THIS week marked two anniversaries of tragedies — or atrocities if you’d prefer to be more direct — where too many lives were needlessly lost.
A third such anniversary looms. The most spectacular and the one that should provoke the most far-reaching change was the Grenfell catastrophe just over a month ago. The official death toll has not been finalised — that process may take up to a year — but yesterday London police chief Cressida Dick said she expected the figure to be around 80. The anger in the community devastated by the disaster is such that this figure is discounted as a cover-up. The belief that many more people died is widespread, though evidence to support it has yet to be found.
Those accusations spread yesterday when it was revealed that building safety experts warned in 2014 that the insulation planned for in Grenfell Tower — which was installed and which fuelled the fatal June fire — should be used only with non-combustible cladding. A formal certificate issued by the building inspectors’ organisation states that the insulation chosen was acceptable for use on tall buildings only if used with fibre cement panels, which do not burn. The certificate will deepen concerns over why the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s building control team certified the Grenfell work as complying “with the relevant provisions”.
As we have seen in too many instances in Ireland, though thankfully none has yet involved the loss of life on a Grenfell scale, there is little or no recourse available when building or safety regulations are ignored. If Grenfell teaches us anything it is that we need to give our laws real teeth and, if necessary, give the courts recourse to the private assets of those who flout these regulations. It is at best childish to hope that anything short of that might act as a real deterrent.
This week marked four months since the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter crash off Mayo in which four lives were lost. Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormsby, and winchman Ciarán Smith died when their helicopter crashed into Blackrock island off north Mayo in the early hours of March 14. The bodies of the two winch crew have not been recovered despite extensive searches.
Just like those who died in Grenfell the Coast Guard deaths are a consequence of inadequate resources. Had the Air Corps been in a position to undertake that mission four lives might not have been lost. Had the terrain and obstacle data provided in databases for search and rescue helicopters included details of Blackrock island the tragedy might have been averted.
Less than a month ago Waterford man Thomas Power died in an ambulance because he could not get emergency cardiac treatment in University Hospital Waterford. Despite his critical condition he was on his way to Cork — two hours and 122km away.
These tragedies offer many lessons all of which could be, as they say in management speak, actioned if resources were unlimited. They, as early budget skirmishes show, are not, so maybe we should pause to sort the wheat from the chaff, to distinguish between obligations and aspirations.
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