Archive for November, 2010

‘Antilia’, The New Mumbai High-Rise Building – What A Mother !

2010-11-22:  It is difficult for any foreign news item, no matter how important, to penetrate the current economic media haze in Ireland and Europe … but latest reports from India put the casualty list after the Five-Storey Residential Building Collapse at Lalita Park in East Dilli’s Laxmi Nagar Area … which occurred on Monday evening (local time), 15 November 2010 … at 69 people dead, 82 injured, with perhaps as many as another 20 people still missing.

The Occupants of 38 Similar Neighbouring Properties have been told to immediately vacate the buildings by Dilli’s Municipal Authority.

Colour photograph showing the scene of the Five-Storey Residential Building Collapse at Lalita Park in East Dilli's Laxmi Nagar Area, which occurred on Monday evening (local time), 15 November 2010. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing the scene of the Five-Storey Residential Building Collapse at Lalita Park in East Dilli’s Laxmi Nagar Area, which occurred on Monday evening (local time), 15 November 2010. Click to enlarge.

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Faulty Construction appears to have been the principal cause for this serious collapse, according to media reports.  It may also have been an extra storey illegally added to an original, weak building structure … and/or heavy water logging of the building’s basement from the nearby Yamuna River during recent storms.

Dilli … its local name … is a very old and large city, and is the Capital of India.  New Delhi refers to the relatively more recent British Imperial Quarter … the urban plan of which and its principal buildings were designed by the British Architect, Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944).

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Within India, today, there is a strong political desire to achieve ‘Developed Country’ Status by 2020.  However, in Developed Countries … Collapse Level Events (CLE’s) are completely unacceptable … witness the public reaction to the collapses on 9-11 in New York.

The 2005 National Building Code of India … a copy of which is close at hand in my Dublin Office … is not mandatory.  It closely resembles the informal (i.e. not legal), but prescriptive, ‘Draft’, ‘Revised Draft’ and ‘Proposed’ Irish Building Regulations dating from the 1970’s and 1980’s … another Irish solution to an Irish problem !   The 2005 Indian Code has been drafted to deal with a large range of simple building types, their construction and related issues … certainly not any sort of Iconic, High-Rise Building of Innovative Design.  Anyway, the Code is still only at the initial stages of being adopted in India’s different States.  AND … there is not yet in place a National System of Local Building or Independent Technical Control … never mind an ‘Effective’ System of Control !

In a lightly regulated European legislative environment … it may come as a surprise to find out that the level of non-compliance on building sites in France, for example, has been placed as high as 68%, according to a colleague from CSTB (Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment) … the rate of non-compliance which was found by Energy Ireland (SEAI) on Irish building sites was 70%.

In India’s unregulated legislative environment … higher levels of non-compliance should be expected amongst indigenous building organizations.  AND … the percentage rate of non-compliance with foreign building organizations should be assumed to at least match those European figures quoted above.

There is a further complication in India and most of the rest of the developing world, however, because U.S. building design consultants will typically use one of the United States of America’s National Model Building Codes (including the International Building Code, which is also a U.S. National Model Building Code) … in preference to local building codes … whatever the local codes do, or do not, say.  We have a long experience of this approach in Ireland !   BUT … the U.S. Model Building Codes are not being adapted to suit local site conditions, building practices, safety factors, etc.  It sounds messy … and it is very messy !!

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A few quick words about  INDIA (Bhārata or Bharat, in Sanskrit) … a federal republic and a burgeoning country of extreme contrasts … which has a population of some 1,173,108,018 People (July 2010 estimated, U.S. CIA’s World Factbook).

Rapid economic development has driven India to prominence on the world stage … despite pressing problems such as significant overpopulation, extensive poverty and a startling degree of social inequity, environmental degradation, such as deforestation, soil erosion, overgrazing, desertification, air pollution from industrial effluents and vehicle emissions, water pollution from raw sewage and run-off of agricultural pesticides … and the widespread corruption which is a natural consequence following an extended period of harsh external imperial domination.  India became an independent country in 1947.

For the last few years, I have been travelling to this beautiful, complex land … from Chennai (Madras) and Bengaluru (Bangalore) in the south … to Dilli in the north.  Over 70 years before … my father, a native of Midleton in County Cork, was a teacher in Kolkata (Calcutta) and further north than Dilli.  He was trapped, there, from coming home during the 2nd World War (1939-1945).

For me, it has been a warm and rewarding experience to meet the people of India.

And … I am also very grateful for the hospitality shown by FSAI (Fire & Security Association of India).  Working together, we have successfully set a future direction for the FSAI’s National Fire Safety Agenda in India.

