Senator Power Calls for Action on Priory Hall in the Seanad

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Senator Averil Power: I raise an issue I have raised on several occasions in the House over the past 16 months, namely, the plight of the Priory Hall residents in Donaghmede. Families who as you know were forced to move out of their homes overnight in October or November of 2011. They have now just come through their second Christmas in temporary accommodation, still living with uncertainty about the future. All that is certain is that they are not going back to Priory Hall. The building was not fit for purpose when they left it and is now worse because it has been abandoned for the past 16 months. Yet the Residents are still waiting for a long-term solution and still wondering what they will do about their mortgages and when the millstone of their Priory Hall apartments will be taken from around their necks.
There has been a resolution process in place for several months bringing together the stakeholders to agree on a long-term solution. I tabled this Adjournment debate to ask the Minister of State if there is progress to be reported. I hope there is, because the continuing uncertainty is a nightmare for the families. It is also crazy from the State’s point of view because the longer this goes on, the greater the cost to the State. Before Christmas, it was reported that Dublin City Council had spent €2 million on Priory Hall since the residents were evacuated. That relates to the cost of short-term accommodation and the costs of securing a derelict building that should, at this stage, be knocked down. I want to raise the issue with the Minister of State to ensure it continues to be a Government priority and, hopefully, to bring a greater sense of urgency to the resolution process. Does the Minister of State have news to report and when we will finally see a solution for the residents of Priory Hall?

Deputy Dinny McGinley: I thank Senator Power for raising this matter and and for pursuing it.On behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, let me again acknowledge the stressful situation being faced by the Priory Hall residents who have been out of their homes for almost 16 months as the Senator has stated. I share the wishes of all concerned who would like to see this matter resolved. A Supreme Court hearing on an appeal by Dublin City Council against an order to pay for accommodation, storage and ancillary costs of residents forced to vacate their apartments at Priory Hall had been scheduled to take place on Tuesday, 24 April 2012, however on Friday, 20 April 2012, the Supreme Court agreed to adjourn these proceedings to allow for a conciliation process between the parties. The conciliation process is being chaired by retired judge Mr. Justice Finnegan, former judge of the Supreme Court and president of the High Court, and provides an appropriate context for the parties concerned to work together towards identifying a way forward in relation to this complex problem. Neither the Minister, Deputy Hogan, nor his Department are a party to the legal proceedings and have no direct role or involvement in relation to the conciliation process. Out of respect for the process approved by the Supreme Court and for the retired Mr. Justice Finnegan, the Minister has consistently declined to make any comment on the matter other than to urge all stakeholders to engage fully with it and this remains his position. No one at this point can anticipate the outcome of the process and it is important that all concerned now afford Mr. Justice Finnegan the opportunity to complete the task which he has been given.
Dublin City Council has made commendable efforts to provide for the needs of residents to date and continues to work proactively on behalf of the residents towards achieving the necessary and longed-for resolution of the issues at Priory Hall. Dublin City Council remains committed to taking every reasonable step in its power to achieve this objective and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will continue to liaise closely with the council in this regard.
In particular the council, with the assistance of the Department, in consultation with NAMA, has secured alternative temporary accommodation for many of the residents. The council, with some assistance from the Department, continues to bear the cost of such accommodation and has confirmed that it will continue to do so while the conciliation process is under way.
In the circumstances, I urge all concerned to allow Mr. Justice Finnegan the opportunity to complete the task he has been given.

Senator Averil Power: I thank the Minister of State for being present in the House to give this reply. I must take issue with the point made in the reply that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is not a party to the proceedings. Yes, the Department is not directly a party to the proceedings but Dublin City Council is, and the Department is responsible to this House for the actions of the local authorities around the country, including Dublin City Council.
As I said, Dublin City Council has spent more than €2 million of taxpayers’ money to date on short-term accommodation and on the security of the Priory Hall building. If the council had risen to its responsibilities and accepted from the start that it had played a part in bringing this disaster about in the first place and engaged with the residents, this could have been avoided. Instead it fought them through the courts and did everything possible to avoid being part of the solution to the problem. The residents unanimously agreed to be part of the resolution process and see it as a very positive thing. I agree that Mr. Justice Finnegan must be allowed to do his work but I take issue with the statement that the Department does not have a responsibility. The Department has a responsibility to put pressure on Dublin City Council as a direct party to the resolution process to ensure it does everything it can to bring about a positive resolution. Of course the banks are involved. Of course this whole debacle is a result of the disgusting and unscrupulous practices of a particular developer as well. However, I would like to see a more hands-on approach from the Government, because the Department is responsible for the Dublin City Council. We passed legislation in this House at 6 a.m. this morning for the liquidation of IBRC and I understand that, as a consequence, Priory Hall will be under NAMA. The Government has a relationship with NAMA and more pressure needs to be brought to bear on the State agencies involved to bring about a final solution as soon as possible and end this nightmare for the residents.

Deputy Dinny McGinley: I thank the Senator for her contribution. In the Minister’s absence I will bring it to his attention and I will ask him, if it is necessary to get in touch with the Senator on these matters.

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