Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage

 

2:27 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)

My colleague, an Teachta O'Rourke, has already outlined Sinn Féin's approach to this Bill. We see it as a missed opportunity and hope the Minister of State will work with us on the substantive amendments that we will submit on Committee Stage, aimed at strengthening this legislation considerably.

I want to offer my solidarity to all of the families who have found themselves in the terrible position of having to engage with marine casualty investigations. As fisheries and marine spokesperson for Sinn Féin, I have a particular interest in ensuring that we minimise fishing tragedies as much as possible but that when they do happen, the most professional and swift investigations are carried out and comfort is given to bereaved families.

There are many misgivings about the current system and its shortcomings. These misgivings have been well articulated by those who have had the misfortune to have had to engage with the MCIB over many years, none more so than the respected campaigner Michael Kingston. During the Oireachtas committee's pre-legislative scrutiny hearings, Mr. Kingston put it on record that he has engaged with a multitude of departmental officials, current and former MCIB investigators and former departmental surveyors, all of whom have deep reservations about the current system. These reservations cannot be brushed under the carpet because to do so would be a disservice to all those who have passed due to marine tragedies and their families.

I want to take this opportunity to read into the Dáil record the ongoing experience of the families of Gerry Doherty and Thomas Weir who both drowned in a boating tragedy near Portronan, Malin Head in Donegal on 17 July 2018. As Gerry's father, Paddy, had drowned in a crabbing accident when Gerry was a teenager, this was a double tragedy for his family who are very traumatised by all of this. There are serious questions about how the emergency response system of this State handled this tragedy on that fateful day and since. The families have serious issues with the MCIB investigation into the circumstances surrounding their loved ones' deaths and the level of co-operation from the MCIB with the ongoing inquest into their deaths. I ask the Minister of State to take a particular interest in this case because I have no doubt that more will be revealed in due course. This is another reason for serious reform of the board and its practices.

The EU judgment that demands this legislation has affirmed these concerns but this Bill is only one piece in the jigsaw that will fix it. The MCIB must be entirely independent of any other State agency or body and must have complete autonomy. Until this happens, doubts and questions will persist and this cannot continue. Mistakes have been made in the past. They must now be rectified and we must get this right. Failures that have occurred in the past have compounded hurt and made difficult situations even harder for survivors, loved ones and colleagues. These failures cannot happen again. As legislators, we must ensure that this legislation is only the start and not the end of a reform process.

To continue with part-time investigators in the marine area is entirely unacceptable. Michael Kingston has previously provided data on spending in the aviation and rail sectors compared to the marine sector and has pointed to the fact that those two sectors have full-time investigators despite, thankfully, having no deaths to investigate. It is imperative that we have full-time investigators for marine investigations. This is a must. The approach to the MCIB reflects the approach to the fisheries and marine sector in general in this country. We are the only island nation in the entirety of the EU now but fishermen in this State feel failed, neglected and abandoned by the Department and other State agencies. The approach to this board and how it has been allowed to continue for so long reflects the utter neglect of our marine resource and our marine communities by Government after Government.

That is to be straight about it. It must stop. The process in terms of the legislation must be of the highest standard to recruit the best qualified individuals.

I want to conclude by thanking Michael Kingston and others, notably, Ciaran McCarthy, who have given years of dedicated and selfless work to this issue for the greater good. I stress again that the priority must be getting this right. We must have a new system that can be trusted. Victims, survivors and their family members and loved ones deserve nothing less.

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