Grace Fellowship ‘was a firetrap’
judge imposed fine on the christian church
A CHRISTIAN Church that operates from a retail park unit in Dundalk has been fined after a district court judge said ‘people were in a building that was a firetrap’.
But Judge William Hamill also heard how the Grace Fellowship, who operated the units at the North Link Retail Park, is a registered charity* and that any fine imposed would have to be paid out of the church’s own funds.
Louth County Council had brought a prosecution against Hassan Boyle, who was described in court as ‘the titular head’ at the Grace Fellowship, Units 1-2 North Link Retail Park, Coe’s Road, alleging work started without a commencement notice, a material change happened in the building without a fire safety certificate and a closure notice was not complied with.
The district court had already heard how the assistant fire officer at the council had raised ‘serious’ concerns about the building’s fire safety. Assistant chief fire officer, Philip O’Brien, outlined how Mr Hassan had taken over the running of the entire first floor of the building and half of the ground floor.
Grace Fellowship uses the units as a coffee shop, school, assembly hall and place of worship. Mr O’Brien said he first visited the premises in January last year and found there was no fire safety certificate in place and advised Mr Hassan of this and the fact that the building should be closed without it.
Around half the ground floor is occupied by the church’s school and coffee shop, as well as a public assembly point, and the other 50% is still being used to store furniture – posing a high fire risk.
Last week, council solicitor John McGahon said the local authority wished to have the closure notice summons withdrawn after work was carried out to render the facility fire safe.
Mr McGahon said the maximum fine in the other two summonses is €5,000 each. Judge Hamill said he recalled the case: ‘a lot of people were in a building that was a fire trap’.
Solicitor Frank McDonnell said the required work had been carried out now and Grace Fellowship is a registered charity with 300 members.
He said the church ‘didn’t have the money to carry out the work’ before this.
Judge Hamill said he was conscious that any substantial fine would come out of funds they used for their work helping people.
Mr McGahon said he had been instructed to seek costs and expenses of €2,500.
Mr McDonnell said the Grace Fellowship had financial losses when they had closed in December following a court undertaking, but Mr McGahon said the property was only closed for a short time, ‘contrary to undertakings given in court’.
The Grace Fellowship solicitor said Mr Hassan is ‘the titular head of the charity’, which is not a limited company,* and he is getting a ‘subsistence’ from them, not a wage.
Judge Hamill imposed a fine of €500 and ordered them to pay the council’s €2,500 costs and expenses.
*Until October of 2014 there was no register of Charities in the Republic of Ireland. Any organisation which had obtained a charitable number before that date was deemed to be registered.
* It is important to note that the Church is not using a company as its charitable vehicle. It is likely a Trust which means it was not required publish accounts for the public to see unlike a company. This was the situation at the Victory Church in Firhouse. Here the Revenue Commissioners suspended the charity and they will likely be subject to further investigation. Now it is the case that anyone operating a charity must show how it actually advances religion, or relief of poverty, benefits the community or advances education. It will no longer be enough to just exist. It is possible under a Trust for money to be taken out and secular businesses to run without any public scrutiny. I am reliably informed that it is not the normal practice of the Church members to obtain copies of the accounts.