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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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"Our citizens were failed": President welcomes Priory Hall residents to Áras

President Michael D Higgins said he hoped they could look forward to a new year in which they could “move out of the shadows of anxiety, hurt and disappointment and look forward to new possibilities”.

Stephanie Meehan and her children meet President and Sabina Higgins
Stephanie Meehan and her children meet President and Sabina Higgins
Image: RTÉ / screengrab

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D. Higgins welcomed the former residents of Priory Hall to a reception in Áras an Uacharáin this afternoon, two months after a deal was agreed to end the uncertain situation they found themselves in after their north Dublin apartment complex was deemed unsafe to live in.

Amongst them was Stephanie Meehan, the woman whose story thrust the residents’ plight back into the national spotlight after it emerged her partner taken his own life during the summer. Stephanie attributed his suicide to the financial strain the family were under due to the evacuation of the complex in October 2011.

As part of a deal announced by the Government in October, the Priory Hall homes are being transferred to Dublin City Council, the residents’ credit ratings are being restored and they are being offered new mortgages by their original banks.

Addressing the residents this afternoon, President Higgins said they had had gone through an ordeal marked by “years of anxiety, frustration and an understandable dismay”. He used his speech to reflect on the failures of State institutions and of society in general that had occurred in the course of the property boom:

The decades from which we are moving are ones in which we will have to recall were ones, when, by breaches of trust in those institutions and professions where it had been placed, very many were left wounded – those who simply sought a home, but also so many of our citizens were deeply wounded as a people and as an economy. In failing to control speculation, by light or no regulation, our citizens were failed by those in whom trust was placed in their duty of care towards all of our citizens.

The ethical values necessary to be at the heart of any flourishing society not to speak of a Republic, were seen, by some, as a redundant relic of the past. The prevailing ethos of the property boom, dominated by an aggressive individualism and an almost reverential approach to speculative wealth, to consumption for its own sake.

It was a version of Ireland which was very far from the best values of a Republic, something that must not be allowed to re-emerge, that must be rejected, as we seek to close that failed chapter and begin to look forward with hope, and our characteristic resilience, to better and more responsible days ahead.

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The Priory Hall complex, photographed earlier this year [Support the Priory Hall Residents/Facebook]

In terms of the residents’ ordeal, he said they had fought together with “tenacity, determination and dignity in pursuit of single shared goal – a fair hearing, a just consideration, and just recompense”. He also paid tribute to Stephanie Meehan’s bravery in speaking publicly about her plight.

I would like to particularly mention Stephanie Meehan whose bravery and tenacity at a time of enormous personal tragedy moved and impressed a nation.

Stephanie’s dignity and generosity of spirit has been publicly acknowledged by the Priory Hall residents, and I would like to add my voice to theirs in thanking her for being an inspiration to us all and a true embodiment of courage in the face of tragedy.

President Higgins concluded his address by speaking of hope for “a new year to come” and said he wished the group “a 2014 in which they can move out of the shadows of anxiety, hurt and disappointment and look forward to new possibilities and new beginnings”.

Read: Bereaved resident urges Taoiseach to deal with Priory Hall

Read: “Breakthrough” as Priory Hall residents are offered a deal

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