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Eamon Ryan says families of Rescue 116 helicopter crew will have legal costs covered

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Transport Minister Eamon Ryan. Photo: Julien Behal

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan. Photo: Julien Behal

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan. Photo: Julien Behal

The families of the Rescue 116 helicopter tragedy victims will receive their legal costs, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has signalled to the Dáil.

At no stage did the Government oppose the payment of the legal bills of the bereaved loved ones, the Green Party leader told Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty in the Dáil, despite RTÉ television reports to the contrary.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, winchman Ciarán Smith and winch operator Paul Ormsby, members of the Irish Coast Guard, tragically lost their lives in the line of duty at Blacksod, Co Mayo, on March 14, 2017.

However, an investigation report has still not been published, over four years on, following a challenge to its findings by CHC, the rescue helicopter operators.

Mr Ryan said his thoughts were with the families of those who lost their lives in the tragedy. They did their community great public service, putting themselves in danger on others’ behalf.

“It is in all our interests that the families are not put to any further difficulty or stress to add to the tragedy that they've had to cope with. So it would be scandalous if we were fighting against paying their costs – but it's not true,” Mr Ryan said.

“There'll be no attempt by the State not to look after the costs of the families.”

He said he would make sure that the issue of legal costs is resolved.

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“I've engaged with Minister Michael McGrath (Minister for Public Expenditure) as well and he is of a similar mindset,” he said.

All questions of costs would be resolved in coming days, he added, denying that his department had “strenuously” resisted meeting the families’ legal bills.

He said the matter would be resolved very quickly, adding: “I am very confident of that.”

Mr Ryan also expects the “imminent” publication of the full report from the air accident investigation inspector.

“More critically we then also have to look to learn the lessons that will be contained in the report, so that other families and other people in our air-sea rescue system can have confidence that we recognise the critically important work that they continue to do day-in, day-out, and that we minimise the risks,” he said.

Mr Doherty said the Dáil had been told the delay in the publication of the report was the result of the establishment of a review of the investigation, carried out at the behest of the helicopter operator, CHC Ireland.

The families of those who tragically lost their lives “quite understandably” hired legal representatives to represent them on the board, because “they had a fear that there would be an effort to assign blame for the accident to their loved ones”, Mr Doherty said.

“They face a situation where their legal bills have mounted to the tune of hundreds of thousands of euro. This is absolutely scandalous.”

The chair of the review board, Patrick McCann, has acknowledged the contribution made by the family’s legal representatives at the review.

In a statement release this evening, Mr Ryan’s Transport Department confirmed the families’ legal costs would be covered.

"I have written to the families of the crew of R116 this afternoon to let them know that the Department of Transport will cover their reasonable legal expenses incurred as a result of the Review into the accident in which their loved ones lost their lives,” Mr Ryan said.

“The Chairman of the Review board wrote to me with a recommendation that the reasonable legal costs of the families be covered. I was happy to accept this recommendation and asked my officials to work on a mechanism to resolve the issue.

“The families of the crew did not ask for the review and were placed in a position of having to contribute to a complex process to ensure their loved ones’ interests were fully represented.

“While the Department of Transport argued before the review board that it did not have authority to make an order on costs, this was done because of the broader implications that such a ruling might have in future. This was never intended to imply a reluctance to pay these costs, and the additional stress this may have caused is regretted.”

Mr Ryan said that in writing to the families, he was also conscious that they will shortly receive the final report of the investigation into the accident, “a moment which is bound to be difficult for all concerned”.

“Today we remember the service of Pilot Dara Fitzpatrick, co-pilot Mark Duffy, winchman Ciaran Smith and winch operator Paul Ormsby who gave their lives in the courageous pursuit of protecting others.”


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