Mother of Berkeley balcony victim vows to fight on for tighter safety regulations

Jackie Donohoe has spent four years campaigning for change in California building codes

The students who were killed when the balcony collapsed at the Library Gardens Apartments, in Berkeley, California (top L-R) Ashley Donohoe, Eoghan Culligan and Olivia Burke; (bottom L-R) Nick Schuster, Eimear Walsh and Lorcan Miller. Photograph: The Irish Times

The students who were killed when the balcony collapsed at the Library Gardens Apartments, in Berkeley, California (top L-R) Ashley Donohoe, Eoghan Culligan and Olivia Burke; (bottom L-R) Nick Schuster, Eimear Walsh and Lorcan Miller. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

The mother of one of the students killed in the 2015 Berkeley balcony collapse has vowed to keep up the fight to tighten building regulations in California.

Jackie Donohoe is mother of Ashley Donohoe and aunt of Olivia Burke, who along with Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eimear Walsh died on June 16th, 2015.

She is to be honoured by President Michael D Higgins at a function in Áras an Uachtaráin this week. “It is bittersweet, I am very humbled and very shocked,” she told RTÉ radio’s Ryan Tubridy Show.

Ms Donohoe has spent the past four years campaigning in California for construction safety codes to be changed. “I will never give up working to change the codes.”

Part of her campaign is questioning why the state’s construction licensing board “is not going after the big companies”.

On investigation she found a member of the board was the owner of a construction company that paid out millions for ‘water intrusion’ damage, which was the cause of the Berkeley balcony collapse. “This person being on the licensing board was a conflict of interest.”

She approached the governor of California and informed him of the conflict of interest.

Ms Donohoe added that before every meeting in the state capital, Sacramento, she looks at photographs of the six students who died. “It’s very important to me to show their faces. I am determined to humanise the legislation. You have to get through to these people, to say whatever it takes to humanise the issue.

“But I don’t think the legislation will ever be watertight. The construction industry doesn’t want inspections done every where. It’s not done on hotels,” she said.

Ms Donohoe said that it feels like yesterday that the tragedy occurred. “I don’t think we’ll ever find a new normal. We’re just existing. When you lose a child you lose your past, your present and your future. That’s all gone.”

One person can make a difference, she said of her campaign. “If you believe in something you can keep going and do the right thing. You’d be surprised at the amount of support you get if you ask.”

Living in California since 1989, the Tallaght woman said her daughter would want her to continue the campaign. “She would say: don’t let them get away with it.”

Ms Donohoe praised the Irish community in San Francisco, then ambassador Ann Anderson, the Irish consul and the pastoral centre in the city for their support in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and her efforts to have the law changed in California.

The support she received from the Irish Government, the diplomatic service and the Irish community in California had enabled her to continue the fight, she said.

“I don’t think people realise how great the Government and diplomatic service are. The support that the pastoral centre gave all the families and the friends was amazing.

“Their friends were totally traumatised. As a parent you’d like to know there was someone there to help your child.”