PASSING the buck has been a feature of Irish public life since time immemorial, but few instances are as blatant or as serious as what’s unfolding in a small residential development where lives have been turned upside down.
Riverwalk Court is a development of 26 apartments and duplexes in Ratoath, Co Meath. It was built in 2002 by Saltan Properties, the principal of which is Michael Ryan, a developer and stud owner, who three years ago was acquitted of bribing a town councillor with €60,000. The councillor, Fred Forsey, was imprisoned for six years for the offence.
In 2007, major flaws were found with the development, most prominently to do with water ingress. Various disputes arose between Ryan and the residents/owners.
The latter commissioned a number of independent engineers’ reports at some expense. According to residents’ spokesman Mark Fitzmaurice, each report uncovered more problems.
Eventually, the structural defects insurer, Premier, took responsibility for structural remedial work, which began last March. As revealed in today’s Irish Examiner, that work has now uncovered that the balconies on the three-storey development are unsafe due to rotting wood.
This is the latest of a succession of blows to the owners/occupiers that has rendered their homes to be unsafe and a world away from what they thought they were buying into.
Premier is suing Ryan’s company over the structural defects issue.
Apart from the structural defects, the various reports have also uncovered major fire hazards in the building.
READ MORE: Substandard developments: Meath County Council silent on firetrap building .
The latest of these last July enumerated nine separate deficiencies that contravened fire safety standards, rendering the block dangerous. The report, from Conspect Engineers added: “In keeping with a duty of care and in the interests of safety to the occupants we have made our current findings a matter of record to the local authority (Meath Co Council fire office and Building Control).”
Despite being alerted that residents, whose homes were issued with a fire safety certificate, may be living in a fire trap, the council has done nothing.
Ordinarily, the council — which is the fire authority — would be expected to conduct a fire safety inspection, compile a report and decide on a course of action. That could involve instructing the developer to undertake immediate remedial action, instruct the owner/ occupiers to do so, or have the building evacuated until it is made safe.
Nothing has been done. No inspection was conducted, bar an apparent cursory visit to the site in September by two officials, neither of which was the chief fire officer.
The residents have not had it confirmed whether or not they are living in a fire trap.
Nobody from the fire authority has met them to outline whether or not they should fear for their safety.
When the Irish Examiner was compiling a story on the matter two weeks ago, a series of question was submitted to the council. There was no response for a full week until the story was published.
This attitude by a public body to a matter of public interest in the media is unprecedented in the experience of this reporter.
Following publication of the story, the council issued a statement that failed to address any of the main questions. Has a fire safety inspection report been complied? If so, why have the residents not been informed? Are their homes safe?
The statement did say that a meeting with residents was planned. “The fire service has now scheduled a meeting with the apartment owners and the management company and their legal representatives for June 22 in order to progress matters.”
That meeting did not happen. The council’s solicitor met a solicitor for the residents, but none of those who are living through this were invited to the meeting, contrary to the council’s statement.
Since then, a request by the residents for a meeting with officials in the council has been denied on the basis that “talks” are ongoing.
The Irish Examiner understands that a proposal was forwarded that a joint report be commissioned between the developer and the residents. This beggars belief.
The residents and owners have commissioned four separate reports and had the value of their homes decimated.
Why is another such report required? Why can’t the council do its duty, and if necessary, follow through under Section 20 of the Fire Safety Act to “serve notice on a building which appears to be a potentially dangerous building”.
Similar scenarios that have arisen in recent years in Dublin and Kildare have prompted swift action from those authorities. In Meath, the actions of the council so far point to a “bury head in sand and hope for the best” strategy.
One one level, it’s easy to see why the council is reluctant to do its duty. Once the authority acts, it is drawn directly into the problem, it could be a financial drag.
However, the local authority issued the fire safety certificate that reassured buyers that they were purchasing a home that met with the standards of fire safety.
If that is no longer the case, where lies the blame? Is it good enough that a local authority on which citizens relied for safety can now wash its hands of the matter?
One thing is sure, this type of issue is going to raise its head in other parts of the country as the fallout from the shoddy self-regulation, and frantic building splurge continues to seep out of the walls of homes thrown together.
Meanwhile, life goes on for the developer of Riverwalk Court. In July last year, Michael Ryan received planning permission for 66 houses, according to the planning file.
The issuing authority was Meath County Council. The houses are earmarked for Corballis in Ratoath, just up the road from Riverwalk Court.