appalled  | 

Family of uncle and nephew who died on fishing trip blame Department of Transport for deaths

“The Marine Casualty Investigation Board in my view have shown a complete lack of empathy to the family and an arrogance about their report", said the coroner

Dessie Keenan and wife Donna Marie, daughter of Gerry Doherty. Photo: NW Newspix

Stephen Maguire

The heartbroken family of an uncle and nephew who died after their boat sank off Co Donegal have blamed the Department of Transport for their deaths.

Gerry Doherty, 63, and Thomas Weir, 16, perished when their boat sank off Malin Head in July, 2018 after they had gone on a fishing trip.

Their inquests took place during emotional scenes at Letterkenny Courthouse.

A finding of accidental death was reached by the jury.

However, coroner Dr Denis McCauley suggested a number of recommendations as a result of the evidence heard at the harrowing inquests.

These recommendations came after it was revealed that there are virtually no legal safety requirements of licenses required for the estimated 60,000 recreational boats in Irish waters.

Speaking directly after the inquests finished, Donna Marie Keenan, the daughter of the late Gerry Doherty spoke on behalf of the Doherty family.

They claimed it is clear that there have been 'monumental failings' by the Department of Transport that led to the death of their beloved relatives.

She said: "We are appalled that the Marine Casualty Investigation Board have not assisted the Coroner’s inquest and did not turn up, either to help with the inquest, and as a mark of respect to us as families and to our beloved relatives that were lost.

"We would like to make it clear that we are fundamentally unhappy with the Marine Casualty Investigation Board Report into the tragedy and thank the Coroner for the diligent manner in which he has discovered further and such fundamental errors that took place on the day, in relation to the rescue, and in the approach to maritime safety by Ireland’s Department of Transport in the lead up to the tragedy, that would have prevented it.

"We are appalled that previous recommendations in relation to pleasure craft safety following much earlier tragedies were not highlighted as a Departmental failing in the Marine Casualty Investigation Board Report, nor acted upon by the Department of Transport."

The family then called on Transport Minister Eamonn Ryan to open a public enquiry into what they said were "unnecessary deaths in Ireland's marine sector.'

"Accordingly, and having noted the on-going debates in the Oireachtas regarding such failures, and the Department of Transport’s refusal to fix the system, we call on Minister for Transport Eamonn Ryan to initiate an immediate public enquiry into why unnecessary deaths have repeatedly occurred in Ireland’s maritime sector, including our beloved relatives.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board refused to send a representative to the inquest saying their report covered all aspects of the investigation.

However, this refusal was slated by coroner Dr McCauley.

He said “The Marine Casualty Investigation Board in my view have shown a complete lack of empathy to the family and an arrogance about their report.

“A failure to publicly present the report to the family in this way essentially makes the report and unfortunately the board itself in my view practically redundant.”

The Doherty family sincerely thanked Dr McCauley, for what they termed the professional and dedicated manner in which he conducted the inquest.

They also like to sincerely thank the Jury for their time and dedication and for the recommendations that they have made regarding maritime safety.

Ms Keenan, whose husband Dessie survived the tragic ordeal, added "Nothing can bring Thomas and my father Gerry back. They, along with my husband Dessie were on an innocent fishing trip that so many other people in Ireland do so often. But thanks to this empathetic Coroner and Jury very important recommendations have been made that will save further life across this nation.

"We thank everyone who have supported us, our relatives and friends, across Ireland, our legal team, An Garda Siochana, and many others, and we thank all those who assisted in the incident on that fateful day in 2017. We also thank the honesty of the Irish Coastguard Officers Derek Flanagan and Sean Diver at the inquest, and that critical lessons in Emergency call handling have been learned following this tragedy.

"Finally, we thank God that our beloved Dessie, had the superhuman strength to survive in such arduous and tragic circumstances.”

Speaking after the inquest, sole survivor Dessie Keenan said he was thankful to his family for all their support and the fact that he lived to tell what happened.

“I don’t know how or why I survived. I never realised I was in the water so long. I don’t know how I found the strength to go on.

“But I am just glad I did. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about what happened and think about Gerry and Thomas.

“I want to thank my family for all they have done for me since this tragedy. Things will never be the same but we can hopefully begin to rebuild our lives after this,” he said.

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