A county councillor is seeking a safety audit on all old public buildings, amid fears recent arson attacks on publicly-owned properties in West Cork and Cork city could lead to further destruction.
Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan asked council officials to draw up a list of ageing buildings, in disuse, under its control and outlined if they were in a secured state.
His concerns arose after a fire destroyed the Georgian Beechgrove House off Fernhill Road in Clonakilty three weeks ago, and compounded by this week’s incident at the old St Kevin’s hospital on the Lee Road in Cork city.
Beechgrove House is in the ownership of Cork County Council, while the former mental hospital belonged to the HSE.
Cllr O’Sullivan said his fear was the risk of copycat attacks on other publicly-owned old properties. He sought an audit on what measures were in place to protect them.
“There’s a real onus on us to establish a list of vacant old buildings we own that are at potential risk,” he told a West Cork municipal district meeting. “I fear kids are getting a bit of a buzz about destroying vacant properties.”
His primary concern, however, was the risk of a serious injury to a death to people accessing the old buildings, especially in the event of arson.
Cllr Mary Hegarty supported the call and expressed concern about similar risks to a former vacant convent in her hometown of Bantry.
She said the voluntary housing agency Cluid had plans to transform the once-magnificent building into social housing.
“The roof is coming in now,” she said. “There are 16 social housing units supposed to be developed there. I want to see this plan come to fruition before the building falls into further disrepair.”
Cllr Danny Collins said the former Sisters of Mercy Convent was handed over to Cluid in 2013 and he was worried as it still had not been redeveloped, it could end up the same way as Beechgrove House. In relation to Bantry site, he claimed: “There’s antisocial behaviour there every weekend. There’s smoking and drinking going on and there’s a farmer nearby who’s worried about his hay being set on fire.”
Cllr Paul Hayes, meanwhile, said Dúchas (Clonakilty) was very keen to see work being undertaken at Beechgrove House and open it up as a tourist attraction. He said MEP Liadh Ní Riada had advised that, as next year is European Year of Heritage, the EU could provide serious funding for renovating such properties.
He urged council officials to examine that possibility in an effort to preserve old buildings in its ownership.
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