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Less recently in the news and, it seems, always for the wrong reasons … Mumbai (Bombay) … where of the approximately 14 Million (1.4 Crore, an Indian Unit of Measure) People living in this western city … capital of the State of Maharashtra, and the financial and entertainment capital of the country … an estimated 7,500,000 (75 Lakhs, an Indian Unit of Measure) People survive in its Slums.

Mumbai is also located in a Seismically Active Zone, due to the presence of 23 fault lines in the region …

Colour image showing the Seismic Zones on a Map of India. Taken from Indian Standard IS 1893 (Part 1) : 2002. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing the Seismic Zones on a Map of India. Taken from Indian Standard IS 1893 (Part 1) : 2002. Click to enlarge.

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During past years, a pattern of extraordinarily violent ‘Hive-Attacks’ have been carried out in Mumbai, with the aim of causing widespread terror amongst the general population and disrupting the city’s important Social & Economic Environments.  The attacks have involved the strategic targeting of Built Environment Places of Public Resort, Iconic Buildings, High-Rise Buildings, Buildings having a Critical Function, Transport Infrastructure and Service Utilities:

  • On 12 March 1993 … a series of 13 co-ordinated bombings … up until that date, the most destructive bomb explosions in Indian history … beginning at the Stock Exchange Building … resulted in 257 deaths and over 700 injuries.
  • On 11 July 2006 … 209 people were killed and over 700 injured when seven bombs exploded on the city’s commuter trains.
  • Commencing on 26 November 2008, and lasting for three days … a series of ten co-ordinated attacks resulted in 175 deaths, 308 injuries, and severe damage to a number of luxury hotels and historical landmarks.

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Colour photograph showing 'Antilia' - the recently occupied Private, Iconic, High-Rise Mansion of Innovative Design belonging to Shri Mukesh Ambani in Mumbai. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing ‘Antilia’ – the recently occupied Private, Iconic, High-Rise Mansion of Innovative Design belonging to Shri Mukesh Ambani in Mumbai. Click to enlarge.

How strange it is, then, in this particular city … that at the end of October 2010 … after seven years of construction … an Indian businessman, Shri Mukesh Ambani, and his family … should choose to occupy their own 27 floor/173 metre tall Private Mansionan Iconic, High-Rise Building of Innovative Design … within the near-sight of millions of slum dwellers !   The building is called ‘Antilia’ … the name of a mythical island in the Atlantic Ocean, lying to the west of Portugal ?!?

OK … Let’s Get the Easy Bits Over First …

     1.  Architecturally …  and somebody, somewhere needs to say this … ‘Antilia’ is a mother of an ugly building.  There is an old joke about a committee starting out to design a horse, and ending up with a camel.  In this case, a group of people started to design an impressive building, and ended up with a spotty rhinoceros !

     2.  From the point of view of Sustainable Human & Social Development …  consider the resources used in the design, construction and operation of this mother … an architectural phallic symbol of obscene opulence and cheap looking ‘bling-bling’ … in close proximity to extensive and deep-rooted slum poverty.  It may be ‘Green'(?) … BUT … this building is certainly Anti-Sustainable !   Is it any wonder that a Class Action has recently been taken against the U.S. Green Building Council and its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Building Rating System in the U.S. Courts ?

The Difficult Issues …

     3.  Structural Resilience …  I would really like to be assured, by a person competent to do so, that ‘Antilia’ has actually been designed to withstand “a magnitude-8 earthquake” (according to local media reports), i.e. no significant damage will occur to the structure or fabric of the building.

AND … that ‘Antilia’ has been designed to properly resist disproportionate damage in the event that any “military grade explosions” (according to local media reports) happen in the building, i.e. no significant damage will occur to the building’s structure.

But … why only “military grade explosions” ?   If an ‘incident’ does take place in the building, it will not be the poorly equipped Indian Army who will be placing the ‘ordinary’ explosives … and the Army will not have the required expertise to place the explosives in the most vulnerable part of the structure.

Never assume that the people who plan these sorts of ‘incidents’ are anything other than highly motivated, intelligent and technically competent !

     4.  Fire Protection & Safety …  this requires much repetition … but the 2005 National Building Code of India cannot deal adequately with this type of building … an Iconic, High-Rise Building of Innovative Design.  AND, most obviously … the 2005 Indian Code does not incorporate any of the important Recommendations contained in the 2005 & 2008 NIST(USA) Reports on the 9-11 WTC Buildings 1,2 & 7 Collapses.  I have suggested that this be done, with urgency, during an upcoming revision to the Code … but there is resistance !

