The Irish Times

Buildings & Firefighters Not Yet Safer ! – 10 Years After 9-11 (II)

2011-09-20:  Continuing on from where I left off on 11 September 2011

Applying the Recommendations contained in the 2005 & 2008 National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST – USA) Reports on the 9-11 WTC Buildings 1, 2 & 7 Collapses to the everyday practice of Architecture and Fire Engineering has been a central part of our work for many years.  Long discussions on this subject have taken place within CIB (International Council for Building Research) Working Commission 14: ‘Fire Safety’ … and I also chair Commission 14’s Research Working Group IV on ‘Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse’.

My particular interest in Disproportionate Damage and Progressive Collapse reaches back as far as the late 1980’s !

So I was intrigued, amused … and at the same time, highly concerned … to read the following Letter to the Editor of the Irish Times Newspaper, on Saturday 10 September 2011 …

Recalling 9/11

Sir, – One of the most important factors in the tragedy of 9/11, and one that has received scant attention, was the mode of failure of the towers.

They were struck high up on their structures and failed via progressive collapse.  Had they been designed this side of the Atlantic, they would not have collapsed.  These were flimsy structures. –

Yours, etc,

Jim Ryan, Chartered Structural Engineer,

Waterfall, Cork.

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JIM …  If the WTC Towers (which were not flimsy structures !) had been designed on this side of the Atlantic … they would have collapsed.

Furthermore …  If the Towers had only been completed last week in the USA, Ireland, England & Wales, India or China … they would still collapse, if a similar event were to occur next year.

To be crystal clear …  What we witnessed, on Tuesday 11 September 2001, was a Collapse Level Event (CLE) which exposed, very harshly and cruelly, a catastrophic failure in all of our common Design and Construction Practices and Procedures used in/by/as …

  • Architectural Design | (Ambient) Structural Engineering | Fire Engineering ;
  • Building Management Systems ;
  • Emergency Responders | Firefighters | Rescue Teams ;
  • Technical Control Organizations Having Authority (AHJ’s) or Jurisdiction ;
  • Fire Safety Objectives in Building Legislation, Codes and Standards.

To the average ‘person in the street’ …  Whether he/she lives in Manhattan or Chicago in the USA, Dublin or Cork in Ireland, Cardiff or London in Britain, Dilli or Mumbai in India, Beijing or Shanghai or Hong Kong in China … it is unacceptable that buildings collapse … entirely unacceptable !!

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COLLAPSE OF WTC BUILDINGS 1, 2 & 7

JIM …  Unless you believe in conspiracy theories, please study the 2005 & 2008 NIST(USA) Reports on the 9-11 WTC Buildings 1, 2 & 7 Collapses.  The 2 Final Reports can be downloaded from this Page on Sustainable Design International’s Corporate WebSitehttp://www.sustainable-design.ie/fire/structdesfire.htm … along with other key documents and links.

Some indication of the enormous quantity of 9-11 WTC Incident Documentation issued by NIST(USA) can be seen below …

Colour photograph showing the enormous quantity of 9-11 WTC Incident Documentation, issued by the U.S. National Institute of Standards & Technology, which is still readily available for the public to access and download.

Colour photograph showing the enormous quantity of 9-11 WTC Incident Documentation, issued by the U.S. National Institute of Standards & Technology, which is still readily available for the public to access and download.

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PUBLIC SAFETY 10 YEARS AFTER 9-11 ?

If it is entirely unacceptable to the Public that buildings collapse … in how many National Building Codes does the following Critical Public Safety Equation appear today ?   The answer is NONE !

Colour image showing Page 21 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing Page 21 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

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Is there some fundamental reason why Levels of Safety for the Public should vary so much from one country to another ?   NO, there is not !

Within Europe, and in relation to the New EU Construction Product Regulation 305/2011, which I discussed here a few days ago … the European Commission, in a discussion document dating back to the mid-1980’s, suggested that the only way to effectively realize a Single Market for Construction Products would be to introduce Harmonized EU Building Regulations in all of the EU Member States.  Of course the Member States, at the time, went ballistic at the very mention of this idea … and it was quickly withdrawn.  I take great pleasure in repeating that important idea today.

Jim …  The Critical Public Safety Statement above is fully consistent with … and meets … the ‘Basic Requirements for Construction Works’ in Annex I of EU Regulation 305/2011.

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However, in relation to any one EU Member State … let’s take Ireland as an example … compare a situation where, in a remote rural location, it might take almost an hour for a sufficient fire service presence to arrive at the scene of a building fire emergency … with a similar situation in the middle of a city, or large town, where the time required will not be greater than 15 minutes … then, although the Level of Safety for the Public can be / should be / must be the same in both situations … I would expect, in the remote rural location having a poor fire service support infrastructure, that the range of Fire Protection Measures to be employed in a typical building would be more extensive, and the performance expected of those Measures would be higher … in order to achieve an Equivalent Level of Safety in both rural and urban locations.  Is that not a rational idea ??

Unfortunately, that’s not how the present systems work … National or European !   Levels of Public Safety differ from one country to the next … and from one region, within any one country, to the next … without any good reason … and without meaningful consultation and the full understanding of the Public.

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BUILDINGS & FIREFIGHTERS ARE NOT YET SAFER

JIM …  In spite of all of the spin coming from the other side of the Atlantic … and discounting criminality and fraud in construction practices … Buildings and Firefighters are not yet safer … because the large, difficult, complex flaws and failures in Conventional Fire Engineering have not yet been aggressively confronted … and properly solved.

