought-provoking Consultation Paper. It will provide a useful focus for discussions at a special Conference being held on 25 January next as part of the consultation process. I would urge all interested parties - private individuals as well as representative and statutory bodies - to study the Consultation Paper, participate in the Conference and submit their views on the issues raised. This is a policy area which requires, and will benefit from, discussion and input from the public.

Thank you.

19 December 2006