Still no redress 35 years after Skifjord tragedy

Sue Doherty

Reporter:

Sue Doherty

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sue.doherty@donegaldemocrat.com

Still no redress 35 years after Skifjord tragedy

While most people made the most of the Bank Holiday and the Halloween celebrations on Monday, others would have been in quiet mourning, recalling a tragedy that claimed five lives 35 years ago on that date.

Among those who died on October 31, 1981, when the Skifjord fishing trawler sank after striking a reef off Burtonport, were a father and son from Bruckless.

Skipper Francis Byrne (40), his son James (16), Desmond McGovern (22) from Mayo, Jimmy Laverty (20) from Ballycastle and Tony O’Brien (21) from Dublin lost their lives in the tragedy.

Four other crew members - Gerry Laverty (26) from Dunkineely, John McGuinness (19) from Killybegs, Eamonn Mullin (29) also from Killybegs and the boat’s chef Standish O’Grady (33) from Dublin - survived the catastrophe.

The Byrne family had already suffered heavy losses on the seas. Mr Byrne's own father James and uncle Danny had died in a fishing tragedy off St John's Point 36 years earlier and his uncle Anthony, drowned, aged 18, near Kilalla, Co. Mayo.

Because Francis Byrne's remains were never recovered, no death certificate issued. This meant that his wife Winnie was left to raise eight children on her own, with no widow's pension.

Thirty-five years after the disaster, the Byrne family has still not received redress from the Lost at Sea scheme, which was announced in 2001 to help bereaved families such as theirs. One of Francis and Winnie's sons, Danny, has tirelessly campaigned to secure this redress.

In 2009, Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly found that the family had wrongfully been excluded from the Lost at Sea Scheme. She recommended to the Government that the family be paid compensation of €245,075, in lieu of new fishing tonnage.

The next year, however, the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee found that the scheme had been administered properly, thereby ruling out a payment.

In February 2014, Danny Byrne and Jim Higgins MEP took the case to the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee.

Nearly two years later, the issue has still not been resolved.