Mother fights for life after children die in fire at Dublin shelter

Pregnant woman killed along with daughter in tragedy at domestic violence refuge

A 27-year-old pregnant woman and three children have died following a fire at a step-down facility for victims of domestic violence in Clondalkin, Dublin. Video: Barry Cronin

 

The mother of two of the three children who perished yesterday in an apartment in Clondalkin, west Dublin, was herself clinging to life last night.

Margaret O’Brien, known to family and friends as Biddy, was in a critical condition in St James’s Hospital having been rescued in the early hours from the smoke-filled apartment of her sister, 27-year-old Annmarie O’Brien, whom she was visiting.

Annmarie was from the Traveller community in Bray and was heavily pregnant. She lost a brother in a fire some years ago. She was pronounced dead early yesterday, along with her daughter Paris, aged 2, and Biddy’s daughter Holly, aged 3. Last night, it was confirmed that Biddy’s four-year old son, Jordan, had also died. Two other children from the apartment block were being treated for smoke inhalation but their condition was not thought to be life-threatening.

Forensic investigators

It is believed the four deaths were caused by smoke inhalation. Garda and Dublin Fire Brigade forensic investigators examined the apartment and are understood to believe the fire was started by an electric fault and was not malicious.

The tragedy happened at a modern step-down facility of four apartments and six houses on the Kilcronan estate run by Sonas, the provider of emergency refuge and interim accommodation, support and advice to women and children at risk of domestic violence.

Twenty-nine women and children were living in complex at the time of the fire. Last night, Sonas said three other families living in the apartments had been found accommodation elsewhere.

Expressions of sympathy were led by President Michael D Higgins who, speaking at an event to mark International Women’s Day, said: “All our hearts must go out to these women and children.” Representatives of Sonas had been due to attend but pulled out.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny also expressed his “deep sympathies” at the loss of life.

Chief executive of Sonas Fiona Ryan said everyone in the organisation was “devastated” at the deaths. Fire alarms and smoke detectors in the apartments had been tested recently and were working, she added.

“Our sympathies and condolences are with the relatives and friends of the deceased and all those impacted by this awful tragedy,” she said. “We are devastated by the tragic loss of life which occurred as a result of fire in an apartment in our supported housing complex in Clondalkin.”

The three-storey apartment block and homes used by Sonas were built in 2000 and have the appearance of being well-maintained. Security cameras scan the entrance and approach to the apartments, which may only be accessed by a key-code pad.

Soft toys

Many local people spoke well of the residents of the apartments and houses and expressed sorrow at the deaths. Flowers, soft toys, cards and candles were being left by the entrance to the apartments which overlooked a peaceful stretch of the Grand Canal. Local Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin visited the scene and said the community in Kilcronan was tight-knit and supportive during trying times.

“My thoughts are with the bereaved families, friends, and members of this tight-knit local community,” he said.

“The death of young children and a young woman is a tragedy and the people here are numb with shock and sadness at this devastating loss of life.”