9-11 in New York exposed a catastrophic failure … at all levels … in all of OUR common practices and procedures (architectural, engineering, first emergency response, regulatory, legislative, etc., etc) … used to design, construct and operate buildings generally !

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So … what does ‘Antilia’ … say about the Man … the Institutions of Governance and State Administration within Maharashtra … and India generally … at this time ???

Has this Man been well served by His Advisors … technical and otherwise ????

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New SDI Report on Climate Change Adaptation – Comments ?

This is the HomePage of my Technical Blog … but on a separate WebPage (see the toolbar above), I have been slowly building content, with links to related sources of information, on the subject of a CIB Working Commission 108 International Climate Change Project, which is about to enter its final important stage.

When published in the spring/early summer of next year … 2011 … the CIB W108 Report: ‘Sustainable Climate Change Adaptation in the Built Environment’ will comprise 2 Parts:

           I  – International Synthesis on Sustainable Climate Change Adaptation.

          II  – National Perspectives on Sustainable Climate Change Adaptation.

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Today, 18 November 2010 … I uploaded onto that separate WebPage the National Report for ‘IRELAND’, which will appear in Part II of the CIB Publication.  I am the person who drafted this report … and it has not been an easy task !   You will see that much attention is paid to institutional and implementation issues.

I now invite comments on the National Report … any comments … from those with a particular interest in the subject … and from the general public.

Comments should arrive here no later than Monday, 20th December 2010 … pretty please !

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Before commenting upon the National Report, however, it would be useful if you also took a glance at the following three relevant documents …

  • Ireland’s 5th National Communication (NC5) under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dated 3 March 2010 ;
  • UNFCCC In-Depth Review of Ireland’s 5th National Communication (NC5), dated 2 November 2010 ;
  • EU WHITE PAPER – Adapting to Climate Change: Towards a European Framework for Action … European Commission Communication COM(2009) 147 final, dated 1 April 2009.

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2009 EU White Paper – ‘Introduction’ (Page 3, first three paragraphs)

Climate change increases land and sea temperatures and alters precipitation quantity and patterns, resulting in the increase of global average sea level, risks of coastal erosion and an expected increase in the severity of weather-related natural disasters.  Changing water levels, temperatures and flow will in turn affect food supply, health, industry, and transport and ecosystem integrity.  Climate change will lead to significant economic and social impacts with some regions and sectors likely to bear greater adverse affects.  Certain sections of society (older people, people with activity limitations, low-income households) are also expected to suffer more.

Addressing climate change requires two types of response.  Firstly, and importantly, we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), i.e. take mitigation action … and secondly, we must take adaptation action to deal with the unavoidable impacts.  The EU’s recently agreed climate change legislation puts in place the concrete measures to reach the EU’s commitment to reduce emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 and is capable of being amended to deliver a 30% reduction if agreed as part of an international agreement in which other developed countries agree to comparable reductions and appropriate contributions by economically more advanced developing countries based on their responsibilities and capabilities.  However, even if the world succeeds in limiting and then reducing GHG emissions, our planet will take time to recover from the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.  Thus, we will be faced with the impact of climate change for at least the next 50 years.  We need therefore to take measures to adapt.

Adaptation is already taking place but in a piecemeal manner.  A more strategic approach is needed to ensure that timely and effective adaptation measures are taken, ensuring coherency across different sectors and levels of governance.

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2009 EU White Paper – The Proposed EU Framework: Objectives & Action (Page 7, #3)

The Objective of the EU’s Adaptation Framework is to improve the EU’s resilience to deal with the impact of climate change.  The framework will respect the principle of subsidiarity and support overarching EU objectives on sustainable development.

The EU’s framework adopts a phased approach.  The intention is that phase 1 (2009-2012) will lay the groundwork for preparing a comprehensive EU Adaptation Strategy to be implemented during phase 2, commencing in 2013.

Phase 1 (2009-2012) will focus on four pillars of action:

1)    building a solid knowledge base on the impact and consequences of climate change for the EU ;

2)    integrating adaptation into EU key policy areas ;

3)    employing a combination of policy instruments (market-based instruments, guidelines, public-private partnerships) to ensure effective delivery of adaptation ;    and

4)    stepping up international co-operation on adaptation.

For phase 1 to be a success … the EU, national, regional and local authorities must co-operate closely.

The proposals set out in this paper cover actions to be taken in the first phase and are without prejudice to the future structure of the EU budget and to the current and future multi-annual financial framework.

