Court orders apartments evacuation

 

A complex of 187 apartments at Donaghmede, Dublin is to be evacuated on Monday by order of the High Court after it was told the complex is a very serious fire safety risk, has significant structural deficiencies and had insurance cover withdrawn earlier this week.

Fire fighters have also been ordered to maintain a presence at the complex.

The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, said the situation was “a very serious emergency” and he would make the evacuation order sought by Dublin City Council but stay that order to Monday.

This was to allow the council find alternative accommodation for those living at the Priory Hall apartments pending the carrying out of essential remedial works which, he heard, could take about a month.

The judge, who was told by a fire safety inspector he believed the external walls would have to come off the building to render it safe, said the faults appeared to go “to the root and foundation” of the development which might be “irretrievable” unless full resources were applied.

The judge also made orders freezing the assets of developers Thomas McFeely and Larry O’Mahony, whose company Coalport developed the Priory Hall complex in 2006, and directed the papers in the case be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

There was no reason wny either the council or the taxpayer should have to bear the cost of this “disaster” for which the occupiers of the apartments were “totally blameless”, the judge said.

It “beggared belief” both developer were out of the country yesterday given the history of this situation and the failure to deal with it, he added.

On being told Mr McFeely would be back from the UK at midnight last night and was prepared to meet with a fire safety inspector on Monday, the judge said that meeting would have to be held before then. He also ordered both developers to appear personally before him on Monday morning.

Fire safety inspector Donal Casey earlier told the judge he was dealing with the Priory Hall development since 2008 and, from his first inspection, was “horrified” by what he saw.

Three fire safety notices were served in September 2009 and a programme of works to address serious breaches was agreed to but, while some works were done, all were not and the two developers had been prosecuted and convicted at the District Court earlier this year.

The earlier inspections were of common areas of the complex but in May 2011 the council’s housing department engaged consultants to inspect the apartments, the council having bought some units, he said.

When he saw the consultants' report, he was shocked, did two inspections of apartments last month and immediately told the chief fire officer. Due to defects, any fire which got into the external cavity wall could extend very quickly to the entire complex without any control or barrier as cavity barriers were either not there or were unsatisfactory, he said.

The external structure was “totally and utterly inadequate” from a structural pount of view, he said. “What was built out there”, and what had been agreed to under fire saftey certificates issued for the development, was “very different”, he said.

Earlier, the court heard Mr O’Mahony was today travelling back from Portugal. A solicitor who attended the court hearing said she had been notified of the court proceedings at 11.30am and had been unable to get instructions from the two developers.

Some works had been carried out and the financial controller of Coalport had said works would be done on receipt of a report from fire safety consultants, she added.

Earlier, Conleth Bradley SC, for the Council, said the evacuation order sought was draconian but the intention was to put pressure on the respondents to carry out the necessary works. A similar order was previously sought against these developers concerning another development, and, when the court warned it would be granted unless works were carried out, those works were done, he said.

This application arose due to serious and continuing non-compliance with fire saftey certificates and failure to carry out agreed remedial works to reduce risks to an acceptable level, he said.

There was evidence of a range of problems in the complex and the respondents were aware of the fire safety issues since autumn 2009 but had failed to complete an agreed programme of works.

The council’s solicitors had written to the company and two developers warning of court proceedings and had received a response yesterday from solicitors stating a meeting with a fire safety consultant and electrical contractor was still going on and, when those experts' views were received, proposals would be made.

Resolution of the problems was also described as being “of the highest priority” to the respondents in the letter.

Mr Bradley said the management company for Priory Hall had earlier this month notified the occupiers of the apartments that insurance cover had ceased from October 13th following a survey of the complex which was “far from acceptable”.

Other insurers had refused to provide cover but one company was prepared to survery the premises before giving a decision.