'We aren't getting a fair deal as a family, we feel robbed' - heartbreak of Harris family
Published 26/06/2015 | 10:39
THE family of one of the men tragically killed in the Portmarnock sewer accident has told of how their world has been shattered by the horrific accident.
Alan Harris's wife Tracy, daughter Nicole and brother Darren, have all spoken for the first time about the awful events of June 10 - and how they unfolded.
Alan (45) ran his own drain and sewer maintenance company Drain Tech and worked alongside his younger brother Stephen (32).
"Alan and Stephen were different yet similar. There was 13 years between them, which is a generation in many ways, but they were great together," Darren said.
Tracy, who is a year younger than Alan, said that Stephen was working as an electrician until the collapse of the construction sector. Alan had taken his younger brother on in his company to give him hope and a future.
"Alan took him under his wing. Stephen loved having his independence and Alan loved helping him back on the road," she said.
"Stephen was back on his feet and he and his partner Yvonne were planning having a few holidays and getting married".
There aren't many who would like having their older sibling as a boss, but for the Harris brothers it worked.
"Alan was the sort of lad who led from the front, not standing at the back cracking a whip," said Darren.
Perhaps it was this instinct that saw Alan descend first into an underground tank in a housing estate on the outskirts of Portmarnock where residents had complained to the management company of smells in the area.
For a reason yet unknown, and still under investigation, he was overcome by poisonous gases and lost consciousness.
In an act of selfless courage, Stephen went into the tank to help him, only to be hit by the gases as well.
Alan died at the scene, while Stephen battled for two days before also losing his life.
"Stephen gave the ultimate sacrifice. He gave his life trying to save Alan. It would break Alan's heart that he would do that," said Darren.
"If somehow Stephen had saved Alan and Stephen had died, Alan would never be able to cope. It doesn't surprise us that Stephen went in after Alan. He gave his life for him".
"We were clinging to the hope that Stephen would live, but we knew that it wasn't going to happen.
"Tracy set about organising Alan's funeral, and after Stephen passed away I had to leave the hospital to come back to her to help her with Alan's wake. I really felt the pain of that. Not being able to be with both my brothers," he added.
"Alan's passions were work, fitness and family. He worked hard for the business," said Tracy.
Alan injured his cruciate ligament in one leg playing football and was advised by his coach to pack it in.
"Instead he trained hard for his first-ever marathon and ran it in three hours and 16 minutes," Darren said.
Stephen had an ambition to be an actor, and had appeared in some local stage productions as well as a documentary screened on TG4. His interest was sparked after he appeared as an extra in Fair City.
"Drive was common to both of them. When they put their minds to something they went at it with 150pc commitment," said Nicole.
"The two of them reached for the stars. Stephen had done auditions for Love/Hate and Vikings and other things," said Darren.
"Stephen loved his movies, and he always had the catchphrases and one-liners from them," said Nicole.
"Stephen was only 10 when our dad Michael died from cancer at the age of 47, and looking back now I think it had a traumatic effect on him," Darren said.
"It was only his anniversary a few weeks ago, and now Stephen's young lad Nathan, who is only five, has lost him. One of our brothers said we aren't getting a fair deal as a family. We feel robbed to be honest."
In an enormous tribute to the two life-long Dublin fans, the Hill 16 Army will start a minute-long round of applause on the 16-minute mark in their honour when the Dublin football team take to field at Croke Park on Sunday.
Alan and Stephen were among the Dubs' most dedicated fans - driving their famous customised Bluebird van.
"When we were kids, dad took us to the matches, and that's where the love of Dublin GAA comes from," Darren said.
"What's happening on Sunday is an incredible gesture, and one that means a lot to us. The support we have received has been amazing."
Sunday's tribute at Croke Park will be "like the opposite to a minute's silence," he added.
"I think a minute of noise would probably better represent the two lads."
"Michael Darragh MacAuley signed his winning 2013 jersey and gave it to us after Alan died. It's the one he wore on the day. That means so much to us. Alan and Stephen were big MacAuley fans," Tracy said. "Michael Darragh has also promised us that if Dublin win the Championship this year they will take Sam to the lads' graves."