Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to move Second Stage of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2019. Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire. I thank the Minister for his courtesy and the Government for not opposing this Bill. When Ms Anne-Marie O'Brien, who is in the Visitors Gallery with her dad, started to raise issues, right after the terrible accident, which was almost ten years ago, the Minister travelled to her home in Tipperary to meet her and myself. He also received a deputation in Dublin and he listened and was very helpful and courteous to her. I want to say hello to the many people watching at home, including young Anna, Anne-Marie's daughter, who is only ten years of age and who is remembering her late uncle, and the Esmonde family members. It is a very traumatic case and it is a ten-year fight for justice. This is a very important milestone on that road and this is important legislation.

I thank the Deputies who are in attendance, including Deputy Cahill, who is my constituency colleague. On Anne-Marie's behalf, I thank Deputies for engaging with her, especially Deputies Ferris and Cahill and other Deputies, two of whom are gone, namely, Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, who were very helpful. I also thank David Mullins in my own office and anyone else who has helped us.

Many people have gone home because of Storm Lorenzo. I hope everybody at sea, whether on a ferry or otherwise, gets home safely. There are many songs, including from the Clancy Brothers, about bringing people home safely. It is a rough evening for people who have to be at sea or on the road. It is poignant this debate is happening this evening unlike the day this terrible tragedy unfolded. It was a beautiful late spring-early summer day. The waters were still as the water sa ghloine sin, as the water in the glass in front of me.

The aim of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2019 is to revise the requirements for composition of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and to provide for related matters. When the Bill was introduced I made it clear that while the Bill itself is short and technical, it is of considerable emotional importance to the O'Brien and the Esmonde families and to several other family members left behind. I salute the courage and determination of Anne-Marie in pushing for the introduction of this Bill, which is not for selfish reasons. Rather, it is very selfless. She knows, as does the Esmonde family, their loved ones will not be coming back but she is concerned about future accidents, incidents and loved ones lost. One thinks of the three young girls her brother left behind, Shannon, Sophie and Samantha, and Pat Esmonde's daughter, Shannon. They were young children. By a small quirk of fate, they both lived either side of me - one three miles in one direction and the other two and a half miles in the other direction. I did not know them even though they were living there. These children were left without ever being able to see their father again. I salute Anne-Marie on the totally selfless work she has done in that area.

It is for other people's benefit.

This Bill seeks to remedy those circumstances where there is no legal obligation on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport or his or her agents to ensure that members of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board have maritime or marine accident experience. I am not aiming this at the Minister, Deputy Ross, because I believe he has engaged on the issue and is interested in changing it. The Bill refers to the Minister of the day, whoever he or she might be.

If this Bill is accepted and passed, it will strengthen the onus on the Minister and his or her agents to ensure that qualified and suitable candidates are selected for membership of the board or elected to it, and that maritime experience should be a prerequisite. One would think that we should not have to look for this in legislation, but maritime experience has to be a prerequisite. It is a fair and reasonable requirement given the gravity of the cases that may need to be investigated.

We are aware that the European Commission has referred Ireland to the European Court of Justice for failing to uphold EU law on impartial investigations of marine incidents. There are many such incidents going back 40 bliain, one such being the Whiddy Island disaster. Reporting on the issue, Lorna Siggins in The Irish Times noted:

The EU says that it has a “number of concerns” about the independence of members of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB), the State’s lead investigating body for serious incidents at sea. The presence of the Department of Transport’s secretary general or nominee, and the Marine Survey Office’s chief surveyor on the five-person board could represent a conflict to interest, according to the European Commission.

We do not have any personal gripe with those persons in their professional capacity but the Minister knows where we are coming from and what we need in this regard. This is what the European Commission has said about it. The Irish Times article also reported that the European Commission had indicated that the board "lacks the necessary independence" from the Department and the Marine Survey Office. I have to highlight yet again that this stands in stark contrast to the equivalent board in the United Kingdom where marine casualty investigation experience is a definite prerequisite and a requirement.

I salute former Captain Neil Forde, retired, who is now a contract investigator. He lost his dad in the Whiddy Island disaster 40 years ago and those families are still waiting for answers. I thank Captain Forde for all of his help on the investigation. He has been a mine of information for us.

