Fire safety report dismissed as ‘whitewash’

Residents claim issues around timber-frame homes not addressed.

A fire safety report into the Co Kildare estate where six homes burned to the ground in 25 minutes has been described by residents as a “whitewash”.

The unpublished report categorises the risks associated with fire safety defects in the Millfield Manor estate as “moderate” or medium, despite the rapid spread of the fire which occurred on March 31, 2015.

A spokesperson for the residents said the report has not dealt at all with the types of concerns around timber-frame houses that were uncovered following the fire.

“How can they say that there is a medium risk?” the spokesperson said.

“The fire occurred in the afternoon, which is the reason nobody was killed. What if this happens in the middle of the night?

“There are serious risks here for timber-frame homes like ours all over the country and none of that has been addressed. It’s a massive whitewash.”

The unpublished report into Millfield Manor was part of a wider review, the remainder of which was published last Friday. Labour TD Alan Kelly, who commissioned the review when he was the minister for the environment, said the report on Friday “was simply not what I commissioned. It’s not in accordance with the terms of reference.”

Mr Kelly commissioned the report in September 2015 in response to lobbying from the Millfield residents and a number of politicians on the government and opposition benches. He told the Irish Examiner on Friday that the Millfield Manor case study was to be an example to be used to “inform us about the deficiencies in relation to timber-frame houses across the country. The case study has not been made public and to me that is shocking and puts into question the report in its entirety.”

On Friday, the main review was published, but a spokesperson for the Department of Housing said the Millfield Manor report could only be accessed through a freedom of information request. Last June, the Sinn Féin spokesman for housing, Eoin Ó Broin, was denied an FoI request for it.

However, the Millfield Manor element was made privately available to the residents of the estate over the weekend. Among its findings were that the houses surveyed “were not in compliance with the building regulations. It is recommended that all remedial works are carried out in a timely manner.”

The report did not specify how urgent remedial works were, but the deficiencies have been known for two and a half years. The report, seen by the Irish Examiner, also showed the main deficiencies in fire safety affecting the spread of fire were:

  • Poor workmanship and improper jointing of plasterboard to separating walls within the attic space;
  • Penetration of separating walls within the attic with roof timbers;
  • Fire-stopping missing at top of separating walls between cavity closer and roof felt;
  • Cavity closers missing at top of external walls.

The report makes no findings on whether any of these issues are common to other fire-safety problems which have arisen in timber-frame construction apartments and housing estates.

It was prepared by Eamon O’Boyle and Associates, an established fire-safety consultant, and it does note that the report is for the “Private and confidential use of the Framework Working Group for whom the report was undertaken and takes into account their particular instructions and requirements”.

The chairman of the review group, former Cork county manager Martin O’Riordan, met the residents on Friday to brief them.

The spokesperson for the residents said the report had been delayed for 18 months as it was first delivered to the department of Housing in April 2016.

“What was the delay about?” he said. “There is nothing controversial in this report. There is nothing about the problems that were uncovered or what that means for timber-frame construction. And they haven’t even published the part into our estate. We would like to know what is going on?”

A spokesperson for the department said “the terms of reference required a framework for general application in the interests of supporting owners and residents living in developments where concerns regarding non-compliance with fire- safety requirements arise — that is what was published on Friday.”


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