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IRELAND – Part II National Report for CIB W108 Climate Change Project

In the spring of 2007, the Department of Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) – Ireland’s statutory Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) – published the ‘National Climate Change Strategy 2007-2012’.  This document can be accessed and downloaded at … http://www.environ.ie/en/Environment/Atmosphere/ClimateChange/   It is of concern to note, however, that ‘Climate Change’ related content is not easy to find on this WebSite !   Comprehensive Enabling Climate Change Legislation, which this Department, and the Irish Government, initially promised for Easter 2010 … and then June 2010 … has, at the time of writing (mid-November 2010), still not made an appearance in the Dáil (Ireland’s Parliament) !

The Department of Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) lacks strong and competent political direction and the institutional capacity to effectively co-ordinate and oversee the implementation of National Climate Action.  For this reason, closer scrutiny of its activities will be required from the Dáil Committee System.

Contrary to current practice … Foreign Development Aid should not be used to obtain any sort of domestic or in-country credit for Ireland’s National Climate Change Strategy !

Specifically concerning Climate Change Adaptation … the following is stated on Page 45 of the 2007-2012 National Climate Change Strategy Document …

‘As part of a comprehensive policy position on climate change, the Government is committed to developing a national adaptation strategy over the next two years.  This strategy will provide a framework for the integration of adaptation issues into decision-making at national and local level.’

The DEHLG does not, however, intend to publish a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy until 2013 (Ireland’s NC5).

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Climate Change Action in Ireland – Summary

Ireland’s Climate Action to date, i.e. effective Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Implementation, has been laboriously slow and lethargic.  It may best be characterized as ‘Business as Usual’, combined with some ‘Cosmetic Tinkering at the Edges’ as the need arises … the universal excuse, almost a mantra, being that “the competitiveness of the national economy must not be impaired”.  National Performance has been guided by an official policy of exploiting to the maximum all of the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol’s Flexibility Mechanisms while, at the same time, showing a stark indifference to Climate Adaptation … an over-reliance on Marketing Campaigns in the public media as opposed to mandatory implementation on the ground … and a preference for ‘Soft’ Performance Estimation on paper/computer monitor rather than the more painful ‘real’ performance calculation, which would generate reliable data and statistics to be managed by Ireland’s Central Statistics Office, in co-ordination with EuroStat in Luxembourg.

Despite the importance of the Construction Sector in Ireland and Europe … and its very large adverse impacts on regional and local climate … a significant barrier to concerted Sectoral Climate Action exists because ‘construction’ is not yet identified as a separate Sector, by either the Environmental Protection Agency (Ireland) or the European Environment Agency (Copenhagen) … in National and European Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emission Databases.  Furthermore, our systems of governance and institutional organization, at both levels, do not appear to have the capacity … either to understand or to manage an effective response to the climate challenges created by the Sector.

Climate Change Mitigation Efforts are failing in Ireland; the current economic downturn merely camouflages that unpalatable fact.  Therefore, the necessary corrective actions described in this National Report fall under the heading of ‘Climate Change Adaptation’.

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Irish Nursing Home Care – Dysfunctional National Governance !!

On Tuesday last … 9 November 2010 … Ireland’s Office of the Ombudsman issued a Report to the Irish Oireachtas (the Dáil and Seanad) … in accordance with Section 6(7) of the 1980 Ombudsman Act … concerning an Investigation based on more than 1,000 individual complaints made, since 1985, on behalf of older people who were unable to get long-term nursing home care from their health boards … now the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Please Note Well … this Report is not just about Older People !

This document raises a number of very serious and fundamental issues concerning our current system of Dysfunctional National Governance in Ireland.  Every Irish person should, therefore, expend a small bit of time and effort in making themselves familiar with these problems … especially in the run-up to any by-elections … or, perhaps, even a general election … and certainly before we enter a prolonged period of being hammered in a Draconian Series of 4 Budgets !

This Report places a major question mark over the positions of Ms. Mary Harney T.D., Minister for Health & Children (a woman of strong ‘Boston-esque’, neo-liberal and anti-social convictions) … and the Senior Civil Servants (plural !) in Her Department.

And don’t be fooled into thinking, either, that the Department of Health & Children is our only dysfunctional national ministry !   See my previous Posts.

Ms. Emily O’Reilly, Ireland’s Ombudsman, deserves our full support !

