asked the Minister for the Environment if, in view of the fact that five people have been killed in recent months in falls from the balconies of flats in Ballymun, Dublin, he will institute an inquiry into the circumstances of the deaths, particularly with a view to establishing if the balconies could be made safer.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Ballymun (Dublin) Flat Deaths' Inquiry.
There are well established procedures for inquiring into deaths which may not have been due to natural causes and I have no function in regard to such procedures. The management of the Ballymun estate, including any safety aspects, is a function of Dublin Corporation. Nonetheless, I asked the corporation on 1 October for details of any measures they might have in mind to reduce the possibility of incidents occurring in future. They have stated in reply that the balconies conform to the safety standards which operated at the time of their provision and are in good condition. They also state that they have no special measures in mind at present as respects the safety aspects of the balconies. Further consideration of this matter will, I expect, take place within the context of discussions which the corporation's special sub-committee on Ballymun sought with me and which were initiated at a meeting held, at their request, on 31 October.
The Minister will be aware that there has been considerable disquiet in the Ballymun area as a result of five deaths within two months during the summer. Since I put down the question there has been a further accidental death of a young child following a fall from a window in a flat in Ballymun. The Department were responsible in the first place for the design and erection of these buildings. Would the Minister not accept that it is reasonable in these circumstances that the Department should inquire into these deaths and see if steps can be taken to make the flats more safe?
There are well established procedures for inquiring into deaths which occur due to unnatural causes but we have looked into the situation. When these flats were built there were no Irish standards but the British building regulation standards were adopted. They require that balconies should be at least 1.10 metres above floor level. In fact the balconies are 1.17 metres or 3' 10" above floor level. The standard proposed in the draft building regulations is 3' 11" above floor level. The balconies are within what is considered safe under the new building regulations. The corporation also indicate that there is no evidence to suggest that the balconies have any unsafe features or that any alterations may be necessary to them. We have asked the corporation and they have clearly indicated that there are no safety measures proposed. I certainly regret any deaths. When there are balconies at such a level, what is and what is not a safety factor? We are conforming with the general safety standards. Beyond closing the balcony areas completely, and I do not think that would be desirable, there is not very much more we can do.
A corporation special sub-committee are looking at Ballymun generally. The Minister and I met them last week and we will continue to consider all aspects of this matter this week. We will look at all safety aspects and we will look at any impediments which could cause serious accidents.
While the balconies may conform to the safety standards, clearly, in the Ballymun context, they are not operating in a safe manner. Would the Minister agree that the simple expedient of raising the safety height by means of a bar, or something of that nature, another nine or 12 inches could, at very low cost, contribute immeasurably to the safety factor of those balconies?
I am not against looking at this suggestion. I am concerned about the safety of people living in high rise flats. We will ask the corporation for their views on this and learn what the pitfalls might be. We have to ensure that any measures taken will not contain a danger element.
The Minister stated that there are procedures for inquiring into deaths but he will be aware that those procedures inquire into individual instances and do not necessarily relate one to the next. The fact is that five deaths of young adult men occurred within two months when they fell from balconies in the Ballymun flats. Some of these young men were residents of the Ballymun area and some were not. Does the Minister accept that there is a need to inquire into whether there are any links between the deaths or if they were purely coincidental and that it was unfortunate that they occurred within two months? In order to allay concern in the area would the Minister agree that there is a need to investigate the circumstances of these five deaths? This would assure the people that it is not something which is endemic to Ballymun that caused these deaths but that there are other circumstances.
Each case is treated individually. Such tragic accidents are logged and filed individually by the Garda Síochána. If there is a series of accidents the authorities would take note one against the other to find out if there is any correlation. If we set up a public inquiry we would be duplicating investigations. We have a system which works well. The information is available if the Deputy wants to pursue it.
We cannot have speeches.
I have not requested a general public inquiry into these matters. I simply asked the Department to inquire into the circumstances of these cases. Would the Minister request the Garda to furnish his Department with the results of their inquiries into these five deaths? As a matter of courtesy to the House would he make this information available to the Deputies representing the area so that they would be armed with the information necessary to inform the people concerned about this series of deaths?
Yes, I will arrange to do that. I am only too happy to do anything that would ensure that such accidents do not happen again and which would relieve the fears of the people living in the area. I will ask the Garda authorities to furnish the reports and I will make them available to Deputies.