In a post last year, on 18 October 2010 … I referred to the Cul-de-Sac of Current Fire Engineering … and illustrated a typical architectural detail in a Dublin Building – a common detail also to be found in India, China, USA, England & Wales, etc., etc – which demonstrates a Fundamental Flaw at the very core of conventional thinking and practice.

On Thursday next … 22 September 2011 … at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar and Workshop in the RDS, Dublin … I will present this flawed detail … and a solution which is fully compatible with … and answers … the NIST Recommendations !

BUT … would anybody like to show me where any National Building Codes have been revised and updated to solve this Fundamental Flaw ?

Colour image showing Page 33 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing Page 33 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

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Colour image showing Page 35 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing Page 35 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

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Colour image showing Page 36 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing Page 36 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

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Colour image showing Page 37 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing Page 37 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

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Colour image showing Page 38 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing Page 38 from my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

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A CASE STUDY OF ENGLAND & WALES

10 years after 9-11 … there are two reasons for taking a closer look at England & Wales (Britain)

  • The Building Regulations for England & Wales were used as the model for the Irish Building Regulations, which were first introduced here in the early 1990’s.  And, in the absence of Harmonized European Standards … British National Standards tend, with only a few exceptions, to become the default Irish National Standard ;
  • British National Standards are being applied in many different parts of the world outside England & Wales … in most cases, without any proper consideration of content … or adaptation to local conditions.

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Colour image showing the Cover Page of Approved Document B: 'Fire Safety' ... Volume 2 - Buildings Other Than Dwellinghouses ... from the Building Regulations for England & Wales. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing the Cover Page of Approved Document B: 'Fire Safety' ... Volume 2 - Buildings Other Than Dwellinghouses ... from the Building Regulations for England & Wales. Click to enlarge.

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The Institution of Fire Engineers (Ireland) Annual Fire Conference, which was held last year, on Wednesday 20th October 2010 … in the Dublin Fire Brigade Training Centre, Marino, Dublin … threw up some interesting ‘notions’ for consideration by a diverse range of participants.

One curious proposition … repeated quite often during the day … was that Approved Document B, in the British System of Building Regulations, was basically still a sound document … and that it should pass an upcoming major review with little difficulty.

I don’t agree … Approved Document B is inadequate and dysfunctional !

With regard to Structural Performance in Fire … instead of referring to Approved Document A – Structure … the reader is referred to Appendices at the back of Approved Document B, which only reinforce the erroneous concept of Single Structural Element Fire Protection …

And along with its many other major problems … see my post, dated 2009-06-14 … British Standard BS 9999 takes no account of any of the 2005 & 2008 NIST Recommendations, Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse or Disproportionate Damage … and, in fact, directly conflicts with aspects of the Building Regulations for England & Wales …

Colour image showing Page 51 in the Appendix of my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing Page 51 in the Appendix of my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

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In order to take a close look at Approved Document B … I used the vehicle of a Notional Hotel Project in Cardiff, Wales … similar to the Early 1990’s Dublin Hotel Project shown above …

Colour image showing Page 52 in the Appendix of my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing Page 52 in the Appendix of my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

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With regard to properly showing Fitness for Intended Use of Fire Protection related Products and Building Systems … instead of referring to Regulation 7 … the reader is again referred to Appendices at the back of Approved Document B … which explains why we have such serious problems, i.e. lack of Durability and very low Resistance to Mechanical Damage, with the Thermal Insulation Products used for the Fire Protection of Structural Steelwork …

I also had to quote from Part D of the Irish Building Regulations to fill a gap in the British Regulation 7

Colour image showing Page 53 in the Appendix of my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

Colour image showing Page 53 in the Appendix of my Overhead Presentation on 'Sustainable Fire Engineering' ... scheduled for this Thursday, 22 September 2011, at the ASFP Ireland Fire Seminar & Workshop ... to be held at the RDS, in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Click to enlarge.

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Older People in Emergencies – Urgent Action Required !! (I)

2009-11-25:  In the midst of an economic, financial and fiscal crisis in Ireland … the country has recently been hit by a Major Flood Emergency in the West and South … extending inland almost to the centre.  The emergency will continue over the next few days.

There appears to be no central co-ordination of the response to this National Emergency.  No public guidance or other announcements have been published in the national media.

Further to the full page advertisement promoting the National Older & Bolder Campaign, which was printed on Page 7 of The Irish Times (2009-11-19) … the contents of World Health Organization (WHO) Fact Sheet: ‘Older Persons in Emergencies’, drafted following the 2006 Lebanon Humanitarian Crisis, are both appropriate and particularly relevant for Ireland now …

When dealing with older people in emergencies, a number of issues which might affect them will require special consideration.  Apart from specific chronic disease and disability related issues, two major factors contribute to increased vulnerability of older people in emergencies: the ‘normal’ challenges of physical ageing and social loss, and the ‘environmental’ challenges.  In a crisis, minor impairments which do not interfere with daily functioning in the normal environment can quickly become major handicaps that overwhelm an individual’s capacity to cope.  For instance, an older person with arthritic knees and diminished vision, living alone in a high-rise apartment with no family members or friends nearby, can become incapable of getting food or water or of fleeing danger, and may be overlooked by neighbours.

