Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has said his department will cover "reasonable legal expenses" of the families of the R116 crew who died in 2017.
In a statement, he said he has written to the families of the crew of R116 this afternoon to let them know that the Department of Transport will cover their reasonable legal expenses incurred as a result of the Review into the accident in which their loved ones lost their lives.
The Chairman of the Review board wrote to him with a recommendation that the reasonable legal costs of the families be covered.
"I was happy to accept this recommendation and asked my officials to work on a mechanism to resolve the issue," Mr Ryan said.
Pilot Dara Fitzpatrick, co-pilot Mark Duffy and winchman Ciarán Smith along with winch operator Paul Ormsby lost their lives when their search-and-rescue helicopter R116 crashed into Blackrock Island off the coast of Mayo in March 2017.
The families of the crew did not ask for the review and were placed in a position of having to contribute to a complex process to ensure their loved ones’ interests were fully represented, he added.
While the Department of Transport argued before the review board that it did not have authority to make an order on costs, this was done because of the broader implications that such a ruling might have in future.
"This was never intended to imply a reluctance to pay these costs, and the additional stress this may have caused is regretted," Mr Ryan said.
"In writing to the families, I am also conscious that they will shortly receive the final report of the investigation into the accident, a moment which is bound to be difficult for all concerned," he added.
Earlier, Sinn Féin Deputy leader Pearse Doherty raised the issue of the families of the R116 rescue crew potentially facing the legal bills.
Mr Doherty called on Mr Ryan to explain why officials under his remit opposed their request to have their legal bills covered. Mr Ryan said that was not the case and assured Mr Doherty that the matter "will not be an issue in the coming days" and will change "very, very quickly".
During hearings of a Review Board, which was established last year by then-Transport Minister Shane Ross, the lost servicemen’s families hired legal teams to represent their interests. Concerned that there may be attempts to land blame for the accident on any of the deceased crew, the crew’s families felt the need to hire counsel.
It has been reported that the Department of Transport strongly opposed applications to the Review Board by the families' legal teams to have their costs covered, angering several family members of the deceased. In a statement, the Department of Transport appeared to be changing its position.
"Legal advice was sought on the issue of awarding costs to the families who were represented at the Review Board hearings," it said.
"While it was determined that the Review Board does not have the jurisdiction to award costs to any party appearing before it, the Minister has now asked officials to consider this matter further."
Meanwhile, the Dáil also heard that young Irish people suffering from anorexia and other eating disorders are having to travel to the UK for treatment as there are only three beds in the entire country to treat them.
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said she welcomed Minister Mary Butler's announcement of an additional €1.15 million for specialist eating disorder teams. However, due to years of underinvestment this still falls far short of what's needed, she said.
“I think that's an understatement,” Ms Cairns said. She said no funding was allocated under the National eating disorder treatment plan for 2020, and of the €1.6 million allocated in 2019, not one cent of it was spent.
“There are just three inpatient beds for eating disorders in the entire country and all of them are in Dublin. People with severe eating disorders have been forced to travel to the UK to get treatment,” the Dáil heard.
“Again yesterday, I was contacted by a deeply concerned family member for an adolescent with severe anorexia who cannot get the treatment that she needs publicly or privately here. What assurances can you give this family and so many others that have been in contact, that they will get the care that they need? Three inpatient beds is disgraceful,” she said.
In response, Mr Ryan said he absolutely agreed with Ms Cairns that this is an issue of huge concern. “There's been a significant rise in the number of cases, particularly in recent years, particularly even coming out from Covid,” he said.