Monday 15 October 2018

Lasting legacy of Rescue 116 heroes stands out in a year of tragic stories

A member of the Irish Coast Guard looks out towards a misty Achill as the search continued for Rescue 116 along the Blacksod
coastline. Photo: Steve Humphreys
A member of the Irish Coast Guard looks out towards a misty Achill as the search continued for Rescue 116 along the Blacksod coastline. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Heroic, full of life and strength, the faces of Dara Fitzpatrick, Ciarán Smith, Paul Ormsby and Mark Duffy stand out as the most powerful and haunting images of the year, never to be forgotten.

The helicopter crash in Blacksod Bay, off the coast of Erris, Co Mayo, struck a blow to the heart of the nation as the brave crew of Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 went down on March 14 while providing cover for search and rescue.

Dara Fitzpatrick (45) was the first to be taken from the water not long after the crash, but efforts to save her life were unsuccessful.

The nation was already well familiar with the energetic, beautiful pilot who had often appeared on television to talk about her duties and was a regular promoter of water safety.

The body of her co-pilot Mark Duffy was recovered from the cockpit of the helicopter 12 days later, bad weather and rough seas having hampered the search.

Some months later in October, the helmet and still-inflated life jacket of Ciarán Smith washed up on a beach near Clogher, close to Blacksod Bay.

The four Coast Guard members on board Rescue 116: Dara Fitzpatrick, Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy and Ciarán Smith
The four Coast Guard members on board Rescue 116: Dara Fitzpatrick, Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy and Ciarán Smith

An interim report into the incident found that the helicopter "pitched up rapidly" in its final seconds before crashing, with suggestions the aircraft was using a pre-programmed route missing specific data relating to Black Rock, where the accident took place.

The investigation is still ongoing. From the grief emerged a shining gratitude for our rescue and emergency services who quietly risk their own lives on a daily basis to help others.

In October, this gratitude and realisation of the risks that are taken on our behalf emerged in the form of the widespread anger and condemnation of the foolhardy few who ignored calls to remain indoors at the height of Hurricane Ophelia, with five people kite-surfing off the coast of Co Louth, surfers off the Dublin coast, and others spotted in the waters off Galway.

RTÉ's Joe Duffy declared on 'Liveline': "I don't care if there was Radox in the water ... the fact of the matter is there was a status red warning and nobody should have been swimming anywhere."

Three men look out as Storm Ophelia hits the coast at Glen, Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry – it later transpired they were mourning the recent loss of a family member. Photo: Stephen Kelleghan
Three men look out as Storm Ophelia hits the coast at Glen, Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry – it later transpired they were mourning the recent loss of a family member. Photo: Stephen Kelleghan

The hurricane itself was downgraded by the time it struck our shores - but the raging storm tragically claimed three lives, as falling trees caused peril across the country. The violent winds also ripped roofs off sports halls and schools in Cork and Tipperary.

In May, there was sorrow, anger and grave concern amid revelations that "significant quantities of human remains" had been discovered at a site in Tuam, Co Galway, excavated by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, following research by Galway historian Catherine Corless. Scientific analysis put the age of death between 35 foetal weeks and two to three years.

The commission said the remains were discovered in a structure which appears to be "related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or wastewater".

In December, however, came warnings the identification of the bodies would prove to be "extremely difficult" because of DNA limitations. The future of the sensitive site remains as yet unclear.

Ibrahim Halawa arrives back into Dublin Airport. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Ibrahim Halawa arrives back into Dublin Airport. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Outside of Tuam, three other mother and baby homes have little angels plots believed to hold the remains of another 3,200 babies and infants. They are Sean Ross Abbey, Tipperary; Bessborough, Co Cork; and Castlepollard, Co Westmeath.

The thorny issue of abortion emerged as one of the strongest features of 2017, amid the work of the Committee on the Eighth Amendment, with several marches held throughout the country over the year.

Justice Mary Laffoy, who chaired the Citizens' Assembly which discussed the issue, described the debate as "one of the most divisive and difficult subjects in Irish public life".

The assembly subsequently voted that the Oireachtas should deal with the question of termination by legislation rather than through the Constitution. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he hoped a referendum on the matter will be held in May or June next.

This year also saw attention shift off-shore as we followed the gripping case of Molly Martens - who was found guilty of the murder of her husband, Limerick man Jason Corbett (39), in 2015.

Molly Martens, who was convicted of the murder of Irish husband,
Jason Corbett. Photo: Donnie Roberts
Molly Martens, who was convicted of the murder of Irish husband, Jason Corbett. Photo: Donnie Roberts
Jason Corbett

Molly Martens (33) and her father, retired FBI agent Thomas Martens (67), were unanimously convicted by a North Carolina jury in August, following an explosive trial which heard how they contrived to make the killing look like self-defence. The father and daughter are now serving sentences of between 20 and 25 years in separate North Carolina prisons. Mr Corbett died from horrific head injuries sustained during a prolonged assault at the luxury home in North Carolina he shared with his Tennessee-born wife.

Meanwhile, the anxieties suffered by the Halawa family over the incarceration without trial of their son Ibrahim in Egypt continued through much of the year - the court case having bounced from date to date over the four years of his imprisonment. The Dublin-born son of Hussein Halawa, the Imam of the Clonskeagh mosque, travelled to Egypt - where they had extended family - for a holiday, and was arrested while taking part in anti-government protests in Cairo. Released in October, his first phone call was to his father, declaring: "Dad, I'm free."

The year ended on a sombre and harrowing note, with the inquests into the brutal deaths of the Hawe family in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan. Clodagh (39), Liam (13), Niall (11) and Ryan (6) suffered violent deaths at the hands of Alan Hawe (40), who also took his own life.

Clodagh Hawe with sons Liam (13) Niall (11) and Ryan (6)
Clodagh Hawe with sons Liam (13) Niall (11) and Ryan (6)

Expert witness, psychiatrist Professor Harry Kennedy told the inquest he believed Mr Hawe suffered from deepening depression with psychotic episodes, while his suicide note reportedly said: "All the good stuff we did I was really into, but I think there was some psychosis in me that I really enjoyed it and the next moment I was the complete opposite."

More questions than answers were raised by the hearing - with Ms Hawe's family, the Colls, saying the inquest did not address why Mr Hawe committed this savagery, but that his counsellor had said he was concerned about his position as "a pillar of the community" and they were aware he was concerned at his "imminent fall from that position and the breakdown of his marriage".

Irish Independent

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