State won't budge on payout claim for trawler death
By Vincent Ryan
Sunday December 27 2009
THE Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is refusing to pay the €250,000 compensation to the Byrne family recommended by Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly in the Lost at Sea report as it believes to do so would result in "major financial liability".
The Lost at Sea scheme was introduced in 2001 to compensate fishermen who had lost their trawlers and could not afford to return to fishing.
When the Lost at Sea scheme was introduced, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources wrote to some fishermen who had lost boats at sea, inviting them to apply to the scheme.
The Lost at Sea scheme was also advertised in specialist fishing publications.
Despite the sinking of the Skifjord in 1981 with the loss of Francis Byrne, his son and three other crewmen, the Byrne family was not informed of the scheme.
After a complaint from the Byrne family, the ombudsman launched an investigation into the scheme. The ombudsman recommended that the Byrne family should be compensated. The department refused.
This is only the second time in the 25-year history of the ombudsman that the ombudsman's recommendations have been rejected.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that the minister believed that the Lost at Sea scheme had been administered fairly and that there was no basis for any compensation to be paid.
"The minister and the department have consistently taken the view that this scheme was properly and fairly administered by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which had responsibility for the scheme at the time, and accordingly that there is no basis for compensation in the amount proposed or any amount," the spokesman said.
However in a letter from the department to the ombudsman's office on July 30, 2009, the department stated that it did not disagree with the ombudsman's findings that the design of the Lost at Sea scheme was "contrary to fair and sound administration", but that the State could not afford to pay out large sums in compensation for administrative failings.
The letter stated: "It is important, in light of the current national and financial position, to point out that the findings of the ombudsman in the Byrne case could have far-reaching implications for the department and the Exchequer.
"I do not wish to diminish the standing of the findings of the ombudsman where she states that elements of the scheme design 'were contrary to fair and sound administration'.
"But the possible cascade from what might be described as minor administration failings may give rise to a major financial liability, particularly were other cases to be brought to the ombudsman by other unsuccessful applicants under the Lost at Sea scheme."
- Vincent Ryan