Saturday 16 December 2017

Volunteers searching for R116 crew 'disgusted' to be charged toll: 'We just want some compassion'

(Clockwise from top left): Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby
(Clockwise from top left): Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby

Kathy Armstrong

Volunteers searching for the remaining missing crew members of tragic Rescue 116 were stunned when they were told to pay motorway tolls as they returned from the search site.

Carrick River Rescue are among the dozens of crews that have been searching of the coast of Co Mayo since the Irish Coast Guard's Rescue 116 crashed after hitting  Blacksod Island on March 14.

The remains of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and Captain Mark Duffy have been recovered from the water but efforts to find Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith are ongoing.

Michael Hickey, a Spokesman with Carrick River Rescue, said his voluntary organisation is dedicated to finding the men but they don't believe they should be charged the M7 tolls.

He said: "We've been up there and spent quite a lot of time out there searching out at sea.

"We were on the way home to get the boat right to go back up there, we now have to put the engine right and try to get back there to help out.

"This isn't about looking for a donation from the company, we're just asking them to look at things with a bit more compassion."

Speaking on Liveline on RTE Radio One, he continued to say: "I've been involved with this organisation for 39 years, there's guys who are younger than me who have been involved longer than that.

"It shows the dedication of some of the lads working here who stick it out against all  the odds, we don't receive funding from any Government body and we never have.

"We raise our own funds, we have a second-hand shop in Carrick on Suir and the girls running it are voluntary too, nobody in our organisation gets one cent for what they do, nobody gets paid... They do it because they want to do it and they want to help families in trouble.

"That's what annoys me when you come up against these people because there's no talking to them, there's no consideration."

Carrick River Rescue first highlighted the issue on their Facebook page on Sunday.

They wrote: "Members of Carrick River Rescue are disgusted. We were charged a toll for two boats and two vehicles on the M7 toll on the way back from the search in Blacksod.
"Thanks to Limerick toll for not charging us on the way up there.            

"It was not the lady on the toll. She phoned management and they would not allow us through?

"(It's) all about money. You would think they would want to help the families of the missing crew.

"When you see all the people who came from all over Ireland to help with the search."

While it looks like the situation will be addressed now, Michael said: "The only reason they're making this effort now is because it's been highlighted, it went up on Facebook and nearly half a million people saw it."

Read More: Two missing crewmen not found as search teams lift wreckage of Rescue 116

Families of the R116 crew return to Blacksod pier after visiting the scene of the crash at Blackrock lighthouse. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Families of the R116 crew return to Blacksod pier after visiting the scene of the crash at Blackrock lighthouse. Photo: Steve Humphreys

He also spoke about how difficult the ongoing rescue efforts are for all involved.

He said: "It's heartbreaking because the families are up there, they're on the bank waiting to get bad news, it's a bittersweet thing.

"This doesn't help things."

MidLink, who operates the M7 toll, said they were following correct procedure by charging the volunteers but confirmed they would contact Carrick River Rescue about the issue.

A spokesman said: "MidLink M7M8 Ltd collects a toll for passage along the M7M8 PPP tolled motorway for our Client, Celtic Roads Group (Portlaoise), under Bye-Laws enacted by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (formerly the National Roads Authority). 

"These Bye-Laws specifically set out the classes of vehicles that are exempt from tolls. 
"Vehicles exempted from paying tolls are limited, but for instance, include emergency vehicles from the fire brigade, An Garda Siochana, Defence Forces, ambulances and vehicles specially modified for disabled drivers.

"On a strict interpretation of the Bye-Laws, a toll was correctly applied in this instance for the Carrick River Rescue vehicles that used the M7M8 PPP motorway at the weekend.  Operators do not have individual discretion."

He continued to say: "MidLink and Celtic Roads Group both recognise the excellent work that is being done on an ongoing basis by groups such as the Carrick-on-Suir River Rescue in difficult situations, including in this instance, the search for the remaining Rescue 116 crew members. 

"We also acknowledge the ongoing distress for the Smith and Ormsby families. 

"Our company’s management will make contact with the Carrick-on-Suir River Rescue directly later today to discuss the matter and we will also be making a donation to Carrick River Rescue in recognition of the service they provide."

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