Mum calls for drones crackdown after 'distressed' son with autism filmed in Cork park

The nine-year-old boy was filmed in Cork's Tramore Valley Park during a vulnerable and distressing moment for him
Mum calls for drones crackdown after 'distressed' son with autism filmed in Cork park

Aoife Ó Caoimh’s nine-year-old son has autism and was recorded when a drone was flown within feet of him as he experienced a temporary outburst in Tramore Valley Park on Saturday. File photo: Larry Cummins

A mum has called for a crackdown on drones after her son was filmed by one from the air in a Cork city park during a vulnerable and distressing moment for him.

Aoife Ó Caoimh’s nine-year-old son has autism and was recorded when a drone was flown within feet of him as he experienced a temporary outburst in Tramore Valley Park on Saturday.

“The fact that it was done at all was an invasion of my son’s privacy,” Ms Ó Caoimh said.

“The fact that it was done at a low point for him, when he was having this temporary episode, is just despicable and sickening I feel he was robbed of his dignity.

This is the equivalent of someone coming up to you with a camera phone, and pushing past you, and recording a child who, for just that moment, has lost control, and recording it.

She reported the incident to gardaí who said they are powerless to act unless the footage is posted online. She has now written to the Taoiseach calling for a crackdown on the sale and operation of drones with cameras.

The disturbing incident occurred last Saturday when Ms Ó Caoimh and her sons, aged nine and 11, were visiting Tramore Valley Park. She was attaching her nine-year-old to their assistance dog when her older son shouted “hey look it’s a camera”.

“When I looked up it was a drone coming towards us and stopped directly over us,” she said.

“It came from across the lower pitch, we were the only ones there.” She said she has no doubt that it was flown deliberately towards them, and it hovered just a few feet above their heads.

“It came down so low over us I could see the lens moving - so close that my older son waved up and shouted hello,” she said.

Her younger son became unsettled and upset, and as she tried to calm and comfort him, the drone continued to hover over them before finally moving off.

“I looked around to see who was controlling it but I couldn’t see anyone that could have been,” she said.

“That said, my first impulse was just to get the boys into the car and leave as fast as I could.

“I was shaken when I got to the car as I couldn’t believe what had just happened and my first thought, other than the feeling of being completely violated, was that someone was getting a close look at my children, one of whom was in distress, and stayed to watch.” 

She immediately contacted gardaí and said the garda she spoke to was very sympathetic but told her that because it was a public space, there would be nothing they could do.

Aoife Ó Caoimh has no doubt that the drone was flown deliberately towards them, and it hovered just a few feet above their heads. File photo: Larry Cummins
Aoife Ó Caoimh has no doubt that the drone was flown deliberately towards them, and it hovered just a few feet above their heads. File photo: Larry Cummins

She said if someone filmed them with a phone, she could confront them.

“But here, there was absolutely nothing I could do to protect my children from such a personal and distressing episode being filmed in the most cowardly and despicable manner,” she said.

She also said the garda told her that she was not the first person to call with concerns about drones. Since December 31, 2020, EU drone regulations require all drone operators using any drone over 250 grams, or drones with a camera or sensor, to be registered.

In Ireland, that registration is done with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). But according to the IAA website, data protection legislation prevents members of the public from getting access to the drone operator register data.

It does state however that it is possible to identify if a drone operating in your area is a registered operator, and that you can also make note of the drone operator ID number, which should be on the drone, should anyone want to make a complaint about its operation.

But that’s only if the drone lands and you can make note of the details.

Ms Ó Caoimh said she had no way of identifying who was operating the drone which invaded their privacy.

You do not need to register as a drone operator if your drone weighs less than 250g and has no camera or other sensor able to detect personal data; or even with a camera or other sensor, weighs less than 250g, but is a toy and complies with the ‘toy’ Directive 2009/48/EC.

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