Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

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


2:37 pm

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)

The printer in the office decided to pack it in and the battery in my laptop is on the brink, so I might be ad libbing in a moment. We will see how it goes.

The legislation before us today allows for the continued independent functioning of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board but it is important to refer to the progression of the legislation to date, specifically the work that I and other colleagues, including Deputy O'Rourke, have been undertaking at the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications. The committee sought extensive pre-legislative scrutiny, but the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and the Department of Transport were insistent that the Bill needed to progress at a rapid pace. Reluctantly, we acceded to the request and our waiver of pre-legislative scrutiny was conditional on the Department of Transport publishing and making available the Clinch report, which was drafted by Captain Steve Clinch, of the UK-based Clinchmaritime Limited. This was a Government-funded independent review of Ireland's marine casualty investigation structures. The key aims of the review and the Clinch report were to assess the current organisational structures of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and set out in report format to the Minister for Transport any recommendations, including changes to achieve the most appropriate and effective marine casualty investigation structures in Ireland, taking into account our national and EU obligations. It is very frustrating that thus far, the Clinch report has been withheld. It must be released as a matter of urgency. I understand that one of its key recommendations is to establish a professional full-time unit to investigate marine casualties. Currently, we have a part-time investigation board, staffed by part-time investigators. In order to properly provide for marine investigations in Ireland, surely we need to know the A to Z of the Clinch report and, where appropriate, to stitch its key recommendations into legislation.

The realm of marine casualty investigation is very much the poor relation of air and rail accident investigation in this country. If we take 2019 as a base year, the Air Accident Investigation Unit, which is a full-time unit, had an operational budget of €750,000. The Railway Accident Investigation Unit, which is also a full-time unit, had an operational budget of €350,000. In the very same year of 2019, in which six lives were lost in our territorial waters, the part-time Marine Casualty Investigation Board had a paltry budget of €27,000. In 2019, the board investigated ten maritime incidents, which breaks down into a spend per incident of €2,700.

I wish to reference the marine hazards report which found that the awful sea tragedy off the coast of Kilkee, County Clare, in 2016, which saw Coast Guard volunteer, Caitriona Lucas, lose her life, was not properly investigated. If we had proper procedures on and proper oversight of maritime safety, this incident or accident might not have happened, and poor Caitriona - ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam - might not have lost her life. It is a "what if" but it is a "what if" that needs to be considered as we consider this legislation.

I want to conclude my remarks by paying tribute to Michael Kingston, who has been in touch with many of us on the transport committee. He is a most excellent witness, somebody who, unfortunately, has lived through the tragedy of marine accidents himself. He knows this issue far too well and he has devoted much of his professional life to looking at how we can have an effective, well structured and robust marine accident investigation outfit in Ireland. We need to look at much of what he has put forward. The Clinch report needs to be expedited and considered parallel to this. It cannot just be ignored. We cannot have key recommendations coming out of that and then realise - hang on a minute - in winter 2021, we had an opportunity in this legislation to deal with this but we did not, and the report issued a few months later. I do not think that can happen. The two have to be looked at and considered on balance together and in parallel.


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