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Ireland's most dangerous homes: 'The wood of the balcony crumbled like Weetabix'

A new documentary questions the safety of homes built in the Celtic Tiger era.

Image: TV3

PRIORY HALL, RIVERBOAT quay and Riverwalk Court – the names of just some developments that have made the headlines due to massive safety concerns.

In the peak of the housing boom in 2006, 90,000 new dwellings were built and yet there were only 64 full time building control officers in the whole country to inspect all the new houses and apartments.

A TV3 documentary takes a look at the stories of some people who bought homes only to discover they weren’t safe and, in some cases, were rendered valueless.

It examines the fall-out from three different Celtic Tiger developments - Riverwalk Court in Ratoath in Co Meath, Millfield Manor in Newbridge Co Kildare and Dublin’s Longboat Quay development.

‘Crumble like Weetabix’

The documentary also reveals how the Department of the Environment had ‘serious concerns’ about the system that was used in Riverwalk Court and were reluctant to issue the certificates needed to sell a home.

Records show that Michael Ryan, the developer of Riverwalk Court, met with the then Minister for the Environment Martin Cullen.

In the end the Floor Area Compliance Certificates – which are required before new apartments can be sold – were issued, despite the reservations.

Firetrap Homes - TV3 Investigates - In picture: Sign outside Riverwalk Court Source: tv3

Sylvia Flynn, a resident at Riverwalk Court describes how balconies were beginning to “crumble like Weetabix”.

“In August, just before we moved out, one of the balconies in one of the apartments near me, the couple moved out with their children and they [the construction workers] literally came along to move, to take the render off, and the balcony just fell off.

They didn’t need tools. It was like a Weetabix effect – the wood just crumbled.

“After that happened they issued notices to all the residents to say ‘stay off the balconies’ and they put a brace on my balcony, because it was actually moving. If I stood and held on to the front of the balcony, the balcony front wall, it actually moved.”

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Firetrap Homes - TV3 Investigates - Sylvia Flynn Riverwalk Court resident Source: TV3

Sylvia also described feeling relieved and lucky that nothing more serious had happened, “At the time it was a shock because Berkeley had only happened the week before when that horrendous tragedy with those children happened and it just opened your eyes even more that we were very lucky.

The engineer said we were very lucky that there wasn’t a catastrophic structural event here and that there was no loss of life. My son was on that balcony in the summer in a paddling pool and the weight of that water, I was thinking, my God, he could have gone through it.

The programme also examines the light-touch system of building regulation during the boom times and asks whether a new system brought in in the wake of the Priory Hall scandal, called SI9, is fit for purpose.

The new system creates no new legal remedies and, to date, there has been no public enquiry or recommendations on the back of the failings around developments like Longboat Quay, Priory Hall, Riverwalk Court and Millfield Manor.

Firetrap Homes - TV3 Investigates - Presenter Mick Clifford Source: TV3

‘Firehouse Homes’ the one hour special by investigative journalist Mick Clifford airs on TV3 at 9pm tonight.

Read: The apartment which lost its roof to Storm Frank was built by Priory Hall’s Tom McFeely>

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