This jurisdiction must also make maritime or marine accident experience a prerequisite for becoming a member of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board 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. A number of people have contacted us, including Anne-Marie O'Brien. I also salute the Barry family from Cappaghwhite, who are my neighbours. Michael Barry and his son, who have since died, were at sea on the day John O'Brien and Patrick Esmonde's boat was torpedoed and the resulting wave almost upended their boat. They came forward as witnesses. Both have since gone to their eternal reward. They were never properly engaged with by An Garda Síochána, not to mention the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.

On a broader note, I hope the Bill will also act as a timely reminder that boards of this kind need to avoid being filled with people who may be good and decent but who are essentially ministerial appointees in the worst sense of that word. By this I mean that they do not have the necessary experience. This scenario must be specifically avoided in areas like marine casualty investigation and the most sensitive of issues, the death of a loved one in such tragic and traumatic circumstances. Standards should apply here and sensitivity must be shown. One would take it for granted that appointees would be the most highly qualified people with the relevant experience.

The Public Appointments Service, PAS, which acts as the centralised provider of recruitment, assessment and selection services, also aims to provide an open, efficient and effective gateway and process to identify top-quality people for consideration by Ministers for appointment to State boards. For the PAS, there are a number of typical competencies that may be deemed relevant to a position on a State board. These competencies range across the spectrum and include an individual having an analytical strategic perspective, which is an ability to critically analyse information to identify the most relevant and critical issues. In the context of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, how is this competency to be met if the Minister is able to appoint a people with no relevant maritime investigation experience? I plead with the Minister to take these matters into account and raise them at Cabinet and in government. Much has been made of the Public Appointments Service and its independence in making appointments. When I was involved in the communications and fisheries portfolio of the former communications committee under the then Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, I was tasked with the job of interviewing for inland fisheries inspectors. Independence had to be shown and if we had to appoint three people, we appointed the best people with the best qualifications. Like anybody who goes for an interview, we have to pass on our merits. Deputies Cahill, Browne, Ferris, the Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Rourke, and I are going for a big interview soon where the people will interview us. We have to pass on merit and people will give us uimhir a haon at the ballot box, or they could put two ones beside our name, which would leave us in big trouble. We will have to put our best foot forward and be on our best behaviour, and rightly so. That is democracy at work. The democratic systems set up since the foundation of the State have failed us in so many ways. We need to make a change and I appeal to the Minister and his officials, some of whom are in the Chamber, to grasp that. They should deal with the issue on Committee Stage for reasons of safety, humanity and dignity when further accidents occur and more lives are lost. Accidents can and do happen - we cannot avoid them - but this legislation should give families confidence that a proper and meaningful investigation will take place. It is very important.

I was wrong with a name I gave earlier. Michael Kingston is a global maritime lawyer who lost his dad, Tim, 40 years ago in the Whiddy Island disaster. Michael Kingston has been invaluable to us and to Anne-Marie O'Brien and the Esmonde family. Mr. Kingston has advised governments all over Europe and the world, but for some reason the Department will not engage with him. What is wrong? Is it the case that the prophet is never recognised in his own village? We have people here who are willing and able, have expertise and want to help in the spirit of the Irish meitheal. They want to be good citizens and give support and solace to Anne-Marie O'Brien, her mum and dad and little Anna at home. I thank the Minister for visiting the family, when he empathised and sympathised with them, and also met with them in the House. Now, however, is the time for action. I am delighted with the support I am expecting to get this evening. It is all positive.

People realise that there is no ulterior motive with this legislation, which seeks to make a bad situation good. It is about trying to get the right people on the Marine Casualty Investigation Board so that when they go to visit a site, they will have all the necessary experience. What is the point in me, for example, going up to the Bog of Allen to investigate an incident on the bog? I would be lost in the bog like being lost in the fog. I would not have a clue. We need to have people with experience. As far as water is concerned, I almost drowned when I was a boy and I am now nervous in the bath. I would not even stand near a river, not to mind investigate something in one. We need qualified people who have the proven experience and who will be able to give their expertise to ensure proper investigation of such incidents. I hope the investigation into the case I have raised will be reopened. I also hope we will be able to sleep in our beds, and Anne-Marie can sleep in her bed, when this legislation is enacted in the knowledge that one good thing has been done to deal with future accidents.