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This is the Full Ombudsman’s Report …

9 November 2010 – Office of the Ombudsman

WHO CARES ? An Investigation into the Right to Nursing Home Care in Ireland

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (621kb)

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Conclusions (Executive Summary)

The conclusions of this investigation are easily stated:

  • The Health Act 1970 has required the State to provide nursing home care for those who need it.
  • It is an open question as to whether that obligation continues in place, notwithstanding recent amendments to the Health Act 1970.
  • The State has failed consistently to meet this obligation over four decades.
  • The State has failed over that same period, and despite repeated commitments (especially since 2001), to amend the law so as to bring actual practice and legal obligations into harmony.
  • Very many people over these decades have been deprived of their legal entitlement.
  • Access to nursing home care over this period has been marked by confusion, uncertainty, misinformation, inconsistency and inequity.
  • Very many people over this period have suffered significant adverse affect.
  • This situation has been allowed to continue with the full knowledge and consent of the responsible State agencies.
  • Arising from these failures, the State is now facing several hundred legal actions from, or on behalf of, people seeking compensation for the costs incurred in having to avail of private nursing home care.
  • These particular failures, which have been allowed to continue for decades, point inevitably to wider failures in government.

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The conduct of the investigation and the preparation of this report for the Oireachtas have been marked by an unprecedented level of rancour and disagreement.

The Department, in particular, has laid a multiplicity of charges against the Ombudsman regarding the manner in which the investigation has been conducted.  Amongst its charges are:

  • that the Ombudsman exceeded her jurisdiction in undertaking this investigation ;
  • that the Ombudsman failed to abide by fair procedures particularly in relation to the provision of a draft version of the investigation report ;
  • that the Ombudsman displayed prejudice and objective bias in the course of the investigation ;
  • that the Ombudsman displayed arrogance in purporting to interpret the law ;
  • that the Ombudsman has purported to deny the State bodies concerned their right to have the litigation (detailed in this report) determined by the Courts.

The Minister, acting on behalf of the Government, has informed the Ombudsman that the Government supports the submission of her Department in which these charges are made.  While the HSE, in general, has been more temperate, it has specifically charged the Ombudsman with attempting to influence the outcome of court proceedings.  In effect, the Department and the HSE are saying that the Ombudsman undertook this investigation in bad faith.

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In fact, the Ombudsman’s motivation in producing this report was five-fold:

     1. To highlight the very significant difficulties faced over several decades by families seeking to make arrangements for long-term nursing home care for a family member.

     2. To represent, in many instances through their own words, the distress and upset (including financial) of people who complained to the Ombudsman’s Office over the years in relation to nursing home care.

     3. To highlight the inadequacy and the tardiness of the State’s responses to these problems.

     4. To raise the issue of whether and, if so how, people adversely affected should have some recognition of having been failed by the State.

     5. To raise wider questions of governance prompted by the practices highlighted in this report.

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In the 2001 Report: ‘Nursing Home Subventions’, the then Ombudsman expressed the view that the issues of bad administration dealt with in that report reflected significant dysfunction in our system of government.  That view could, with only minor contextual amendments, be reproduced in full here with the same validity as in 2001.

The then Ombudsman identified deficits in three sets of relationships which, in his view, contribute significantly to this dysfunction.

These relationships are:

The Relationship between the Oireachtas and the Executive – the Constitutional model whereby the Legislature makes the laws and the Executive implements them has become a fiction; in fact, it is the Executive (Government) ‘which decides policy; which proposes legislation and ensures its passage through the Oireachtas and, subsequently, in its executive capacity ensures that the laws are implemented’.  Parliament is relatively powerless and not in a position to exercise the role (including that of calling the Executive to account) envisaged in the Constitution.

Relationships within the Executive – in the past, there was a clear division of functions as between the political (Ministerial) side and the official side.  The integrity of the governmental process depended, to a large extent, on the official side being seen to be non-political; the tension inevitably generated by this division was regarded as necessary and healthy.  “Good government”, as Professor Séamus Ó Cinnéide put it, “depended on a certain distance and balance between the two sides”.  This distance and balance no longer applies and, again to quote Professor Ó Cinnéide, this change is part of “an unspoken revolution in our system of governance”.  Again, another key element in the overall model of government has been discarded or, at the very least, diluted considerably.

Relationship between Department and Health Boards – similar to the relationships within the Executive, the relationship between the Department and the health boards is most effective where the latter are prepared to keep a certain distance from the former and to exercise, as necessary, their status as independent, statutory bodies.  But the health boards, for the greater part, failed to act independently; to ‘a large extent, health boards appear to act in relation to the Department as if they are satellites rather than independent bodies […]   The majority of the health boards were prepared to continue with a scheme, about which they increasingly had doubts, for as long as the Department told them they should.’

