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Saturday 7 December 2019

'I'll never give up fight for tighter safety rules', says Berkeley fall mum

Ashley Donohoe lost her life
Ashley Donohoe lost her life

A mother who lost both her daughter and niece in the Berkeley balcony collapse four years ago said she is determined to keep their memories and those of the others who died that night alive.

Ashley Donohoe (22) and her cousin Olivia Burke (21) both died in the disaster on June 16, 2015.

A fourth-floor balcony of a rented apartment gave way in the early hours of a 21st birthday party being held for close friend Aoife Beary who was seriously injured in the fall.

The collapse also claimed the lives of Eimear Walsh, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eoghan Culligan, all 21.

Speaking on the Ryan Tubridy Show on RTE Radio One, Jackie Cronin Donohoe said that keeping the legacy of her daughter, niece and the others who died was of paramount importance to her.

"It is so important to me to keep their legacy alive."

She is visiting Dublin from her home in San Francisco to receive an award from President Michael D Higgins.

Mrs Cronin Donohoe said it was also vital to ensure that Bills were passed to tighten building and construction laws.

"I was, and still am, determined to humanise the legislation and it is still not watertight."

Since the tragedy, she has succeeded in forcing change to some building codes and related reporting when it comes to water intrusion, construction defect settlements and the Contracting Licensing Board.

"I will never give up working to change the codes," she said.

Mrs Cronin Donohoe, originally from Tallaght in Dublin, said she was in the apartment that night: "Myself and my husband (George) were there and our other daughter, Amanda.

"We were the only parents that were there that night.

Support

"Ashley and Olivia had passed, but we were trying to find out who the other kids were."

Mrs Cronin Donohoe expressed her gratitude for the support they had received since the incident: "It was just amazing the support we and (all the families) received from the Irish Government, Irish Consulate, ambassadors, staff and Irish people.

"My husband would say we are grand. It depends on the day. But they are just words we use," she said.

Students Niall Murray, Hannah Waters, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn were also injured in the collapse. Their injuries at the time included a brain injury and a severed spinal cord.

A plaque listing all the names of the victims was later unveiled in Berkeley.

In the months after the tragedy, Mrs Cronin Donohoe spoke to US legislators. She told them: "SB 465, a bill in the California State Legislature, is the first step to require stronger standards for materials used in building balconies.

"It is also the first step to ban secret settlements in lawsuits involving builders and contractors who have been found negligent."

An investigation found that the balcony collapsed due to "rot and decay" in the wood but a County District Attorney said earlier this year that they will not be filing criminal charges.

Construction industry representatives withdrew their opposition to a new law which will require them to report previous convictions for questionable work.

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