The following letter was sent May 7th, 2014, to President Michael D. Higgins..
“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honour, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.”
– John Adams (2nd U.S. President)
I write to you with the gravest concerns for the citizens of this nation and indeed society as a whole and the matter I am most concerned about is of ‘National Importance’. I will try my best to explain what is currently taking place in our beautiful country!
This matter of National Importance is the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 – (SI 9) and the effect they have on people trying to provide a home for their family in Ireland. My name is Amanda Gallagher from County Sligo. Myself and my husband were planning a ‘self build’ this summer. If you and your good wife have ever watched ‘Grand Designs’ – you will know what I mean when I say a ‘self build’ – it does not literally mean we build the whole house ourselves – we may do part but the majority would be carried out by qualified tradesmen, employed and managed by ourselves.
We have five young children and we were going to hand the keys of our current council house back to the State for another family in need when our build was complete. Our story was featured on RTE Radio & TV Shows and also the Six One News on Friday, Feb. 28th last – we hoped our pleas for a deferral of these new Building Control laws to Minister Hogan would be listened to – how naïve of us!
I watched your recent State Visit to Britain with a mixture of emotions – In my head I was delighted to see, after a history of turmoil – our two countries are finally ‘neighbours’ in every sense of the word – but in my heart I was so troubled as in the United Kingdom self builders are rewarded, encouraged and supported by their Government – every time I saw you on the television all I could think was ‘aren’t self builders so blessed in Britain.’
This Legislation has been portrayed by Minister Hogan as a new measure of safety for consumers of buildings in Ireland. He has used Priory Hall as an example of the horrendous workmanship that has taken place over the past decade – during Ireland’s Property madness days. I know that last year you welcomed the poor victims of Priory Hall to your home, and on that occasion you stated ‘Our Citizens were failed’ this is very true – but my heart sinks as I now tell you that our citizens have been failed again, only this time there are and will be thousands of us, we have been failed unnecessarily and my heart sinks further still when I tell you that justice for the victims of Priory Hall has not been served either – In fact, recent legal opinion states that there are ‘no new legal rights or remedies created by BC(A)R 2014.’
The BC(A)R 2014 states that to build a house now in Ireland one must be a: Principal or Director of a building company only. My husband is not a principal or director of a building company, nor am I, nor are all the farmers I know, as a matter of fact I would go so far as to say that the majority of people who set out to construct a home for their family are not principals or directors of building companies.
These laws are causing unendurable anxiety to us and to many others – we think of nothing else – our spirits are jaded as we grasp the reality that if we want to build a home for our family we will be burdened with a monumental mortgage for the rest of our days – what will family life be like when one is drowning in debt? – this was never part of our life plan.
This legislation is so unfair and irrational to self builders because of one main factor – a building contractor and a self builder do exactly the same thing – we both study the house plans, purchase materials, employ tradesmen, listen to the professionals – there is one difference however – the building contractor gains a hefty profit and puts a lot less love into the build!
I wonder what your predecessors would think of this restrictive legislation? – What would Eamon De Valera say if he were here today? That great and enlightened man, who fought for this Nation’s Freedom & Independence – he would be both astonished and horrified at three facts –
• Fact 1: that this Government would even attempt to prevent a man from providing a roof over his children’s heads
• Fact 2: that this Government would have the audacity to trample the ordinary person underfoot while at the same time elevating builders & developers of the CIF to a dominant position in construction sector
• Fact 3: that this Government were brazen enough to implement such a unjust law on March 1st – but are now totally spineless for hiding the truth from the Nation.
President De Valera would reprimand this Government – he would tell them that the Freedom & Independence that men, women and children fought and died for in this country was all in vain – because the men, women and children of today are neither free nor independent. What an outrageous outcome for Ireland’s fight for freedom, what a squander of life for our ancestors.
This legislation also gives a de facto monopoly on the Construction Sector to a core group of people – the CIF (Construction Industry Federation), the RIAI (Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland), the ACEI (Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland) and the SCSI (Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland) – as a matter of fact, this core group of people were the only ‘key stakeholders’ invited to the talks on this legislation. There were no representatives of consumer groups, self builders, tradesmen, farmers, lawyers – in fact the Building Regulations Advisory Board was disbanded in 2012 and members of this Board have made several attempts to reconvene which the Minister has also ignored – the way in which this legislation was drawn up and implemented was rather dubious – and there are many, many people from politicians to postmen who are doubtful as to how sincere and genuine our Government have been in this whole process.
I have written several letters to Minister Hogan and to the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government since January last regarding my concerns, and only last Friday I received a reply – you know, in any other country in the world when a citizen writes to their Government with most serious concerns, they do not wait four months for a reply – it is scandalous. What is even more scandalous, is the fact all statements from the Government on this issue – have been statements of complete misinformation.
All statements thus far from our Government have indicated that an ordinary person can sign legal documents in the place where it states: to be signed by a principal or director of a building company only. I was informed by the Department that since the implementation of the BC(A)R 2014, there have been many commencements of self builds – this is a reflection of the misinformation from the Government on this issue – these people who have started their builds have started illegal builds – they have signed themselves off as principals or directors of building companies, when they clearly are not – this terrible mistake will come back to haunt them in the future – when they need an insurance claim paid out, if they want to re-mortgage the house or any other infinite scenarios connected with their home – their house will be deemed non-compliant with building regulations. I have nothing but sympathy for those souls – ‘but for the grace of God, there go we.’
Anyone with any little bit of intelligence will soon realise if they actually study this law, that no matter what statements are issued from the Minister or his Department, they will never change the Law of the Land and that Law is crystal clear – to build a house or extension over 40msq in Ireland one must be a principal or director of a building company only.
