Architects at odds over regulations intended to avoid another Priory Hall
Anger at attempts to ‘criminalise’ profession over planning failures
Several former presidents of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) are leading a revolt against its willingness to comply with new building regulations intended to avoid another Priory Hall débacle.
An extraordinary general meeting of members will take place on October 14th to debate a motion that the amended regulations will “not achieve the objective” of better consumer protection and will place an “intolerable liability” on architects.
It calls for the regulations to be amended to “deliver a system of building control to protect consumers’ interests” and ensure that the liability falling on participants in the building process is “reasonable, appropriate and insurable”.
‘Acceptable measures’ If Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan does not agree to amend the regulations in the manner suggested, the motion calls on the RIAI to make it clear that the profession “will not operate the system until acceptable measures are in place.”
Former RIAI president Eoin Ó Cofaigh has branded the regulations as an attempt to “criminalise” architects for the failure by local authorities to inspect construction sites, saying they were “the 21st-century equivalent of hanging children for stealing sheep”.
But current president Michelle Fagan insists that architects should have “nothing to fear . . . Comments about bankruptcy and the unavailability of professional indemnity insurance make no contribution to achieving a fair and workable system”.
In a message to members, she said architects “have always had to carry a substantial burden of liability” because of their role in building projects. “That is a reality that all practising architects, myself included, have to deal with throughout our professional lives.”
Ms Fagan said there had been “substantial” stakeholder engagement by the Department of the Environment. “We have already made good progress and are confident of making more progress through our participation in the stakeholder process”.
“Some suggest that we should walk away from these discussions. Why would we do so when we have achieved important changes with more in the pipeline? You have to ask yourself what would happen to the interests of architects if the RIAI walked away from the table.”
Based on recent experience, she warned that “the other parties around the table would continue the discussions and come up with an agreement which we would have to swallow because it would be imposed upon us or we would have to try to unpick”.
Hope and fear Ultimately, Ms Fagan told members, it was about a battle between hope and fear.
“Anger is simply not a credible policy – it will not change anything except lead to closed doors, shut-down and defensive positions. Engagement is the way forward,” she said.
Both sides of the argument are believed to have sought and received legal advice from eminent senior counsel on the implications for architects of the amended building regulations, particularly in terms of liability for defects in buildings that become evident later.