Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Thursday, 11 Jan 2007

Business of Joint Committee.

I welcome everyone to the meeting and thank the witnesses for attending.

The joint committee's remit covers communications, marine, and natural resources. It was with great sadness that we learned yesterday evening that the trawler, Pere Charles, was reported missing with five crew members as it was returning to Dunmore East. The members of this committee have always held the fishing industry and fishermen in the highest regard; they undertake one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs. While there may still be hope, the chance of finding survivors is fading. I offer the sympathy of this committee to the families of the crew of the Pere Charles: the skipper, Tom Hennessy; his uncle, Pat Hennessy; Billy "The Squid" O'Connor; Pat Cody; and a Ukrainian national whose name has not been released, and also to Michael Walsh, owner of the Pere Charles.

We all know Michael Walsh, who has been before this committee on many occasions when he ably represented the South and East Fishermen's Organisation. Knowing Michael and the families of the crew, this must be a devastating blow to them. I ask Senator Kenneally to pass the prayers of the committee to them.

Thank you, Chairman, for allowing this matter to be raised. We are here primarily to speak about broadcasting matters but, as you have said, marine is part of our remit and it is appropriate that we think about the unfortunate five people who are lost at sea, and their distraught families. The owner of the boat, Mr. Michael Walsh, represents the South and East Fishermen's Organisation and has sat opposite us at this committee on many occasions. While Michael was not on board last night, he was out searching for the missing crewmen and, as members can imagine, is extremely upset at what has happened. When I go to Dunmore East later, I will convey the committee's feelings to Michael. It came as no surprise to read in the paper this morning that the boat was in tip-top condition, having been refurbished with state-of-the-art safety equipment. That is the way Michael operates. It appears that what has occurred was a tragic accident.

One of the missing crewmen, Billy O'Connor, is someone I know well having been in school with him. At this time, we should think of the emergency services and the other crews who are searching at sea this morning. Let us hope and pray that all of them return safely. It is appropriate to think of the five missing crewmen and their families at this very sad time.

It is an especially poignant moment for the committee with responsibility for marine matters when such a tragedy occurs, as appears to be the case here. It brings home to us all the reality of the hardships, dangers and trauma associated with making a living from the sea. On countless occasions over the years, we have met in various committees fishermen's representatives and this morning our hearts go out to their families and the industry in general. This tragedy serves to remind us of the harsh reality and perils associated with life at sea.

On behalf of the Green Party, I pass on our sympathy and concern to all the families involved and to Michael Walsh, who has attended the committee on many occasions. I was in Dunmore East on the October bank holiday weekend where I spent the time watching the activity at the port and the boats come and go. It is a tragic and incredibly sad event for the port which has lost a number of boats in recent years. It highlights the risks and difficulties associated with the profession of fishing.

I wish to be associated with the remarks of my colleagues. Michael Walsh is a past pupil of mine and a very good Gaelic football player who played on a successful team I trained some time ago. I spoke to him very late last night. He is devastated. He told me one of the occupants of the boat had stopped working at sea as his father drowned around this time last year. He had gone to work for An Bord Soláthair an Leictreachais and returned yesterday to be with friends and have a bit of fun. That is what the sea does. Those of us not associated with the sea are not sufficiently mindful of the great sacrifices these people make for very little money. It is not about money with people like this, but about a way of life. I spent 21 years teaching in the area and this time last year in another tragedy a past pupil of mine known as "Skin" Colfer lost his life. Before that again, another past pupil died.

I record my own appreciation of the contribution those fishermen make to the Wexford economy. Wexford is not a manufacturing county and relies very much on farming, fishing and tourism. It is a very sad day and I hope and pray there will be some relief for the families of those for whom we are searching.

I wish also to be associated with these comments. I am reminded of the great line by Yeats about the "murderous innocence of the sea". It is a very dangerous environment. We saw in the television reports last night the difficult conditions in which people must go to sea, especially the rescue services. It is terribly tragic. As Deputy Tony Dempsey said, the sea represents not just a livelihood, but a lifetime of tradition. Time and again, despite the hardships, people face going to sea and this event is one of the deeply tragic consequences. My heart goes out to the families and the whole community, which is devastated.

Members and witnesses may wish to take a minute of silent reflection.

The joint committee observed a minute's silence.