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There has been an unanimous cross party condemnation of proposed Marine Casualty Investigation Bill, as TD’s call for a Public Enquiry

There has been an unanimous cross party condemnation of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2021, as TD’s call for a Public Enquiry into systematic failings of Transport Department concerning maritime safety and Search and Rescue, in wake of Rescue 116 Report, writes Michael Kingston, International Maritime Lawyer.

Fine Gael T.D Joe Carey, Clare, and Independent, Michael Healy-Rae (Kerry) have called for a public enquiry into the failings of the State concerning maritime investigations and Search and Rescue operations, during the reading of the Second Stage of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Amendment Bill 2021

The Bill was introduced at Second Stage in Dáil Éireann this week by Minister for State, Hildegard Naughton, necessitated by a Judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union entered against Ireland on 09 July 2020, for Ireland’s illegally constituted Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB), in having two Department officials on the Board.

The provisions of the Bill received unanimous condemnation on a cross party basis from all sides of Dáil Éireann.

Darren O Rourke (Sinn Fein), Pádraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein), Cathal Crowe (FF), Duncan Smith (Labour), Martin Kenny (Sinn Fein), Catherine Murphy (Social Democrats), Joe Carey (FG), Cathal Berry (Independent), Brian Leddin (Green), Patrick Costello (Green), Mick Barry (People Before Profit Solidarity), Michael McNamara (Independent). Michael Healy Rae (Independent) collectively castigated the Transport Department for failing to act on previous reports and set up a fully competent Marine Casualty Investigative UNIT, and for failing to disclose a further report by Captain Steve Clinch, received by the Transport Department in July 2021, over 4 months ago. (Debate Script here, T.V debate here – 24/11@ 0447).

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Joe Carey said, “This Bill simply does not go far enough as it does not address the fundamental failures of our Marine Casualty Investigation system. As you will be aware Minister the current MCIB is run by a part-time board and investigations are carried out by part-time investigators. This model is utterly insufficient. The investigators are also appointed to a panel on a short-term basis, with minimal supports, cooperation, or training. The quality of reports has been poor, the recommendations poorly thought out, and overall, are regarded by the maritime industry as very poor. This is to be expected as there is no investment or motivation to set high standards.

The whole concept of a Board, with part-time Board Members that have no maritime experience needs to be changed. What is required is a Marine Accident Investigation Unit, with a Principal Investigator.

“The refusal over the years to fix these problems, has led to multiple unnecessary deaths in the Irish maritime sector and is happening in the wake of the Rescue 116 report, which highlighted staggering systematic failures by the Transport Department.

“The reality is if you do not investigate marine tragedies correctly, then you cannot identify the root causes of those tragedies, and you cannot save life going forward which is the very purpose of International and EU regulations. There are so many failed MCIB reports that have not identified the root causes of maritime accidents, and therefore these reports have not made appropriate recommendations, including that of Catriona Lucas in Kilkee on 12th September 2015, and so many others. Families across Ireland including the families of the late John O Brien and his friend Pat Esmonde are left in bewilderment as to what happened to their beloved relatives which is a fundamental breach of their and the victims’ rights under the European Convention of Human rights.

“The systematic failings of the maritime and search and rescue division of the Department of Transport are so serious that there should be an immediate Public enquiry”

Michael Healy Rae said “It is incredible Minister that the European Commission’s case against Ireland commenced in 2015 and the Department fought that untenable position for five years, instead of putting their hands up and fixing the position in 2015. How many millions in legal fees were spent defending this indefensible position?

“And still we will not fix the position. As Deputy O Rouke said, this Bill is just the equivalent of putting a sticky tap over a gashing hole on the body of our marine investigative system.

“This issue comes on the back of the incredible failures of the Transport Department in relation to Rescue 116, systematic failures, that are again being demonstrated here.

“There needs to be an immediate public enquiry into all these systematic failures. Too many lives have been lost in our maritime community and our precious rescue services because of these failures”

Several T.D’s explained that they were members of the Transport and Communications Committee who conducted the Bill’s Pre-legislative Scrutiny, and referred to the evidence of International maritime expert, Michael Kingston, specialist maritime Barrister Ciaran McCarthy, who appeared before the Committee, and Marine Hazard Limited’s ‘Report into The Operation and Effectiveness of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB)’ of 04th January 2021’ prepared by Captain Neil Forde. Michael Kingston’s Email to Oireachtas members of  23.11.2021 with detailed background can be accessed here.

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