While we are not dealing with An Garda Síochána today, there was no investigation of this case by the Dungarvan Garda. It was an unbelievable cover-up, a total cover-up. The fishing boat was upended in a hit-and-run incident. If something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. There were eyewitnesses. Whale watchers on Helvick Pier saw what happened. I wrote to the coroner a couple of times. I have never in my 12 years in this House - I got a phone call from a coroner telling me to back off from this and keep away from it because those boys had copious amounts of alcohol drunk. They had not. The autopsies proved they had drunk perhaps two or three cans at most. There was a cover-up of enormous proportions. This is not the only cover-up in Dungarvan Garda station but we are not dealing with that in this legislation. We will deal with it elsewhere. I am awaiting a meeting with Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn.

We can make meaningful change with this legislation. Deputy Ferris, who will contribute shortly, knows more about maritime issues than I will ever learn, as do other Members. I am from an inland county, as is Deputy Cahill. I appeal to the goodwill of the House and the goodwill of the Minister and his Department to accept this legislation.

It is not a perfect Bill, but it is as good as we can manage. I thank the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser, OPLA, which was a great help with the Bill. I have had other Private Members' Bills that were not fit for purpose when it came to moving them, but the OPLA has helped me enormously. I do not have any staff names, but I met them this morning and thanked them because we have limited resources as Oireachtas Members. We are all here to do our best in this House and in politics.

I appeal to the Minister and his officials to take this Bill on board. I hope to have many interactions on this and a fruitful outcome so that justice is not only done, but is seen to be done, which is important. The Minister wrote in the media for decades and campaigned for reform. This legislation is his chance. I will support him all the way, as will others, in trying to make a significant difference in this situation and getting rid of quangos. He railed against quangos for decades, and this board is certainly a quango. There are people on it who do not understand what they are meant to be dealing with. It is a pitiful situation. I believe the Minister will act in good faith. He has done so so far. I praise the bridges that I go over. That is how I operate, and I hope we will proceed in an amenable and constructive fashion. I look forward to engaging with the Minister.

I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for presenting this Bill. The Government will not oppose it on Second Stage. I am in no doubt that the motives of Deputy Mattie McGrath and the contributions of Deputy Ferris to the Bill are beyond criticism. They are the highest sort of motives, which I applaud. There is a case to be made, which the Government recognises by not opposing the Bill.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board, or the board as I will refer to it from here on, was established under the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000. It is an independent State agency tasked with examining and, if necessary, carrying out investigations into all types of marine casualties to, or on board, Irish-registered vessels worldwide and other vessels in Irish territorial waters and inland waterways. The board publishes reports on its website into each of these investigations.

The board's objective in investigating a marine casualty is to determine its circumstances and its causes with a view to making recommendations to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the commercial and recreational maritime community for the avoidance of similar marine casualties in the future, thereby improving the safety of life at sea and on inland waterways. The board is a non-prosecutorial body, in that it does not enforce laws or carry out prosecutions. It is not the purpose of an investigation carried out by the board to apportion blame or fault.

It should be noted that the board's investigations are not carried out by the board members. Rather, they are carried out by the board's panel of external investigators. This panel was renewed earlier this year following an advertising campaign conducted in late 2018. Appointments to the panel of investigators are for a period of three years. The current panel of seven investigators consists of personnel holding technical qualifications as naval architects, marine engineers or deck officers and with decades of at-sea service on board a wide range of vessels. It reflects broad-based maritime competence and experience of relevance in undertaking independent investigations.

The membership of the board itself is governed by section 9 of the 2000 Act. It is this section that Deputy Mattie McGrath is proposing to amend via the Bill. As provided for in section 9, there are currently five board members. Three, including the chairperson, have been appointed by me as Minister. There are also the chief surveyor of the Marine Survey Office and a nominee of the Secretary General of my Department.