We are all bewildered at this most confusing information coming from our Government – those who were elected to protect us, to treat us with justice, to promote our welfare but above all to tell us the Truth. Your excellency, it is a terrible thing to tell an ordinary person to sign themselves off as someone they are not on legal documents. I will give you an example – would you, as a learned man, sign your name on a legal document where it states: to be signed by a High or Supreme Court Judge only?
The Irish Association of Self Builders has brought this very crucial issue before the Attorney General and we all await her answer.
Surely, to own property – specifically – to build and own a family home is as much a right to the Nation as freedom and life itself?
For the majority of ordinary people, farmers, electricians, carpenters, anyone with a good grasp and a little knowledge of construction, self building is the only form of building for them as it is the only form of building that they will ever be able to afford – for our own Government to take the right to build away from them in the guise of a safety measure for consumers is, to be quite frank, an abomination.
Self Building is a centuries old tradition in Ireland, in fact I would be most confident in stating that, you, nor your wife, nor myself would exist today if our ancestors had not self built their family homes! To provide a home for one’s family is one of the most natural desires of man, it is right up there along with wanting to provide food for one’s family. We were one of the top countries in the world for self building. This legislation has erased this most beautiful tradition. It is a very sad time in Ireland, and sadder still is that many people in this great Nation do not even realise what has actually happened yet. We now wear the ‘proud’ badge of being the only country in the world to ban self building – how grim.
I, for one, cannot stand idly by and observe so many people hurt and affected by unjust laws that were drawn up in a crafty way, in secret meetings, by key stakeholders who each had a vested interest in the outcome, and now their goal has been achieved. I will not ignore the suffering of my family, others families, and families that don’t even know yet – I will do my best to help – I will tell everyone I meet of this terrible injustice – I hope I can count on you, Sir to do all you can to help us too – you are one man – but you know, one man with courage is a majority!
Sir, as ‘The President is the People’s Lobbyist’! we are all relying on your help – If there is something you think you can do to help the self builders of Ireland, no matter how small, we will all be eternally grateful to you. We are all in favour of Building Regulations – we are all horrified at the awful, shoddy workmanship that has gone on and is still going on by building contractors and developers – maybe a chat with the Government would suffice, maybe a little point in the direction of the ‘Collins & O’Cofaigh- a Better Way’ system of building control – a system formulated by two past presidents of the RIAI – a system that has been proposed to the Minister already, but has been so far ignored – this solution would resolve every issue contained within this legislation – and would also be cost neutral to the State. We would also like you to ask the reason why this solution cannot be implemented?
Maybe this Government needs you, our wonderful President to quote another wonderful President to them – Thomas Jefferson – “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” – you need to open their eyes to the fact that right now there are thousands of people in Ireland who feel the injustice of this law – there are people suffering, depressed, oppressed, outcast and in fear of the future over this legislation – you need to remind them that self builders did not or never will build ‘priory halls’ – self builders gain not one cent of profit from their builds – self builders will vehemently oppose this unjust law, as a matter of fact, it is our duty to oppose it and we will not rest until the fair, sensible solution of building control is put in place.
The entire Irish Nation, as a whole, have no intention of making building contractors and developers any richer than what they are already – these men have the country on its knees with €15bn debt – but to them ‘Profit is sweet – even if it comes from deception’ – it really is totally unacceptable, after the property crash, that these men have the brass neck to come back for more and worse – and our government have the stupidity to pander to their every whim and desire!
We are one of 1,800 families this year alone that have abandoned our planned builds – the population of rural Ireland will decline and is in a real danger of perishing altogether – this is no exaggeration – under the BC(A)R 2014 only the privileged can build a house – I do not know of many privileged people in this country anymore!
As you are a great Poet, I ask you to ponder on this extract from Padraig Colum’s Poem – ‘An Old Woman of the Roads’ – this poem illustrates the innate desire in every Irish Person’s Soul to have a littke home of their own, the sentence in bold is also eerily close to what is looming for rural Ireland in the future if this law is not overturned:
Och! but I’m weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there’s never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!
And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house – a house of my own –
Out of the wind’s and the rain’s way.
President Higgins, I am placing my trust in you to help the Nation, we are all praying for a resolution to this awful injustice, and although I have every confidence in our prayers being answered, God also needs human beings to help Him, as we are who He works through here on earth – He has no voice but ours, no hands but ours, no hearts but ours – to reach out to people in distress – God has blessed you with a great gift – the gift of Power – remember, ‘Power is the ability to do good for others’. If our Government had thought of doing good to others while they talked and drew up this legislation, we would not be where we are today.
I have no doubt, that you too will receive a reply to your queries much the same as we have – a reply that would almost convince you that we are wrong in our thinking – if so, I would ask that you forward this to me if you feel it is appropriate – so that myself and my colleagues can establish the accuracy of same.
You know – the ordinary men and women of Ireland must not be punished because of past mistakes of developers and building contractors – we are in desperate need of your help, so I leave you with some words of Martin Luther King Jr. – that great humanitarian & civil rights protector:
“And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”
Your Hour has come, Sir – you were made President of Ireland for a reason – maybe for this very reason – to have the privilege of helping the self builders of Ireland – to preserve this beautiful tradition – may your name go down in our History Books as a President who saved his people from the tyranny of debt, unfairness and injustice and may you be hailed as just a great a hero as your predecessors of old.
You can research all I have told you if you google: The Irish Association of Self Builders, the Bregs Forum or si9.ie.
Regards, to you and your family, Sir, at this most difficult time in Ireland, I thank you for your time and I do hope that I hear from you soon,
Mrs Amanda Gallagher