Specific Issues

There are several specific issues that affect older people, separately or in combination, and which can impact on their ability to respond or react in an emergency.  Awareness of these specific issues by all those giving aid, or surrounding them, will improve interactions.  Knowledge of the age profile in an affected community, as an emergency response is prepared, will help to ensure that older people at risk are identified and that appropriate supplies and services are provided on-site.

The specific issues affecting older people are:

1.   Sensory Deficits (especially vision and hearing)

  • reduced awareness ;
  • difficulty accessing and comprehending visual and auditory information, and responding appropriately ;
  • reduced mobility and risk of disorientation.

2.   Slower Comprehension and Retention of Information (especially new, complex or rapidly delivered information)

  • difficulty accessing information ;
  • difficulties in understanding and acting on risks, warnings, directions ;
  • reduced capacity for self-protection and avoidance of harm ;
  • disorientation in unfamiliar environments ;
  • greater risk for abuse and exploitation ;
  • provision of information in more accessible and structured formats.

3.   Less Efficient Thermoregulation

  • greater susceptibility to hypothermia, hyperthermia and dehydration ;
  • appropriate shelter, clothing and food, as well as adequate fluid intake.

4.   Reduced Functional Ability (poorer balance and reduced speed, psycho-motor co-ordination, strength and resistance)

  • reduced mobility and risk of being housebound ;
  • increased risk of falling ;
  • decreased capacity for self-protection and harm-avoidance ;
  • difficulty getting basic necessities and accessing health facilities, e.g. local clinics ;
  • increased vulnerability to abuse and exploitation.

5.   Difficulties in Urinary Continence

  • need for adequate toilet facilities and continence supplies.

6.   Oral Health & Dental Problems

  • easy-to-eat soft food and fluids may be necessary.

7.   Changes to Patterns of Digestion 

  • need for smaller, more frequent portions of easily-digestible, nutrient-dense food and adequate fluids.

8.   Increased Body Fat Composition, with Decreased Muscle Mass and Metabolic Rates

  • greater sensitivity to certain medications with potential adverse effects on functional ability and cognition.

9.   Greater Prevalence, and Co-Morbidity of Ageing-Related Chronic Disease and Disability (e.g. coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, cancers, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, cognitive impairment)

  • need for condition-specific medications, treatments, medical device and assistance aids (oxygen, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, glasses) ;
  • higher risk for adverse drug reactions.

10.  Weaker and Smaller Social Networks (e.g. widowed, living alone, minimal contact with neighbours, dispersion of family)

  • reduced awareness and comprehension of the situation ;
  • greater risk of social isolation, neglect, abandonment, abuse and exploitation.

11.  Heavy Reliance on Care and Support by Very Few Family Members

  • when essential family support is disrupted, physical and psychological functioning can deteriorate rapidly ;
  • reunification with family is particularly important.

12.  Psycho-Social Issues

  • reactions to loss of home, family and possessions can be more acute for older people who cannot rebuild their lives ;
  • resistance to leaving, and grieving, may be strong.

13.  Reliance of Other Family Members on Older People

  • older people often care for other dependent adults and children and may require resources for others as well as themselves.

Last but not least: Older People should not be considered solely as a Special Needs Group.  From numerous accounts of natural disaster and armed conflict situations, it is known that their knowledge of the community, previous experiences with such events, and position of respect and influence within their families and communities are critical resources in dealing effectively with emergencies.

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Institutions of National Governance – Criminally Dysfunctional ?

2009-05-28:  A week can be a long time in Ireland … during this last seven days, in particular, a time of harrowing emotions … horror, shame, disbelief, anger, pain, embarrassment … and relief that the truth has finally been revealed …

 

On Wednesday, 20th May 2009, at 14.30 hrs … the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was published at a launch, before a select audience, in Dublin’s Conrad Hotel.  Victims of that child abuse and representative groups were barred, with the support of Gardaí, from attending.

 

Has anything really changed ?

 

The Commission was established on 23rd May 2000 … under the 2000 Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act (No.7 of 2000) … and given three primary functions:

         to hear evidence of abuse from persons who allege they suffered abuse in childhood, in institutions, during the period from 1940 or earlier, to the present day ;

         to conduct an inquiry into abuse of children in institutions during that period and, where satisfied that abuse occurred, to determine the causes, nature, circumstances and extent of such abuse ;   and

         to prepare and publish reports on the results of the inquiry and on its recommendations in relation to dealing with the effects of such abuse.

 

The Chairperson of the Commission, Mr. Justice Seán Ryan, is a judge of the High Court.

 

The full Ryan Commission Report can be downloaded here … www.childabusecommission.com/rpt/pdfs/

 

 

Although Commission Recommendation No.5 (Volume IV, Chapter 7, Paragraph 7.06) states …

 

Childcare policy should be child-centred.  The needs of the child should be paramount.

The overall policy of childcare should respect the rights and dignity of the child and have as its primary focus their safe care and welfare.  Services should be tailored to the developmental, educational and health needs of the particular child.  Adults entrusted with the care of children must prioritise the wellbeing and protection of those children above personal, professional or institutional loyalty.

 

[ Why is this critical Recommendation only in position ‘5’ ?   Concerning the rights and dignity of children, why is the word ‘should’ used instead of ‘must’ ? ]

 

… none of the 20 Commission Recommendations refer directly to the 1989 United Nations (OHCHR) Convention on the Rights of the Child, which became an International Legal Instrument on 2nd September 1990 … and which Ireland signed on 30th September 1990, and later ratified on 28th September 1992.

