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PHThe serious implications of the sub-standard building work at the Priory Hall complex are still ongoing. Although we hear less and less about the problems at the Complex, it is still not resolved in any way. Mick visited the site and met with those affected and raised the issue in the Dáil the following week as a topical issue. Deputy Clare Daly also raised the same topic. Minister Hogan responded to their questions and you can view the debate here.

Mick Wallace: The predicament of the people who lived in the Priory Hall complex was big news a while back and then it was in the news again but, sadly for them, the nightmare has not gone away. I visited the complex last week and from a construction point of view, it is a disaster. There is a good deal of poor workmanship in it, poor building methods were used, the complex is not damp-proof or water-proof. It is not safe and what has happened is certainly not fair to the residents. The council said that it will take €6 million to €7 million to fix it. As a builder, I think it might be a better idea to knock it down and start again. Someone has to take responsibility for it and someone has to help the residents. In terms of responsibility, the builder is the biggest culprit. Did he have insurance? He was supposed to have it. The architect signed off on the development but he should not have done so. Did he have insurance? He should have had it. The engineer signed off on the development and, from an engineering point of view, it should not have been signed off on. Had the engineer insurance? The bank, which agreed to grant mortgages to the tenants, sent out a valuer and he passed units and said they were worth the money the bank parted with in terms of the mortgages. What will the bank do about this? It is pretty obvious the council did not inspect the complex properly because if it had, it would not have allowed it to be passed either. At this stage the people are in a terrible predicament and nobody seems to care. While the problems in respect of this complex might not have started during the Government’s term, given that the council had been negligent the Government has to intervene because it does not appear that anyone else will do anything for these people. Somebody has to sort it out. The Government should initiate a process to make things happen. Clare Daly: I echo the point that this is a modern disaster. It is an absolute tragedy for the families concerned. They have been evacuees from their homes for more than 100 days now. As we sit here not a single thing is being done to rectify those homes. Work is not being undertaken and they are no nearer to returning to another home. They do not want to return to the home they had because it could not be called a home. I would like the Minister to address a few issues. Previously when the residents asked the Minister to meet them, he said he could not, that the issue is before the courts, it is not for him to intervene and that the matter is sub judice. That is not good enough. I agree that Mr. McFeely, the developer, is responsible for this but he is a product of the lack of regulation that successive Governments allowed to prevail. Dublin City Council did not enforce the regulation, even though it was inadequate, but the little bit of protection that was in place was not enforced, therefore it has a responsibility, but more than that there was a system of self-certification in place and in that sense the Government and the Minister have a responsibility. When the court adjudicates on this case, the scenario for these homeowners whereby their rent is being paid by Dublin City Council, will cease. They cannot afford to pay a mortgage for a worthless home and rent for somewhere else. It is impossible. Somebody must step in. We effectively own the banks. The Minister should step in and demand that these tenants be released from their mortgage commitments given that they cannot enjoy the benefit of their homes. There has been a breakdown in trust with the local authority and there is no dialogue with it. It is up to the Minister to step in and examine if some form of mediation can take place. Moving those families back to the complex and restoring those units is not a runner, despite what Dublin City Council says, but dialogue needs to take place and people need to discuss the matter. I ask the Minister to comment on, and intervene to address a matter reported in the newspapers whereby the management company is being pursued over outstanding VAT payments as a result of the developer defaulting on his payments in that regard. It is disgraceful that the Revenue Commissioners would pursue effectively the residents through their management company because of debts which Mr. McFeely had. That is nonsense. Penalties and late payments have applied and the bill is on the shoulders of the residents. That is not good enough and the Minister has to intervene in that respect as well. Phil Hogan: I can understand the deep frustration of the residents, which the Deputies have articulated, but we should not lose sight of the fact that Mr. McFeely is responsible for this as well as the professional people, as Deputy Wallace said, who signed off on this development. That is no comfort to the residents this evening as we speak in this House in terms of the difficulties they have experienced, through no fault of theirs, but due to the negligence on the part of the developer and the professional people who signed off on the development, as Deputy Wallace indicated. The legal proceedings in regard to Priory Hall are continuing but I wish they were over in order that I could do much