Dáil Éireann - Volume 311 - 06 February, 1979

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Whiddy Island Disaster.

[393] 18. Mr. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport the full terms of reference of the proposed public inquiry into the Whiddy Island Disaster; the proposed venue, and the expected date when the hearings will commence.

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism and Transport (Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick) (Dublin South-Central): As announced by the Government on 23 January 1979, legislation is being introduced to amend the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921 in certain respects. When the amending legislation has been enacted, a resolution will be moved in the Dáil and the Seanad providing for the establishment of the tribunal of inquiry. The terms of reference of the tribunal will be brought before the House at that stage and I would also hope to be in a position to give the other details requested by the Deputy.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Taking the Minister's point that we shall have an opportunity of discussing the terms of reference, which I hope will be of the widest possible scope, is the Minister aware of the exceptionally strong local feeling in the Bantry area in regard to the venue for the tribunal and the request that the hearings would be fixed for the town of Bantry?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): The Department and I are very much aware of the local feeling regarding the venue. We shall have to take into consideration various factors naturally, the accommodation available, communication facilities and matters like that. Bantry is being considered with other venues.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Is the Minister aware, and will he so communicate to the Government, that in regard to accommodation in the area there are two highly suitable venues? In regard to communication, Bantry is well serviced by roads, by sea and by air, being one hour from an airport and having a helipad and airstrip. Bearing these facts [394] in mind, will the Minister accept in the light of all those circumstances, including the wishes of the bereaved relatives, that the inquiry should be held in Bantry?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): I can assure the Deputy that all these factors have been taken into consideration. We also have to consider telecommunication facilities.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Would the Minister accept that, with the local capacity that is there from the point of view of accommodation, hotels and so on, being a major tourist area, and the facilities for the actual venue with conference rooms available, these should be the overriding factors and that any pressure from other sources—perhaps from barristers who would not want to leave Dublin or something like that—would be totally ignored and that in all the circumstances there should be no other decision but to have the inquiry in Bantry?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): All these factors are being taken into consideration. It is the view of the Government that whatever venue is chosen all these facilities will be available. Deputies may be assured that people will be consulted on this matter. I am sure the presiding judge would like to be consulted on it as he is the man who will be completely in charge of the operation.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Please let us have some order.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: As we are the people who called for the inquiry, surely the Minister must bear in mind that there is no more appropriate place for the inquiry than Bantry town. People are very concerned, as are all the public representatives, and is the Minister aware that we have been asked to voice these views here and in other public bodies? The Minister should be satisfied from press reports, from statements published in the newspapers by one proprietor of a hotel in Bantry that not only has he accommodation for 500——

[395] An Ceann Comhairle: That is a statement, not a question.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: I am asking if the Minister is aware that this accommodation is there plus consulting rooms. Surely that being the case there is no question of the inquiry being held in any other venue than Bantry?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): I did not say that the inquiry would not be held in Bantry. I said that Bantry was being taken into consideration with other venues at this time.

Mr. Quinn: Do I understand from the Minister that while they are considering all aspects of the matter at the moment no decision about the venue has yet been made?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): No, the Government will make a decision.

Mr. Quinn: Do I understand from the Minister that the factors which will govern such a decision include communications, transport and accessibility?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): All these things will be taken seriously into consideration. We must remember that there will be people present from all over the world, correspondents and experts. We must ensure that they will be able to communicate with the outside world, that proper accommodation is available for them.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Quinn: In view of the fact that the Minister is Minister of State for Transport and Tourism and for Posts and Telegraphs surely his Department, after four weeks, are in a position to know what the communications situation is and to make a decision, not drag it out to the extent it has been dragged out?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is pressing an argument.

[396] Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): All these factors are being examined very closely at present.

Mr. Quinn: But the Minister does not know?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): The Government will make the decision as regards the venue.

Mr. P. Barry: The Minister said that Bantry was being considered with other venues. Surely he will eliminate Dublin as a possible venue. The only choice should be between Cork and Bantry.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Why should it be held in Cork?

Mr. P. Barry: It should not be held in Dublin, that is what I am saying.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair has said that it should not be held in the Dáil.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): No particular venue has been chosen yet.

Mr. P. Barry: Has Dublin been ruled out yet?

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: I shall allow the Deputy who put down the question to ask one more question.

Mr. P. Barry: Would the Minister not agree that there is absolutely no necessity to hold this inquiry in Dublin, that Bantry should be the prime location and, failing that, Cork.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): Bantry is being seriously considered with other venues.

Mr. P. Barry: Would the Minister agree that there is no necessity for Dublin to be even considered in this regard?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): I did not say Dublin was being considered, I said “other venues”.

[397] Mr. P. Barry: Is Dublin one of them?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): I myself would not say it is but I am not rulling it out. It is entirely a Government decision.

Mr. P. Barry: Is Dublin one of the venues being considered?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): Numerous venues are being considered at present.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. P. Barry: I appeal to the Minister to assure the House that for reasons that it would be convenient to somebody participating, Dublin will not be the venue for the inquiry.

Mr. B. Desmond: Why not Dublin?

Mr. P. Barry: Will the Deputy stay out of this?

(Interruptions.)

Mr. O'Keeffe: May I have one matter clarified in the light of the reference to people who would be consulted in regard to the venue? Could I have it as a positive statement from the Minister that the final decision will be made by the Government?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): The final decision will be made by the Government.

Mr. Quinn: May I say on behalf of many people who are connected with this tragedy that, irrespective of the terms of reference and the venue for the inquiry, the Minister should now publish the name of the secretary to that inquiry so that people in France and in this country can directly contact the person responsible for the inquiry. I have received representations from people in France who have lost relatives in this tragedy and they are at sixes and sevens to know what is going on. May I ask that the Minister publish without further delay an address at which people who have an interest in the inquiry can immediately [398] contact the people responsible?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): I think that was published in one of today's papers but I shall certainly make a note of the Deputy's question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Question No. 19.

Mr. Quinn: Could the Minister not give it now and put it on the records of the House?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin South-Central): I have not got it.