The amendments proposed place an onus on the Minister when appointing the three members to the board to have regard to the desirability of the persons having appropriate knowledge, qualifications or experience in matters connected to the functions of the board. A similar onus is put on the Secretary General when, if there is a vacancy in the office of the chief surveyor, he or she is nominating an additional board member under section 14(4) of the Act. I have no objections to the formal introduction of such provisions into the legislation. Indeed, a case can be made for such, and were this a Government Bill establishing a new statutory agency, I would expect that similar provisions would be included.

In practice, while the Act is silent on what the Minister should take into account when appointing members to the board, such knowledge, qualifications or experience has been taken into consideration when advertising for and assessing potential board members. We have been explicit about this, for example, when advertising the position of chairperson late last year. Putting the requirement into the legislation itself is a welcome development copper-fastening the current routine. Equally, the Secretaries General when appointing their nominees to the board over the years, as provided for under section 9(1)(b), have appointed officers involved either in maritime affairs or accident investigation in other transport modes.

It must be mentioned that, while maritime experience would be most welcome when it comes to appointing members to the board, it does not always follow that suitably qualified candidates will exist and apply for such membership. Furthermore, additional expertise and experience in areas such as legal, accident or health and safety management, corporate governance and management, the reviewing, editing and development of reports, and leadership and communications skills are also of value to the important work of the board and can be taken into consideration in ensuring the appointment of a well-qualified, balanced board membership to carry out its duties.

I welcome Deputy Mattie McGrath's ongoing interest in and concern for maritime safety and look forward to hearing other Deputies' contributions to this debate.

Is Deputy Cahill sharing time with Deputy Browne?

The Deputies will have ten minutes in total.

I commend Deputy Mattie McGrath on introducing this amending Bill. I welcome Ms Anne-Marie O'Brien and her father to the Public Gallery. She has put significant effort into getting the Bill to this stage. She has to be commended. The Bill aims to avoid a recurrence of what happened to her brother and Patrick Esmonde on that tragic day off the coast of Waterford.

I am happy to say that Fianna Fáil is supporting the Bill, which proposes a common-sense amendment to make experience with marine shipping and general marine matters a requirement of all people appointed to the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB. At present, while this is often seen as a "desirable" characteristic for board members, it is not a formal requirement.

This campaign has been led by the families of John O'Brien and Patrick Esmonde, who tragically drowned off the coast of County Waterford. It is the view of their families that a proper investigation was not conducted into the reason for their untimely deaths. As a coastal nation, Ireland must seek the highest standards in our marine and coastal safety guidelines and standards. It is vital that Ireland be equipped with a knowledgeable and effective investigation board that can investigate marine casualties. The equivalent board in the United Kingdom sets out experience of maritime affairs as a prerequisite for its membership, with some board members bringing decades of experience in the merchant navy, etc. This is important for bereaved families and friends who would like to understand the circumstances of their loved ones' deaths, and for the shipping and seafaring community at large, which should be made aware of potential hazards and risks in an Irish context.

The MCIB's objective in investigating a marine casualty is to determine its circumstances and causes with a view to making recommendations to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the commercial and recreational maritime community for the avoidance of similar marine casualties in the future, thereby improving the safety of life at sea and on our inland waterways. The MCIB does not have the power to prosecute or enforce laws. It is not the purpose of an investigation carried out by the MCIB to apportion blame or fault.

The board consists of five members, three of whom are appointed by the Minister. In addition, the chief surveyor of the marine survey office is an ex officio member of the board. The Secretary General of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, or his or her nominee, is also a member of the board. The current nominee of the Secretary General is the chief investigator of the railway accident investigation unit, which is based in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

John O'Brien and his friend, Patrick Esmonde, went fishing in a dinghy off Helvick Head, County Waterford, on the afternoon of Sunday, 23 May 2010. The two men from Tipperary drowned some time after 5 o'clock that evening.

