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Priory Hall fiasco 'tip of the iceberg'

The Priory Hall scandal could be just the tip of the iceberg of sub-standard housing built during the boom as a direct result of light touch regulation. And a senior engineer has warned that poor building controls will result in fatalities from fires and other accidents caused by defective building.

The warning comes as a survey of housing carried out by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland found 93 per cent of housing built between 1997 and 2002 which they examined did not comply with regulations on reducing the risk of fire spread.

Director General of Engineers Ireland John Power told the Sunday Independent the findings are "truly appalling".

"We have seen the hazards of 'light touch' regulation in the banking and financial sectors and the damage that has been done. Poor building controls can, and will, result in fatalities," he added.

"In this context, it is hardly surprising that it was a fire threat that endangered the residents of Priory Hall resulting in their evacuation a number of months ago.

"The building control system currently states that the responsibility for compliance rests primarily with developers and builders. Quite clearly, these responsibilities have not, and probably are not, being taken seriously," he said.

Mr Power said the stark reality is that Priory Hall is symptomatic of what is likely to be a long line of disasters as a result of the lack of building control in this country.

More than 250 residents of Priory Hall who are in temporary accommodation fear they will be left liable for their own rental costs on top of mortgage repayments from next month.

The council has agreed to pay the residents' accommodation costs only until February 3 -- by which time it will have cost the local authority some €700,000.

According to Mr Power, a relaxation of regulations over the years is a factor in the Priory Hall fiasco.

"Ireland used to have a very effective professional building control system, particularly in the greater Dublin area. This ended with the introduction of so called 'self-certification' in the late Eighties and early Nineties.

But Mr Power said that instead of extending "this effective system" nationwide, the opposite had happened.

"The building industry has been allowed to self-certify on a national basis. The result is that up to half of the existing housing stock has never been adequately inspected during construction," he claimed.

Sunday Independent