Marine Casualty Investigation Board: Chairperson Designate

I welcome Ms Claire Callanan. The purpose of our meeting is to hear from her as chairperson designate of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, her approach to undertaking the role, and her vision for the board.

For the purpose of the witnesses attending, in accordance with procedure, I am required to read the following notice. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against either a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Ms Callanan to make her opening statement.

Ms Claire Callanan

I thank the Chairman and committee for the opportunity to present my credentials. I am a solicitor and I have been in practice for almost 40 years. I am a partner in the firm of Beauchamps Solicitors, and have been a partner there, and in a previous firm, for more than 30 years. I have a Bachelor of Civil Law from University College Dublin in 1978. I did a stage with the legal service of the European Commission in 1980. I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators since 1999. I am a founder mentor of the joint Law Society and Bar Council law and women mentoring programme that is in its third year. Last year, I obtained a certificate in charity law, governance and trusteeship from the Law Society, and the course was run by the Law Society and The Wheel. I have just been appointed to the board of Action Aid Ireland.

I am a partner in the litigation and dispute resolution department in Beauchamps Solicitors. I work with State and semi-State bodies, major financial institutions, owner-managed businesses and multinational companies. I have extensive experience in the public administration, financial services and healthcare sectors. I specialise in contentious matters. I have a lot of expertise across a range of areas, including administrative and constitutional law, contractual disputes, company law, insurance law, construction, employment and equality law, and defamation law.

To frame my experience I will set out some details about the functions of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board. The board was established in 2002 under the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000. The legislative framework for the operation of the MCIB, which is the reporting and investigation of marine casualties, and the powers of MCIB investigators are set out in the Act and in the related European Communities (Merchant Shipping) (Investigation of Accidents) Regulations and directive. In carrying out its functions, the MCIB also complies with the provisions of the International Maritime Organisation's Casualty Investigation Code.

I will summarise the role of the MCIB. It arranges for investigations and reports into the following serious marine incidents: a fatality or serious personal injury, the loss of a person overboard, a significant injury to property from a collision, or in the case of significant environmental damage.

Jurisdictionally, that relates to any vessel that is in Irish waters, any Irish vessel, wherever that may be, or if the vessel is normally located or moored in Irish waters and under the control of a resident of the State, where the incident occurred in waters contiguous to Irish waters.

The investigations are conducted by professional investigators appointed by the MCIB to determine the cause of the accident, but not to determine who is at fault, and with a view to making recommendations for the avoidance of similar marine casualties. By the end of 2017, the MCIB had published 216 reports into incidents under its statutory remit. The board published eight final reports in 2017, while it has published seven reports in 2018. The board's 2017 report was published on its website this morning, I believe.

My legal experience is relevant in guiding the MCIB in respect of the natural justice aspects of the investigation reports. In particular, under section 36 of the 2000 Act, interested parties, namely, anyone who is likely to be adversely affected by it, have an opportunity to comment to the board on reports before they are finalised. I have worked on a wide variety of investigations that involve issues of statutory interpretation, natural and constitutional justice and the assessment of evidence including its weight, relevance and credibility. Also, because of the sort of regulatory and administrative law work on which I advise, I have worked with a number of State and semi-State entities and, therefore, I am familiar with the practical operations of public entities and the various applicable legal regimes and codes that establish their jurisdiction and functions.

I will now outline some examples of the sort of work I have done in the area of constitutional and administrative law. I acted for the Law Society of Ireland in the proceedings with the Motor Insurers Bureau, MIB, that sought to ensure that persons injured in road traffic accidents where the drivers were no longer insured due to the collapse of Setanta Insurance received proper compensation, rather than the capped amounts that were then applicable from the insurance compensation fund. This involved complex interpretation issues between the obligations to the MIB as against those of the compensation fund. That case led to the 2018 Insurance Act, which gave these road traffic victims the same level of damages as other injured parties.

I acted for the Charities Regulator in the first prosecution and in the first judicial review under the Charities Act. The prosecution was directed to ensure that charity shops are conducted by legitimate registered charities in order that the public interest is protected by properly regulated charities.

I acted for the European Commission and the European Council in proceedings challenging the EU-Turkey statement on asylum, which was brought somewhat oddly by Syrian asylum seekers in Greece who were seeking leave to enter Germany.

I acted for an Irish quadriplegic receiving health care in Germany under the EU healthcare regime in proceedings against the HSE when it sought to prevent his continuing care in Germany. The case was heard by the European Court of Justice.

