Eamon Ryan has told families of the victims of the Irish Coast Guard helicopter R116 crash that the Government will cover their legal bills.
In a statement, the Minister for Transport said: “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.”
“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.”
Earlier, Mr Ryan had denied that the Government objected to the awarding of legal costs to the families arising from a Department of Transport review into the 2017 incident, which claimed four lives.
Captains Dara Fitzpatrick (45) and Mark Duffy (51), and winchmen Paul Ormsby (53) and Ciaran Smith (38) died when their Sikorsky S-92 helicopter crashed into Blackrock Island, off the coast of Co Mayo, during a rescue mission.
Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Ciaran Smith and Paul Orsmby died when their Irish Coast Guard helicopter crashed into Blackrock Island during a rescue mission (Irish Coastguard/PA) Speaking during Leaders’ Questions on Thursday, Mr Ryan had said the issue of costs would be addressed, and steps taken to ensure it does not happen again to add to the hurt experienced by families.
The Green Party leader said: “Absolutely it is in our interest, in all our interests, that the families are not put into 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 things such as cost, but it’s not true.
“I am very confident that, following the completion of the review group’s work and their report, what I would expect then is the imminent publication of the full report from the air accident investigation inspector, that that will be resolved very, very quickly.
“And, more critically, then we also look to learn the lessons that will be contained in those reports, so that the other families of other people in our air rescue system have confidence that we do learn lessons, that we recognise the critically important work that they do, that they continue to do, day in, day out.”
Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty had called on the Minister to clarify whether his department opposes applications for families to have their costs covered.
He said: “The review team made a determination into this, and part of their determination, they said it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the commander’s family to represent its own interests, and the late commander’s interest, without having legal representation.
“Members of the families talk about the hurt that they have, talk about being dragged into a process not of their making.
“It’s the helicopter company that has taken this review and that your department strongly objected to the cost being covered.”
Mr Ryan had denied the claims.
“My department has not strenuously fought against payment of such costs,” he said.
“The issue of costs, as I said, were addressed in that report.
“At no stage did our department strenuously fight against that.”