THE father of the two little girls drowned by their mother at Kaat's Strand in Wexford a fortnight ago has said that he is being treated as a "monster and a scapegoat" for their deaths.
Speaking at length for the first time since the tragedy, Barry Grace, 38, told the Sunday Tribune that he and his estranged wife Sharon had been placed under "enormous pressure" by failures in the family law system.
He strongly denied claims that he had ever sought to take his two daughters Mikahla, 4, and Abby, 3, away from their mother and insisted that his sole interest was in obtaining access to his children.
Grace described Sharon as "a brilliant mother in every way" and added that he still loved her, despite what had happened. "I cannot hate Sharon. I don't know if anyone will ever know why Sharon did what she did."
"I'll always treasure my memories of Mikahla and Abby. Mikahla was very sensitive, like her mum. Little Abby was full of fun and energy. On St Patrick's Day, I had them for the full day and I brought them to see the parade in Wexford town. A week before, they helped me assemble a playswing at the rear of Sharon's home . . .
Mikahla would run away when I'd be hammering loudly and little Abby was standing there passing me my tools and laughing."
"In the last six weeks, everything just changed and I wasn't allowed to see the children. I don't know why. I went from seeing my girls three times a week for a few hours each time to not being able to call them on the phone.
I'll never know why that happened."
In the days following the deaths of Sharon and the girls, Barry Grace says he "looked for answers in alcohol". "I drank a few bottles of vodka.
I just felt empty. The only thing you find at the bottom of a bottle is emptiness."
After a few days of heavy drinking, he considered taking his own life. "I thought of joining Sharon and the girls. But I couldn't do it. I think it was Mikahla and Abby saying to me: 'this isn't the answer'."
Barry Grace told the Sunday Tribune that he hopes to lobby for major changes in the provision of services for couples who encounter problems when one partner, almost always the father, seeks access to their children.
"I want to work with the departments of health and social services to develop a mediation service which gives fathers quicker access to their children."
He said that it was unacceptable that thousands of men across the country regularly have to endure the "living hell" that he went through, when he was denied access to see Mikahla and Abby.
"I want to make sure that what happened my family never happens to another family again, " he said.