Stardust Ballroom in Artane

Institutions of National Governance – Criminally Dysfunctional ?

2009-05-28:  A week can be a long time in Ireland … during this last seven days, in particular, a time of harrowing emotions … horror, shame, disbelief, anger, pain, embarrassment … and relief that the truth has finally been revealed …

 

On Wednesday, 20th May 2009, at 14.30 hrs … the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was published at a launch, before a select audience, in Dublin’s Conrad Hotel.  Victims of that child abuse and representative groups were barred, with the support of Gardaí, from attending.

 

Has anything really changed ?

 

The Commission was established on 23rd May 2000 … under the 2000 Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act (No.7 of 2000) … and given three primary functions:

         to hear evidence of abuse from persons who allege they suffered abuse in childhood, in institutions, during the period from 1940 or earlier, to the present day ;

         to conduct an inquiry into abuse of children in institutions during that period and, where satisfied that abuse occurred, to determine the causes, nature, circumstances and extent of such abuse ;   and

         to prepare and publish reports on the results of the inquiry and on its recommendations in relation to dealing with the effects of such abuse.

 

The Chairperson of the Commission, Mr. Justice Seán Ryan, is a judge of the High Court.

 

The full Ryan Commission Report can be downloaded here … www.childabusecommission.com/rpt/pdfs/

 

 

Although Commission Recommendation No.5 (Volume IV, Chapter 7, Paragraph 7.06) states …

 

Childcare policy should be child-centred.  The needs of the child should be paramount.

The overall policy of childcare should respect the rights and dignity of the child and have as its primary focus their safe care and welfare.  Services should be tailored to the developmental, educational and health needs of the particular child.  Adults entrusted with the care of children must prioritise the wellbeing and protection of those children above personal, professional or institutional loyalty.

 

[ Why is this critical Recommendation only in position ‘5’ ?   Concerning the rights and dignity of children, why is the word ‘should’ used instead of ‘must’ ? ]

 

… none of the 20 Commission Recommendations refer directly to the 1989 United Nations (OHCHR) Convention on the Rights of the Child, which became an International Legal Instrument on 2nd September 1990 … and which Ireland signed on 30th September 1990, and later ratified on 28th September 1992.

 

The Convention has not yet been fully incorporated into Irish National Law.  Why not ?

 

In relation to Ireland, the UN (OHCHR) Committee on the Rights of the Child observed the following in late 2006 …

 

” … the Committee regrets that some of the concerns expressed and recommendations made have not yet been fully addressed, in particular those related to the status of the child as a rights-holder and the adoption of a child rights-based approach in policies and practices.”

 

 

 

Some Comments & Questions …

 

1. The Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland (with the notable exception of Dublin Archbishop, Dr. Diarmuid Martin), the Catholic Religious Orders and the Catholic Church generally … have lost their moral authority … and all credibility.  If child abuse was deeply in-grained and systemic in Ireland’s institutions … what was happening in institutions run by the 18(?) Irish Religious Congregations in other countries ?   What assets have been transferred out of Ireland by the 18(?) Irish Religious Orders since the year 2000 ?

 

2. The Irish Government Ministry having jurisdiction … the Department of Education … has been clearly shown to be criminally dysfunctional.  What radical changes in its organization, policies, practices and procedures will be put in place following the Ryan Commission Report ?   We also ask the same question of the Department of Health & Children !

 

 

 

Perhaps Unnoticed … Another Institution …

 

Reported in an article on Page 4 of The Irish Times (2009-05-21) … on the same day that the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse published its findings … 20th May 2009 … the family of a six-year-old girl, Sarah Jinks, who died in a fire on 10th January 1999 at a local authority house in Sligo, secured €115,000 in settlement of their High Court Action alleging that Sligo County Council had negligently failed to maintain a safe electrical system in the house.  During the Action, Sarah’s mother, Ms. Philomena Jinks, had claimed that the Council failed to respond with sufficient thoroughness to complaints about dangers in the house.

 

 

The ‘Real’ Institution Involved …

 

Let me place in the public domain some revealing background to a series of fatal fires at a local authority housing estate on the far side of the country from Sligo … and a Letter, dated 22nd September 2005, which we were forced to write to Bray Town Council, in County Wicklow …

 

Colour photograph showing the scene after a fire in a terraced house at Oldcourt Housing Estate, Bray, Co. Wicklow. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2005-08-18.

