herald

Friday 9 December 2016

'There wasn't a dry eye' - senator's praise for brave Aoife's Berkeley testimony

An emotional Aoife Beary addresses the California State Senate
An emotional Aoife Beary addresses the California State Senate

The Californian senator championing new laws to help prevent a repeat of the Berkeley tragedy has praised the heart-wrenching testimony of Aoife Beary, who survived the balcony collapse.

Senator Jerry Hill said there "wasn't a dry eye in the room" when Aoife (22) spoke in the California State Senate about the accident that killed six of her friends.

Aoife's testimony came as California moved a step closer to introducing tougher laws for building contractors.

Powerful

Mr Hill put forward a bill after it emerged that the balcony was built by a firm with a history of legal claims against it. However, the company was not required to disclose these to the state licensing board.

Irish students Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, all aged 21, and Irish-American Ashley Donohoe (22) died in the tragedy on June 16 last year.

Speaking yesterday as his bill to strengthen disclosure requirements for contractors passed the California Assembly Appropriations Committee, Mr Hill told the Herald the testimony of Ms Beary was key.

"I don't think the members of the committee were quite ready for that. I mean, we notified the chair about the testimony, but I don't think they were ready for just how powerful it was," he said.

"It has passed mainly because of the testimony of Aoife and her mother. There was also the powerful testimony of Jackie Donohoe, who lost her daughter Ashley and niece Olivia Burke in the tragedy."

Mr Hill said he was upset even recalling the speech.

"My life has been changed forever. I cannot believe that you are even debating this bill. People died," Aoife said, in an emotional submission to California lawmakers on Wednesday.

"You should make sure that balconies are scrutinised in this state to prevent this happening again."

The group of friends were celebrating Aoife's 21st birthday when the tragedy happened. She spoke of how it will from now always be marked on her birthday.

"I miss my friends so much. I have known them since we started school together at four years of age," she told the Senate.

"We had grown up together and now my birthday will always be their anniver- sary.

"While I have to deal with the loss of my friends, I also have to deal with all my own injur- ies which included a trauma- tic brain injury, open heart surgery, broken arms, hands, pelvis and jaw along with losing all my teeth."

Lobbying

Mr Hill said the tragedy had not only impacted on the people of Ireland, but on everyone in California.

"I'm so pleased and delighted we've been able to bring this law forward. It will save lives in the future and hopefully prevent more tragedy," he said.

The bill was previously defeated after lobby- ing from the construction industry in California.

It underwent a number of amendments and nobody spoke in opposition to it this time around.

It passed committee stage yesterday, and it is hoped the law will have passed all stages and be enacted by January.

In April, the state board found that "poor workmanship" in the waterproofing of the balcony resulted in water damage that caused it to rot and eventually fall.

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