The following opinion piece was submitted on July 28th 2014 by Caomhán Murphy, architect in private practice and Member of the Council of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland.
‘Shrapnel and Spin’
The State and its servants seem to view the professional classes in Ireland for the most part with suspicion and mistrust. I’m not sure why this happens in Ireland, in particular, given the contribution professionals can make to genuinely raising the bar, holding the line, creating employment, providing creative and practical solutions and mostly advancing the common good – all aspirations that appear regularly on programs for government only to disappear later into the vacuum of what we have come to know in this country as government. Since when did we not want the best for our people?
It’s part of a professional’s training to act ethically, transparently and to give disinterested advice. We do this each day as we go about our work carefully. We are not amateurs and that is the point of being a professional. We are well positioned to know how our industries operate and how they can be honed and improved not only for ourselves but for the common good. We also know our shortcomings. These are skills that most professionals tend to have in abundance. They must have them to survive and to create their own employment in many cases.
That mistrust of professionals sits comfortably with a political cronyism and self-regard that is sadly all too familiar. It is an anti-intellectual standpoint that corrodes the multiple aspirations of our countries bright citizens each day as they engage their talents in a morass of poor laws, poor regulation and poor service. As a citizen, a voter and a consumer I deserve better laws – laws that will genuinely protect me from the rogue elements of our society, who want to cut corners and don’t care a damn about the common good and ones that don’t seek to burden me as an individual and my hard won professional enterprise with an intolerable liability and a fabricated workload designed to achieve only political ends. A law that seeks to solve a problem by setting up an elaborate bureaucracy and paper trail to pin blame on the last man or woman standing is fundamentally flawed in a just society – no matter how it is dressed up and spun.
One of the most immature aspects of living in Ireland is our inability to know what it means to be a good citizen. It’s a disorder that is an unfortunate feature of much of Irish life. Despite its importance we don’t learn much about our obligations to each other and to society at large during our formative years and without any structured form of civilian service we rarely learn it as young developing adults either. Very often we pick it up through living outside Ireland in more attuned democracies. Perhaps we mask our self-centered ways with our global renown for generosity and goodwill. They are probably two sides of the same coin. The energy from all that giving resulting in the flip side compulsion to look after ones own constituency at the expense of everyone else. I’m not a neurologist but it might explain it.
The new Building Control (Amendment) Regulations (S.I.09) that became law on 1st March this year mark, in my personal view, a new low in passing the buck by our legislators. The divisions it has caused in our profession alone are a measure of both the unbelievable crudeness of the legislation and the strength of feeling among concerned architects and citizens. That response should be viewed in a wider national context and desire for change and accountability. The ludicrous and crass boom years were supposed to give way to a more informed, balanced and equitable way of doing things. Some of us perhaps even anticipated much needed change in our political system and how we, as a country and a people carry on our business. That sentiment is surely shared by many public servants also but it requires political leadership not political trickery on such a grand scale. Many citizens thought post boom government might be a catalyst for change. The fact that a new law could be brought in to deal supposedly with the ‘Priory Hall’ issue and in its essence not actually protect the consumer one iota is worthy of something from our ludicrous years.
While there are many critical and significant peripheral issues and difficulties surrounding the debate and implementation of S.I.09, including:
- the complete absence of any state information campaign or advice for consumers let alone professionals,
- the fate of architectural technologists,
- the mishandling of genuine self builders,
- the questionable motivations of some in the construction industry,
- the serious failure to adequately prepare or road test even basic scenarios,
- the failure to include Latent Defects Insurance,
- the ignoring of warning signals from professional bodies that the industry was not ready
- the ignoring of consumer bodies advice,
- the significant additional costs now associated with construction of buildings that previously had no failures at all,
- the lack of real engagement with a wider group of stakeholders and so on and so on…the problems are only now coming to the fore and will, as the lawyers have advised, play out in the courts in the years to come.
Don’t let that cloud the fundamental truth in all this. The single most disappointing aspect of the entire cabal is that the State has managed in one fell swoop to singularly look after itself by washing its hands completely of any responsibility for ensuring better buildings through a simple system of independent inspections of building sites that could easily have been cost neutral for the State. Having someone to blame was politically more important than ensuring actual better construction standards.
That is a profound mistake and a legislative error that is not likely to be corrected until the next unfortunate Priory Hall.
Those who chose to substantially ignore the five hundred submissions received in response to the draft legislation have lost the opportunity for an improved building control system, which would have protected consumers.
This law should never have been allowed to proceed. Everything we are now dealing with as a result is shrapnel and spin. Business as usual @ireland.gov