Colour photograph showing the scene after a fire in a terraced house at Oldcourt Housing Estate, Bray, Co. Wicklow. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2005-08-18.

 

Mr. Seán O’Neill,

Town Engineer,

Comhairle Baile Bhré,

Civic Offices,

Main Street,

Bray,

Co. Wicklow.

 

Re:  Fire Safety Survey of Oldcourt Estate, Bray.

 

Mr. O’Neill,

 

In good faith, we submitted a Tender Proposal (copy enclosed with the original letter) for a Fire Safety Survey of the Oldcourt Housing Estate to you.  As of today, we have had no communication, written or oral, from Bray Town Council.

 

We fully understood the critical need for this to be an authoritative, competent, comprehensive and entirely independent Fire Safety Survey.  Our principal concern was that this must be shown to be so, especially to local residents.  We remain uniquely qualified, in Ireland and Europe, to complete the special and unique task involved.

 

It was with complete shock, dismay and alarm, however, that we saw our Organization actually named in Media Reports of discussions which took place at the September Council Meeting in Bray.

 

As a matter of public record, we now wish to clarify a few issues …

 

1.       We commenced our work on the basis that the Tender Documentation issued by Bray Town Council was unreliable.  This we were only able to do because of our extensive experience with Local Authority Housing, and the ‘ways’ and ‘means’ of Local Authorities in Ireland.

 

2.       The Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) has been intimately involved – at every level – with the planning, costing, design and construction of Local Authority Housing in every part of Ireland – from our direct experience, since the mid-1980’s.  The Department is, therefore, very far from being a Disinterested Party in the serious matters under examination at the Oldcourt Housing Estate.  It was extraordinary to see a representative of the DEHLG on the Interview Panel.

 

3.       The Members of the Tender Interview Panel may have been ‘experts’, but we are not sure in which field.  They showed little interest in our extensive practical experience of the complex area of fire engineering and its dynamic interaction with other aspects of performance in buildings and the built environment.  It was necessary to explain some fundamental facts about the limited safety objectives of the Building Regulations to one Member.  Some of the working methods necessary to effectively complete the Fire Safety Survey, of which we have direct and extensive experience, were unknown to all Members.  It was clear that the Panels Members did not fully read our Tender Proposal.

 

4.       At one stage in the Tender Interview, it was strongly ‘suggested’ to us that the Survey was to be a purely technical exercise, with no involvement whatever by the residents.  At approximately the ‘two-thirds’ stage in the short interview, we realized that there was some ‘agenda’ in the background.  We did not, therefore, make any final comments to the Panel.

 

We must now conclude that the Tender Process, organized by Bray Town Council, for a Fire Safety Survey of the Oldcourt Housing Estate appears to be corrupt.  With deep regret, we hereby withdraw our Tender Proposal.

 

We require a full explanation as to why we have received no communication from you, or anybody else associated with Bray Town Council.  We demand a full apology from the Council, and this must be published widely in the local and national media.

 

We are consulting with our legal advisors.

 

Signed:  C. J. Walsh, Chief Technical Officer, FireOx International.

 

Copy:  Ms. Deirdre deBurca, Chairperson, Bray Town Council.

 

 

[ No response has ever been received to this letter … from any party. ]

 

 

 

 

And … we have not forgotten the deep corruption which went to the core of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Stardust Fire Disaster.

 

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END

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Quality of Irish Construction – Unacceptable ?

2009-02-12:   So … Anglo-Irish Bank has been caught – finally – playing with numbers and cooking the books.  And … because of inadequate (i.e. a complete lack of effective) control by the National Financial Regulator, this was regarded as a routine, ‘smart’ transaction by privileged individuals.  “What is the problem ?” … they ask … “no laws were being broken”.

 

Holding firmly onto those thoughts, let us briefly turn our attention to the Construction Sector … and the Energy Performance of Buildings …

 

A new Home Energy Savings (HES) Scheme was recently announced by Mr. Eamon Ryan T.D., Minister of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources … €100 million Insulation Scheme to Benefit 50,000 Homes – Programme Will Create 4,000 Jobs … according to an article in The Irish Times, on Monday 9th February 2009, by Mr. Harry McGee.

