Longboat Quay – a modest proposal

Solving problems left behind by bad builders

It’s delusional to think that Longboat Quay and Priory Hall are in any way unique. The chances are that Ireland is full of such developments, constructed by slipshod, incompetent and often dishonest, builders. We’ll see many more of these disasters and each time there will be calls for the government (in other words, the taxpayer) to cover the cost of repairs, even though neither the government nor the local authorities had anything to do with building these things.

If you listened to our national broadcaster, you might think that the local councils are responsible for fixing the problems because they certified the buildings as fire-safe, but you’d be wrong. Local authorities do not certify buildings. They have never certified buildings. They don’t sign off on newly-constructed developments.

What about the fire safety certificates? you might say. Didn’t the council give them a certificate?

They did indeed, but for what?

Well, if you were one of our cutting-edge high-profile national journalists, you’d be telling the nation that they issued certificates for the buildings, and you’d be quite wrong. They did not.

A fire safety certificate is a document based on the plans and specifications for a proposed new building. All it does is confirm that the development will comply with the building regulations provided it’s constructed strictly as set out in the plans, calculations and specifications submitted.

That’s all. Under the law, that’s what a fire safety certificate is. An approval for a design. Nothing more.

All right, you might say. In that case, where were the council inspectors? Why did they miss these problems? Brown envelopes maybe?

Well actually, the truth is more prosaic.

The truth is that successive governments made a very deliberate decision to keep the number of inspectors to an absolute minimum, for several reasons. Professionally-qualified staff are expensive and what’s more, they disrupt the smooth running of a builder’s empire when they find faults. On top of that, the public have for years been fed the false narrative of the bloated public service, resulting in Ireland having one of the most undermanned public sectors in Europe.

Here’s a fact worth repeating: Belfast has more building inspectors than the entire republic. As somebody pointed out on radio, we have more dog wardens than building inspectors.

When a builder sells you a new apartment, they have an obligation to deliver a dwelling that complies with the building regulations in every respect, and if they don’t, you have a legitimate case against them under contract law, but of course, if the building company goes out of business, you’re stuck.

This is the situation with Longboat Quay, built by Bernard McNamara, who subsequently slid off to England, went through a one-year bankruptcy process and then returned to Dublin to start building again using a new limited company. Bernard is in the clear while you’re stuck with a dangerous apartment.

Dublin City Council have been painted as extremely hard-hearted for threatening the throw these unfortunate residents out on the side of the street with nowhere to go, and it’s true that the situation is utterly appalling, but let’s just examine the alternatives.

The council have been made aware of serious fire safety defects in the building, threatening the lives of as many as 900 people. What are they supposed to do with that information? Should the CEO or the chief fire officer take it on themselves personally to ignore that fact? If a catastrophic fire does occur, what should the chief fire officer tell the court when he’s being prosecuted for criminal negligence or even manslaughter?

What council manager in their right mind would volunteer to hang on a cross erected by a bad builder?

The local authority are stuck. They have no choice but to issue a fire safety notice specifying what needs to be done, and if that work is not carried out, under the law, the complex must close. That’s the law.

So what’s the answer?

Let’s take a step back.

New houses and apartments are bought and sold under civil law. A builder owes you a duty of care.

Somebody signed off on this building. It might not be the banks’ valuers on behalf of individual clients, but somebody periodically certified for the developer that the building complied with the regulations so that the banks could release funds to continue construction.  Some professional person informed the banks that their money was safe. That means the banks might have failed to perform due diligence and therefore carry some share of responsibility. It also means that a surveyor failed to detect the construction  flaws and presumably that surveyor has professional indemnity insurance covering such eventualities.

That’s all in the sphere of civil law but the building regulations, or more specifically, the Building Control Acts, are essentially criminal law. If you fail to comply with the regulations, you can be prosecuted.

Combine these two things. The local authority has the power to prosecute anyone involved in construction who fails to comply with the regulations. They can prosecute individuals, and it seems to me that if they decided to prosecute under indictment each and every person involved in the construction of Longboat Quay, from the former company owner to the lowliest foreman, regardless of what bankruptcies had been concluded we might see money magically materialising to settle the civil claims and pay for the repairs.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest and it would strike me as a far better outcome than the taxpayers yet again having to bail out bad practice as they were forced to do for the investors in the failed banks.

