Council Closes Homeless Hostels to Make Compliant with Fire-Safety Standards

On 16 March, a homeless hostel at 10 North Frederick Street shut.

People living there were confused, says independent Councillor Anthony Flynn, as they got no warning.

“Beds were reassigned but anyone who wasn’t there to be told, doesn’t know where to go,” he said in a WhatsApp message at the time.

The hostel at 10 North Frederick Street was one of at least six in Dublin that had no valid fire-safety certificate for use as homeless hostels, Dublin Fire Brigade records showed in February.

“This property was not closed urgently,” says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council says. “It was always intended to close it when the owner was ready to begin the upgrading works.”

It was closed to carry out works to bring it into compliance with fire safety standards, with a view to getting a fire cert, says the spokesperson.

As of mid-February, Dublin Fire Brigade was engaging or had engaged with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) or service providers for 14 hostels in the city around issues with fire safety.

Three of the hostels that, according to Dublin Fire Brigade in February, didn’t have valid fire certs are run by companies owned by members of one family, who also run emergency accommodation for asylum seekers. (This doesn’t include 10 North Frederick Street.)

Their companies make millions each year in profits.

Séamus McEnaney, who is involved in running the hostels and is also the Monaghan GAA Football manager, says the hostels have been checked by independent fire-safety experts and are “100 percent” safe.

Is It Safe?

In late 2019, architect John Dorman spotted what he thought was an unauthorised use of the accommodation above Burke’s pub at 47–48 Amiens Street.

He could see bunk beds through the windows. It looked overcrowded, which can be dangerous, especially in old buildings, he says.

Dorman checked the planning database and found no application for a change of use so he reported the issue to Dublin City Council’s planning department in December 2019.

He got an acknowledgement but no substantive reply, he says.

Dorman wrote again in August 2020. And again in February 2021 – this time flagging that it had been 14 months since his first email.

A council official wrote back saying they were looking into the issue. “This case file remains open and has been sent to the Law department to obtain the legal ownership of the property,” they told him.

Dorman was surprised to learn that the property is a homeless hostel funded by Dublin City Council, he says, and even more surprised that an operator can open a homeless hostel without having an up-to-date fire cert.

On 23 February, an official in Dublin Fire Brigade said that 47-48 Amiens Street doesn’t have a fire safety certificate.

Dorman says that he once designed a public toilet and he had to get a fire cert before it could open, he says. “Why would we apply a different and lower standard to hostel accommodation?”

If there is no fire cert, who is taking responsibility for fire safety in the hostels? he wonders.

If there were a fire, would an old building that has been converted to a hostel without going through the proper processes have adequate escape routes?

“Placing anyone especially vulnerable people in accommodation that doesn’t meet basic building regulation requirements … could put them at risk and can only be seen as reckless and negligent,” he says.

As part of DRHE’s “commitment to provide quality accommodation services for people who are homeless, they are overseeing the implementation of improvement works on a number of emergency accommodation facilities,” says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.

Where remedial works have been carried out or started they have applied for regularisation certificates and are confident that these will be granted by Dublin Fire Brigade “without the need to activate any enforcement notice”, she says.

“Professionally qualified design teams for each facility have risk assessed the properties used by the DRHE, implemented interim fire safety management plans, in conjunction with an agreed schedule of works with Dublin Fire Brigade,” says the council spokesperson.

They are keeping the fire brigade informed of all the improvement works and fire brigade staff have gone out to the sites where necessary, she says.

Trenthall and Roseview

Three of the six hostels identified that don’t have valid fire safety certificates are owned by members of the same family.

A relative of the directors, Séamus McEnaney, said he runs a number of hostels in Dublin.

In February, Dublin Fire Brigade said it was bringing enforcement proceedings in relation to 9 North Frederick Street and 13 North Frederick Street in the north inner-city.

The homeless hostel at 47-48 Amiens Street, near Connolly Station, didn’t have a fire safety cert, said fire brigade staff by email. That is the one that Dorman reported in 2019.

Dublin Fire Brigade records showed that Roseview Lodgings Ltd applied for a regularisation fire-safety cert for 9 North Frederick Street.

The director of Roseview Lodgings Ltd is Rosemarie McEnaney, according to the company’s latest annual return.

Meanwhile, 47–48 Amiens Street is the registered address of Trenthall Ltd, which also provides emergency accommodation for asylum seekers. The directors are Gavin and John McEnaney, according to that company’s 2020 annual return.

In 2019, Trenthall Ltd had a turnover of €14.19m and after-tax profits of €2.28m.

Séamus McEnaney also runs a hostel, 15/17 Drumcondra Road through another company Brimwood. It had assets worth €1.7m in July 2020.

Fire brigade records show an application in May 2020 from Brimwood for a regularisation fire cert for 15/17 Drumcondra Road that as of late February was still pending.

On the phone on Monday, Séamus McEnaney says they had applied for regularisation fire certs for three hostels “months and months ago”.

Each hostel is in compliance with all aspects of fire safety and is totally safe, he says. “Yes they are 100 percent.”

Before it was used as a hostel, each building was inspected by an independent fire-safety consultant, says McEnaney.

They carried out the works recommended and then the fire-safety consultant issued an “opinion of compliance”, he says.

