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Ireland has not learned from Grenfell and Berkeley tragedies, says top architect

Lessons learned following the Grenfell Tower fire in London have not filtered into Ireland according to Professor Orla Hegarty of the school of architecture in University College Dublin.

There is still no ban on combustible materials in Ireland she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

“We shouldn’t be waiting for events to happen to trigger a response.”

There is a need to heed the warnings from events like the tragic fire in Grenfell Tower and the balcony collapse in Berkeley, California in which six students died, she added.

We need to heed the warnings. People have become complacent.

Professor Hegarty said the 2014 Building Control (Amendment) Regulations, enacted in response to the serious structural defects found in Dublin’s Priory Hall development, are “not fit for purpose”.

There is a central flaw with the legislation, she claimed, which is that the assigned certifier is appointed and paid for by the developer and is only required to do the amount of inspection the developer asks for.

“There’s no requirement in law as to how many inspections are carried out, they could do one at the very end or they could do one every week, it depends on the certifier.

"If the person doing the inspections is not doing what the developer wants then they can replace them,” she told The Irish Times in an interview in March 2019.

There needed to be an independent inspection system, where certifiers have the authority to change how things are being built if they see a flaw in it.

At the moment, Professor Hegarty said, certifiers can only complain to the developer, they cannot force them to change anything.

Certifiers are also compromised by the fact that they are paid by the developer.

There’s an awful lot of paper being gathered up but it’s mostly people self-certifying, effectively saying ‘my work is fine’ – it’s not people checking other people’s work.

Everyone is relying on the paperwork of the “next person in the chain”, she told the Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

In theory, a building cannot be occupied until a certificate of completion and compliance has been filed with the Building Control Authority, but the reality is that many buildings are in effect being occupied illegally because enforcements are not happening, she warned.

The problem is particularly acute in the speculative residential sector.

“That is still the sector that is the weak link in the chain.

“The developer will be gone from the site the day it is finished.”