Hogan rules need to get more teeth - Celtic Tiger buildings review

THE Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin yesterday proposed that local authorities should carry out a “full audit” of apartments and other buildings built during our Celtic Tiger excitements.

This seems appropriate but even the bravest of the brave would pause before opening that Pandora’s Box especially as the suggestion seems to include a review of public infrastructure projects like, say, the Cork main drainage scheme or any of the splendid local authority headquarters built at the time.

What if, and that “if” is probably just a clutching-at-straws hope, another Longboat Quay or Priory Hall were uncovered? Will residents be forced from their homes because of fire or other risks and face the prospect of destitution or finding tens of thousands of euro to make a building they already paid for in good faith fit for purpose? Mortgage providers will expect to be repaid no matter what is uncovered.

This chastening prospect is all the more daunting in the light of the assertion by Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan that the council will not be able to rehouse the residents of the Longboat Quay complex if it is evacuated. How else could it be in a city already in the grip of a housing crisis? There is hardly a local authority in the country with the resources to intervene in such an emergency. That, however, is of little consolation to anyone living in a complex that might be condemned by Mr Howlin’s audit.

If further scandals are uncovered will taxpayers have to pick up the tab to make good any buildings built by entities no longer in business? Will we have to face the double whammy of repaying bank debts reneged on by bankrupt developers and then, later on, pick up the tab to make dodgy homes habitable?

As in so many other instances — banking, internet privacy, tax avoidance by multinationals, environmental protection, VW, and even the mass produced food we eat — the details are just symptoms of a far, far, bigger problem. This is the ever growing challenge faced by national governments who wish to protect citizens from businesses that seem to have lost any commitment to the idea of civic morality — assuming of course that is an ambition government believes in.

One of this Government’s responses to consequences of light-touch regulation in the building sector manifested itself in regulations introduced by former environment minister Phil Hogan. In that review Mr Hogan had an opportunity to legislate so building is monitored by local authority professionals as was the case but under stricter guidelines. Unfortunately, and for whatever reason, he introduced a regime which only requires a newly completed building to be certified by an architect, structural engineer or other “assigned certifier”. This seems an extension of light-touch regulation rather than an attempt to change that risky culture.

In that context it seems entirely rational to suggest that not only should there be an audit of Celtic Tiger developments but that the Hogan regulations be revised to make them far more demanding and a reliable safeguard for home buyers dealing with a sector that has hardly covered itself in glory.


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