If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower…

It has a tragic few months with the horrendous terror attacks Westminster, Manchester and London.

These were shocking terror attacks. We were then all stunned by the images from Grenfell, nearly three weeks ago. – sadly this time a man-made disaster

We all watched in horror as the fire engulfed so many families in their homes, we witnessed the heroism of residents who went to the aid of neighbours, and the courage of the emergency services.

Today, we now the blackened building of Grenfell Tower, “the outrageous crematorium on the skyline” of London, as described by columnist. Ed Vulliamy. Tragically at least 80 people lost their lives and many more have yet to be identified. When you look at the pictures of the dead you see the culturally diversity of these islands.

In the aftermath of the tragedy we saw an amazing response from neighbours, charities and the wider community come together, abandoned by the statutory agencies, working in solidarity to comfort, support, pray and provide practical support to victims and families made homeless.

In contrast, the response from the Council and statutory bodies was nothing short of disgraceful .We know that Kensington represents the stark divisions in London. with some of the poorest people living in the shadow of the richest people in London.
The reality is vividly described by Nigerian poet Ben Okri said: If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower”

Grenfell asks us all serious question about what type of society we want to build, one based on market forces, deregulation and austerity or one which guarantees access to the basics human rights dignity: safety, a home, good health, a decent education and  a living wage. I know where I stand.

It is now essential we urgently give families the answers how about the catastrophe happened and learn lessons from this tragedy.

Remember Belfast City Council had to learn painful lessons, 33 years ago in January 1984,toxic fumes from a fire in Maysfield Leisure Centre sadly took the lives of six people, including three children.

For NI, firstly we need to establish the facts about any buildings in NI which have unsafe cladding. NIHE and other bodies have acted quickly but all agencies and private companies must do the same.

I note that suspicious cladding was found by Belfast Trust in the critical care building in a limited number of areas. To reassure the public the Trust must remove any such cladding as soon possible.

Secondly we must ensure that the public investigation is comprehensive to discover the truth, learn lessons take decisive action and bring to justice any bodies or individuals who are guilty of any crime.

In terms of building regulations and guidance in NI it largely mirrors regulations and guidance in England with a slight time lag in terms of changes

Buildings over 18m high both in NI and England have the same requirements in terms of fire safety for cladding systems and external wall construction.

In England and Wales they have approved inspectors meaning that a developer can use a private company or the local council to deal with their application and site inspections.

In NI we do not have approved inspectors and developers must come to council who administer the building regulations function.

In some instances we are ahead – we chose not to omit escape windows and self-closers to fire doors for three storey houses, in England they dropped these requirements.

Sprinklers

There is significant differences in terms of sprinklers. In England apartment buildings over 30m to top floor require sprinklers. In Scotland they require sprinklers over 18m in height. and Wales have introduced sprinklers for new houses. In NI they do not.

This means that a new building the size of Obel requires sprinklers in Scotland and England but not in N. Ireland.

There is also no requirement that refurbished buildings not require sprinklers – so it likely that a new refurbished building like Windsor House does not require sprinklers.

These regulations need to be urgently reviewed.

Northern Ireland Fire Service

In relation to the NI Fire Service, in 2010 the legislative framework changed to mirror the regulatory reform order in England to control fire safety for buildings in use. The changes place the responsibility on the owner of the building to carry out a fire risk assessment which is checked by NIFRS in relevant premises only.

Interestingly apartments are not relevant premises. (In apartments they only have legislative control over limited fire safety features for e.g. fire fighting and fire fighter safety) I understand that this is a matter the NIFRS are in discussion with the regulators about.

We needs to ensure that Building Control has the necessary powers to take effective enforcement and the sufficient resources in terms of staffing to effectively check buildings.
To finish I want to quote the final paragraph of Ben Okri’s poem on Grenfell

“If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
Make sense of these figures if you will
For the spirit lives where truth cannot kill.

Ten million spent on the falsely clad 

In a fire where hundreds lost all they had.

Five million offered in relief

Ought to make a nation alter its belief.

An image gives life and an image kills.

The heart reveals itself beyond political skills.

In this age of austerity The poor die for others’ prosperity.

Nurseries and libraries fade from the land.

A strange time is shaping on the strand.

A sword of fate hangs over the deafness of power.

See the tower, and let a new world-changing thought flower.”

Tim Attwood is an SDLP Councillor in Belfast.

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  • redbabylon

    Three tragic terrorist attacks in Britain this year. One in Manchester for Allah, then one in London for Hitler, then the state’s seven years of violent poverty struck the hardest of all. Intolerances and hatreds are at an all time high, and government need to act, properly with new legislation, and a repeal for much of the disastrous welfare reform bill.