I am chairperson of my firm’s finance sub-committee. I have good experience of all aspects of our owner-led business, from personnel, business, marketing, and finance to insurance and regulation. Experience on the board of a professional business partnership is relevant in providing the necessary experience, engagement and approach required for the chairmanship of the Marine Casualty Board. The board is an independent body with its own funding provided for by the Oireachtas under section 19 of the Act. It is independent of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in the performance of its functions and, in general, must be independent of any other person or body whose interests could conflict with the functions of the board. I am not a member of any sailing or boating club, and I have not acted for persons likely to be involved in investigations. I do not believe I have any conflicts that would impair my appointment as chairperson of the MCIB or that would affect its independence.

In regard to Europe, the MCIB is an active member of the European Maritime Safety Agency, EMSA, which is responsible for providing technical assistance in the implementation of the EU directive establishing the principles governing the investigation of accidents in the maritime transport sector. It is also responsible for maintaining a platform of casualty data and investigation reports of incidents that fall within the directive. The reports are provided by the member states, and the MCIB is tasked to provide them on behalf of Ireland.

The members of the MCIB are Ms Dorothea Dowling, Mr. Frank Cronin, Mr. Brian Hogan, Mr. Nigel Lindsay and the secretary to the board is Ms Denise Hyland. I thank the outgoing chairperson, Ms Cliona Cassidy, for all her work with the MCIB since her initial appointment in 2013. It is a small board and a considerable amount of work is required outside of the regular board meetings. In addition to all of that work, Ms Cassidy gave freely of her time to brief me on the role to ensure a smooth handover. I hope to be able to continue the good work carried out by her and the other board members. I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before it.

I thank Ms Callanan for her comprehensive and detailed presentation. I invite Senator O'Mahony to contribute.

I thank Ms Callanan for her detailed presentation of the work that will be entailed. It is clear that she is highly qualified for it given her legal work.

Ms Callanan referred to reports on investigations of incidents. Does she know how many investigations are ongoing?

Brexit is the primary issue in the news at present. Will it have any implications for the work of the MCIB? I acknowledge that the board's remit extends only to investigations in Irish waters but Ms Callanan might comment on that.

She outlined the other five members of the board. Are there any vacancies on the board or is that the full complement?

Ms Claire Callanan

Yes, I think it is the full board.

Finally, what is the remuneration for Ms Callanan's post?

I invite Senator Ó Céidigh to contribute before handing back to Ms Callanan to respond.

Ms Callanan is welcome to the committee. I thank her for her deliberation and for sharing her experience. She is eminently qualified for the role and I wish her every success in it. She outlined her qualifications, which are of the highest standard, and a little about the board, the independence of the board and the importance of that. It is a small board and it would be useful if there was a brief outline of its members, primarily because it is a small board.

I am involved in a number of boards in different areas. It is important for a board and, in particular, its chair to consider inviting an organisation such as the Institute of Directors to carry out some due diligence of the board, perhaps once every three years. The board can then establish whether it is fit for purpose and what its strengths and weaknesses in governance are. It supports the integrity of the board and the chairperson. I offer that suggestion as a thought because I found it useful in other areas, in private companies as well as in some public organisations.

Ms Callanan mentioned the EMSA. My experience in this overall area is in aviation and the air accident investigation unit, AAIU. Will Ms Callanan outline her thoughts on the AAIU and whether the board has any interaction or engagement with it? The AAIU is extremely professional. We are all on the same island and accidents must be dealt with. The AAIU has processes and systems, and the MCIB and the AAIU might learn from each other through sharing methodology for investigating accidents.

Are the board's professional investigators employees, contractors or a mixture of both? Seven reports were published in 2018. What happened to them and what were their follow-up actions?

I thank Ms Callanan for her presentation and I welcome her. This was a board of which I was not aware. I imagine that most people in Leinster House are not aware of it. It was set up in 2002. In the early 2000s and 2010s, people talked about getting rid of quangos. Due diligence was done on this board and it survived, so it obviously has an important role.

I will ask some questions for the sake of my own understanding. In the event of someone falling overboard, a fatality or a serious personal injury, how does the board go about investigating it? Are the Garda and other State agencies involved? That information might inform us better.

I welcome Ms Callanan. Has she been a member of the board before?

Ms Claire Callanan

No.

I thought she had been.

She just told the Deputy that.

In that case, I wish Ms Callanan the best of luck.

Ms Callanan may reply now.

