Former Chief Justice Ronan Keane said that without an adequate machinery of enforcement, the lives of people would continue to be ‘dangerously at risk’.
“It is to be hoped that central government will play its part by making adequate resources available to fire authorities so as to ensure that the powers of enforcement vested in them can be meaningfully exercised. Otherwise, the terrible lessons of the past will not have been learned,” he said.
Mr Justice Keane was speaking at the annual conference of the Chief Fire Officers Association on the 25th anniversary of the Stardust disaster, in which 48 young people died.
He warned local authorities could be sued for damages if they were negligent in their duty to inspects pubs and nightclubs and could be liable if they issued fire certificates to buildings which had no proper smoke alarms and people were subsequently injured in a fire there.
“Similarly ... the fire authority could be liable in damages where proper means of escape were not available and the authority had either not carried out any inspection or the inspection was inadequate.”
According to the Department of the Environment, around 5,000 fire safety inspections were carried out on 3,000 premises in 2004. Just 2,018 of these were carried out by fire safety officers, with the remainder being done by the gardaí.
The Chief Fire Officers Association said that given the current levels of resources, fire safety officers were only able to carry out the most urgent inspections.
CFOA chairman Jim Dunphy said fire officers would study Mr Justice Keane’s assertion that they and the fire authorities could be sued for damages.