Draft building regulations 'criminalise' architects

 

DRAFT BUILDING control regulations being introduced in the wake of the Priory Hall debacle have been branded as an attempt to “criminalise” architects for the failure by local authorities to inspect construction sites.

In a lengthy submission to the Department of the Environment, former president of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland Eoin O’Cofaigh has described the proposals as “the 21st-century equivalent of hanging children for stealing sheep”.

The proposals follow the evacuation of some 240 residents of the Priory Hall apartments in Dublin last October after the recently built complex was declared a fire hazard.

Mr O’Cofaigh says the proposed changes, which would make architects liable to jail for two years or a €10,000 fine, were being imposed on a “completely demoralised and traumatised profession”, which had seen its income drop by 90 per cent over the past five years.

His submission – addressed to Paris Beausang of the department’s building standards division – expressed “outrage at your purpose of criminalising me as a substitute for the non-action of public bodies and the inaction or deceit of private ones”.

Mr O’Cofaigh says: “I’m the person you are fingering to do the certifying [of compliance with the Building Regulations]. I’m the guy at the pointy end of the stick. This stuff will affect me. I’m the one who’s going to lie awake at night for another new reason. Not you.”

As an architect for 30 years, he says he has “direct first-hand everyday experience of designing buildings, of seeing them built, of dealing with building control authorities, of making fire safety certificate applications, of working with clients, engineers, builders”.

A member of the Building Regulations Advisory Body between 2001 and 2007, Mr O’Cofaigh also contributed to the standard textbook, Construction Law and Practice in Ireland, and is acknowledged as one of the leading authorities on the subject of building regulations in Ireland.

He points out that it took the 1981 Stardust tragedy to deliver the 1990 Building Control Act, which put the regulations on a statutory footing. “This time around, it’s Priory Hall. Another Dublin tragedy, people’s lives ruined, even if, thank goodness, nobody lost. But families destroyed, socially and financially.”

The problem with the draft now being proposed “is that it conceals the problem – ‘inadequate enforcement of the law as it currently exists’ – by proposing a solution, ‘pick a scapegoat and make him responsible for the lot’ which is unjust, contrary to Government policy, and will make the situation worse”.

Architects were to be made responsible for certifying not only the design, but also the construction of buildings.

“How on earth can I know that everything is built per the regulations? I’m not on site every day. I don’t inspect all the stuff. How can I know if the foundations are adequate when I rely on the engineer to see to that?” he asks.

Mr O’Cofaigh likens this to “the British officials in Dublin Castle who drafted sheep-stealing laws” in the 18th century, which had the effect of criminalising children who “were only stealing the sheep because their parents told them to. The children were made responsible for the sins of others.”

Calling for the existing law to be enforced, if necessary by redeploying underworked planners to carry out site inspections, Mr O’Cofaigh writes: “I am outraged by your seeking to dump on to me and on to my family the consequences of local authorities not doing their job . . . Why should I be your policeman?”

Referring to the “intemperate language” of his submission, he says: “I am a peaceable, law-abiding, highly trained, tax-paying, establishment-supporting citizen in late middle age . . . That I feel myself driven to make a submission in the words and paragraphs above is astonishing.”