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Inquest after Whiddy tragedy to be referred to AG

March 15th, 2023 10:10 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

Inquest after Whiddy tragedy to be referred to AG Image
The tanker Betelgeuse ablaze at the jetty off Whiddy Island in 1979. (Photo: Ian Vickey Snr)

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THE inquest after the Whiddy terminal fire tragedy which claimed 50 lives, is being referred to the attorney general, Goleen lawyer Michael Kingston has been told.

The inquest took place on July 12th 1979, but Mr Kingston, whose father Tim died in the aftermath of the explosion on the Betelgeuse oil tanker, says the inquest should have been adjourned until after the tribunal into the disaster, which was not finalised until May 1980.

‘The Taoiseach has now written to me, confirming that he has referred the Whiddy Island inquest request to the attorney general,’ Mr Kingston told The Southern Star.

‘There was such a rush to get it over and done with – on one day – that the file, for the lives of 50 people, is no thicker than half a pound of butter,’ he added.

He pointed out that in the tribunal report there is a chapter called the ‘Suppression of the Truth’, wherein two of the main witnesses mentioned were subsequently charged with perjury. ‘Upon inspection of the inquest file, all 50 inquests relied on the witness evidence of these two men,’ Mr Kingston said. ‘They were the only two witnesses of fact leading to the deaths. There was an assumption in July 1979 that no more bodies would be found. My father Timothy Kingston, his colleagues Cornelius O’Shea and Denis O’Leary were not found until later in 1979. So, after their first inquest, they had to have a second one, on February 15th 1980. Another State rubber-stamping exercise, that used again the statements of these two men.’

Mr Kingston has said he is taking a stand on behalf of the families regarding what he alleges are the fundamental and criminal breaches of Irish regulation by Gulf Oil, and the Irish State’s failure to enforce such regulation. 

‘An Garda Síochána was instrumental in establishing the facts of some of the safety breaches on the night of January 7th 1979 by Gulf Oil and uncovering their subsequent ‘suppression of the truth’ thereafter. However, no action was taken by the State with no focus whatsoever on how the State’s maritime safety regulatory framework allowed Gulf Oil to behave as they did in pursuing catastrophic safety reductions,’ he added.

In a letter to Mr Kingston, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s private secretary said Deputy Varadkar was familiar with the Whiddy disaster.

‘He realises that the pain and heartache felt those (sic) who were involved in or affected by the tragedy will always be felt,’ she wrote, adding: ‘He considers the anniversary of the disaster last month was a poignant and timely reminder of the need to ensure appropriate safety systems, standards and regulations are in place.’

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