Is the scene set for another Priory Hall? | Look Back 11


23 July 2015

In this ‘look back’ edition we re-post an opinion piece that was originally submitted to the blog as a comment on 6th September 2014 (see original post here). Only 3 of these 14 issues issues have been addressed under the new Building Control (Amendment) Regulations.


Is the scene set for another Priory Hall?

In the Dáil on October 1st 2013 Enda Kenny said:

I do not believe, however, that every single developer or contractor should be branded in the same way as those who put together Priory Hall. It is not just in one instance that negligence or incompetence occurred because there were systems failures along the line.” Click link here.

It is worth examining some of the systems failures in Building Control that lead to problems in some of the defective apartments and housing estates. It is unfortunate that no report has ever been undertaken by the Government into identifying the causes of the failures that happened throughout Ireland and that have taken years to come to light in developments such as Priory Hall and the Meath Apartments that had to be evacuated at the end of 2013. Some of these are listed below and rectifying these should have formed the basis for any new Building Control legislation:


1. The developer did not employ competent and suitably qualified designers (developers completed large numbers of dwellings built with the input of in-house engineering staff only. Other professionals input was limited usually to planning stage only).

2** The developer did not employ competent builders (quite a number of speculative residential developments were completed by developer-builders, where the developer and builder were the same company. Essentially that was the equivalent of large-scale self-builders who occupied the role of management contractors.

3* The design was not inspected signed or approved by the Local Authority (little or no independent Local Authority building control inspections carried out nationally)

4** The developer did not employ a competent supervisor (foreman) on site to oversee the work (for owner-developers most construction personnel involved in site management were in-house employees)

5 The developer did not employ a competent independent professional to inspect the work (Previous professional compliance system allowed for partial-service only, including “visual inspections” on completion of projects. Frequently this resulted in little or no independent professional input on-site).

6* The local authority had no obligation to ever visit the site (since 1990 this has been the case, and remains so with an unrealistic target of 15% Building Control inspections nationally. The new regulations impose additional administrative duties on Local Authorities but the Building Control Sections remain understaffed).

7* The local authority did not have any system to catch defective materials like pyrite (no additional resources or enhanced powers have been introduced on foot of the pyrite panel report in 2012, critically there is still no comprehensive independent local authority inspection system for the construction sector)

8* The developer did not have to put in place any effective safeguards to pay for latent (unseen) defects. (previous structural guarantees have been seen to be patchy and not satisfactory, particularly in relation to defective materials such as pyrite. Some Defects Liability Insurance schemes do operate but the consumer is left looking through the fine-print).

9 The professionals gave very limited guarantees because they were only paid for very limited involvement (as mentioned above partial service agreements, acceptable for conveyancing, required cursory independent professional involvement in projects, in some instances none at site-stage. No registration of title meant that anyone could complete these certificates).

10* The solicitors and lending institution did not advise the purchasers to get independent inspections. (there is no way to anticipate how lenders and the law society will react to the new regulations- the Law Society were excluded form the formation of the new regulations).

11* The developer wound up the limited liability development company once the development was sold (unfortunately nothing in the new regulations precludes this practice of minimising the liability trail to developers in the event of defects occurring post-completion).

12* The home buyer had no comeback unless he could prove negligence through a slow and costly case in the courts (lack of additional consumer protections in the new regulations means the same situation arises in the event of a defect occurring post-purchase- homeowners are left seeking redress through the courts with no guarantee of success)

13* The Local Authority could not take action because the law is unworkable (lack of additional resources, no Local Authority code of practice, differing interpretation between authorities of the new regulations means that Local Authorities are dealing with a system in place that is being developed post introduction. Suggested new inspection regime of 4 inspections per unit will mean target  inspection rates will drop to less than 4% of buildings completed.)

14* The government stepped in and the tax-payer footed the bill (given the recent pyrite issues in blockwork, responsibility for policing the market has been placed with Local Authorities. It is anticipated that the taxpayer will continue to pay for defective materials in the construction industry, like the recent pyrite remediation scheme, or face class action law suits from disenfranchised homeowners. The insurance industry will simply exclude materials that the industry is not policing adequately).

