The son of one of the 50 people who died in the Whiddy Island disaster has had a meeting with high ranking gardai, claiming Ireland's maritime safety structures are "fundamentally broken".
Michael Kingston, an award-winning international maritime lawyer, met with representatives of An Garda Síochána’s Liaison and Protection Unit to the National Maritime Safety Committee at Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park.
His father, Tim Kingston, was among those killed when the oil tanker Betelgeuse exploded at an offshore jetty in Bantry Bay 41 years ago, on January 8, 1979.
Michael Kingston had sought the meeting with gardai a year after the 40th anniversary event in Bantry, attended by the relatives of those killed, including those related to the 42 French nationals who died in the disaster.
At that commemoration, Mr Kingston - a Special Advisor to the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group - said the families wanted “full disclosure” from the government as to what happened on the day of the disaster.
Following the meeting with Gardai, at which he was accompanied by fishermen and relatives of some of those who have lost their lives at sea, Mr Kingston said: "Unfortunately, Ireland’s maritime regulatory safety framework, overseen by the Department of Transport Tourism and Sport, is fundamentally broken.
"It has come to light that Ireland’s Marine Casualty Investigation Board is fundamentally flawed as it lacks independence. Ireland is under investigation by the European Commission as the presence of the Department’s Chief Surveyor and its Secretary General or nominee is on the Board. This is so ‘contrary to clear international rules and European law’ that it defies belief."
Mr Kingston said he had asked An Garda Síochána to investigate what he called fundamental failings of the State in investigating maritime accidents.
"As MCIB investigations involve the analysis of the regulatory framework and its enforcement, those from the department on the board are effectively investigating themselves," he said.
"It is incredible that [Transport] Minister [Shane] Ross, who is so adamant elsewhere in Government about ‘delineation’ in appointments in public office, is so blind to this obvious fundamental failing."
He said he had been contacted by a number of people who had raised concerns with him, and called for an urgent root and branch review of the Maritime Safety Directorate.
Mr Kingston's comments were put to the department, which said it would respond in due course.