Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2019: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000, to revise the requirements for composition of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and to provide for related matters.

I am delighted to be able to introduce this Private Members' Bill today. I salute the work of the team in the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers for all its guidance and helpful suggestions on the draft. I salute, in particular, Ms Sinead Beirne, who was the point of contact for my office. I thank David Mullins in my office and my own staff. I welcome to the Visitors Gallery Ms Anne-Marie O'Brien and her father, Finbar. I offer a special mention to Anne, who is watching at home. Anne-Marie has been a champion in the cause of her brother John since that fateful day almost a decade ago.

The Bill itself is short and technical. It sets out to amend the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000, to revise the requirements for the composition of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, and to provide for related matters. In many ways, however, the Bill is an attempt to draw some good out of a tragedy that befell two families in my constituency on Sunday, 23 May 2010. On that day, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, John O'Brien and his good friend Patrick Esmonde went fishing off Helvick Head, County Waterford. Tragically they never returned to their loved ones. Since then, I have worked closely with John O'Brien's sister Anne-Marie to have a full, open and thorough investigation to establish the exact cause of death. The fight will continue.

What this Bill seeks to do is rectify the bizarre circumstances whereby there is no legal obligation whatsoever on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport or his agents to ensure that members of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board have maritime or marine-accident experience. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will understand that being from a sea-fishing county. It is a vital component, by anyone's yardstick. This has always been a major issue for the two families, who have never accepted the official outcome of the investigation into the deaths on the summer's day. If this Bill is accepted and passed, it will strengthen the onus on the Minister and his agents to ensure that qualified and suitable candidates are selected for the membership of the board. Maritime experience should be a prerequisite. It is a fair and reasonable requirement given the gravity of the cases that may need to be investigated.

It stands in stark contrast to the equivalent board in the United Kingdom, where marine casualty investigation experience is a prerequisite and a requirement. We must have a similar situation in this jurisdiction in order to protect the integrity of the process and ensure that no stone is left unturned for the loved ones left behind in cases involving marine accidents with fatalities. They happen, unfortunately, and it is a tragedy but we need to have the fullest possible investigations as well as expertise on this board which sadly we do not have.

I want to express my heartfelt admiration to the O'Brien and Esmonde families, who have persisted in their campaign for answers for almost a decade. It is so harrowing. In particular, I want to mention John's sister, Anne-Marie, who is with us here today with her dad, who has never given up the fight for justice and who looks after the late John's children every second weekend and is a great source of strength. We have young families left without a dad and no proper answers. John and Anne-Marie's families and the family of Patrick Esmonde can rightly be proud of the work Anne-Marie has done and will continue to do. I thank other colleagues who have supported her.

I am hugely disappointed with the Garda investigation, or lack of one. I want to thank the Minister, Deputy Ross, of whom I am often critical, as he visited Anne-Marie in her home, listened to her and is interested in making changes here. I certainly hope the Bill can be accepted by the Government and can be dealt with sensitively and appropriately.

I also want to welcome the Killilea family here today.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.