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The High Court in Dublin.

Family home ‘wrongfully demolished’

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, County Tipperary on September 6, 2006 was a nightmare. The site was never used for the new road.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice Donald Binchy, who said it was “abundantly clear” what happened “was not down to any single act”, found the consultant engineers, which was 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 CC/The National Roads Authority, 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 (which was a joint venture in the name of RPS Scetauroute JV), which was contracted by Limerick CC to carry out certain works on the carriageway and Midland Fencing Ltd, a subcontractor which carried out the
demolition works.

The defendants all denied negligence. Limerick CC/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.

In his judgment, 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 that an engineer for RPS, following consultations with LCC, had wrongly designated a plot of land 156a, which was to 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.

The judge 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.

In the circumstances 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 September 6, 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.

By Aodhan O’Faolain

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