Dáil debates

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Priority Questions

Local Authority Housing.

1:00 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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Question 113: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that fire doors have not been installed in local authority dwellings in which lifts were constructed to facilitate people with disabilities; and the plans he has to introduce specific regulations to rectify this fire safety risk. [31268/06]

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The question of installing fire doors in existing houses adapted by the installation of lifts in order to meet the needs of people with disabilities will be considered in the context of the next review of part B, fire safety, of the building regulations. Local authorities have an overall role in ensuring local authority dwellings meet the needs of tenants and safety is an important consideration in this regard. In cases where remedial or improvement works are being undertaken, these will generally seek to enhance fire and other safety aspects. My Department will consider submissions from local authorities on such matters and will support appropriate remedial measures as required.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister of State's announcement of a review of the policy but can he indicate when that review will take place? A standardised system is lacking among local authorities and I am seeking to have such a system introduced. A man in whose home a lift was installed because of difficulties he had with mobility recently asked me what he should do in the event of a fire. He would not take the lift because he was warned that the electricity supply would probably be interrupted. There are no fire doors beside the lift in that man's house, so he would literally be trapped. If a fire door was installed, he would at least have some time to escape a fire. For many years, chair lifts were the main form of lift but other types are now being installed inside the house itself.

I contacted the fire services, which are aware of the situation and the dangers involved, but was told they do not get involved in local domestic matters, although they would certainly look for fire doors in respect of apartment or office accommodation.

People have enough to worry about with regard to poor mobility, so I ask the Minister of State to prioritise the matter. An accident is waiting to happen. Significant amounts of money are already being spent on disabled persons grants and other grants and, if local authorities were obliged to install fire doors, the additional expense would not be huge. Addressing the issue may require thinking outside the box but that should not be impossible.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Crowe is correct that the current building regulations do not require the installation of fire doors in ordinary one and two storey houses. Most doors can contain smoke to a certain level and, when combined with a smoke alarm, will provide a degree of fire safety. However, even where fire alarms are installed, 30% are not working. We are trying to send a message to people not only with regard to the necessity of installing fire alarms but also to ensure the alarm batteries are not dead.

In themselves, fire doors can cause significant problems for children and people with impaired mobility because they are heavy and difficult to open. Self-closing doors have the potential to cause injuries by shutting on people. Where fire doors are required, such as in nursing homes, they can give rise to a number of problems for residents. In many cases, doors are held open by magnetic devices and only close when a fire alarm is triggered. We will consider the issue in the context of ongoing review of the building regulations, the first stage of which has been completed.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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The matter was drawn to my attention by someone who had personal experience of it. I am not trying to scaremonger but concerns exist which need to be properly addressed. I am aware of the weight of fire doors but lighter options could be considered. I am also aware of the cost factor involved but safety should be a priority. The last thing we want is to cause families to worry about their loved ones in the event of a fire.