France recalls victims killed in tanker fire in Bantry Bay

September 26th, 2019 5:05 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

Goleen man Michael Kingston addressing the ceremony at the Betelgeuse memorial in Plerin in Brittany, France.

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FAMILIES of the victims of the Whiddy oil disaster in 1979 have accused the French government of failing to stand up to Ireland’s breach of fundamental European rights, after the Betelgeuese tanker disaster which claimed the lives of 50 people in Bantry Bay.

At a ceremony in Brittany last week, to mark the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, Irish and French relatives joined together in a special ceremony to remember their loved ones.

A total of 42 French, seven Irish and one Englishman lost their lives on January 8th 1979, in the worst industrial and maritime disaster in the Irish State’s history.

Speaking at the Betelgeuse Memorial Monument at Pointe du Roselier in Plerin, where many of the French victims came from, Michael Kingston, son of Whiddy victim Tim Kingston, said the deaths were ‘unlawful’.

Speaking as vice-president of the Relatives and Friends of the Betelgeuse, Mr Kingston accused both countries of failing to respect the fundamental rights of those who died, saying they had deviated badly from the values upon which both republics were established.

Last month, the relatives announced they would make an application to the High Court due to the Irish State’s failure to address multiple unlawful safety failings. A crowdfunding GoFundMe page, which was launched at the time, has raised almost €10,000 of a €100,000 target, to finance the case.

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

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’.

They are also seeking an State apology for the families, workers and rescue services, and the residents of Whiddy Island, who, they say, were forced into terrible danger unnecessarily due to breaches of safety. 

Broadcaster Eoin Warner, son of victim David Warner, said there had been a shadow of loss and pain over his childhood since the death of his father. ‘It’s time to shine a light on that void in our lives, to give our fathers a voice, stolen from them on the 8th of January 1979. 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.’

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