  • Patrick Mac

    ” … then the state’s seven years of violent poverty struck the hardest of all. Intolerances and hatreds are at an all time high … ”

    Nothing more than the outworking of decades of leftist, champagne-socialist, liberal nonsense. Leftism ALWAYS results in misery for all.

  • Jag
  • Salmondnet

    You seem to have missed two more attacks in London for Allah. None of the four had anything to do with poverty. Anyone who believes that anything that has happened in the last seven years can reasonably be labelled as austerity has no grasp of what austerity was really like.

  • notimetoshine

    Left or liberal it is one or the other! At least get the terminology right!

  • chrisjones2

    Yes …if that wicked Council hadn’t spent so much refurbishing the flats it might not have happened. Shame on them for improving things

    And the cladding started under Labour

    And the majority of sites with dodgy cladding are in Labour areas

    And the dodgy cladding meets current regulations

    And the Council that removed all the fire doors was hard core Labour

    So why just 7 years? Go the whole hog and blame Thatcher!!

  • chrisjones2

    The welfare reform bill is long overdue. Grenfell is an awful case and shows clearly that many of these apartments were occupied by people only in the UK a relatively short time – whether legally or not.

    Its symptomatic of the dreadful overcrowding that some of the dead will never be known as they were living there as illegal immigrants in a flat illegally sublet. That is one of the factors that has driven the demand for Brexit
    .

  • Patrick Mac

    Do you have a problem with rich people ?

  • grumpy oul man

    and again with the gross stereotypes both inaccurate and offensive! do you ever actually present a argument!

  • grumpy oul man

    listen its all off them with Patrick/Abucs , Hitler is a leftie to this man and he does love his conspiracy theories!

  • Jag

    Just making the point that rich people can die just as awfully in fire as poor people.

  • Korhomme

    I don’t know about you, but I find all the information and media comment about Grenfall rather overpowering; and in particular confusing and contradictory.

    I read that the aluminium panels were to improve the appearance of the tower, to make it look more modern. Of course, it concealed the thermal insulation which I guess isn’t very attractive. But then, in what way did the inhabitants of the tower benefit from this cosmesis?

    I read that towers with sprinklers haven’t had any fatalities (I guess, in recent years).

    I read that sprinklers are fitted to other towers, along with fire doors and wet/dry risers; but such towers are for well-off buyers.

    I read that towers as student accommodation don’t have to have the same fire security precautions as towers built for families.

    I read that the local council were tardy in their response; and that there are still many people and families in hotels. And that others have had to step in to do what would otherwise be the council’s responsibility?

    I read that the Prime Minister went to view the tower, and talked to the police and the fire service. But because of ‘security’ she didn’t meet survivors.

    (BTW, the police and fire service are on 1% capped pay rises; MPs got, what was it, 10% not so long ago; and magically, there was money for the DUP’s bung. But that’s all side issues.)

    I read that some who rented accommodation have had rents deducted from their bank accounts after the tower was destroyed.

    Need I go on? Do I detect something unpleasant and incompetent going on here? That provision for the poor, for the less fortunate, doesn’t count for much? That the attitude of the council and its officials is now, and always has been, patronising and supercilious?

    One law (and regulations and all) for the poor, another for the rich?

    Or, is all I say a fearsome calumny?

  • chrisjones2

    The response has been shambolic but that is bLondon for you where its a huge problem to get competent staff . I suspect this is compounded by the sheer shock of what happened and the fact that the Chief Executive was asked to leave almost immediately followed by the Council Leader. .

    Many of the victims must be in the most dreadful state. Others are worried about the fact that they were illegally living in the tower or illegally in the UK. There are probably language barriers too.

    Then there is the issue of the bodies and the delays in recovering them, exploited to the hilt by those seeking to use race as a weapon and a couple of MPS exploiting (there’s no other word) this dreadful tragedy. The fact that the police have said it may take 6 months to recover the people shows how bad the situation is. In many cases they must be seeking mere fragments. people have literally been destroyed – perhaps whole families and the impact on the relatives left is impossible to contemplate

    But is it an attitude to the poor? I dont think so. There care few states that would have moved to quickly or effectively

    I dont agree with you though that this is about an attitude to the poor. From the day after the fire huge resources have been ported in but its a situation almost impossible to manage but London is just London

  • Korhomme

    I wasn’t just thinking about the response, but what had happened; were there things done or not done that contributed to this?

