Bravery of Aoife Beary is hailed as new Berkeley law passes vote
Published 12/08/2016 | 02:30
California is one step closer to new laws aimed at preventing a repeat of the Berkeley balcony collapse tragedy - and it is thanks in large part to the heart-wrenching testimony of Irish survivor Aoife Beary.
State senator Jerry Hill put forward the bill after it had emerged that the balcony was built by a firm with a history of legal claims and settlements against it. However, the company was not required to disclose these to the state licence board.
Irish students Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eoghan Culligan, all aged 21, and Irish-American Ashley Donohoe (22) all lost their lives in the tragedy last year.
Speaking yesterday as his bill to strengthen disclosure requirements for building contractors passed the California Assembly Appropriations Committee, Mr Hill told the Irish Independent that the testimony of Ms Beary (22) was key.
He said: "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.
"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)," he said.
Mr Hill said "there wasn't a dry eye in the house," as Aoife spoke, holding back her own tears, about how the event had changed her life.
The senator said he was upset even recalling the speech.
In her emotional submission to California lawmakers on Wednesday, Ms Beary said: "My life has been changed forever. I cannot believe that you are even debating this bill. People died.
"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 at the time of the tragedy.
She spoke about how their loss will 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.
"We had grown up together and now my birthday will always be their anniversary," she told the California senate.
"While I have to deal with the loss of my friends, I also have to deal with all my own injuries, which included a traumatic brain injury, open-heart surgery, broken arms, hands, pelvis and jaw, along with losing all my teeth."
Mr Hill said the tragedy had not only affected the people of Ireland, but also California.
"I'm so pleased and delighted that we have been able to bring this law forward. It will save lives in the future and hopefully prevent tragedy," he said.
The bill, number 465, was previously defeated after lobbying 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 that the law will have passed all stages and will be enacted by January next year.
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.