 

The Convention has not yet been fully incorporated into Irish National Law.  Why not ?

 

In relation to Ireland, the UN (OHCHR) Committee on the Rights of the Child observed the following in late 2006 …

 

” … the Committee regrets that some of the concerns expressed and recommendations made have not yet been fully addressed, in particular those related to the status of the child as a rights-holder and the adoption of a child rights-based approach in policies and practices.”

 

 

 

Some Comments & Questions …

 

1. The Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland (with the notable exception of Dublin Archbishop, Dr. Diarmuid Martin), the Catholic Religious Orders and the Catholic Church generally … have lost their moral authority … and all credibility.  If child abuse was deeply in-grained and systemic in Ireland’s institutions … what was happening in institutions run by the 18(?) Irish Religious Congregations in other countries ?   What assets have been transferred out of Ireland by the 18(?) Irish Religious Orders since the year 2000 ?

 

2. The Irish Government Ministry having jurisdiction … the Department of Education … has been clearly shown to be criminally dysfunctional.  What radical changes in its organization, policies, practices and procedures will be put in place following the Ryan Commission Report ?   We also ask the same question of the Department of Health & Children !

 

 

 

Perhaps Unnoticed … Another Institution …

 

Reported in an article on Page 4 of The Irish Times (2009-05-21) … on the same day that the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse published its findings … 20th May 2009 … the family of a six-year-old girl, Sarah Jinks, who died in a fire on 10th January 1999 at a local authority house in Sligo, secured €115,000 in settlement of their High Court Action alleging that Sligo County Council had negligently failed to maintain a safe electrical system in the house.  During the Action, Sarah’s mother, Ms. Philomena Jinks, had claimed that the Council failed to respond with sufficient thoroughness to complaints about dangers in the house.

 

 

The ‘Real’ Institution Involved …

 

Let me place in the public domain some revealing background to a series of fatal fires at a local authority housing estate on the far side of the country from Sligo … and a Letter, dated 22nd September 2005, which we were forced to write to Bray Town Council, in County Wicklow …

 

Colour photograph showing the scene after a fire in a terraced house at Oldcourt Housing Estate, Bray, Co. Wicklow. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2005-08-18.

Colour photograph showing the scene after a fire in a terraced house at Oldcourt Housing Estate, Bray, Co. Wicklow. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2005-08-18.

 

Mr. Seán O’Neill,

Town Engineer,

Comhairle Baile Bhré,

Civic Offices,

Main Street,

Bray,

Co. Wicklow.

 

Re:  Fire Safety Survey of Oldcourt Estate, Bray.

 

Mr. O’Neill,

 

In good faith, we submitted a Tender Proposal (copy enclosed with the original letter) for a Fire Safety Survey of the Oldcourt Housing Estate to you.  As of today, we have had no communication, written or oral, from Bray Town Council.

 

We fully understood the critical need for this to be an authoritative, competent, comprehensive and entirely independent Fire Safety Survey.  Our principal concern was that this must be shown to be so, especially to local residents.  We remain uniquely qualified, in Ireland and Europe, to complete the special and unique task involved.

 

It was with complete shock, dismay and alarm, however, that we saw our Organization actually named in Media Reports of discussions which took place at the September Council Meeting in Bray.

 

As a matter of public record, we now wish to clarify a few issues …

 

1.       We commenced our work on the basis that the Tender Documentation issued by Bray Town Council was unreliable.  This we were only able to do because of our extensive experience with Local Authority Housing, and the ‘ways’ and ‘means’ of Local Authorities in Ireland.

 

2.       The Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) has been intimately involved – at every level – with the planning, costing, design and construction of Local Authority Housing in every part of Ireland – from our direct experience, since the mid-1980’s.  The Department is, therefore, very far from being a Disinterested Party in the serious matters under examination at the Oldcourt Housing Estate.  It was extraordinary to see a representative of the DEHLG on the Interview Panel.

 

3.       The Members of the Tender Interview Panel may have been ‘experts’, but we are not sure in which field.  They showed little interest in our extensive practical experience of the complex area of fire engineering and its dynamic interaction with other aspects of performance in buildings and the built environment.  It was necessary to explain some fundamental facts about the limited safety objectives of the Building Regulations to one Member.  Some of the working methods necessary to effectively complete the Fire Safety Survey, of which we have direct and extensive experience, were unknown to all Members.  It was clear that the Panels Members did not fully read our Tender Proposal.

 

4.       At one stage in the Tender Interview, it was strongly ‘suggested’ to us that the Survey was to be a purely technical exercise, with no involvement whatever by the residents.  At approximately the ‘two-thirds’ stage in the short interview, we realized that there was some ‘agenda’ in the background.  We did not, therefore, make any final comments to the Panel.

 

We must now conclude that the Tender Process, organized by Bray Town Council, for a Fire Safety Survey of the Oldcourt Housing Estate appears to be corrupt.  With deep regret, we hereby withdraw our Tender Proposal.

 

We require a full explanation as to why we have received no communication from you, or anybody else associated with Bray Town Council.  We demand a full apology from the Council, and this must be published widely in the local and national media.

 

We are consulting with our legal advisors.

 

Signed:  C. J. Walsh, Chief Technical Officer, FireOx International.

 

Copy:  Ms. Deirdre deBurca, Chairperson, Bray Town Council.

