DTTS and the MCIB officials are subject to a Garda investigation into allegations of Misconduct in Public Office
Garda Commissioner Harris directs Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) and Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) officials for allegations of Misconduct in Public Office.
International maritime expert, Michael Kingston, has confirmed that he has received correspondence from the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, confirming that he has directed the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate DTTAS and Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) officials following allegations of Misconduct in Public Office regarding their handling of Ireland’s investigations into seafaring tragedies and the implementation of maritime safety regulations.
In a detailed letter to Garda Commissioner Harris on 08 January 2020 Mr Kingston set out the allegations which are supported by whistleblower revelations.
The announcement of a formal investigation in correspondence from Commissioner Harris’s office to Mr Kingston follows a Judgement of the European Court of Justice on 09 July 2020 against Ireland for fundamentally breaching European Law in the constitution of Ireland’s Marine Casualty Investigation Board. The Judgement is damning in respect of Ireland’s failure to establish an independent maritime investigatory board which supports Mr Kingston’s allegations regarding the failure to ensure impartiality, which has had the consequence by those compromised, of changing reports on what Mr Kingston says “appears to be an industrial scale”.
In his correspondence with Commissioner Harris, Mr Kingston has accused Minister for Maritime Safety, Hildegarde Noughton, of misleading the Dáil following her response to questioning regarding the ECJ Judgment on 14 July by Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh O Laoghaire T.D, Darren O Rourke T.D and Pat Buckley T.D and in writing by Mattie McGrath T.D. Mr Kingston says Minister Noughton seriously misled the Dáil in stating that “ [following the ECJ Judgment], it is not my intention to seek any form of inquiry into the MCIB’s investigations [as] no finding of partiality has been made in the actions of the Board of the MCIB.” giving the impression that the European Court of Justice looked at the work of the MCIB and found no finding of partiality. The ECJ did not look at the reports/ work of the MCIB. The Court ruled on the simple basis that the 2 Civil Servants should not be on the Board giving rise to ‘potential conflict’.
Mr Kingston has also accused the current Chair of the Board, and a number of Government Ministers (Mr Varadkar /Mr Donohoe), and former DTTAS Minister Mr Shane Ross, of misleading the Oireachtas in repeatedly stating that the MCIB was an independent body. Following the ECJ Judgment (09 July 2020) Mr Kingston, maritime expert, Mr Ciaran McCarhty B.L, (quote below) and family members of victims called for an immediate public inquiry into all MCIB investigations and the approach of the State into implementing maritime safety regulations, and the immediate resignation of the Chief Surveyor, DTTAS Assistant Secretary (Marine) Deirdre O Keeffe, and MCIB Chair, Ms Claire Callanan.
Mr Kingston also corresponded with An Taoiseach, Micheal Martin and Minister Eamonn Ryan following the ECJ Judgement, setting out the allegations of misconduct in public office, but has failed to receive a response.
Mr Kingston also corresponded with Minister Hildegard Noughton on 17 July 2020, but also failed to receive a response.
Mr Kingston, from Goleen in West Cork, the son of Whiddy victim Tim Kingston, is an internationally respected maritime expert, is vice-president of the French-Irish Association of Relatives and Friends of the Betelgeuse, is also spear-heading an imminent High Court application in respect of the Whiddy Island disaster for the State’s failure to ensure maritime safety.
Mt Kingston requested An Garda Síochána to investigate the ‘fundamental and criminal failings of the State in investigating maritime accidents, as a matter of urgency in order to save life and to establish the fundamental rights of victims in death and those of their family members in investigations’.
His detailed allegations, that include misconduct in public office by MCIB members and DTTAS officials, follow months of investigation and multiple whistleblower revelations from within the Marine Surveyor’s Office, former officials, or MCIB marine accident investigators such as the following evidence from the whistleblowers:
“The draft investigators’ reports are being changed, and families never know what finally happened or when it happened. Details are removed because it will reflect badly on the marine department.”
“Most of our recommendations would be taken out and reduced down to nothing.”
“Several incidents involving our rescue services have gone without investigation where critical lessons have not been learnt which has, almost undoubtedly, contributed to further loss of life.”
“There have been loads and loads and loads of cover-ups. I will tell you that for a fact.”
One whistleblower claims that, in relation to a report into three fishermen who were lost off Dunmore East, there was a problem with the EPIRB (emergency beacon) and lifejackets. The report references the EPIRB but does not elaborate on the issue, which was critical. It did not activate.