An inquest into the tragedy at Dungarvan in September 2013 returned an open verdict. Since 2010, the families of the two men have expressed their concern that the MCIB was too inept to conduct a proper investigation. Last year, John's sister, Anne-Marie O'Brien, accused the Taoiseach of gross insensitivity for stating that a public inquiry into the deaths will not "bring anyone back". That is true. Those two men lost their lives in tragic circumstances and whatever amendments we make to legislation will not rectify that. With this amendment, however, we could hope to avoid similar tragedies in the future. If there is an accident at sea or on an inland waterway, the very least a family can expect is that there would be a proper and thorough investigation by the most highly qualified people possible.

I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for bringing forward this very important amendment to the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act. This is a common-sense amendment that should perhaps have been introduced before now to ensure that everybody on the MCIB has experience and knowledge of marine casualty investigations.

The family of John O'Brien is present in the Gallery. I come from a coastal county, Wexford. We have had our fair share of tragedies there and I know a lot of families who have suffered the loss of loved ones as a result of marine accidents. One of the key aspects of the amendment is that it is a means to an end, namely, to ensure the safety of people heading out to sea, that we learn from past mistakes that have caused the loss of lives and that the risk to life will be significantly reduced in the future. The loss of a loved one is harrowing for a family. My sister was killed in a road traffic accident so I know the consequences for families of losing a loved one.

It is essential that those in charge of investigating accidents at sea have experience of marine accident investigations. It should be a requirement of membership of the board. It is a requirement of board members of a similar board in the UK, so there is no reason for that not to be the case here as well. Those who have lost loved ones should be able to have the confidence that those investigating the deaths of their loved ones have the experience necessary to carry out a proper and competent investigation. If justice is to be done, it can only be done by those who have the necessary experience and knowledge.

I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for introducing this Bill and I thank everybody for supporting it. I am very conscious that it is 20 years, almost to the day, since I lost my best friend, Thomas Kelly. He was one of eight men who drowned 100 miles west of Kerry Head. I am also very conscious that the family members of John O'Brien and Pat Esmonde are in the Gallery. When one comes from a coastal community, one fully understands the dangers associated with fishing at sea and marine recreation.

I especially thank Anne-Marie O'Brien for her tremendous effort in getting all of us together and focused, and for her work and that of her family over the years to try to get legislative change to do justice to the memory of their lost brother, John. On 23 May 2010, John and Pat were lost off Helvick Head in a small rib. They had gone out with the intention of doing a bit of angling and were lost at sea. Their bodies were recovered on 25 May. Subsequently, the investigation that was carried out by the MCIB and the Garda left a lot to be desired. When one studies the reports - I studied a number of them - one notes a lack of empathy for the family and an acceptance that something happened that did not actually happen, which seriously let down both of the families. What happened to those men that day has yet to be established legitimately. The lack of investigation of the circumstances has meant that the families are still grieving after all this time. As a consequence, faith in the competency of the investigation carried out by the MCIB has been badly dented. The situation becomes clear when one looks into the composition and calibre of the members of the MCIB. I do not mean any disrespect to the individuals, rather I refer to their experience. The members include an air accident investigator, a barrister, an accountant, a fire station manager, a solicitor, a barrister, two ministerial appointees, the chief marine surveyor and a nominee from the Department. That shows the lack of independence in the composition of the board.

Let us compare that to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch in England, where one sees a totally different approach. One member of the English board has more than 30 years' seagoing experience and is responsible for the conduct of the investigations into marine accidents. He goes to the scenes of accidents and interviews witnesses. Another person has 40 years of maritime experience and runs courses on water safety that comprise up to 11 modules. He works with Government Ministers on the review of maritime policy and has been responsible for major changes within the sector. What happened at Helvick Head that day was never properly investigated. The report on the investigation seen by Deputy Mattie McGrath, Deputy Cahill and me was shambolic. It merely accepted that something happened and there was no real investigation into the incident.

The function of the MCIB is to carry out investigations into marine casualties that take place in Irish waters. The main purpose of the board's investigations is to establish the cause or causes of a marine casualty with a view to making recommendations. As I understand it, the board members have no seagoing experience compared to the board members of the equivalent body in England. They did not visit the scene of the accident. That is stated in the report. They carried out their investigation without considering the GPS reports. That is fundamental to the case because the GPS provides the location of all boats in the area, but that was not investigated. It was stated in the report that there was a large floating tyre and that it may have played a role in the men going overboard, yet there was no evidence of a tyre being in the water. The board members did not go to the inquest following requests from the Garda and coroner. That was how the MCIB conducted itself in this instance.