 

 

[ No response has ever been received to this letter … from any party. ]

 

 

 

 

And … we have not forgotten the deep corruption which went to the core of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Stardust Fire Disaster.

 

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BER Certificates & Necessary Sectoral Infrastructure (IV)

2009-03-14:  The Construction Sector Comedy of Errors continues without intermission …

 

On Tuesday last, 2009-03-10, I attended a Conference in Dublin Castle: ‘Energy Efficiency in Historic(al) Buildings’, organized by the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) and the Irish Georgian Society.  Boys and girls … we are in trouble … flat, uninspiring presentations from our beloved DEHLG policy makers.  Missing … any wider context of required energy efficiency targets across the whole of the built environment … or views and solutions from anywhere else beyond our two little islands (Ireland & GB) on the periphery of Europe.  The approach taken to this important subject was “let’s just jump in, and see what we can do”.  What a day !

 

[Note: Thanks also to the DEHLG … Ireland still has no National Climate Change Adaptation Policy.]

 

That same morning, on Tuesday, an Opinion Piece: ‘Research Hub Benefits All’ appeared in The Irish Times (page 13), written by no other than Mr. Kieran McGowan, Chairperson of CRH.  He was full of suggestions about research in Ireland, and was most happy to support the proposed research alliance between University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD).  However, a quick visit to the CRH Holding Company WebSite is both relevant and informative.  There, you will learn that the Company operates in 35 countries, employing approximately 93,500 people.  Entering the key words/phrases … ‘research’, ‘construction research’, and even ‘building research’ … into the site search engine yields nothing of value … that’s right … nichts, nada, niente, zilch, zero !   With all the window dressing about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), etc, etc … the principal ‘value’ in CRH still remains short term ‘shareholder value’.  If it looks interesting, gobble it up.  Why waste money on a Research Division ? … which should be located in Ireland !

 

 

Yesterday, 2009-03-13, another Article appeared in The Irish Times (bottom of page 5): ‘Ireland Closer to Kyoto Emissions Target Due to Economic Slump’, by Mr. Harry McGee, IT Political Staff (?).  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Press Release which generated this newspaper article was released on Wednesday, 2009-03-12, at 17.59 hrs. in the evening.

 

The 19-Page EPA Report: ‘Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Projections 2008-2020’ was issued on the same day as the newspaper article – 2009-03-13.  Excellent media management !

 

These three different texts fail to examine, or even discuss, the following issues …

 

         How many € Millions and € Millions belonging to the Irish Tax Payer are being spent, and will be spent into the far future, on buying this country out of trouble … because of the abject failure to meet our responsibilities under Kyoto I (up to 2012), and the Real EU 2020 Target of -30% GHG Emissions on 1990 levels (assuming there will be an agreement in Copenhagen, next December, on a Post-2012 Kyoto II Instrument).  This has always been the EU Target.  See Paragraph 31, German Presidency Conclusions of the Brussels European Council (8 & 9th March 2007).

 

         Having seen the numbers and range of assumptions which underpin the EPA’s GHG Emission Projections up to 2020 … how Reliable are those projections ?   Where are the critical Statements of Uncertainty ?

 

         Who are the Individuals who sat on their fat, over-paid asses throughout the last 10-15-20 years, and allowed this country to fall into such a haphazard state ?   Would any of these individuals be the same people who are now preaching sermons on ‘responsible’ GHG Emission Compliance … and still foisting upon us Voluntary Codes of Practice and Compliance Schemes, Ineffectual National Marketing Campaigns, Feather Light Regulation, and Press Releases which obscure what is really happening ?

 

Do you see any parallels with current events in the Irish Financial Sector ?

 

         Can the Irish Construction Sector be expected to meet any Real Performance Targets (e.g. Proper Building Energy Rating Labelling, Meaningful GHG Emission Reductions, Serious Energy Efficiency Improvements, whatever … ) – as distinct from Theoretical Performance on paper – without a Very Necessary Sectoral Infrastructure capable of shaping suitable responses to those targets, and ensuring that they are implemented ?

 

 

 

As already discussed in an earlier Post … a Complete Cultural Shift in the Irish Construction Sector is essential.  So, let me give you a small flavour of what we need to do …

 

 

1.  Construction Data & Statistics:

 

Ireland does not currently possess a comprehensive National Construction Database.  No reliable statistics can be presented with regard to building or construction-related performance in 1990, or 2005.  No coherent projections, therefore, can be made for the years 2010, 2012, 2020 or 2050 … under any futures scenario.

 

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) gathers construction-related Economic Data.  Energy Ireland (SEI) Databases are not reliable.

 

Construction is not identified as a separate Sector, by either the Environmental Protection Agency (Ireland) or the European Environment Agency (Denmark), in European Greenhouse Gas Emission (GHG) Databases.

 

 

 

2.  A Concerted Programme of Infrastructure Restoration:

 

         Re-establish and adequately resource an Independent National Institute for Spatial Planning & Construction Research (formerly known as An Foras Forbartha) in Ireland, having joint responsibility with the CSO for maintaining a reliable National Construction Database.

 

Construction Research & Innovation must be given a high national priority !   

 

The National Institute must establish close working relationships with the relevant European Union Institutions, particularly EuroStat in Luxembourg.

 

[By ‘independent’ … I mean at a long, long, long arm’s distance away from the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG).]

 

         Re-establish and adequately resource an Independent and Fully Accredited National Construction Testing & Development Complex.

