The Donegal Democrat front page in 1981 reporting the tragedy.
Nine years after Ombusman Emily O’Reilly ruled in their favour, a Donegal family who were denied access to the Lost at Sea scheme following a fishing tragedy, will now be compensated.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Michael Creed announced today that he has taken steps to address a complaint made by the Byrne family regarding the application made by Ms Winifred Byrne to the Lost at Sea Scheme in 2003.
The recommendation made by the Ombudsman arose from a complaint taken by Ms Byrne’s son Daniel Byrne regarding the refusal of his mother’s application to the Lost at Sea Scheme in respect of the MFV Skijford. The Ombudsman recommended that a payment of €245,570 be made in the case.
In 2001, a Lost at Sea scheme was introduced, but it is claimed it wasn’t publicised and only select people were informed. The Byrne family’s application was deemed ineligible when it came in.
The then Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly ruled in their favour in 2009, but that was rejected by the then government, leading to a lengthy campaign at home and in Europe.
In a statement, the Minister said: “I have decided to exercise my discretion in this matter to implement the Ombudsman's recommendation to make a payment strictly on an ex-gratia basis to Ms Winifred Byrne. This decision is expressly to satisfy the Ombudsman’s recommendation concerning Ms Byrne’s application to the Lost at Sea Scheme.”
Acknowledging the difficult circumstances in which the application and complaint arose, Minister Creed added “The Byrne family have my sincere sympathy and that of my officials for the heart-rending loss of life they suffered in the original tragic incident at sea.”
Five lives lost in 1981 tragedy
In November 1981, five men drowned when the Skifjord sank off Burtonport. 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 Killala, Co. Mayo.