Without that Dublin City Council wouldn’t let him open, he says. “I always had to have an opinion of compliance from a fire-safety consultant before I could let anybody in.”

Once he got the work done and got the opinion of compliance, he could apply for a regularisation fire-safety certificate, he says.

He agreed that 47–48 Amiens Street has been operating as a hostel for a couple of years but didn’t directly answer a question as to why it takes so long to get the fire cert if all the fire-safety standards are already met.

The records released by Dublin Fire Brigade list that there were 31 items of reports and correspondence in relation to fire safety at 9 North Frederick Street, with one record dating back to 2019.

McEnaney didn’t explain why Dublin Fire Brigade is bringing enforcement proceedings in relation to 9 North Frederick Street and 13 North Frederick Street. “You would have to go back to them,” he says.

Dublin Fire Brigade refused to release the correspondence in relation to the enforcement action they are taking on the two hostels.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says that 13 North Frederick Street is currently also closed for “fire safety remedial works” which “re-commenced in February 2021.”

“Approval for these works, as well as the proposed occupancy level, has been applied for,” says the council spokesperson.

The council plans to reopen 13 North Frederick Street in around five or six weeks-time when the upgrading works are completed.

The DRHE together with an NGO hopes to purchase 9 North Frederick Street to turn it into social housing, she says.

At The Watergate

The Watergate Hostel at 11–14 Usher’s Quay used to be a direct provision centre and has been running as a homeless hostel for at least two years.

It doesn’t have a fire-safety cert for its current use as a homeless hostel, Dublin Fire Brigade records showed in February.

When it was a direct-provision centre, it was contracted by Phil Monaghan and Finian McDonnell, according to an independent inspection report.

The direct provision centre closed in June 2018, according to a report in the The Journal, which also noted complaints from a charity about leaks and dampness.

According to the 2017 inspection report, the capacity of Watergate, which is made up of 22 flats, was 68 people when it was a direct-provision centre.

When the Dublin Region Homeless Executive opened it as a homeless hostel, it doubled the number of people accommodated there to 125, shows a council report from October 2020.

The council spokesperson says there are currently 90 people there and that is due to be reduced to 80 in the coming weeks.

Maison Builders was listed as the contractor for Watergate in 2017.

Maison Builders declared profits of €113,000 for 2018, according to company records. The directors are Michael Monaghan and Helen Monaghan.

Michael Monaghan is also a director of the pub chain MDM Taverns Unlimited, among other companies.

The phone in the Watergate hostel didn’t connect on Friday or Monday. We emailed and phoned Monaghan’s accountant, asking them to forward a message to him, but didn’t hear back before publication.

Back at 10 North Frederick Street

Flynn, the independent councillor, says that the sudden closure of 10 North Frederick Street the day before St Patrick’s Day was surprising.

It was handled in an unprofessional way and the residents weren’t informed in advance or supported to move, he says.

It created chaos for people unnecessarily, says Flynn. “If scheduled maintenance needed to be done, why wasn’t there notice given? It was very weird the way it was done.”

The Dublin City Council spokesperson says that 10 North Frederick Street had a previous fire certificate to operate as a guest house.

“The Fire Consultant employed by the owner has liaised with Dublin Fire Brigade and implemented an interim fire safety management plan,” and work is due to start shortly.

The residents were accommodated elsewhere at different hostels in the city and were given as much choice as possible, she says.

The DRHE and a NGO are engaging with the owner with a view to buying the property to convert it to social housing, she says.

The registered owners of 10 North Frederick Street as of April 2017 are Edward Fennelly and John Fennelly from County Laois.

“We have a Fire Consultant working with DFB to update and regularise our current Fire Certificate,” says John Fennelly by email.

When asked about the sudden closure of the hostel, he couldn’t help. “I’m not sure exactly how that process works between the management of the property and DCC,” he says. “We deal only with DCC.”

On Ellis Quay

Another hostel at 7–9 Ellis Quay does have a fire cert, but some of the rooms there don’t have windows.

The building is owned by Propmaster Ventures, according to property records, and among the directors is Alan Prendergast, who is also a director of Bargaintown. For financial year 2019, the company recorded a profit of €761,063, according to company records.

Alan Prendergast said by email that he has no involvement in running the hostel. “Alan and Norman Prendergast have no involvement in the operation of the hostel at 7-9 Ellis Quay, or any similar establishment,” he says.

It is not clear whether rooms without windows breach the standards for homeless hostels – or whether there are any standards in place for private emergency accommodation.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says that there are standards in place for all homeless hostels.

“All emergency accommodation, whether provided by local authorities, NGOs, voluntary bodies or privately are required to comply with standards and these standards are monitored,” he says.

The department press office didn’t respond to repeated requests for a copy of those standards that apply to private hostels, or a link to where they are published.

“The DRHE is satisfied that all the occupied properties listed are currently compliant with Fire Safety standards,” says the spokesperson.

[CORRECTION: This article was updated on Tuesday 6 April at 10.15am to update the details of the fire cert for 15/17 Drumcondra Road. Apologies for the error.]

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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at 31 March at 10:31

This is excellent reporting on an important issue and the reason I have subscribed to the paper. I cannot believe this is not reported on more widely in the media.

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