From a European perspective, in order to investigate marine casualties, the MCIB is supposed to be independent. How can that be the case given that a board member is the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport's chief marine surveyor, in addition to a nominee from the Department? According to the European Union, the Department is committing a fundamental breach of European law by involving its personnel in the MCIB. That is a major conflict of interest, as marine accidents involve analysis of the regulatory framework and its enforcement. Two members of the board are, in effect, investigating themselves. Where is the independence in that? That is contrary to European law, which clearly states that the MCIB must be independent. Despite threats from the European Commission that Ireland will be taken to the European Court of Justice, the conflict of interest has been allowed to continue by the State, as highlighted in The Irish Times some years ago.

I welcome the Minister's contribution to the debate and his acceptance of the argument put forward by Deputy Mattie McGrath that the Bill will help to rectify the lack of independence of the board.

I am not questioning the people on the board because I do not know them. As somebody who has spent much of my life at sea, it is an entirely different matter investigating a situation there compared with on land. I refer to factors such as the waves and wind direction. Something such as a bow wave might have caused this incident. It is necessary to understand such details and have that expertise to make accurate decisions.

We must look at how the investigation concerning the accident involving John O'Brien unfolded. Who went to the scene of the accident from the MCIB and when? That is a fundamental question. Who oversees the investigation when gardaí are not trained or equipped to do so? The gardaí and MCIB were the investigating parties. Who involved had expertise? Who is trained in the MCIB to read GPS reports downloaded from vessels involved in fatal accidents? That is also a fundamental part of any investigation. When I read the Garda report, it stated the boat had an 8 horsepower engine. When the vessel was examined later in the Garda station, however, it had a 25 horsepower engine. It was a shambolic investigation and I can understand why the family feels so let down. I hope the support of everybody in the House and the passage of the Bill will give them some help in grieving their loss. I offer my deepest sympathy to the families. We have all made a personal commitment to ensuring this will become the legacy of John and Patrick.

I thank the Deputies who participated in the debate, and whereas they diverted into a particular case, I cannot make any comment on that, but I know that they said what they said for the most humanitarian of motives. I acknowledge that.

I thank the Deputies for what they have said and for the amendment to the Bill. The Government is not opposing the Bill on Second Stage. The Marine Casualty Investigation Board was established as an independent State agency under the Merchant Shipping Act 2000. The board has carried out a critical role since its establishment in helping our understanding of the circumstances under which, all too often, people have suffered injury or tragically lost their lives while at sea or on our inland waterways. The use of its external panel of investigators in carrying out its investigation aids the board in the preparation of its reports and the recommendations contained therein. I was impressed to learn the background and experience of these investigators and their prior work as naval architects, marine engineers and deck officers, which ensures they have the maritime competence and experience for the investigations into marine casualties they must undertake in what must be difficult and trying circumstances.

As noted, the board is not a prosecuting body. It is not the purpose of an investigation carried out by the board to apportion blame or fault, rather it is to determine the circumstances and causes under which a marine casualty has occurred with a view to making recommendations that may help in the avoidance of similar marine casualties in the future, thereby improving the safety of life at sea and on inland waterways. I believe this is a similar approach to that undertaken in other transport sectors such as aviation and railways. Amendments to the 2000 Act proposed in the Bill to ensure that whichever Minister is in office will take into account the desirability of prospective members of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board having appropriate knowledge, qualifications or experience are appropriate and welcome. I was reassured to hear that this is the practice in place.

I welcome the efforts of Deputy Mattie McGrath in formalising what is already an effective practice. It is a useful and necessary exercise. I reiterate that the Government will not oppose the Bill on Second Stage.