 

         Re-Format, Revise & Horizontally Integrate the National Building Regulations.

 

The existing format is both limited and seriously flawed.  For discussion in a later Post.

 

         Adequately resource the Irish National Accreditation Board (NAB), and closely monitor the quality of its work.

 

         Adequately resource the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) and ensure that Ireland participates vigorously in the European Standards Organizations and ISO (International Standards Organization).

 

         Adequately resource an Independent Irish Agrément Board (IAB), and closely monitor the quality of its work.

 

[By ‘independent’ … I mean at a long arm’s distance away from the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI).  These two organizations were supposed to have been separated a few years ago anyway.]

 

         Adequately resource awareness raising and Institutional Capacity building for Sustainability and Climate Change Adaptation in the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG), Energy Ireland (SEI) and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).

 

         Adequately resource awareness raising, Re-Training and Re-Education for Sustainability and Climate Change Adaptation at all levels in the rest of the Construction Sector, including All (Professional) Design Disciplines and All Construction Organizations.

 

 

 

3.  Initial Construction Quality:

 

Post-completion repairs and/or system retrofitting always involve compromises, are costly and are rarely anywhere near being 100% effective.  Ensure Proper Initial Construction Performance through robust inspection of buildings during construction … checking that all relevant legislation has been complied with and that construction products have been approved, i.e. properly shown to be ‘fit for their intended use (in the location of use)’, etc.

 

         Adequately resource, with Staff (e.g. building controllers, inspectors, administrative, legal), Monitoring Equipment (e.g. sound meters, long wave infra-red cameras, etc.) and Technical Support (e.g. training, library facilities, access to research) … all Building Control Authorities in the country.

 

Introduce a fully Integrated (including Part B of the Building Regulations) and Mandatory Inspection Scheme on all Construction Projects, at the following Construction Stages …

 

Foundations ;

Drainage ;

Ground Floor Construction ;

Super-Structure (above Radon Resisting Membrane) … inspections to take place at a level no higher than first floor ;

Roof.

 

Such an Inspection Scheme must operate uniformly across the country.  Piecemeal variations and maverick procedures operated by National Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) or Individual Local Authorities cannot any longer be tolerated.

 

 

 

4.  Consumer Protection:

 

         Establish an Independent and Comprehensive National Building Insurance Scheme.

 

Self-Regulation by the Architectural and Legal Professions offers merely the ‘appearance’ of protection to the Irish Consumer.

 

The current system of Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) / Law Society ‘Opinions on Compliance with Building Regulations’ is inadequate … and offers no protection to the Irish Consumer.  The phrase ‘substantial compliance’ is much misunderstood and widely abused.

 

         Introduce and adequately resource the discipline of Independent Technical Controller.  He/she must be independent from Construction-related Organizations, the Building Design and Legal Professions … Local Authorities … and any other National Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s).

 

         Introduce a Mandatory Building Completion Certification System.

 

Before any Building can be occupied, a Certificate of Building Completion Performance, and an Accompanying Report, must be issued by an Independent Technical Controller.  The System will include an independent evaluation of compliance with relevant building legislation and a thorough examination of ‘real’ construction performance.

 

Building Completion Documentation can be designed to include …

         a Fire Safety Certificate, which is issued only after adequate monitoring of the actual fire safety related construction ;

         a Disability Access Certificate, which is issued only after adequate monitoring of the actual access related construction ;

         a Building Energy Rating (BER) Label ;

         a Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) ;

         etc., etc.

 

 

 

[Many of the above ideas have been incorporated in the 2008 Institute of International & European Affairs (IIEA) Publication: The Climate Change Challenge, which presents a strategic overview of Irish Climate Change Policy.]

 

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END 

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Quality of Irish Construction – Unacceptable ?

2009-02-12:   So … Anglo-Irish Bank has been caught – finally – playing with numbers and cooking the books.  And … because of inadequate (i.e. a complete lack of effective) control by the National Financial Regulator, this was regarded as a routine, ‘smart’ transaction by privileged individuals.  “What is the problem ?” … they ask … “no laws were being broken”.

 

Holding firmly onto those thoughts, let us briefly turn our attention to the Construction Sector … and the Energy Performance of Buildings …

 

A new Home Energy Savings (HES) Scheme was recently announced by Mr. Eamon Ryan T.D., Minister of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources … €100 million Insulation Scheme to Benefit 50,000 Homes – Programme Will Create 4,000 Jobs … according to an article in The Irish Times, on Monday 9th February 2009, by Mr. Harry McGee.

 

Reading the Department of Energy’s own Press Release for the Scheme Launch, dated 2009-02-08 … it is evident that public relations consultants, marketing gurus, senior academics (who should know better) and civil servants were involved in producing ‘paper’ numbers to justify and support the miserable grants being offered in the HES Scheme.  Numbers were even presented for ‘Typical Net BER Improvement’ ?!?

 

When the Scheme is eventually up and running, Thermal Insulation Contractors will be required to comply with a voluntary Energy Ireland (SEI) ‘Contractors Code of Practice & Standards and Specifications Guidelines’ (version 1, 2009-02-03) … and SEI may or may not carry out control inspections in order to monitor the quality of their work.  Does all this sound familiar ?

 

 

But … are these paper energy numbers ‘real’ ?   If he thinks so, Mr. Eamon Ryan is living in Alice’s Wonderland !

