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'Why won't you meet with us?' - drowned man's sister appeals to Paschal Donohoe

John O’Brien and Patrick Esmonde died in a tragic boating accident off Helvick Head, Co Waterford in 2010.

image1 Anne-Marie O'Brien with her brother John Source: Anne-Marie O'Brien

THE REFUSAL OF Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe to meet with the bereaved families of two men who drowned off the Irish coast in 2010 is “incredibly frustrating” according to the sister of one of the men.

Anne-Marie O’Brien’s brother John, along with his friend Patrick Esmonde, went fishing in a dinghy off Helvick Head, Co Waterford on the afternoon of Sunday, 23 May 2010.

The two Tipperary men drowned sometime after 5pm that evening. Neither of the men had seafaring experience, and only John could even swim.

An inquest into the tragedy in Dungarvan in September 2013 returned an open verdict, ie, the deaths were ruled as suspicious but without a specific cause.

In recent times the families of the two men have been seeking to meet with the minister for transport in order to air their misgivings about the standard of investigation into maritime accidents here.

pdonohoe Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe Source: Photocall

“We’ve been looking for this meeting for a long time,” Anne-Marie told TheJournal.ie.

This process began two years ago, and it’s so frustrating. Until Mattie McGrath [independent South Tipperary TD] got involved we’d received one reply from (then transport minister) Leo Varadkar saying he’d look into it, and then nothing.
We’re not happy with the garda investigation, we’re not happy with the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) investigation, and we want to raise our issues regarding what happened.

ob1 Source: MCIB

ob2 Letter from John O'Brien's family querying the assertion that the two men had been swimming Source: MCIB

My brother drowned and yet there was no Garda appeal for information at the time. The MCIB ran their investigation without using the boat’s GPS reports. The investigation said the men were swimming and yet they were found fully clothed, and Pat Esmonde couldn’t even swim.

TheJournal.ie requested a comment from the Waterford branch of An Garda Síochána on the handling of the Garda investigation into the deaths. A response was not available at time of publication.

Anne-Marie also said that she had been in touch with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald but that her office said there was nothing she could do “because the inquest ruled an accidental verdict”. The verdict, however, was an open one says Anne-Marie.

According to McGrath, Paschal Donohue had agreed in October 2014 to meet with the families of the men “as soon as a diary opening became available”, a stance that he claims was restated by the minister’s private secretary in November 2014 and again in January 2015.

mattie Mattie McGrath Source: Photocall

McGrath says that Minister Donohoe officially changed this position in February of this year, before confirming that he will not be in a position to meet with the families after all earlier this week.

TheJournal.ie has seen email correspondence between McGrath and a political assistant of the minister’s, dated November 2014, in which the assistant said he would be in contact with a potential date for a meeting with the O’Brien and Esmonde families.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, a Department of Transport spokesman conceded that the Minister’s office had initially given an “indication” that Donohue would meet with the family in response to submissions made on their behalf by both Minister of State Tom Hayes and TD Mattie McGrath.

The spokesperson added:

However, having reviewed the request, it became apparent that the role of the Department in relation to such matters is reserved for the Marine Casualty Investigation Board. It was therefore considered not appropriate to go ahead with the meeting.The Minister regrets any further distress that may have been caused.

McGrath told TheJournal.ie:

All the families are looking for is an opportunity to present their concerns in the hope that similar tragic incidents can be avoided in the future and that clarity can finally be obtained around the incidents of that fateful day in 2010.

When asked by TheJournal.ie what those concerns might be McGrath replied that the families “weren’t happy with the investigation at all, because there was none effectively”.

For her part, Anne Marie believes the minister will have to change his mind.

“I don’t believe he has a choice,” she said.

Read: Halawa sisters say they’ve been blocked by Charlie Flanagan on Twitter

Read: ‘I listened to a lot of hysteria’: Enda breaks his silence on Denis O’Brien and IBRC

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