Two-year-old Liam Keogh drowned in a pool of water in the unfinished ghost estate of Glenatore, in Athlone, County Westmeath. It is believed he followed the family dog through the fence before getting into difficulty.
This tragic accident brings the fact that a vast number of ghost estates in Ireland have been let to fall into a dangerous state of neglect since the collapse of Ireland’s economic property bubble.
Newstalk reported that the Irish Environment Minister, Phil Hogan, has asked Westmeath County Council for a full report into the ghost estate where a toddler was found dead.
A Garda (police) and Health Service Authority (HAS) investigation is also underway.
Fine Gael politician Michael Ring admitted the news brought tears to his eyes.
“[The family] are devastated”, a source close to the family told the Irish Daily Mail. “They are a large family, real salt of the earth Athlone people. The whole community is in shock.”
Shortly after midday on Thursday, the family realized the boy was missing and immediately launched a search party, along with neighbors.
“The dog came back to the house alone and was soaking wet, and the family figured the boy must have been near some kind of water, so they followed the dog back to where he had been, and they found him there through the fence,” said the source.
On Thursday night the Westmeath County Council announced that the ghost estate is a Category Three estate and is the responsibility of developer Tony Diskin. Tragically, Diskin is a friend of the Keogh family.
Planning permission for the Glenatore estate was received in 2005. The estate consists of 66 terraced homes and apartments. Only five of these properties are occupied, according to the 2011 national house survey. The other buildings were either never started or are in various stages of construction.
Local councillor Kevin Moran said the family have always been careful not to let their son out of their sight. He said, “They always had an eye on him, the whole time. They had a big fence up in the garden and were so careful. It just makes the whole thing worse.”
Liam’s uncle, PJ Keogh, visited the site to show the officials the number of gaps the child could climb through.
His father, Wesley Keogh, now works in Wales and is no longer in a relationship with Liam’s mother.
The family’s neighbor, Maria Buckley, told the Irish Daily Mail, “She would never let him out of the house”.
Buckley can see the fence from her sitting room. She said “My regret is I wasn’t in the sitting room because I would have stopped him. If I was there and I had seen a small child, I would have gone after them.”
Fianna Fáil councillor Aengus O’Rourke said “This brings into sharp focus the whole issue of ghost estates once again and how secure they are.
“If we are to look back at any of the programmes or comments made about ghost estates, you will see that it was said time and time again that they were an accident waiting to happen.
“It is time we put in more effort into ensuring that the money is made available to make those estates that are half-occupied safe.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family, who I am familiar with, after this terrible accident.
“I have a two-and-a-half year-old child and I know what it’s like to be constantly watching a child of that age. What has happened is unthinkable.”