Mr Kingston has been supported in particular by Ms Anne Marie O’Brien, sister of John O’Brien who drowned off Helvick Head in July 2010 with his friend Pat Esmonde. Ms O’Brien has been at the forefront of legislative amendments to the Merchant Shipping Act, led by Deputy Mattie McGrath, due to the obvious flaws in the investigation into her brother’s death. Mr McGrath has been seeking to change the Act to ensure the MCIB has suitable competency.
Mr Kingston has commissioned a formal report by CAPT. Neil Forde of Marine Hazard Ltd to carry out a review of the investigations, reports and recommendations of the MCIB, which will now assist the Garda investigation.
Michael Kingston said “I have huge admiration for Garda Commissioner Harris and his colleagues for listening to me and doing the right thing, which also involves the protection of An Garda Siochana personnel, and their precious resources. I have been corresponding with the Government of Ireland since November 2014 regarding these issues and despite my representations I have never received a response. What I have been saying all along, both from my experience as an international maritime Expert working with the United Nations International Maritime Organization, and on behalf of the families of the Whiddy Island Disaster victims, has been backed up by the European Court of Justice in the action brought against Ireland by the European Commission, who I have been working closely with on critical maritime safety regulations, in order to try and protect our merchant seafarers, pleasure craft users and fishermen.
“It defies belief that the Maritime Safety Directorate of DTTAS would try and defend this position, costing the Irish taxpayer millions in legal fees, which could have been spent on rectifying our maritime safety framework, knowing the truth about their handling of tragedy investigations and failure to implement safety recommendations. This reprehensible approach by the Department officials on behalf of our State is a repeat of history, of our failure to learn lessons, of our failure to have correct structures in place for safety, and of our State failure to take responsibility for wrongdoing. The proper analysis of maritime investigations is the fundamental right of those who die, as is the proper involvement of their families in inquiries, under the European Convention of Human rights. This ECJ Judgment conclusively shows that the Irish State has denied the victims and their families those rights, and there must now be an immediate public inquiry as to how this has been allowed to occur, and all MCIB investigations must be reviewed.
“The Department (DTTAS) and the Chief Surveyor are out of control. The Judgement of the European Court shows that they fought an obvious wrong doing since 2015. The Officials responsible, starting with the General Secretary, Assistant Secretary (Marine) and the Chief Surveyor must immediately resign. Not only is this a national scandal, but as an International Maritime Organisation Consultant working on maritime safety it is a matter of embarrassment and shame for me that the Country that I adore is operating like this. The investigation by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation will reveal the true and shocking extent of this misconduct in public office’
Barrister Ciarán McCarthy B.L., a lecturer in maritime law, and a former ship’s officer, and Social Democrat General Election Candidate Cork North West, had this to say:
“It is a major step forward that Garda Commissioner Harris has made this decision. In light of our communities’ experiences of marine tragedy, from the Fastnet and Betelgeuse disasters in 1979, to the 2016 death of Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas, the loss of all four crew members of Rescue 116 in 2017, and the heart-breaking events that unfolded off the coast of Wexford in the first week of this new decade, it is incomprehensible and indefensible that Ireland should fail to implement basic international marine investigative norms as required by our membership of the European Union and by the memories of the victims and their families. It is a matter of deep shame to read the ECJ Judgement and those who have presided over this must be held to account via a public inquiry which must review all maritime safety regulations and investigations”
On the announcement of the investigation, Anne Marie O’Brien said:
“I and my family demand an immediate re-investigation by an independent investigatory agency into the circumstances of my brother’s death with his friend Pat Esmonde. The decision of the European Court confirming that Ireland’s Marine Casualty Investigation Board is not independent
confirms the fundamental failures of the MCIB Report into my brother’s death, where we have strong evidence that the investigator’s original report and recommendations were altered by the MCIB. We strongly support Mr Kingston and Mr McCarthy’s call for a public inquiry, and acknowledge this important step by Garda Commissioner Harris.
Captain Neil Forde said:
“It is unsurprising that Garda Commissioner Harris has made this important decision.
“The judgement of the European Court of Justice re the European Commission -v-Ireland is not unexpected. Its judicial findings are mirrored in the irregularities and failures I have found in the review of MCIB reports.
“The Defence proposed by Ireland in the European Court that the MCIB is unaffected by the presence of two members from the Department Of Transport ,Tourism and Sport and specifically the chief surveyor, as there are three other members on the board putting the DTTAS members in a minority is at best hubris and at worst misleading to the point of perjury.
“The department is well aware that all members of the board (MCIB)are appointed by the Minister and in any event lack the technical ability to evaluate a marine incident investigation to the point of producing a relevant report. Furthermore, my investigations reveal that the recommendations of the MCIB are as insipid as the EU Court of Justice assumes”.