Creeslough tragedy: ‘Drafting error’ in report to blame for mistaken allegation that ambulances were unable to cross Border to assist

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) stated that their response to Creeslough was not affected in any way due to border or visa issues but the mistake was contained in a report by the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly

A “drafting error” in a report by the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) was to blame for the mistaken allegation that some ambulances from Northern Ireland were unable to cross the Border to assist in the Creeslough tragedy, the Assembly’s Steering Committee has said.

It previously blamed “certain inaccuracies in the reporting” following controversy over the claim, which was rejected by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) as “totally wrong.”

In a “clarification” released on Tuesday, the Committee said that based on the evidence given to its inquiry, the reference should have been to “paramedics being affected” rather than “ambulances not attending” and apologised “for any confusion that may have arisen.”

Ten people died in the explosion in Creeslough, in October 2022, which destroyed the Applegreen service station, shop and apartment complex in the Co Donegal village.

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Robert Garwe and his five-year-old daughter, Shauna Flanagan-Garwe; Catherine O’Donnell and her 13-year-old son James Monaghan; fashion student Jessica Gallagher; Celtic fan Martin McGill; Sydney native James O’Flaherty; shop worker Martina Martin; carpenter Hugh ‘Hughie’ Kelly; and 14-year-old Leona Harper were killed.

NIAS received an emergency call for assistance and immediately dispatched an air ambulance and emergency teams including paramedics, with relief crews sent later on.

Its staff stayed “well into the weekend”, helping particularly to deal with the unstable building, and also assisted in transporting some of those killed to the mortuary in Letterkenny.

According to comments by Fine Gael senator Emer Currie at a meeting of the Assembly in October, first reported by The Irish Times, “some ambulances from Northern Ireland could not assist during the explosion that occurred in Creeslough because not all of the paramedics had the necessary visas to cross the invisible border.”

In her remarks Ms Currie was quoting directly from a report by the Assembly – which is comprised of TDs, MPs and members of the devolved parliaments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and the Channel Islands - into the operation of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK.

This paragraph has now been deleted and replaced with the statement that the relevant Committee “heard evidence of an example where in October 2022 paramedics from Northern Ireland could not assist during the explosion that occurred in Creeslough, Co. Donegal because they did not have the necessary visas to cross the invisible border.

“The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) has stated that their services were not impacted and that their response to Creeslough was not affected in any way due to border or visa issues.’’

In its statement on Tuesday, the Committee said the BIPA committee responsible for the report had now updated it “to correct the drafting error and to acknowledge the subsequent statement published by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service that its response to Creeslough was not affected in any way by border or visa issues.

It confirmed that “in presenting the Committee’s report to the Assembly on 24 October 2023, and in her subsequent media interviews, the Chair of the Committee, Senator Emer Currie, reflected in good faith the content of the report, as did subsequent media reports including those by The Irish Times.”

The revised report has now been adopted on behalf of the Assembly, the statement said, adding that the “Committee wishes to apologise for any confusion that may have arisen.

“Furthermore, the Steering Committee, on behalf of BIPA, again extends the Assembly’s sincere thanks and appreciation to members of all the ambulance services and other emergency services which attended the Creeslough tragedy.

“BIPA appreciates the professionalism and dedication to duty of these services and their commitment to providing the swiftest possible response and the best possible care to all who require their assistance,” the statement said.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times