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Families of Whiddy tanker disaster's victims to take High Court action

August 2nd, 2019 9:47 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

MIchael Kingston speaking in Bantry in January. (Photo: Tony McElhinney)

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THE families of those killed in the 1979 Whiddy Disaster in Bantry Bay have today launched a fundraising drive to cover the cost of a High Court battle with the State.

The families announced today that they will apply to the High Court to have the victims’ death certificates rectified, given they believe the deaths were ‘unlawful’.

For years the French-Irish Association of Relatives and Friends of the Betelgeuse have sought recognition from the Irish government of State failures, following the deaths of 50 people when the Betelgeuse tanker exploded at the Whiddy oil terminal, and an apology.

During a keynote speech at the Mother Jones festival in Cork this evening, maritime lawyer Michael Kingston, son of the Whiddy victim Tim Kingston, announced that time had run out for an apology, and the families would now apply to the High Court for a hearing.

‘This was worst industrial and maritime disaster in the State’s history,’ said Mr Kingston. ‘My father and all those who died, including 43 people from other countries who came to work in Ireland, have been denied their final right under the Right to Life provisions of European law, and their death certificates are incorrect. They died unlawfully, due to the appalling breaches of safety by Gulf Oil, and the failure to address these issues is a fundamental breach of their European rights by Ireland.’

At the Mother Jones Festival in the Firkin Crane this evening at 7.30pm, Mr Kingston, who is also the vice-president of the French-Irish Association of Relatives and Friends of the Betelgeuse, will make the announcement, during a keynote speech on the disaster. He will be accompanied by former RTÉ maritime correspondent Tom MacSweeney, the first broadcaster on the scene in 1979.

The GoFundMe page is being launched to help fundraise for the case. The families believe that the deaths of their loved ones were ‘unlawful’ under Irish law in 1979 and are applying for the State to rectify the death certificates pursuant to the ‘Right to Life’ provisions of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

They say that, as a result of the successful application under European law by the families of the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium Disaster victims in the UK, they are asking that a coroner’s hearing be reconvened and that the coroner be directed by the High Court to find the deaths ‘unlawful’, thereby establishing the victims’ rights in death correctly.

The families say the facts were clearly set out in Mr Justice Declan Costello's 1980 report on the disaster at Whiddy Island, following a lengthy tribunal, and no action was taken.

They are also seeking an appropriate lengthy, honest, and heartfelt State apology for the families, workers and rescue services, and the residents of Whiddy Island, ‘who were forced into terrible danger unnecessarily, due to breaches of safety and the State failure to ensure safe operations’.

They are also asking that the State apologises to the people of Bantry and West Cork for these failings and that the State carries out a thorough review of Ireland's maritime and energy regulatory framework, and implements currently outstanding international maritime regulation demonstrating that the State has finally learnt from this appalling tragedy.

Eoin Warner, son of victim David Warner, said this week: ‘We want justice for those who died so horrendously that night, moreover, we want to prevent such needless loss of life in the future amongst our seafaring communities. No child should have to go through what we went through.’

A supplement on the disaster, published in January by the Southern Star to mark 40 years since the Betelgeuse exploded, was named Feature Story of the Year at the Local Ireland National Lottery Media Awards this year.

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