Nine* (highlighted in bold*) of these 14 issues issues are not addressed under the new Building Control (Amendment) Regulations and a further two (shown **) are only partially addressed with promised new legislation at some time in the future.

The S.I. 9 system of Building Control is is unlikely to prevent future failures. Unfortunately the scene is still set for the further ‘Priory Halls’.

Other posts in “Look-Back” series

Simon Carswell: Politicians, Construction industry lobbying and banking | look back 10

Legal perspective: consumer benefit? BC(A)R SI.9 | look back 9

Minister Hogan defends BC(A)R SI.9 | look back 8

Christmas Past – What did you hope for from Santa in 2013? Look back 7

Ghost estates and public housing: BC(A)R SI.9 | look back 6 

Government Reports + Professional Opinion Ignored in SI.9 | look back 5

SCSI | “Highly unlikely Priory Hall would happen in Britain”- Look Back 4

BRAB and BC(A)R SI.9- Look Back 3 

Inadequate Regulatory Impact Assessment for S.I.9- Look Back 2

World Bank Rankings, Ireland & SI.9 – Look Back 1

1 thought on “Is the scene set for another Priory Hall? | Look Back 11

  1. Michael O'Neill MRIAI

    I refer to the paragraph quoted below from this article:

    “Is the scene set for another Priory Hall? | Look Back 11”

    “9 The professionals gave very limited guarantees because they were only paid for very limited involvement (as mentioned above partial service agreements, acceptable for conveyancing, required cursory independent professional involvement in projects, in some instances none at site-stage. No registration of title meant that anyone could complete these certificates).”

    I want to focus on certification pre-2013, competence in building and registration of title.

    The practice of conveyancing in Ireland was codified by the legal and architectural professions. Standards were set by those acting for purchasers as well as those acting for vendors.

    Given the state of the Irish construction industry certifying professionals wanted to have reasonable cover from the sometimes unprofessional actions of main builders / sub-contractors / suppliers etc.

    Equally, conveyancing solicitors acting with due diligence wanted an acceptable level of assurance for their clients, given the disparate nature of building procurement and the lack of integrated delivery systems.

    The wording of Opinions of Compliance offered by Members of the RIAI was agreed with the representatives of the legal profession as an acceptable balance.

    Others offered different certificates with the growth of structural engineers in the certifying of developments leading to the famous Structural Reports being done (as if Part A was the only building regulation).

    The phrase ‘anyone could complete these certificates’ is correct. However it is not correct to suggest that solicitors would accept certificates from just anyone.

    Solicitors in this regard set the standard of certification in the building industry and the RIAI wording was the standard acceptable or something very close to it.

    To imply that persons who were not registered provided a shoddy service is a slur on their characters and professionalism.

    There needs to be a register of building failures set up to start discovering the truth and get to the facts of the matter. We need a schedule of building failures set against contractors and professionals involved.

    Which professional or unregistered person certified what and what failures resulted in buildings built by whom? I will be interested to see will we see the same names cropping up again and again. Given the column inches already devoted to the subject, I am surprised some investigative journalist (assuming there are any left) hasn’t done this already.

    I suspect we will find – as I found during long years of practice – that the quality of the builder mattered most, with the degree of mutual regard between professionals and builders coming a close second and whether the developer/client was someone who took pride in their finished products coming third.

    This the nonsense of putting registered professionals on pedestals needs to be supported by facts based on inspections of work.

    I suspect we will find – again as I have found over many years – that the vast majority of professionals are competent, but that there is a minority who are not and who need to be expelled from their professional bodies and de-registered.

    I am not talking about people who are shy a few hours on their annual CPD – I am talking about mendacious individual’s whose gross mis-certification led to building failures and serious risk to occupants.

    Unless and until the Registration bodies grasp this thorny nettle and pull it out by the roots, we cannot expect the consumer to have faith in those hard-working consummate professionals which make up the majority of Registered Architects, Engineers and Surveyors.

    Who will make the first move towards a comprehensive review of professional incompetence in Ireland?

    Do we need an independent body to investigate this matter, one not encumbered by the vested interests of members of institutes?

    Whoops! That’s a bit like saying we need independent inspections of buildings, isn’t it?


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