Priory Hall scandal: ‘It’s terrible this is falling on the taxpayer’

Denise McManus had to leave her apartment in what ultimately became an ‘awful process’

Denise McManus bought her two-bedroom apartment in Priory Hall off the plans shortly before the apartments were built by Thomas McFeely in 2007.

“We paid about €220,000 or maybe a bit more. At the time, there was that panic that if you didn’t buy, you might never be able to buy.”

Construction was still under way on the estate when she and her fiance Phil moved in. There were, she said, a couple of small problems with the apartment, but nothing that raised any great concern.

“There were a few things, the boiler was a bit funny, but because they were still working on the second phase there were still people on site you could go to. The roads weren’t finished, but we felt under pressure to sign.”

Things only began to become unsettling when she started to attend management company meetings.

“At the agms things would be brought up and nobody seemed to have any answers and the management was changing a lot. Other people were talking about leaks with their windows and damp on the walls, but our apartment didn’t have any of these problems.”

In fact she said there was very little indication there was any significant problem with the complex until one month before it was evacuated.

“We were called to a meeting in the Hilton Hotel. The city council had commissioned a report from Hayes Higgins engineers and we hadn’t been shown it, but I remember thinking there was nothing particularly alarming at that stage. Then there was a Prime Time programme on Tom McFeely and I started to get a bit anxious, but still I kept thinking, ‘there’s nothing wrong with our apartment’.”

One month later she received a letter ordering her to evacuate.

“It was a complete shock, I remember it really clearly; the letter came on a Thursday, telling us to be out and gone on the Friday. We were told it was going to be for six weeks while the work was done. So because out apartment was fine, we didn’t put anything into storage or pack for the long term. I just packed a bag and went to stay the night in my sister’s on Sunday.”

The following day she heard that residents were to go to the Regency Hotel in Whitehall.

“We heard through the media, from the court coverage, we weren’t told directly by the council. We turned up and they just put us in a room and we were there for three weeks.”

Eventually the couple were allocated an apartment in Baldoyle.

How did the family manage?

“The whole process was awful. We were told we were getting emergency accommodation and we had to come and queue up in Clongriffin and there were loads of media around us asking questions. We were given a two-bedroom apartment, we had no say in where. There was mould on the walls, it was worse than what we had come from .”

The following years were among the most stressful in her life. “I was trying to plan a wedding while going on protest marches, paying a mortgage on an apartment we couldn’t live in. We lived in Baldoyle until September 2014, we had a child at that stage but it was never where we wanted to be.”

Following the resolution deal where the banks agreed to write off the mortgages of the owner occupiers and Dublin City Council took ownership of the apartments, Denise and her husband bought a house in Raheny. But she said there were years of wasted time and money in between.

“I felt we missed a lot of opportunities to buy when prices were lower, but our credit was zero. We were starting from scratch, we had to buy all our furniture again because what we’d left behind was in bits. We had to save up for everything again. I felt we were being penalised for something that wasn’t our fault.”

The €52 million bill for the redevelopment of Priory Hall was a “crazy amount of money”, she said. “It is terrible this is falling on the taxpayer, that the tax payer is paying for the incompetence of others. McFeely gets off scot free.”

She said she also feels sorry for the owners of other apartments where defects have subsequently come to light.

“There are others who aren’t getting the help we got, because we were the first cases.”

The couple and their two daughters Clara (5) and Orla (2) now live in a 1980s-built house in Raheny. She would never again buy a new property.

“I ’d like to think that they [New Priory] are the safest apartments you could buy, but I would never buy a new build again.”