The present Ombudsman comments on these three areas from the perspective of today and concludes that, if anything, matters have disimproved rather than improved.  In relation to the role of the Oireachtas, the Ombudsman observes that parliament has been sidelined and exercises only a limited role.  Reflecting the views of many commentators, the Ombudsman observes that our governmental arrangements are undermined significantly by virtue of having an Executive which is too powerful and a Legislature which is too weak.

As regards relationships within the Executive, and taking the example of the Department of Health & Children, the Ombudsman observes that the distance between Ministers and senior civil servants – which was a necessary feature of our model of government – no longer exists.  In the wider context of the health service, the Ombudsman draws attention to a continuing confusion as to the respective roles of the HSE and of the Department.

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Findings (Executive Summary)

The Ombudsman finds, in relation to the type of complaints dealt with in this investigation, that the health boards (HSE) failed to fulfil their obligations to older people under section 52 of the Health Act 1970 and that this failure came about with the full knowledge and agreement of the Department.  As a result of these failures, very many older people (and their families) suffered significant adverse affect over several decades.  The Ombudsman finds that these failures of the health boards (HSE) and of the Department constitute (to use the language of the Ombudsman Act) actions “based on an undesirable administrative practice” and also actions “contrary to fair or sound administration”.  These findings are at a level of generality as this investigation is an ‘own initiative’ one rather than one linked to specific, named complainants.

The Ombudsman takes the view that the HSE and the Department should acknowledge formally that the State, in the case of older people needing long-term nursing home care, has not been meeting its obligations under section 52 of the Health Act 1970.  This acknowledgment could be in the form of a public statement from the two bodies and could be made on a ‘without prejudice’ basis.

There is no satisfactory solution to the issue of whether there should be financial redress for those who have been adversely affected by the State’s failure to provide long-stay care.  The financial consequences for the State, in meeting a recommendation to compensate all those adversely affected, would be enormous, potentially running to several billion euros.  In present circumstances, it appears this is not a cost which the State can meet.  Nor is it likely that the State will be in a position to meet this type of charge for many years to come.  On the other hand, not to recommend financial redress, might be seen as condoning maladministration and allowing bad practice to go unchecked.  It would also mean that individual people and their families are being left with nowhere to turn and with a financial burden to bear which, as the Ombudsman understands the law, should have been borne by the State.

With considerable reluctance, the Ombudsman takes the view that in present circumstances the public interest is best served in not recommending any specific redress in the sense of financial compensation for those affected adversely.  The Ombudsman suggests that some thought be given within the Department to devising some limited scheme under which families which have suffered serious financial hardship might be assisted.  One possibility, in this regard, is that the existing Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme might provide the statutory mechanism for the making of one-off payments, based on exceptional need, for such people affected adversely by the State’s failure to provide nursing home care for a family member.

The Ombudsman feels it is vital that steps be taken to prevent situations, such as described in this report, coming about in the future; or, where they do come about, there should be mechanisms in place to deal with them at an early stage.  The Ombudsman proposes that, in future, measures to deal with such instances should be conducted with full transparency and in the public domain.  The Ombudsman proposes the creation of an independent group whose function would be to advise Government on how best to handle legal actions, or threatened legal actions, which involve numbers of people and which arise from a contended failure of a State agency to meet statutory obligations particularly in instances where those claimed to be affected belong to a vulnerable group in society.  Past examples of situations where such an approach might have been helpful include:

          –   the army deafness claims ;

          –   the contaminated blood claims ;

          –   education rights of autistic children ;

          –   provision of secure care for children ;    and

          –   the right of older people to long stay nursing home care.

This proposal is based on the premise that the State should react to such situations, not simply in legalistic terms, but in terms which have regard both to legal rights (including human rights), to the State’s finances and the overall public interest.  The proposal envisages that, while ultimate legal responsibility for dealing with such claims will continue to rest with the State (and its relevant agency), the direction of the State’s response should have regard to the advice of this group.  Amongst the options for this group would be that of stating a case to the High Court, perhaps at an early stage, in order to get legal clarity where that is needed.  The overall thrust of this proposal is that the State’s response to situations of this kind should be speedy, be made at an early stage, and be based on considerations of fairness and the public good rather than, as tends to happen at present, being defensive, combative and legalistic.

Some thought might be given to the possibility of such a group acting as adviser to the Attorney General in fulfilling the role of guardian of the public interest or, alternatively, that this group would replace the Attorney General in fulfilling that role.  In any case, there is certainly considerable scope for improving our governmental mechanisms with a view to ensuring that, where these major issues arise, they will be handled always with a view to securing the public interest.