Ms Claire Callanan

I will go in reverse order and explain how an investigation is carried out. I am new but I will offer an illustration. Yesterday, we received an incident report. The way the system operates sees the emergency services filtering potential marine incidents and reporting to the board, which has three staff. The staff circulate that information immediately to the board members, so yesterday was my first experience of it. There was a flurry of emails over a short period in the afternoon entailing a brief technical outline of the incident, asking whether there was any missing information that would be essential for determining whether there would be a preliminary investigation or an investigator would be appointed immediately for a full investigation, and identifying an available investigator. Within an hour of the first communication, an available investigator had been identified and tasked with carrying out a preliminary investigation. That involved checking with the Garda in the first instance. Other State agencies involved include any of the emergency services and the Coast Guard. Also involved are local fishing information and the weather service. In the reports I have read, the latter appears to be essential, as it possesses technical information from the time.

The investigators are independent and retained as consultants by the board. They are appointed from time to time following the usual sort of process. They have expertise in marine engineering, naval architecture, naval machine learning, marine surveying, etc. An investigator gathers all of the information, carries out interviews and prepares a draft report, which is then considered. It may be returned to the investigator. When the investigation is concluded and a report has been drafted, there is a natural justice phase wherein persons who may be affected are given a copy of that report. They can comment on it, which is then taken on board by the MCIB. That is how the system operates.

I was impressed by the speed yesterday, as well as by the availability of board members. It was all done very efficiently by email. An investigator was identified and on the job within a short time.

The reports are published online when they are concluded. They generally contain recommendations that go to the Minister, after which the recommendations become a matter for the Department to consider and, if viewed as relevant, to take on board and feed into its legislative and other processes. In 2017, the Department reissued its code of safety on recreational vessels, so I assume previous reports fed into that. Safety on recreational vessels also seems to be a theme in the chairman's statement in the report that has just been published.

I welcome the observation on the Institute of Directors. I will take it back to the board, as one always needs to be reviewed and externally audited from time to time. Even if someone believes he or she is doing well, one can always do better. The observation is timely. I cannot say whether there has ever been a board review or reassessment. Assuming there has not been one in recent times, it would be useful. I am happy to take that observation back to the board for discussion.

Regarding the AAIU and the availability of expertise, there appears to be good co-ordination in what is a specialist area in respect of accidents. Although it is just a preliminary observation, my understanding is that there has been good co-ordinating and sharing between experts in rail, aviation and marine accidents. One of the members of the board is the chief investigator of rail accidents. The methods used may be different, but accidents have similar concepts, methodologies and other things to critique. Given that we are a small country with a very small number of experts in this area and, happily, a very small number of accidents, I appreciate the point about there being merit in sharing information and expertise. I believe we have that.

Regarding fees, Brexit and the current position, the fees for the chairperson are approximately €8,700 per annum. Currently, nine investigations are ongoing. They include one that is led by Antigua and Barbuda because it involves an Antiguan and Barbudan boat. We are contributing to that investigation but, as the flagship country, Antigua and Barbuda is the lead investigator. The most immediate objective is to progress existing investigations and reports. I am told that three draft reports are in the natural justice phase.

The deadlines for the receipt of responses are 5, 6 and 7 February and, depending on what comes back, three reports will be published relatively promptly thereafter.

I have had a preliminary briefing on Brexit and, if I may, I will respond in a number of ways. On the regulatory regime, apparently it will have little consequence when the United Kingdom falls outside the EU legal regime because, in large part, all countries are parties to international marine conventions that contain similar safety provisions and regulations. EU directives and regulations are closely aligned with international conventions. Therefore, there is a secondary legal regime in which continuing operations can be framed, if I can put it that way.

On the European Marine Safety Agency, it seems to us that the only issue is that data from the United Kingdom will not be uploaded and will not become part of the data platform. Therefore, to a certain extent, the value of the statistics and input from the joint agency will be devalued, given, in particular, that the United Kingdom is our nearest neighbour and a marine entity, but it is not something we can do much about.

On the response to a marine casualty, there is an international safety regime which operates in different areas from territorial waters. I understand the response to an emergency should not be affected. Thinking a little downstream, it might be the case that the outcome of marine casualty incidents could be prejudiced if there were to be delays or difficulties of whatever nature in seeking access across the Border or to healthcare facilities because it would not be the norm in the context of the EU healthcare regime. I have not bottomed it out sufficiently to see what would then operate.

Did many others apply for the position?

Ms Claire Callanan

I do not know.

Ms Callanan is exceptionally well qualified, but I do not know the answer to that question. We can ask the Minister because he makes the nomination-----

-----but it is very welcome to have somebody of Ms Callanan's calibre and that she stepped forward. We have every confidence in her that she will carry out her work with great aplomb, efficiency and effectiveness. I thank her for her comprehensive presentation to the committee. We wish her well in her appointment as chairperson of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.

Ms Claire Callanan

I thank the Chairman.

Sitting suspended at 10.55 a.m. and resumed at 11.05 a.m.