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Limerick County Council demolishes family home by mistake

Brian and Mary O’Shaughnessy described the destruction of their house as “a nightmare”.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock

THE HIGH COURT has found that consultant engineers and Limerick County Council were responsible for the wrongful demolition of a family home during the construction of a new dual carriageway between Limerick and Nenagh.

Brian and Mary O’Shaughnessy described the destruction of their single-storey two-bedroom old Irish farmhouse ‘The Hollows’ at Annaholty, Birdhill, Co Tipperary on 6 September 2006 as “a nightmare”. The site was never used for the new road.

Giving judgement, Mr Justice Donald Binchy, who said it was “abundantly clear” what happened “was not down to any single act”, found the consultant engineers, a joint venture called RPS Scetauroute, was 70% responsible while the local authority was 30% responsible.

A third party which carried out the actual demolition was found not to be negligent in the matter.

The O’Shaughnessys sought damages for alleged negligence from several parties including Limerick County Council and The National Roads Authority (NRA), who it was claimed were both responsible for the operation, design and acquisition of land, and oversaw construction of the N7 dual carriageway scheme.

They also sued RPS Consulting Engineers Ltd and EGIS Route Scetauroute SA (a joint venture in the name of RPS Scetauroute JV), which was contracted by Limerick County Council (LCC) to carry out certain works on the carriageway, and Midland Fencing Ltd, a subcontractor that carried out the demolition works.

The defendants all denied negligence. LCC, NRA, RPS, and Midland all served each other with notices of contribution and indemnity, claiming the other defendants were responsible for what happened.

Last January the O’Shaughnessy’s settled their action on undisclosed terms. The hearing proceeded to determine which of the defendants was liable.

A series of errors

In his judgement, the Judge said the demolition was “as a consequence of a series of acts and omissions in which both LCC and RPS play a part.”

The events leading to the demolition included an engineer for RPS, following consultations with LCC, wrongly designating a plot of land, 156a – which was acquired, as being derelict. There was no structure on the plot, but there may have been in the past.

LCC’s staff, when looking for a plot of land that matched that description then mistakenly photographed and labelled the O’Shaughnessy’s home as being plot 156a.

In early 2006, LCC included plot 156a on a list of properties to be demolished. LCC then provided RPS with the list, including a photograph of the O’Shaughnessy’s home describing it as plot 156a.

The judge said there was also a failure by engineers to query why works were being carried out on the house, and a lack of familiarity with the boundaries of the site the subject of a CPO.

birdhill Birdhill, Co Tipperary Source: Google Maps

He said he was satisfied RPS and LCC owed a duty of care to the O’Shaughnessys, and it went without saying that their home should not have been demolished.

In his view, RPS failed in its duty under the terms of its contract to provide services to LCC. RPS failed to supervise the site properly or ensure the resident engineers were sufficiently familiar with the site, or check that the premises shown in the photograph it was given was at plot 156a.

However, the judge added that there could be no doubt that LCC was also negligent in instructing RPS to include plot 156a in the demolition contract, incorrectly identifying plot 156a as being the O’Shaughnessy’s property, or ensuring its staff were familiar with site boundaries and project documentation.

Shared responsibility 

In the circumstances, he said RPS were 70% negligent, and LCC 30% negligent.

The O’Shaughnessys, bought the house for IR£34,500 in 1998. They lived there for a period and also rented it out. It was always their intention to reside there permanently.

Between 2001 to 2003, there was uncertainty about the house because it was close to the route of the new carriageway. The O’Shaughnessy’s were informed by the NRA in 2003 their home was not required in order to complete the project. Other houses in Annaholty were acquired and demolished as part of the construction works.

In the months before the demolition Brian O’Shaughnessy was carrying out preparatory works as part of plans to renovate the house. Planning permission was also sought from the local authority.

By late August 2006, slates on the roof and furniture in the house were removed. On 6 September 2006 Mary O’Shaughnessy decided to collect post at the house. When she arrived at Annaholty the house was gone, and the site cleared.

They had no prior indication or notice that the house was to be demolished.

She initially believed matters would be sorted out by Christmas of that year, and never thought she would have to come to court. What had happened to her and her husband as a “nightmare”, she said.

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About the author:

Aodhan O Faolain

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