Squatter told he can stay in NAMA ghost estate home
Judge throws out trespass case taken against dad of seven
He was on the housing list for five years and, out of desperation to find somewhere to call home, eventually resorted to squatting in one of the thousands of empty houses in ghost estates littering Ireland.
William Tuohy said last night that the house in Church Hill, Tullamore, Co Offaly, wasn't his first choice -- but he is delighted with his new home.
And yesterday a judge allowed him to continue living there when she threw out a case to force Mr Tuohy from his home.
Mr Tuohy (46) had appeared before Tullamore District Court charged with trespassing in the NAMA house.
But after viewing pictures of the improvements he had made to the two-storey home, Judge Catherine Staines dismissed the case, saying there was no evidence that he had intended to commit an offence.
Mr Tuohy, a separated father of seven who is originally from Mountmellick, Co Laois, moved into the house four months ago.
There are around 250 houses in the estate, with a further 20 unfinished. Around 30 of the completed homes are unoccupied.
Mr Tuohy said he had made the house his own.
Previously in rented accommodation, he had to leave following a dispute with the landlord, who he says failed to deal with open sewage flowing in the back garden.
Now his children -- who are aged between eight and 29 -- love to visit on the weekend because they can play in the garden.
"I'm delighted to have somewhere nice for them to come into. It's lovely to have somewhere where you're not worrying about what's going on outside," he said.
He said this particular house wasn't his first choice, but he loved its quiet location at the rear of the housing estate.
"I picked a house at the very front but unfortunately, when I went to move into it, somebody had broken in and robbed the tanks out of it and the houses all along that block," he said yesterday.
He said he was frank with gardai when they visited him.
"I explained straight out what I was doing. I told them I was claiming squatters' rights using adverse possession to the property," he said.
Mr Tuohy is unemployed and receives a disability pension because of depression. He also admits to previous drug problems. He said he enjoyed doing up the house because it kept him busy.
He said it was "no problem" to get it connected to the ESB mains after paying a local company €250 to inspect and confirm the house was wired properly.
There is a gas connection but he cannot afford gas so he relies on solid fuel for heat.
Michael Duignan Auctioneers was handling the sale of the properties, which were priced up to €300,000.
Speaking after the judge dismissed the garda prosecution for trespass, Mr Tuohy, who has been on the housing list in Tullamore for five years, said he tried all the vacant properties in the estate until he found one with an open door.
The house had a fitted cherrywood kitchen and bathroom and he painted the walls, put down flooring and dealt with a serious mould problem that developed while the house was vacant for three years.
There were no electrical appliances so he bought his own but said much of the furniture had been donated by family and friends. He said he had paid around €2,000 on the house and that the money had made it "very habitable".
The case was dismissed because, after seeing photographs of his new home, the judge said there was no evidence he had intended to commit an offence.
"I was kind of surprised when she went with me -- the guards seemed to have everything wrapped up. As far as I was concerned it didn't look good.
"She might have put me out of the house but I knew she was going to be fair with me, maybe give me a month or six weeks to get a place."
Solicitor John Hughes explained that his client had been left to his own devices in the house and, as they had recently learned the name of the owner, who is in NAMA, Mr Tuohy would like to pay rent and arrears.
He described Church View as "effectively a ghost estate, part completed, part unoccupied and unfinished, with around 30 vacant houses".
Mr Tuohy said he planned to stay in the property.
"I just want a place of my own, somewhere to bring my kids at the end of the week, with no headaches.
"I can't understand why somebody like the council can't take over these properties and rent them out to people. It's a shame. There are so many people on the housing list."