 

Reading the Department of Energy’s own Press Release for the Scheme Launch, dated 2009-02-08 … it is evident that public relations consultants, marketing gurus, senior academics (who should know better) and civil servants were involved in producing ‘paper’ numbers to justify and support the miserable grants being offered in the HES Scheme.  Numbers were even presented for ‘Typical Net BER Improvement’ ?!?

 

When the Scheme is eventually up and running, Thermal Insulation Contractors will be required to comply with a voluntary Energy Ireland (SEI) ‘Contractors Code of Practice & Standards and Specifications Guidelines’ (version 1, 2009-02-03) … and SEI may or may not carry out control inspections in order to monitor the quality of their work.  Does all this sound familiar ?

 

 

But … are these paper energy numbers ‘real’ ?   If he thinks so, Mr. Eamon Ryan is living in Alice’s Wonderland !

 

This is a photograph, taken back in 2000, of expanded polystyrene insulation which was badly installed in an external cavity wall … very badly installed !   When the Irish Construction Industry would later enter extreme ‘over-heat’ mode, the quality of typical construction would deteriorate sharply.

 

Colour Photograph of an External Cavity Wall, showing 'Floating' Thermal Insulation (and, in the background, an Inclined Steel Wall Tie which will later facilitate water ingress). Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2000-01-19.

Colour Photograph of an External Cavity Wall, showing ‘Floating’ Thermal Insulation (and, in the background, an Inclined Steel Wall Tie which will later facilitate water ingress). Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2000-01-19.

Who can know what is happening inside that cavity when it is all finished and covered up from view ?   Nobody.  Unless, that is, you manage to take an Infra-Red Thermal Image during the next winter heating season – which is far too late to remedy the problem.

 

This is an example of an Infra-Red Thermal Image, taken back in 1998 …

 

Colour Image, with explanatory Text and Horizontal Temperature Bar below, showing the 'Real' Energy Performance of a Building. Click to enlarge. Project Architect: CJ Walsh. Image taken by sub-contractor in 1998.

Colour Image, with explanatory Text and Horizontal Temperature Bar below, showing the ‘Real’ Energy Performance of a Building. Click to enlarge. Project Architect: CJ Walsh. Image taken by sub-contractor in 1998.

 

 

Explaining the Current Context in Ireland …

 

It was 10 Years after the Dublin Stardust Fire Tragedy (February 1981) … before the first legal, National Building Regulations were introduced (December 1991); they became operational during the following summer of 1992.  Around the same time, Building Control Authorities were being established in every Local Authority.

 

Prior to this, legal Building Bye-Laws were operated in just a small number of our major urban centres.

 

Dublin Corporation’s Bye-Laws with respect to the Construction of Buildings, adopted by Dublin City Council on 27th June 1949, were an interesting mix of functional, performance and prescriptive requirements.  An Application, containing detailed construction information, for Building Bye-Law Approval had to be made for every construction project … and I mean ‘every’ project … prior to any construction commencing.  And, ‘every’ project was inspected at the foundation and drainage stages of construction … no exceptions.  The more complex projects were inspected as they progressed further, with special attention being paid, for example, to fire safety related construction.  I know, first-hand, that the surveyors and inspectors in Dublin Corporation’s (as it was then called) Building Control Section had built up a considerable wealth of knowledge and understanding about construction conditions and practices right around the city and suburbs.

 

Anyway … after the introduction of the National Building Regulations, an unwritten national policy was put into action … having as an aim the winding down, and general ‘castration’, of the large, well-established Building Control Sections in Dublin City and County, and Cork.  Meanwhile … in the rush to establish the new Building Control Authorities throughout the rest of the country, it was common to hear of Road Engineers being transferred into the new Control Authorities … usually having little or no experience in dealing with the construction of buildings.

 

Site Inspections under our current system of National Building Regulations are random.  Inspection Statistics produced by the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) are not reliable.  Building Control Authorities are, purposefully, not sufficiently resourced to be ‘effective’.

 

Commencement Notices, under the National Building Control Regulations, do not have to be accompanied by detailed construction information when being submitted to a Building Control Authority.

 

Fire Safety Certificates, under the National Building Control Regulations, do not involve any Site Inspections – at any stage – by Fire Authorities.

 

 

 

Some Conclusions …

 

The above is a rather long, but simplified, explanation as to why a large number of privileged property developers and shoddy building contractors have been allowed to flourish on Irish Construction Sites without ever understanding the concept of ‘effective’ technical control.  When they do eventually meet this concept, head-on, the level of their resentment can be without limit.

