The Priory Hall apartments are a heap of junk and those who bought them were sold rubbish. This is beyond doubt. The apartments are so dangerous that Dublin’s chief fire officer felt compelled to serve a fire safety notice on the complex, closing it down, despite the fact that it was home to dozens of families.
But let’s be clear about something. Dublin City Council didn’t make these people homeless. What made these people homeless was the fact that their homes were dangerous. Dublin city council didn’t build the apartments, nor did it have any obligation under the law to make sure that the buildings were constructed properly. That responsibility, under Irish law, rests exclusively with the builder.
That’s how matters stand with regard to the building regulations, but we can take it a step further. The people who bought these apartments were in the same position as anyone else buying a dwelling. They had every right to survey the building before making a financial commitment. They were free to hire surveyors and I imagine some, if not all, of them did so. If the fire inspectors, after a visual inspection, were able to identify fundamental safety problems, why weren’t the surveyors hired by the purchasers able to spot the same problems?
What did these surveyors say about the Priory Hall complex? Did any of them say that it was a fire trap, and if not, why not? What are their contractual obligations to the people who hired them? And if the purchasers didn’t have the specialised knowledge to assess their homes before buying, why did they not hire an expert to advise them?
I hear that the local authority is now under pressure to buy the apartments from the owners and I have to wonder why. If it turns out that my house is uninhabitable due to subsidence or dampness, will my local authority buy it from me to save me from the consequences of my failure to check it out properly before buying it?
I suspect not.
So what exactly is the difference between the Priory Hall owners and any other householder who happens to be sold a defective dwelling?