Categories
Construction

Longboat Quay – a modest proposal

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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Categories
Environment

Priory Hall and the Prevalence of Naivety

I have great sympathy for the residents of Priory Hall and I’d like to see them helped out of their predicament. I want the government to spend the money and get rid of the problem, even though it will cost me even more taxes than I’m already paying, but we should support our fellow citizens.  So therefore, yes, go for it.  Help these people. priory hall There is, however, a caveat.  We do this because we feel sorry for the people who bought the apartments in Priory Hall, and perhaps because we detest the developer, Tom McFeely.  I can tell you that I personally find him utterly detestable. He built shit apartments.   He sold them to trusting customers.  He walked away with the money.

Tom McFeely embodies everything that was wrong with the Celtic Tiger feeding frenzy and then he added a bit more of his own. He’s a thug.  He’s a bully.  He’s a convicted criminal.  He’s a hypocrite, this former IRA hunger striker proclaiming his British citizenship to avoid Irish bankruptcy proceedings.  Tom McFeely is an utter prick.

Having said all that, is the State responsible for compensating people who have been ripped off? No.  It is not.  There’s no law, no constitutional provision requiring the taxpayer to pay you back if some scumbag robs you.  Most of the time, that’s why we pay insurance.  There’s a widespread, naive belief that somehow the State is responsible for the actions of people like McFeely when the reality is that there is no such obligation.  We fix the problem solely because we think we should, out of sheer altruism and that’s fine too.   Altruism is what sets us apart from brutes, but there is not now, and never was, an obligation on the taxpayer, to pay the bills generated by chancers.  It’s that simple.

I’m bothered about this Priory Hall thing, not because I think the residents should be abandoned, but because I wonder where it will stop.  Should every homeowner who paid a bad builder for bad work be entitled to compensation at the expense of you and me?  And if not, why not? Let’s define the circumstances in which we, the Irish people, pay extra taxes to cover the costs generated by bad builders.  I’m not saying No.  I’m just asking for a definition.  When do I pay?

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Categories
Construction Crime Law

Former IRA Man Asks Court For Stay on €10-Million Repossession

You might be familiar with Tom McFeely, the former IRA hunger-striker, who built a shit apartment block in Dublin, among other things  The unfortunate occupants of that block are unable to occupy the homes they bought from McFeely because those homes are a death trap.   I refer to Priory Hall, a place so dangerous the owners of the apartments had to evacuate the building, as I wrote about here.

The people who spent their life savings buying these apartments from Sinn Féin patriot Tom McFeely are now living in rented accommodation because they can’t live in the flats he sold them.  Why?  Because the flats this freedom fighter sold them are shit.  They’re rubbish.  Indeed, it seems that everything this selfless patriot put his hand to turned out to be rubbish.

Now, whatever about the unfortunate inhabitants of Tom McFeely’s shit buildings, you couldn’t expect a bona fide freedom fighter to suffer any more hardship, and that’s why his wife was asking the court for a stay on the repossession of his €10 million house.  That’s right.  I said ten million euros.  Tom is currently living in the land of the Old Enemy and couldn’t be present in court, leaving that responsibility to Nina, Mrs McFeely.

What was the pressing reason why they should retain possession of the ten-million-euro house, according to Mrs McFeely?  Simple.  One of their kids is doing the Leaving Cert.

Are you staggered by the effrontery of a former Provo, at a time when children in Dolphin’s Barn can’t go to school at all because their council flats are so squalid they’re killed by asthma?  I am.

Tom McFeely wants to keep his ten-million-euro house until one of his children finishes the Leaving Cert.  Jesus, how could you do the Leaving if you weren’t living in a ten-million-euro mansion?

This man landed his purchasers in hell by selling them sub-standard apartments.  He failed to support them when the problems with their homes emerged.  And now he hides behind his children when called on to pay his bills.

What a patriot.

I’d be interested to hear what Gerry Adams has to say on this debacle.  So far there has been a remarkable silence.

 

Categories
Construction Politics

Priory Hall Builder, Tom McFeely, Gets UK Bankruptcy

Tom McFeely doesn’t look much like a hunger striker these days, but in his IRA phase, back in 1980, he went 53 days without food in support of demands for political-prisoner status.  Those were the times when the Provos justified every murder and robbery they committed on the grounds that they were fighting for Irish freedom from the tyrannical jackboot of the United Kingdom.

When McFeely came across the border in 1989 after 12 years in jail, he had just £240 to keep him going but he was a busy and industrious young man and before long he had created a lucrative construction business.  Unfortunately for Tom, his years in jail deprived him of many opportunities, and when he came out, he had no idea how to build anything but we Irish are forgiving people.  We’ll buy any old junk as long as it’s packaged properly, with a glossy brochure and some Flash Harry salesman touting it as the last word in elegant living.

Tom’s £240 proved remarkably elastic, allowing him to grow and grow, and not only in the waistband department.  Sadly, however, by 2006 the strain was beginning to show.  His Priory Hall building site was closed down after the Health and Safety Authority secured a High Court order.  The HSA inspector described the site as one of the most dangerous he had ever seen.

That same year, Offaly County Council took High Court proceedings to force McFeely’s company, Coalport, to carry out remedial work on Na Cluainte,  near Portarlington, an estate where 88 houses had been flung together.

Last year, Dublin City Council first evacuated all its own tenants from the 188-unit Priory Hall and later issued a closure notice on the complex because of serious fire-safety defects.

As we speak,  bankruptcy proceedings are before the courts, taken by  Theresa McGuinness who won a High Court award of €100,000 in 2009, because of structural defects in  a house constructed by Coalport.

Isn’t it ironic then, to learn that McFeely, patriot, freedom fighter and hunger striker, has sought the protection of the United Kingdom courts whose bankruptcy terms are far less penal than those in the Republic?

Isn’t it remarkable that a man who once took up arms against the Crown should now throw himself on the mercy of that very same oppressor, while at the same time there is no escape for the hundreds of homeless people who can’t live in his death-trap apartments but who must continue paying the banks for them?

After a year, Tom McFeely will be discharged from bankruptcy and free to start again, unlike those people who are burdened with crushing mortgages for the rest of their lives.  It will be a tight year for Tom, but at least he can fall back on that endlessly elastic £240 he brought across the border with him back in 1989.

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