Family in Crisis.

Winston Churchill once said “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us “.  Mr Churchill was referring, of course, to the House of Common’s Chamber which had been destroyed by an enemy bomb in 1941. He wanted the House of Parliament to be rebuilt in its original shape. But what he said rings true in so many more ways. Our homes are our castles, and in an ideal world, our sanctuaries. We spend much of our lives paying for them, and all our time maintaining them.

Eamon and Marie Roche live in the town of Abbeyfeale, County Limerick. They are a retired couple, having raised their daughter Marian in Tournafulla, Eamon’s native place. They later moved a couple of more times before finding their “forever home” in a beautiful spot, over- looking the river Feale. They purchased the house in 2005, and moved in shortly afterwards. This was the house they both fell in love with, and were the first and only owners of the newly built home. They were no strangers to moving houses. They had already completed a self- build, which they later sold. Consequently, they had purchased other properties, but none appealed as much as this new home did. As required, they followed proper procedure when purchasing, having an engineers report and legal representation. Everything was fine. They loved their new home. It is a beautifully constructed, well laid- out home. Entry is by the side of the house, through a private car park. The stairs lead up to a family bathroom, and three splendid bedrooms, two of which have magnificent views of the River Feale. Downstairs, the kitchen diner is spacious and light, and an open plan living room is adjacent. The patio doors lead out to a once beautiful, newly decked area, with a large fence. Marie spent much time growing flowers in pots, and colour was awash in the quiet, tranquil balcony. It was an idyllic spot, and the couple happily invested their life savings to spend quality time there. The house itself is decorated to the highest standards, a witness to the impeccable taste of the home- owners. To reduce maintenance, they constructed a new composted decking recently, which requires very little care. It cost eight thousand euro.

In 2016, their neighbour had a potential problem with an oil tank. It seemed like it may be in danger of falling in to the river. A local council engineer visited the neighbourhood in November 2016, and informed them that works carried out to prevent further river erosion would be completed by Christmas. Even though the Roches felt that their own defences were adequate, they were happy knowing that preventative work would be carried out. Unfortunately, this never came to pass.

During the early part of 2017, Council staff again visited the area taking water levels. Again, an engineer returned seeking a list of affected properties.

On a bright, balmy November evening, Marie sat at her kitchen table. She and Eamon were going to dinner to celebrate her birthday. She thought she heard a rumble, and immediately looked out of her window. She was appalled and frightened to realise that the green fence outside her patio area had collapsed in to the river. She and Eamon quickly realised that their flood defences were seriously compromised. They were devastated, and in shock. Their world was falling apart, and every worst possible scenario flashed through their minds. Later, the wall started to collapse, with their new decking potentially taking a nose- dive to the river.  However, they were somewhat relieved to realise that help was at hand.  Within the space of twenty- four hours, they had visits from local councillors, council management staff, council engineers, and local TD’s. Everybody saw the situation as dire, and commitments were made to rectify the problem. Very shortly afterwards, a specialist engineer visited the site and deemed it necessary to begin temporary work immediately to stop further damage, with a view to carrying out permanent works at the sites of those compromised properties. On November 25th, Marie and Eamon were contacted by their local councillors and a local TD informing them that Limerick county and City Council were now proceeding with full remedial works. As requested by the Council, they agreed to move while this work was being carried out. The Council paid their rent on another property in the town. The Roches were relieved and grateful for the help they were being offered, and looked forward to getting back in to their home by Christmas.

Roadbridge, a well -known company, were employed as sub-contractors by the Council, and work began on December first. An entrance road was constructed by a neighbouring property. The Roches were told that work would continue a 12-hour, 7-day week process until it was complete. The company vacated when it received no further instruction from any authority, a few days after. On December fourth, foundations were checked by a Council engineer, and it was deemed satisfactory and safe.

The situation currently is that funding for permanent fixture of river defences on these properties has not been found. After much to-ing and fro-ing between the family and various state bodies, no permanent solution has been agreed. With the support of the entire locality, and their local representatives, a public meeting has been called for January 16th, at 8pm in the Glórach Theatre, Abbeyfeale.  There will be a full and frank discussion on the topic between local representatives in council and government offices, in an effort to reassure the public that every effort will be made to fix this dire situation. To allow it to continue would surely be irresponsible when one considers the shortage of housing in an already depleted market. It must also be stated that the situation could have been much worse. Shortly before the Roche’s balcony collapsed, a photograph was taken of visiting family lined up at the fence, including a child. Had the wall collapsed at the time, lives could potentially have been lost. Fishermen too often fish under the area. They could also have been in danger, and of course those engineers who examined the area were also lucky that nothing happened during their time there.

There are many reasons why a river can change its course. Engineers the world over are aware of the damage that can be done when a river flow changes. But it is equally almost impossible to predict events that occur consequently. Every situation is different. The issue of who is responsible when damage to a home is done from river changes is for the experts to decide. But it must be recognised that people buy or build homes in good faith, and in accordance with laws that are established by authorities within the government. And that while discussions regarding who should pay for work to be done continues to be argued in government quarters, Eamon and Marie still suffer the insecurity of not knowing what further damage is being done to their home. The stress is harrowing and grows as no solution to the problem emerges.

Eamon suffered a heart attack in 2010, and since all this began, has had to regularly visit his GP. This is stressful for even the most robust. He and Maire have done nothing wrong. They are law abiding citizens who worked hard and paid their taxes all their lives. They are guilty of only falling in love with a new house with a beautiful view of the river. It is to be hoped that common sense will prevail and that a solution to fix their home, and the other homes in the neighbourhood will be found quickly and efficiently. There but for the Grace of God go any one of us.