 

This is a photograph, taken back in 2000, of expanded polystyrene insulation which was badly installed in an external cavity wall … very badly installed !   When the Irish Construction Industry would later enter extreme ‘over-heat’ mode, the quality of typical construction would deteriorate sharply.

 

Colour Photograph of an External Cavity Wall, showing 'Floating' Thermal Insulation (and, in the background, an Inclined Steel Wall Tie which will later facilitate water ingress). Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2000-01-19.

Colour Photograph of an External Cavity Wall, showing ‘Floating’ Thermal Insulation (and, in the background, an Inclined Steel Wall Tie which will later facilitate water ingress). Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2000-01-19.

Who can know what is happening inside that cavity when it is all finished and covered up from view ?   Nobody.  Unless, that is, you manage to take an Infra-Red Thermal Image during the next winter heating season – which is far too late to remedy the problem.

 

This is an example of an Infra-Red Thermal Image, taken back in 1998 …

 

Colour Image, with explanatory Text and Horizontal Temperature Bar below, showing the 'Real' Energy Performance of a Building. Click to enlarge. Project Architect: CJ Walsh. Image taken by sub-contractor in 1998.

Colour Image, with explanatory Text and Horizontal Temperature Bar below, showing the ‘Real’ Energy Performance of a Building. Click to enlarge. Project Architect: CJ Walsh. Image taken by sub-contractor in 1998.

 

 

Explaining the Current Context in Ireland …

 

It was 10 Years after the Dublin Stardust Fire Tragedy (February 1981) … before the first legal, National Building Regulations were introduced (December 1991); they became operational during the following summer of 1992.  Around the same time, Building Control Authorities were being established in every Local Authority.

 

Prior to this, legal Building Bye-Laws were operated in just a small number of our major urban centres.

 

Dublin Corporation’s Bye-Laws with respect to the Construction of Buildings, adopted by Dublin City Council on 27th June 1949, were an interesting mix of functional, performance and prescriptive requirements.  An Application, containing detailed construction information, for Building Bye-Law Approval had to be made for every construction project … and I mean ‘every’ project … prior to any construction commencing.  And, ‘every’ project was inspected at the foundation and drainage stages of construction … no exceptions.  The more complex projects were inspected as they progressed further, with special attention being paid, for example, to fire safety related construction.  I know, first-hand, that the surveyors and inspectors in Dublin Corporation’s (as it was then called) Building Control Section had built up a considerable wealth of knowledge and understanding about construction conditions and practices right around the city and suburbs.

 

Anyway … after the introduction of the National Building Regulations, an unwritten national policy was put into action … having as an aim the winding down, and general ‘castration’, of the large, well-established Building Control Sections in Dublin City and County, and Cork.  Meanwhile … in the rush to establish the new Building Control Authorities throughout the rest of the country, it was common to hear of Road Engineers being transferred into the new Control Authorities … usually having little or no experience in dealing with the construction of buildings.

 

Site Inspections under our current system of National Building Regulations are random.  Inspection Statistics produced by the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) are not reliable.  Building Control Authorities are, purposefully, not sufficiently resourced to be ‘effective’.

 

Commencement Notices, under the National Building Control Regulations, do not have to be accompanied by detailed construction information when being submitted to a Building Control Authority.

 

Fire Safety Certificates, under the National Building Control Regulations, do not involve any Site Inspections – at any stage – by Fire Authorities.

 

 

 

Some Conclusions …

 

The above is a rather long, but simplified, explanation as to why a large number of privileged property developers and shoddy building contractors have been allowed to flourish on Irish Construction Sites without ever understanding the concept of ‘effective’ technical control.  When they do eventually meet this concept, head-on, the level of their resentment can be without limit.

 

Before the recent property crash, did you ever try to present a builder with a Snag List on a new house ?

 

This will also put SEI’s 70% rate of non-compliance into an understandable context.  See my earlier Post, dated 2008-12-12.

 

With regard to BER Certificates … BER Assessors without any sort of architectural background are not competent to assess the construction of existing buildings … and those BER Assessors with an architectural background cannot possibly evaluate, with reliability, the construction of existing buildings without the use, for example, of Infra-Red Thermography and Air Seepage Testing.

 

BER Assessment of Historical Buildings is unsuitable, and not appropriate.

 

An Energy Survey of a Building is an entirely different concept to a BER Assessment.  See our Technical Guidance Note No.95/101(a).

 

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END

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Dublin Stardust Fire Tragedy – The End ?

2009-02-05:  ‘In the early hours of the 14th February 1981, a catastrophic fire swept through the Stardust Ballroom in Artane, Dublin, killing forty eight people and causing serious injury to one hundred and twenty eight others.  The overwhelming majority of the victims were in the age group of eighteen to twenty five and came from the neighbouring areas of Artane, Kilmore and Greater Coolock.  The scale and horror of the tragedy was such that it was, and remains, the greatest disaster to have occurred in the history of the State.’

 

Paragraph 1.2, Report of the Independent Examination of the Stardust Victims Committee’s Case for a Reopened Inquiry into the Stardust Fire Disaster.

 

In the middle of January 2009, relatives of Stardust Fire Victims were forced to hold a lengthy sit-in protest at Government Buildings, in Dublin … in order to gain access to this recent Report by Mr. Paul Coffey, Senior Counsel.  See the Photograph of four forlorn relatives, by Mr. Dara Mac Dónaill, on the Front Page of The Irish Times (2009-01-15).

