Priory Hall apartments never checked by fire inspectors
Other 'boom-time' complexes could face same risk
Published 18/10/2011 | 05:00
APARTMENT blocks similar to the unsafe Priory Hall development in Dublin were never inspected by fire officers, the Irish Independent has learned.
Instead, architects 'signed off' on apartments for developers based on a visual inspection and on letters from contractors confirming the work was above board.
The architect who signed off on Priory Hall said last night he was "shocked at what the fire officers have now found".
The disclosure raises the prospect that other blocks built during the boom may also be potential death traps.
The Irish Independent has also learned NAMA decided not to buy the loan behind Priory Hall last year, instead leaving it in the ownership of Irish Nationwide, the first time the agency refused to take on a loan.
It is understood concerns over the standard of the building prompted NAMA to turn down the loan.
More than 240 people living in Priory Hall, Donaghmede, are to be moved into emergency hotel accommodation for five weeks on Thursday.
Dublin City Council will foot the €4,000-a-day bill for accommodating the residents in the Regency Hotel, Whitehall, Dublin.
In the High Court yesterday, developer Thomas McFeely publicly apologised to tenants and told the court he would put the resources in place for the repair works.
However, Mr Justice Kearns ordered Mr McFeely and his associate Larry O'Mahony to submit statements of means to the court by Friday.
If it transpires that the pair are unable to meet the costs of accommodating the residents, the judge ordered that Dublin City Council should pay.
Mr Justice Kearns ordered the works to be completed by November 28 and said the High Court would be monitoring the progress.
The council's fire safety inspector Donal Casey said a fire could spread swiftly through the complex due to defects with fire safety barriers in the external walls.
When asked whether the council would now inspect apartment blocks built during the boom, a spokesman said it couldn't comment due to the ongoing High Court case.
Under the current system, architects sign off on fire safety for developers, based on a visual inspection, backed up by statements from the developer and subcontractors.
Architect Stephen Oppermann said yesterday his firm -- Oppermann and Associates, based at Foley Street in Dublin 1 -- carried out a visual inspection of Priory Hall after the apartments were finished.
"It is a visual inspection," he said. "I'm not going to get out a hammer and break a hole in the wall."
Although the apartments were built in 2006, the full extent of the problem emerged in May this year after the council bought two apartments and engaged consultants to inspect them.
The council found defects which meant that any fire which got into the external cavity wall could spread rapidly to the entire complex.
The Irish Independent has also seen documentation showing Mr McFeely told his architect that the building was constructed "in substantial compliance with planning permission and relevant building regulations".
After inspecting the apartment block -- and examining letters from fire safety subcontractors stating their work was done to the highest standard -- Mr Oppermann, issued a letter that the work complied with regulations.
Dublin City Council relies on the developer's consultant and does not routinely inspect buildings after they are finished.
Mr Oppermann said he issued his opinion of compliance based on the inspection by his firm of the apartments and on the letters from project subcontractors stating their fire safety and other work complied with building regulations. This was the normal practice.
"I'm absolutely shocked at what the fire officers have now found," he said.
Mr Oppermann said the cavity fire barriers were in their original project drawing. However, he said it was being alleged that they were not installed.
Labour TD Sean Kenny called on Environment Minister Phil Hogan to scrap the self-regulation system brought in in 1990.
The minister plans to make it mandatory for builders and architects to provide certificates of compliance stating that the buildings meet all regulations.