It is a well-established principle in law that nobody is protected by the veil of incorporation.



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12 thoughts on “Longboat Quay – a modest proposal

  1. “Magically materialising money”, yup. You’ve just described how money is actually made.

  2. so, planning permission is given based on a set of plans. the fire cert is also issued based on those plans.
    if the building is not built according to the plans, is the builder not in breach of the planning permission?
    if they can pursue an old lady for a satillite dish, then why not the cowboy builders?

  3. is planning permission not given based on the design plans for the building? or is it just given based on a general outline of what you wish to build on the site?
    how did DCC become aware of fire safety issues? i doubt that it is the last we will hear of this type of problem

  4. Taxpayer’s money will go into housing these people if they are kicked out in the street.

    We seem to be a living in a country where cowboy builders can put blocks of apartments and houses that are deathtraps. Costly deathtraps that people have heavily indebted themselves for for years, just to have a home..

    We live in a country where there are building standards. If those are not enforced, we shouldn’t be taking the attitude of tough luck to the people who will suffer over it.

    This is worth a read –
    National Consumer Agency The Home Construction Industry and the Consumer in Ireland


    “We can find no provisions in the regulations that allow purchasers of dwellings to inform
    Building Control Authorities of possible infringements of the building regulations, even in quite new homes, without potentially incurring responsibility for addressing the issues. We have been advised by some Building Control Authorities of cases where the Building Control Officers acted on such consumer complaints and dealt with the relevant builders. However, this was done entirely at the discretion of the Building Officers as the Act also allows for the home owner to be required to bring the home into a compliant state”

  5. Bock,I largely agree with most of your points and sympathise with unfortunate victims with huge mortages etc.However,what is the point of having building regulations if they are not enforced by the state?.You have regularly referred to builders and developers as greedy and incompetent among other things.It is absurd to expect this type of people to self-regulate.Could you imagine the outcome if the Guards allowed the motoring public to self-regulate speed-limits?
    If the Irish public are serious about enforcing building regulations,and maybe they should,then money has to be provided to pay for inspectors and a system of enforcement.Constantly railing about how bad our builders are is really a waste of time in the absence of state or local government controls.

  6. That’s exactly my point. The system was deliberately underfunded to make sure it didn’t discommode the big developers. I think matters will probably improve with the introduction of assigned certifiers but even then the cost is outrageous compared with the service north of the border.

  7. Ignorance of the law is not a defence.Why not adopt the British system wholesale,and although it’s far from perfect it would afford some protection to the Irish consumers from what seems to me a bunch of spivs and chancers.Even if the British system were adopted it would require integrity and honesty,and I can not see that happening any time soon amongst the so called professionals.

  8. We need the equivalent of that small baldy guy on the telly on BBC, chasing dodging builders around the country.. Dominic Littlewood is it? Cowboy Builders I think is the name of the programme.
    He wouldn’t even have to look to far to find um here.

    Pascal Sheedy and Twink doing an Irish version maybe..
    They’d be enough dodgy buildings for a series or two I reckon.

  9. Australia is a regulated country and my old mate has been a builder in Melbourne for over 40 years,man and boy.Inspection is carried out at various key stages of the build.When an inspection is due,if he rings the local authority in the morning,the inspector will arrive that afternoon.If he rings in the afternoon,the inspection will happen the next morning.The inspectors are invariably experienced proffessionals who can sign off and also advise the builders how to comply with the regulations and the law.The whole system is up front and everyone understands their obligations.If you are not a registered builder with insurance,you cannot build.If you have bad history,you cannot build.It sounds like paradise for consumers but that is the standard they have achieved and shows what is possible.Also many of these compliant builders and developers are Irish,we can do it if we have to!

  10. Mad dog the system is similar in the UK as regards the inspection regime.I don’t think a builder needs to be registered,and most will have public liability insurance.When you get so called professionals shirking their duties in Ireland there is little hope for the consumer.

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