 

 

In Paragraph 5.15(1) of the Report (no reference number, no publication date) … Mr. Coffey recommended:

 

         that the Government should consider whether it can … place on the public record an acknowledgement of the (Stardust) Tribunal’s findings that there is no evidence that the fire was started deliberately and that its cause is unknown ;

 

Paragraph 5.15(2) continued:

 

         in the event that this cannot be done, there should be a further inquiry … ;

 

 

On Tuesday evening, 3rd February 2009, in the Dáil (Irish Parliament) … the Irish Government moved, with haste, to formally correct the public record in accordance with Mr. Coffey’s recommendation in Paragraph 5.15(1).  See the Dáil Report on the Stardust Tragedy, by Ms. Marie O’Halloran, in The Irish Times (2009-02-04).

 

Should this be the end of the matter ?   No.

 

Have the events surrounding this tragedy been well managed ?   Yes.

 

 

 

In Separate Letters, dated 4th April 2006, sent by registered post to the Editors of The Irish Times (Dublin), The Irish Independent (Dublin) and The Irish Examiner (Cork), I wrote the following …

 

Re:  Stardust Fire Re-Examination Now Due !

 

As a young architect in private practice, I saw the Dublin Fire ‘Establishment’ disappear from public view, without trace, after the 1981 Stardust Fire;  it was almost impossible, for at least a year after, to have a meeting with a Fire Prevention Officer.

 

Would it not be reasonable to expect that, in 25 years, our understanding of fire behaviour in buildings, and of the practices and procedures associated with serious fire incidents, has improved ?

 

On 26th October 2005, the NIST Final Report on the 9-11 WTC 1 & 2 Tower Collapses was presented to Congress in the United States.  Chapter 9 of that Report contains 30 important Recommendations which must radically alter professional fire engineering practice in the case of all building types, of all sizes … even in Dublin !

 

The time is now due for an Independent and Impartial Technical Re-Examination of the Stardust Fire Incident, and any relevant events which occurred during a period of time beginning 6 Months before 14th February 1981 and terminating approximately 18 Months after that day.

 

Such a Re-Examination must exclude any involvement by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DEHLG).

 

Signed:  C. J. Walsh, Chief Technical Officer, FireOx International.

 

 

 

A Similar Management Exercise is taking place in relation to the series of Fatal Fire Incidents at the Oldcourt Local Authority Housing Estate in Bray, County Wicklow.

 

 

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END

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Ireland’s Recycled Waste Statistics – Rubbish ?

2009-01-30:  On Wednesday last, 28th January 2009, Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the ‘National Waste Report 2007’.  As usual, a Press Release accompanied the launch … and the contents of this Release are still beginning to appear in our national media.

 

You may also have caught some interesting waste-related newspaper articles just after Christmas.  It was those which really started my mental wheels turning.  Congratulations to Ms. Sylvia Thompson in The Irish Times (2008-12-30) !

 

 

 

Between 2001 and 2007, the total amount of waste (in tonnes) produced by this country – all of us together – under each of the ‘selected’ four categories shown in Appendix A – Indicators on Page 33 of the recent EPA Report, i.e. municipal, household, commercial and packaging … has increased dramatically.  Not only are we dirty, messy creatures on this beautiful island, but it is also clear that a much heavier, and more effective, regulatory hand is required to get to grips with this increasing problem.  We suffer from too many national marketing campaigns and too many national voluntary schemes … which “don’t amount to a hill of beans”, as John Wayne grunted many years ago.

 

But, just how ‘useful’ are the numbers we were presented with on 28th January ?

 

–  It took 13 Months to produce the National Waste Report for 2007.  Having had a brief conversation with a key person in the EPA (who shall remain nameless), I know that there are all sorts of reasons why this continues to happen year after year.  But, the time lag is ridiculous, and unacceptable.  To be ‘useful’, we need Reliable Waste Data and Statistics far, far sooner.  For example, if this Report had been ready for mid-September 2008 … National/Local Waste Policies and Budgets could have been adjusted in time for the start of 2009.  Does that make sense ?

 

–  In 2007, we did not recycle 36.5% of household and commercial waste.  We recovered this percentage of waste.  If, however, you were then to apply the following criterion … how much of this waste was actually processed for recycling within the island of Ireland and in a location no farther than 75 Km from the point of recovery … how quickly do you think the figure of 36.5% would nosedive into the ground ???  To be ‘useful’, we need a more developed Waste Indicator Set which will reveal the complete picture on national performance.

 

–  With Tables 5 & 6, on Page 7, firmly in the back of your minds … how ‘sustainable’ is it to be exporting our waste to countries as distant as China, India and the USA ?  This forces me to ask a strongly-linked question … does anybody within the EPA, or at the higher levels of any of our National Institutions, really understand the word ‘sustainable’ ?  Looking at the Environmental Aspects of Sustainable Human & Social Development, alone, is a pointless exercise.  In the long-term, it is actually counterproductive.  To be ‘useful’, we need Waste-related Environmental Indicators which are properly integrated into a Multi-Dimensional Matrix which also contains Waste-related Social, Economic, Institutional, Political and Legal Indicators.

 

 

Put very simply … our Aim should be to use as close to ‘real time’ Performance Indicators as practicable, with Benchmarking at Year 1990 … to target ‘real’ improvements in Ireland’s Sustainability, verify Target Attainment, and to continually re-adjust those targets at appropriate intervals thereafter.

 

 

 

Have a nice weekend !

 

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END

 

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