Emily O’Reilly – Ombudsman – November 2010

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Hazards in Attic Roof Spaces – A Strong Dose of ‘Reality’ !

It’s all happening here !   From trawling the depths of European Union (EU) Legislation in my last Post … to the heights of Attic Roof Spaces in Ireland … what a magnificent contrast !!

This Post has nothing to do with this law, or that law … or the proper technical control of these sorts of troubling situations.  It has everything to do with a strong dose of Reality’ … and the typical sorts of Serious Hazards which lurk quietly, unannounced and generally unheeded in most houses … houses which are occupied by ordinary, average people.

The following photographs could have been taken in almost any house, anywhere in the country !   These particular photographs, however, were taken during a House Inspection for a good friend, somewhere in County Wicklow, during May 2010 …

Colour photograph showing the typical clutter which can accumulate, over time, in an Attic Roof Space. Wait and see, however, what else is happening underneath and around this clutter. Smoke Detectors should always be fitted in these Spaces as a matter of routine. Also ... notice that this is a trussed timber roof. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing the typical clutter which can accumulate, over time, in an Attic Roof Space. Wait and see, however, what else is happening underneath and around this clutter. Smoke Detectors should always be fitted in these Spaces as a matter of routine. Also ... notice that this is a trussed timber roof. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

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Colour photograph showing fire scorched thermal insulation. Careless Hot Works are a major cause of fires in ALL building types! Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing fire scorched thermal insulation. Careless Hot Works are a major cause of fires in ALL building types! Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

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Colour photograph showing that there is NO fire separation between this house and the neighbouring house at the junction between the party wall and the roof covering. And ... once fire enters this Attic Roof Space, those thin metal connecting plates in the roof trusses will rapidly lose strength, and the entire roof will then collapse. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing that there is NO fire separation between this house and the neighbouring house at the junction between the party wall and the roof covering. And ... once fire enters this Attic Roof Space, those thin metal connecting plates in the roof trusses will rapidly lose strength, and the entire roof will then collapse. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

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Colour photograph showing a very badly constructed party wall ... see the many gaps in the joints between the concrete blocks. Just because a wall is made of masonry ... do not, for a single moment, assume that it is either smoke resisting or sound resisting. Also ... notice the sloppy DIY electrics. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing a very badly constructed party wall ... see the many gaps in the joints between the concrete blocks. Just because a wall is made of masonry ... do not, for a single moment, assume that it is either smoke resisting or sound resisting. Also ... notice the sloppy DIY electrics. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

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Colour photograph showing, after I had pulled back a portion of thermal insulation, where the insulation had completely covered a downlighter. In other parts of this Attic Roof Space chipboard, to hold all of the clutter, covers the transformers as well. Downlighters need direct ventilation to facilitate the escape of heat. Also ... note the trap doorset is not fire and smoke resisting. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing, after I had pulled back a portion of thermal insulation, where the insulation had completely covered a downlighter. In other parts of this Attic Roof Space chipboard, to hold all of the clutter, covers the transformers as well. Downlighters need direct ventilation to facilitate the escape of heat. Also ... note the trap doorset is not fire and smoke resisting. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

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Colour photograph showing thermal insulation packed tightly into the roof eaves ... choking off essential ventilation pathways. Thermal insulation was also placed under the water storage tanks ... exposing them to freezing external conditions during cold winter nights. Thick, multi-layered thermal insulation will also conceal the bottom horizontal members in all types of timber roof construction ... expect more fall accidents through ceilings in the future! Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing thermal insulation packed tightly into the roof eaves ... choking off essential ventilation pathways. Thermal insulation was also placed under the water storage tanks ... exposing them to freezing external conditions during cold winter nights. Thick, multi-layered thermal insulation will also conceal the bottom horizontal members in all types of timber roof construction ... expect more fall accidents through ceilings in the future! Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-05-21. Click to enlarge.

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There are simple Design and Construction Solutions to all of these problems … and Competent, Independent Technical Control over the works being carried out is absolutely essential.

BUT … Dysfunctional Government Departments and State Agencies are still … to this day … directly sponsoring and knowingly contributing to these hazardous situations in our homes !

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EU Sustainable vs. Green Public Procurement – Beware !

2010-11-02:  For a long, long time … too long … I have been bleating on about the major and substantial difference between Sustainable Design and Green Design … or ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Green-ness’.  See my previous Posts.

This bores me no end !

