Dublin City Council has sought legal advice on what legislation it should use to tackle fire safety concerns around overcrowding in private rented residential accommodation as a result of the housing crisis.
Pat Fleming, Dublin's chief fire officer, described the legislation covering the enforcement of fire controls in overcrowded houses and apartments as "poor" and "difficult".
He highlighted this as a growing problem given the level of overcrowding due to the shortage and cost of rental properties.
Mr Fleming, who is in charge of fire prevention for the city, said that it is often unclear which legislation the local authority should use to take enforcement action over fire safety risks as it can fall under the Housing Acts, the Fire Services Acts, the Building Control Acts or the Planning and Development Acts.
“There are so many wrinkles on this particular thing that we are looking for advice on it,” he said.
In one high-profile case in February, Dublin Fire Brigade fought a blaze at a building on Mountjoy Square in Dublin where it discovered 150 people living in three houses.
The previous month Dublin City Council issued fire safety notices in respect of four overcrowded residential properties on the Howth Road that were deemed to be in breach of fire safety regulations.
The property owners faced a maximum fine of €130,000 and/or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years under the Fire Services Acts if such notices are not complied with.
“It is an issue and particularly with the lack of accommodation, people are under pressure to take whatever they can get,” said Mr Fleming.
He raised his concerns as he completes a survey of inspections of multi-story residential properties in Dublin in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London. The survey is aimed at assessing potential risk buildings that might have used cladding that contributed to the London blaze which killed at least 79 people.
Mr Fleming's remarks come amid criticism from John-Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of national housing charity Threshold who has said that there was no suitable definition of overcrowding in legislation and that it needs to be inserted into existing minimum standards in the housing regulations.
Green Party TD Catherine Martin, meanwhile, has expressed concerns about the number of people left “in a living nightmare” after purchasing homes that were poorly constructed during the property boom.
The lack of enforcement of building regulations has led to many examples of housing estates and properties where building and fire safety standards were not followed.
Building standards in properties are self-certified by property developers, a system which Opposition politicians and building experts say has led to breaches in building regulations.
Ms Martin, the Green Party's deputy leader, introduced a motion in the Dáil to call for the Government to set up a Irish Building Authority, which was passed on Thursday. An amendment from the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy to the bill was defeated by 84 votes to 46.
If acted on by Government, the proposal would create a new authority to inspect the construction industry’s compliance with building regulations, similar to the Food Safety Authority’s role in overseeing food businesses.
“We need to stop systematic failures in building control happening again by ensuring that building standards are raised,” she said.
One local authority in Dublin, Fingal County Council, prosecuted just one property developer for breaching building control regulations during the decade to 2016, according to figures obtained by local Social Democrats councillor Cian O'Callaghan.
In the five years to 2016, only six enforcement orders directing improvement works were issued by the council to properties found in breach of building control regulations.
“That would imply that nothing went wrong in Fingal in regards to building controls over the last 10 years when that’s not true,” said Mr O’Callaghan.
“There was many issues with the use of pyrite and fire safety problems that were all breaches of building control regulations.”