 

Before the recent property crash, did you ever try to present a builder with a Snag List on a new house ?

 

This will also put SEI’s 70% rate of non-compliance into an understandable context.  See my earlier Post, dated 2008-12-12.

 

With regard to BER Certificates … BER Assessors without any sort of architectural background are not competent to assess the construction of existing buildings … and those BER Assessors with an architectural background cannot possibly evaluate, with reliability, the construction of existing buildings without the use, for example, of Infra-Red Thermography and Air Seepage Testing.

 

BER Assessment of Historical Buildings is unsuitable, and not appropriate.

 

An Energy Survey of a Building is an entirely different concept to a BER Assessment.  See our Technical Guidance Note No.95/101(a).

 

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END

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Dublin Stardust Fire Tragedy – The End ?

2009-02-05:  ‘In the early hours of the 14th February 1981, a catastrophic fire swept through the Stardust Ballroom in Artane, Dublin, killing forty eight people and causing serious injury to one hundred and twenty eight others.  The overwhelming majority of the victims were in the age group of eighteen to twenty five and came from the neighbouring areas of Artane, Kilmore and Greater Coolock.  The scale and horror of the tragedy was such that it was, and remains, the greatest disaster to have occurred in the history of the State.’

 

Paragraph 1.2, Report of the Independent Examination of the Stardust Victims Committee’s Case for a Reopened Inquiry into the Stardust Fire Disaster.

 

In the middle of January 2009, relatives of Stardust Fire Victims were forced to hold a lengthy sit-in protest at Government Buildings, in Dublin … in order to gain access to this recent Report by Mr. Paul Coffey, Senior Counsel.  See the Photograph of four forlorn relatives, by Mr. Dara Mac Dónaill, on the Front Page of The Irish Times (2009-01-15).

 

 

In Paragraph 5.15(1) of the Report (no reference number, no publication date) … Mr. Coffey recommended:

 

         that the Government should consider whether it can … place on the public record an acknowledgement of the (Stardust) Tribunal’s findings that there is no evidence that the fire was started deliberately and that its cause is unknown ;

 

Paragraph 5.15(2) continued:

 

         in the event that this cannot be done, there should be a further inquiry … ;

 

 

On Tuesday evening, 3rd February 2009, in the Dáil (Irish Parliament) … the Irish Government moved, with haste, to formally correct the public record in accordance with Mr. Coffey’s recommendation in Paragraph 5.15(1).  See the Dáil Report on the Stardust Tragedy, by Ms. Marie O’Halloran, in The Irish Times (2009-02-04).

 

Should this be the end of the matter ?   No.

 

Have the events surrounding this tragedy been well managed ?   Yes.

 

 

 

In Separate Letters, dated 4th April 2006, sent by registered post to the Editors of The Irish Times (Dublin), The Irish Independent (Dublin) and The Irish Examiner (Cork), I wrote the following …

 

Re:  Stardust Fire Re-Examination Now Due !

 

As a young architect in private practice, I saw the Dublin Fire ‘Establishment’ disappear from public view, without trace, after the 1981 Stardust Fire;  it was almost impossible, for at least a year after, to have a meeting with a Fire Prevention Officer.

 

Would it not be reasonable to expect that, in 25 years, our understanding of fire behaviour in buildings, and of the practices and procedures associated with serious fire incidents, has improved ?

 

On 26th October 2005, the NIST Final Report on the 9-11 WTC 1 & 2 Tower Collapses was presented to Congress in the United States.  Chapter 9 of that Report contains 30 important Recommendations which must radically alter professional fire engineering practice in the case of all building types, of all sizes … even in Dublin !

 

The time is now due for an Independent and Impartial Technical Re-Examination of the Stardust Fire Incident, and any relevant events which occurred during a period of time beginning 6 Months before 14th February 1981 and terminating approximately 18 Months after that day.

 

Such a Re-Examination must exclude any involvement by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DEHLG).

 

Signed:  C. J. Walsh, Chief Technical Officer, FireOx International.

 

 

 

A Similar Management Exercise is taking place in relation to the series of Fatal Fire Incidents at the Oldcourt Local Authority Housing Estate in Bray, County Wicklow.

 

 

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END

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