Action urged over arson

THE head of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has called on two State bodies to act after another malicious fire caused extensive damage to part of one of Cork’s most iconic buildings.

Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen said it is now essential that both Cork City Council and the Health Service Executive (HSE) take decisive action to secure the area around the former Our Lady’s Hospital complex on the Lee Road.

It is Ireland’s largest building and a listed structure.

A former psychiatric hospital, it is now privately owned and its western section has been converted into the Atkins Hall apartment complex.

But a massive fire swept through the unoccupied eastern section of the building on Wednesday night where it is also planned to develop apartments.

The alarm was raised at around 10.30pm and up to 20 firefighters battled the blaze overnight. There were no injuries.

Two water tankers had to be called in because of problems with water pressure on the city’s northside following the cold snap.

The building was only declared safe for forensic examination yesterday morning. While gardaí are still awaiting the results of those tests, they are treating the blaze as malicious.

Inspector Gary McPolin appealed for anyone who saw anything suspicious in or around the apart-ment complex from about 9pm on Wednesday night to contact Gurranabraher Garda Station or the garda confidential hot-line 1800 666 111.

He also urged people who know of groups or individuals who frequent that vacant wing of the building to come forward.

But Deputy Allen said the authorities now need to take urgent action to prevent another fire on the site.

Several HSE-owned buildings to the rear of Atkins Hall, which once formed part of the former Our Lady’s medical complex, have been destroyed by malicious fires in recent years.

The buildings have also been looted of pipes, electrics, windows and doors.

“This is now the biggest derelict site on the northside — it is a scar on the northside,” Mr Allen said.

“The HSE failed to dispose of this land and these buildings when property prices were high.

“They are now left with land and property that is virtually worthless.

“It’s costing the HSE quite an amount of money to secure the whole area and even that is not satisfactory.”

Almost two years ago, Mr Allen quizzed HSE bosses before the PAC on the amount of public money being spent on security for the site.

Shortly afterwards, the constant security presence was ended and now the site is visited by security guards a few times a day.

“It has been destroyed by young thugs and vandals and is a scandal of HSE mismanagement,” he said.

And he said the owner of the adjoining Atkins Hall has also failed to secure that part of the site.

He called on Cork City Council to use derelict sites legislation to deal with the issue.

“Nothing seems to be happening there. The owner has failed to secure it. I see it on a regular basis — youngsters climbing in and out of the building. But there seems to be no great urgency to deal with this,” he said.

In 1994, Albert Reynolds’ Government offered £40m in installments to UCC to develop a medical faculty on the site. The offer was turned down.

Picture: Firefighters tackling the blaze at the old St Anne’s Psychiatric Hospital, Lee Road, Cork. Picture: Cillian Kelly

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