As I stated earlier, I appreciate the Minister’s interest and engagement with affected families, and I thank all the other Deputies who contributed, namely, Deputies Cahill, Browne and Ferris. I sympathise with Deputy Ferris, who lost his good friend 20 years ago. No one likes to lose a loved one, whether through a serious illness or, worst of all, tragedy. Today is International Mental Health Day and one would not like to lose someone from suicide or anything else. Questions always have to be answered, but when an investigation is poor, that is sad. I again salute Anne-Marie and her selfless, Trojan work in seeking to amend the legislation. I welcome the Minister’s appointing of new members of the board with the requisite experience. I am delighted he will accept the Second Reading of this amendment Bill.

I refer to the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2019. It is to be hoped that when the legislation reaches Committee Stage the Minister will be as willing to engage and move it forward. Everybody in the House is in agreement and I know we have nobody present from the Labour Party. I thought that Deputy Kelly would attend, as well as the Deputies from Tipperary such as Deputies Healy and Lowry. Nobody has expressed a different opinion or any opposition. Everyone sees the legislation as being for the greater good, and but for the greater good, where would any of us be? It will be salutary legislation if it proceeds to Committee Stage and comes back in order for both Houses to debate. Perhaps the legislation will be enhanced and beefed up. Perhaps other misgivings and areas that other minds can see, and minds greater than mine, will be amended and debated. Debate is always healthy.

As I said, Deputy Ferris mentioned a bow wave as the possible cause of this accident. I have mentioned the Barry family, and one of them died very tragically some months ago. Unfortunately, I cannot think of the name of the television show - we were talking about a broadcasting Bill last night - that made an appeal to come along and finish the man’s house. The work was completed in a number of days. Anne-Marie’s dad, who was up here, spent three days working as a tradesman on the project. The spirt of the meitheal was evident and is evident in Ireland. Many of the tradespersons came, contrary to my belief, from Dublin to help build the house in nine days. Sadly, the house was started but the man got ill, tragically, and he was one of the witnesses that came forward. A public appeal was never made, which had nothing to do with the Minister. A public appeal for information was not made when the accident happened.

If there were an accident tonight anywhere, and I hope there will not be, and a casualty or a very serious injury occurred, the Garda would put out a public appeal for information. Then the area would be sealed off. There were diversions created on country roads in my area last night, between Clonmel and Cahir, and rightly so. It is right that every step is taken to ensure that the scene of an accident or incident is preserved. This was a huge inconvenience, and rightly so. Every step should be taken to ensure that all evidence at the scene of the accident or incident is preserved. That did not happen at sea. Neither the Garda nor the MCIB can investigate in that fashion at sea. It was a case of “dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi”, that is, “a woman told me that a woman told her”. The family are expected to accept this.

The family were told that evening that the two lads had great difficulty launching the rig. They were supposed to be staggering and drunk. What horrible things to suggest about them. What was the motive for such suggestions when the autopsy report was clear that this was not the case? There was a concerted effort from the very start to divert attention from the boat that capsized this rig. There was no investigation whatsoever. I had contact with the coroner when I was writing to him and the marine investigator, and I was told not to get involved. I was told that there was a lot of stuff there I did not want to know. That was murky, dirty and not very nice carry-on from the agencies of the State. John O’Brien’s dad is sitting in the Gallery with Anne-Marie O’Brien. He asked, as did Pat Esmonde’s dad, that the boat be destroyed the day afterwards. They were emotional, horrified and traumatised and asked the Garda to destroy it. It is still hanging around. When the marine investigator, to whom I may have wrongly referred earlier, and the casualty investigation people visited, the engine had been changed. It had been changed from an 8 horsepower to a 25 horsepower engine. The boat had left the secure area of the Garda station in Dungarvan. First of all, it was meant to be destroyed and then it was left there. There are many questions to be answered by An Garda Síochána. It is a very murky case. When the whale watchers came forward and when people refused to attend the inquest, they were requested to go as they could not be compelled to attend.

The case will have to be reopened for an investigation into the incident to determine how it occurred and what happened.