    Not being reactive after the disaster, but being proactive to prevent it.

  • Neiltoo

    I was going to make the same point. Having spent a fair bit of time working and travelling in different parts of Africa the poverty that I’ve seen there first hand bears no relation to the poverty that I hear described in the UK.

  • murdockp

    Meanwhile in NI they will burn grenfell effigies and woop and celebrate as these towering infernos burn.

  • murdockp

    I don’t think our council’s or housing executive would have performed much better.

    When it comes down to it most council’s are inept.

  • murdockp

    Also many die of alcohol, drug and smoking abuse. Many will not live long enough to draw a pension.

    Applying logic I am surprised the tories don’t give out free cigarettes.

  • murdockp

    150 years ago the same immigrants albeit news lived in worse slums

    Immigrants are London.

  • ted hagan

    What you say is typical Tory blather. The response from Theresa May was atrocious. She appeared more intent on sealing the deal with the DUP to save her own skin than she was about the Grenfell inferno.
    Secondly, it is the stricken families themselves who are condemning the response of the authorities and the serious lack of communication about accommodation available. This is merely being reflected by politicial representatives.
    To glibly shrug your shoulders and say ‘aw well, London is London’ shows the same complacency that was exhibited by the authorities.
    As for the Kensington council chief being asked to leave almost immediately. The guy didn’t jump until he was pushed some days later.
    Thank goodness for the voluntary services, the neighbourhood residents and the emergency services who responded so much better than did the Tory council and the party’s parliamentarians.
    You are the one who appear to be exploiting the situation.

  • ted hagan

    Ah yes, twist your argument towards Brexit and immigration.
    You really are shameless …and you have the nerve to talk about opposition politicians ‘exploiting’ the tragedy?

  • chrisjones2

    Hang on…I am in favour of immigration and think we probably need well over a hundred thousand immigrants a year to work in the economy, make their homes here and become part of British society. And I dont care if they are black white green blue or yellow – it’s about commitment and contribution.

    What we have got instead is a huge influx of economic migrants with few skills and an inability or desire to integrate and for EU migrants we have largely lost the ability to depot those who are violent criminals who come here to prey on the vulnerable. Those are the real problems

  • chrisjones2

    Nonsense. Almost every family has been offered accommodation. On advice from lawyers and community activists they are refusing to accept it

    As for ” the Tory council and the party’s parliamentarians ” yes.. the Council was overwhelmed. But look at the plans for dealing with major disasters. London has a devolved Government. It has scores of highly paid staff who plan endlessly. It publishes frameworks for how the city will cope with an incident like this. Its all online…check it

    And what happened afterwards. The mayor turned up for a photocall, had bottles thrown at him by residents and wasn’t seen again. So far as anyone can see none of the plans were implemented. In effect the Labour run Government of London ran and hid until the PM stepped in.

    As for fewer health and safety regulations, how does that apply in places like Camden, solid red Labour, where the Council unilaterally deleted fire doors from the specification of council flats – indeed ripped them out and replaced them with normal doors. And ran unprotected gas pipes down corridors on the only safe escape routes for residents

    Your desperation to blame the Conservatives on this is shameful

  • chrisjones2

    I am sure you are right. The judge needs to consider all this

    And we need a second inquiry on the aftermath and response. I think this should be separate as it can be done quicker and should not distract the inquiry in determining how the fire happened

  • ted hagan

    You have turned the tragedy into an immigration matter, which, as I said previously, is absolutely disgraceful

  • chrisjones2

    We cannot identify some of the dead because the Council has no idea who was living illegally in their block.

    Indeed a core demand from the victims solicitors is that they all immediately be granted immigration status with indefinite leave to remain. The Police and Council have offered a guarantee of no prosecution to the official tenants who were illegally subletting (and defrauding the Council).

    How can the Landlord effectively and safely manage the block when some of the tenants are desperate to hide and may have poor English and the Council doesn’t even know they are there ?

    Why are you so afraid of the fact that the safety of the tenants is party an immigration manner.

    You attitude is akin to treating the occupants of a boat feeling Libya in the same way as day trippers on a pleasure cruise.

    And by the way, I am not the first to identify the immigration dimension to this. The blessed jeremy Corbyn did

  • Angry Mob

    Some of the only analysis I have come across worth reading whether or not you agree with his premise: http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86529#disqus_thread
    However do check out earlier posts.

    Telling though that China can use the much stricter BS which is superior to the EN standard yet UK and even Germany (+26) as members of the EU can only have voluntary standards which are ignored.

  • DaptoDogs

    A slightly different pace of change subsequently though.