HOWEVER … there are some serious implications if this difference is not properly understood … particularly by individuals, groups or organizations attempting to advance the Application of Criteria which address Social and/or Ethical Concerns within, for example, the European Union’s Public Procurement Framework … or the EU’s Construction Product Framework.

The following is a nice little example of exactly what I am talking about … explained by no less an authority than the Directorate General for Environment in the European Commission itself … on its very own Public Procurement WebPage at  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/gpp/index_en.htm … as viewed, by me, on 2010-09-12 …

[ For a moment, let’s just overlook the simplistic and crude ‘three pillars’ understanding of Sustainable Development.  See my previous Posts.]

Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP) … means that public authorities seek to achieve the appropriate balance between the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – when procuring goods, services or works at all stages of the project.

Green Public Procurement (GPP) … means that public authorities seek to procure goods, services and works with a reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle compared to goods, services and works with the same primary function that would otherwise be procured.

Practical Differences Between SPP & GPP !

GPP is often more easily accommodated than SPP within the existing legal and practical framework of procurement.  Green requirements can be included in technical or performance-based specifications for products, services and works.  Provided the conditions set out in the ‘Helsinki Bus’ and ‘Wienstrom’ Cases, and Evropaïki Dynamiki vs. European Environment Agency (EEA) … are met, green award criteria can also be applied (further information on these cases is available at  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/gpp/case_law_en.htm).

The application of Criteria aimed at addressing Social or Ethical Concerns can be more difficult in the context of regulated public procurement procedures.  Public authorities are specifically empowered to include social requirements in their conditions for the performance of contracts or to reserve certain contracts for performance by sheltered workshops or employment programmes (Articles 26 and 19 of Directive 2004/18/EC respectively).

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My Note:  DIRECTIVE 2004/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 31 March 2004, on the co-ordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts, public supply contracts and public service contracts.

[ For another moment, let’s just overlook the unfortunate use of disability-related language … which fails, utterly, to take account of the 2001 World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability & Health (ICF).  See my previous Posts.]

Article 19 – Reserved Contracts

Member States may reserve the right to participate in public contract award procedures to sheltered workshops or provide for such contracts to be performed in the context of sheltered employment programmes where most of the employees concerned are handicapped persons who, by reason of the nature or the seriousness of their disabilities, cannot carry on occupations under normal conditions.

The contract notice shall make reference to this provision.

Article 26 – Conditions for Performance of Contracts

Contracting authorities may lay down special conditions relating to the performance of a contract, provided that these are compatible with Community law and are indicated in the contract notice or in the specifications.  The conditions governing the performance of a contract may, in particular, concern social and environmental considerations.

ANNEX VI – Definition of Certain Technical Specifications

For the purposes of this Directive:

1. (a)  ‘technical specification’, in the case of public works contracts, means the totality of the technical prescriptions contained in particular in the tender documents, defining the characteristics required of a material, product or supply, which permits a material, a product or a supply to be described in a manner such that it fulfils the use for which it is intended by the contracting authority.  These characteristics shall include levels of environmental performance, design for all requirements (including accessibility for disabled persons) and conformity assessment, performance, safety or dimensions, including the procedures concerning quality assurance, terminology, symbols, testing and test methods, packaging, marking and labelling and production processes and methods.  They shall also include rules relating to design and costing, the test, inspection and acceptance conditions for works and methods or techniques of construction and all other technical conditions which the contracting authority is in a position to prescribe, under general or specific regulations, in relation to the finished works and to the materials or parts which they involve ;

    (b)  ‘technical specification’, in the case of public supply or service contracts, means a specification in a document defining the required characteristics of a product or a service, such as quality levels, environmental performance levels, design for all requirements (including accessibility for disabled persons) and conformity assessment, performance, use of the product, safety or dimensions, including requirements relevant to the product as regards the name under which the product is sold, terminology, symbols, testing and test methods, packaging, marking and labelling, user instructions, production processes and methods and conformity assessment procedures ;

2.  ‘standard’ means a technical specification approved by a recognised standardising body for repeated or continuous application, compliance with which is not compulsory and which falls into one of the following categories:

–  International Standard: a standard adopted by an international standards organisation and made available to the general public ;

–  European Standard: a standard adopted by a European standards organisation and made available to the general public ;

–  National Standard: a standard adopted by a national standards organisation and made available to the general public.

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In order for a Criterion … any Criterion … to be acceptable within the European Union’s Public Procurement Framework, it should be expressly linked to the subject matter of the Contract … should be specific … and should be capable of objective verification.

Beware !!

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