Anne-Marie O'Brien put up A4 posters on poles several years later in Dungarvan after she had got nowhere with the Garda in An Rinn and the family who happened to be neighbours two parishes away in Cappaghwhite, County Tipperary, came forward. They had gone to the Garda station in An Rinn the day after the incident had occurred to report it. They had nearly capsized. After gardaí in Dungarvan had been asked, these witnesses volunteered and came forward. We do not know how many more came forward as a result of the posters, either to make telephone calls or contact Dungarvan Garda station. We will never know. The Barry family came forward and two more are since deceased - the dad and a young man. There are other family members who are still alive. It took five months for gardaí in Dungarvan to take statements from these men. When we discovered recently that the engine had been changed on the boat in the past six months at 5 p.m. some evening, gardaí could not be at the Esmonde home in Tipperary town until the morning at 9 a.m. when questions were asked about how the engine had been changed. They then tried to tell us that perhaps the engine had not been changed at all, that it had only been the badge. I have a lot of machines and engines and know that the manufacturer's badge is always on them. They are pop-riveted and would not be erased or changed very quickly. Also, they would not stay in place because of the heat of the engine. A badge is part and parcel of an engine as manufactured. Different manufacturers such as Honda are proud of their engines and would not allow other badges to be put on them.

Anne-Marie O'Brien and her dad had to travel to Dungarvan Garda station to insist on the Garda taking statements when five witnesses had come forward. Appointments were made, but they were not kept by the Garda. However, eventually statements were taken. I do not know what file went to the Director of Public Prosecutions from Dungarvan. I do not know what file or report on the investigation was sent by the superintendent in Dungarvan, but I have previous experience of files being kept back where files suited to the Garda's side were sent and files that were not were kept. These scenarios have never been resolved. That kind of skullduggery and such shenanigans cannot be allowed to continue in a big Garda station because people have to have faith in the Garda. I have supported it fully all my life, but we must root out the rot because the Garda needs all of the support it can get from the public. As I said, a public appeal was made and the tenth anniversary is approaching next May.

Anne-Marie O'Brien and her family and friends will be forced to go to Dungarvan and perhaps make a re-enactment. We had a big debate about the broadcasting licence fee earlier. I do not know why RTÉ's "Prime Time Investigates" programme cannot investigate these underhand, shoddy and lacklustre investigations because there is a tang off this investigation; one could smell it in Ardmore from Helvick Head. Everybody knows locally. I asked people to go undercover and make inquiries. When they came back to me, they told me to keep away from it. I had people coming to me to tell me about another incident in which five lives had been lost at sea. I also talked to people who had been involved with the Whiddy Island disaster. Deputy Ferris mentioned other cases. They are countless. It is not acceptable in a modern democracy when people lose their lives at sea or any other place that there is not proper site protection, a proper investigation and proper accountability before the law. It is tragic enough for the family without being able to secure arrests.

We will continue our struggle. With the families and others, I want to help An Garda Síochána. The case is with Assistant Commissioner Finn, who is the latest person to take it on. We have gone through all of the hoops to have it investigated. We have not yet met the Commissioner, but we will be knocking on his door soon because we need answers as to why it happened. Why was the boat not destroyed when the families requested it? Why was the engine on the boat changed when the inspector went to inspect it? The families thought the boat had been destroyed. It beggars belief that it was being used as a pleasure craft or for whatever reason, that it was taken out of the Garda station, that the engine was changed or that someone went into the Garda station to change it. Most Garda stations are secure. This is a regional Garda station that is manned 24 hours a day.

Táim beagnach críochnaithe. I again thank the Minister. I also thank my colleagues for supporting this amendment Bill. I look forward to it proceeding to Committee Stage and I hope being accepted and even improved. I also hope it will help to save somebody else's life. We are here to help if we can. I appreciate the Minister's engagement and the fact that he has already made some changes to the board. I also appreciate the fact that he is willing to accept reasonable proposals. It is welcome that we will not wait for the European Commission to take us to the European court to make changes. It is important that we make them here and do the groundwork with the engagement and goodwill of all sides of the House in supporting the Minister.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his forbearance. I know that it is a terrible evening and that everyone wants to get home so ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le gach Ball.

Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.55 p.m. until 1 p.m. on Tuesday, 8 October 2019.