Claim that Irish man is among dead at London’s Grenfell Tower

Number of actions taken in Ireland ‘to ensure every step is being taken to protect the lives’

Police officers stand in front of the Grenfell Tower block that was destroyed by fire in north Kensington, west London. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Police officers stand in front of the Grenfell Tower block that was destroyed by fire in north Kensington, west London. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

 

The Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday there is still no confirmation of Irish casualties following the blaze at the Grenfell Tower fire in London, which has killed at least 30 people.

However, Michael Kingston, a London-based solicitor from Cork and director of the Irish Cultural Centre, has said he has heard confirmation of an elderly Irishman’s death from contacts in the city.

He told The Irish Times he believed the deceased was first generation Irish and was identified with the assistance of his Claddagh ring.

“This is an atrocious failing of best practice because of a single standard that wasn’t applied in Great Britain in this day and age,” Mr Kingston said with reference to the area of best practice law in which he practises and referring in particular to the absence of a sprinkler system in the building.

In a letter to Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, Mr Kingston said he is an authority on regulation “and why ‘best practice’ and implementation of regulation is so important”.

He has sought a meeting to discuss the issue and to “help with achieving justice for these people and just as importantly putting the shameful Government under the spotlight for having no respect for human life and concentrating on arrogance”.

Meanwhile, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy has instigated a number of actions “to ensure every step is being taken to protect the lives” of people living in Irish multi-storey apartment blocks built as social housing.

His announcement coincided with criticism from the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association (IFESA) of fire safety issues that had arisen, with some developments built during the “Celtic Tiger” construction boom in Ireland, and a lack of follow-up where shortcomings were identified.

The measures announced by Mr Murphy include a request that all local authorities, as a matter of urgency, “review their multi-storey social housing units to ensure all early warning systems, including alarm and detection systems and means of escape including corridors, stairways and emergency exits are fully functional and in place”.

The tragedy was a reminder of the dangers which fire can pose in society, he said, and highlighted the need for vigilance at all times on fire safety.

He noted local authorities across the State already monitor fire safety measures in their multi-storey social housing flats and apartments, under their statutory obligations, and that “a lot of good work is already being done in respect of maintaining the highest standards and controls in relation to fire safety generally”.

While there was “no known immediate cause for concern”, the Minister said he had put in place actions to ensure every step is being taken to protect lives. He met with Dublin’s Chief Fire Officer on Friday to discuss fire safety and life safety issues in light of the London tragedy and intended to continue this dialogue over coming days and weeks with chief fire officers across the country.

The management board of the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management has been asked to convene and assess the readiness of fire authorities to respond to emergencies.

The Residential Tenancies Board have been asked to notify all landlords of their responsibilities and obligations in terms of ensuring their properties fully comply with fire safety requirements.

Although there were no apartment blocks in Ireland comparable to Grenfell Tower, he said householders, regardless of the type of accommodation they live in, should take the basic but most effective fire safety precaution of ensuring their family’s home is protected with working fire alarms.

While it would be wrong to draw any wider conclusions from the London disaster IFESA there was “absolutely no room for complacency” regarding fire safety standards, and compliance with these, in the Irish context.

Its vice president Ros MacCobb added: “We have seen a number of examples where ‘Celtic Tiger’ shoddy building standards and enforcement have compromised the integrity and fire safety standards of residential apartment blocks and houses. While a number of these have been identified and retrofitted to proper standards at considerable cost and hardship to owners and tenants we should be under no illusion that the problems in these cases were isolated.”

He added: “It remains the case that firefighters are now regularly witnessing fire safety standards particularly in apartments and overcrowded rental accommodation that are at best adequate, and at worst are non-existent. This consequence of the housing and accommodation crisis which firefighters witness on a daily basis demands greater attention and enforcement by local authorities and increased funding from central government.”

Mr MacCobb appealed to property owners and tenants to exercise greater vigilance and personal responsibility in ensuring fire precautions and safety measures were in place. “Tenants in particular need to be more demanding of management companies and landlords to comply with fire safety standards which unfortunately many are reluctant to do, given the pressure of demand for rental accommodation.”