more than I can do now from a legal point of view. The Department is being kept informed by Dublin City Council of developments with regard to the issues at Priory Hall. The Department is also assisting the council, in consultation with NAMA, in securing alternative accommodation on a temporary basis for the residents. We are making financial contributions to the residents to ensure we deal with the temporary issues they have in the context of a judgment of the High Court, which showed that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government was not responsible. Dublin City Council is the designated authority in regard to these issues and it pursued the developer when it came to its attention in 2009 that there were difficulties. Unfortunately, it took two years to get the developer to court to deal with some of the issues about which we now all know. I would like to be in a position to tell the Deputies that we can move quickly on this matter but the council, through court proceedings, has brought the developer, on behalf of the residents, to book. Legal complications in this respect have now gone as far as the highest court in the land. I had hoped that we could have dealt with these issues without going to that extreme. I cannot meet the residents because I am a party to the proceedings in so far as helping Dublin City Council to meet some of the financial obligations of the residents and in meeting their immediate demands on a temporary basis. I am not in a position to meet them but I will be glad to meet a representative group of the residents as soon as the court proceedings are completed. The overriding priority for me arising from this case is that last June before the issue came to court, I immediately initiated a review of the building control standards and the building control legislation and I have put forward for public consultation a new mandatory certification in order that we can ensure that none of the problems in regard to this developer or the professional advisers involved will happen again. I assure Deputy Wallace in particular that we are following up on all the insurance issues and professional indemnities in regard to the professions involved. I say to Deputy Clare Daly that I cannot mediate while the issue is before the courts. Mick Wallace: I trust the Minister will actively get involved and sort out the problem when the law allows. He has said the local authority got involved in 2009. It should have been involved a long time before then. These properties should never have been sold, as they were not fit to be sold. The local authority must carry responsibility in that respect, as it should not have passed the building. The same is true of the bank valuer. The residents should not be paying their mortgages because the bank valuer was wrong to pass the apartments as fit to be bought. The builder is, no doubt, the biggest culprit. The builder, the architect and the engineer all need to be dealt with by the authorities. There has to be a law. Clare Daly: The Minister is correct; he is not responsible. However, the system did not make adequate provision. Somebody is responsible; the residents certainly are not and the Minister is in the unique position of being able to assist them. I do not accept that he cannot step in until the legal process is over. If Dublin City Council wins the legal proceedings, as is likely, and is released from paying the rents of the home owners concerned, who will pay their bills? Does the Government expect them to pay mortgages on valueless properties, as well as rents to keep a roof over their heads? They cannot meet one payment, not to mention two. Will the Department step in? Will the Minister pressure the banks? Who is going to meet the payment? If it is not met, there will be severe homelessness, even worse than at present, in the very near future. Phil Hogan: I thank Deputy Clare Daly for her usual legal advice to me, to step in while court proceedings are going ahead. I cannot do this. I say to Deputy Mick Wallace that trust has broken down between the State and the residents with regard to consumer protection. Professionals, developers and builders did not do the jobs they were trusted to do. I now have to intervene with new legislation to regulate developers and builders who should have done their jobs properly and followed the certification process we had in place. We can no longer trust professionals to sign off on things on a professional basis in the interests of consumers. From his background, the Deputy will know that we did trust people and we can no longer do so. In the past when a clerk of works had to give a certificate of reasonable value for first-time buyers, people used to complain about the cumbersome nature of the approval and certification process. We now have to go back to look at these systems again. Mick Wallace: Every apartment complex I ever built was checked by someone from a Department or local authority. I never built one that was not checked. Phil Hogan: The Deputy is unique in that regard. What I announced last year will bring back into vogue the sentiments he expressed about how we needed to certify all these properties because professionals whom we had trusted to do the job on a devolved basis on behalf of the State had failed to do so. The residents of Priory Hall are the victims in this case. There are probably other cases which we do not know of and which will come to the fore in due course. I am trying to track these developments through the local authority system and put in place new legislative and regulatory requirements to stamp this out once and for all.

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