CRACKS in the walls and floors of up to 750 houses are "insignificant" and not caused by building material supplied by one of the country's largest quarrying companies, a court heard yesterday.
Yesterday, the Lagan Group launched a robust defence to claims by Menolly Homes, owned by developer Seamus Ross, that infill it supplied to four building companies controlled by Mr Ross was defective.
The denial came as Menolly Homes said it may apply to have the €60m row over structural defects in hundreds of homes in three new housing estates in Dublin struck out of court after new evidence came to light.
Menolly Homes, which built the homes using infill supplied from a Lagan-owned quarry, signalled its intention to have the litigation struck out after receiving minutes of three Lagan management meetings.
The minutes were only handed over to Menolly's lawyers on Monday at 3pm, several hours after Menolly had opened its case at the Commercial Court, sitting in Clonskeagh.
The minutes revealed that Terry Lagan, the group's director, believed that lands at Bay Lane -- its quarry near Dublin Airport -- were unsuitable for quarrying, a revelation described as one of "the utmost seriousness" by Brian O'Moore, senior counsel for Menolly.
Yesterday Mr O'Moore said that the "entire shape of opening of the case" would have been entirely different had the minutes been furnished to him.
Mr Justice Paul Galligan, who is presiding over the case with two designated assessors, said it was up to Menolly whether to accept new, confirmatory statements from Mr Lagan or to seek to have the Lagan Group's defences struck out.
Opening its defence, the Lagan Group insisted that the vast majority of the cracks that appeared in the houses built by Menolly have no structural significance and are unrelated to the infill material gleaned from a quarry it owns at Bay Lane, near Dublin Airport.
It also accused Menolly, which is seeking legal protection against up to €60m in anticipated damages claims from homeowners, of "jumping to conclusions" about the cause of the problems.
Menolly has claimed that the cracking in the houses was caused by the presence of pyrite, a mineral also known as "fool's gold", in aggregate infill procured by Irish Asphalt Limited, Lagan Holdings Ltd and Lagan Construction Limited.
All companies are owned by the Lagan Group.
Senior counsel Hugh O'Neill, opening the case for Lagan, said that Menolly and its experts had convinced themselves that pyrite was the problem in an effort to pass responsibility to the Lagan-owned companies.
"We know about the situation in the country where practically every second house with cracks is having this [the cracks] attributed to pyrite," he said.
"A problem which for some reason we managed to live without for many years is now said to be the root cause of endless cracking."
Mr O'Neill also claimed that Menolly had "rushed" to get the houses built and sold when the property market was booming and alleged that there were defects in the design and workmanship of some of the units.
The case, which could last for several months, continues today.
Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor
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