The eight and a half year nightmare endured by a County Clare couple after their home was, without any prior notice to them, demolished while a new dual carriageway was being constructed between Limerick and Nenagh, was outlined in the High Court on Wednesday.
Brian and Mary O’Shaughnessy,originally from County Clare, have been living in rented accommodation after their single storey two bedroom, described as an old Irish farmhouse, at Annaholty, Birdhill, was razed to the ground and the site cleared on September 6, 2006.
The court heard while other houses in that area had been acquired and demolished in order to construct the dual carriageway, the O’Shaughnessys, whose property is close to the new road, were informed by the National Roads Authority (NRA) in 2003 their home did not need to be acquired in order to complete the project.
As a result of the loss of their home, which the couple was renovating at the time, they are seeking damages from Limerick County Council, The National Roads Authority, RPS Consulting Engineers Ltd and EGIS Route Scetauroute SA (which was a joint venture in the name of RPS Scetauroute JV) and Midland Fencing Ltd for negligence.
It is claimed Limerick County Council and the NRA were responsible for the operation design and acquisition of land, and oversaw construction of the N7 dual carriageway scheme. The consultant engineers were the contractors engaged to build the scheme. Midland Fencing was a subcontractor of the joint venture, which carried out the demolition of the O’Shaughnessy’s cottage.
The defendants all deny they were negligent. The court also heard the defendants have served each other with notices of contribution indemnity saying the other defendants were responsible for what happened.
In their defence, where negligence is denied by them, Limerick County Council and the NRA accept the house was wrongfully demolished, and the couple are entitled to compensation.The contractors in its denial rejects the property constituted a dwelling house or that it wrongfully demolished the O’Shaughnessys’ property.
Midland Fencing says it was told by the contractors to demolish a number of properties along the route of the N7, including the O’Shaughnessys, which it described as derelict, dilapidated, unfurnished and uninhabited.
Mary O’Shaughnessy said she and her husband Brian bought the house for IR£34,500 from a lady who used it as a holiday home in 1998. The house suited their needs. They had lived there for a period and had also rented it out.
It was always their intention to reside there permanently.Between 2001 to 2003 there was uncertainty over the route of the new road. They were told in 2003 that the house would not be the subject of a CPO.
The couple she said made plans to renovate and extend the property, and monies were borrowed.Those plans had to be revised, she said. In the months prior to the demolition, Brian had been carrying out extensive preparatory works as part of the renovationass the house. Planning permission was sought from the local authority.
By late August 2006, slates on the roof had been removed and the furniture taken out. On the evening of September6, 2006 she decided to collect post at the house. When she arrived at Annaholty the house was gone.
Initially she thought she was “at the wrong place.” When she realised what had happened to their home she became very upset. She said it felt likes she and her husband’s lives had been “wiped out”.”I got such a shock. I froze really ” she said.”I just could not understand it”.
She said she went to a neighbours, who told the workers had demolished the house between 11am and 3.20pm that day and called her husband. She and her husband had went to a solicitor and also informed the gardaí what happened.
They had no prior indication or notice that the house was to be demolished. She said 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 added.
They had been told by a solicitor representing them that Limerick County Council had offered an apology shortly after the demolition. However, despite doing everything they could to rectify their position, nothing had been done.
Opening the case, Denis McDonald SC, appearing with Michael O’Donnell BL for the O’Shaughnessys, said irrespective of the dispute between the defendants, his clients had been treated with “callous disregard” since the house was demolished.
All they have received was two payments from Limerick County Council of €10,000 each. Counsel said that in addition to general damages the O’Shaughnessys were also entitled to exemplary damages.
Counsel said that because they had to rent properties they were unable to meet their mortgage repayments in respect of the house. In 2009 their lender sought possession orders in respect of the demolished property. Those proceeding have been stayed pending the outcome of the case, counsel added.
The case, before Mr Justice Donald Binchy, continues and is expected to last several weeks.
By Aodhan Ó Faolain