Varadkar may make it an offence to ignore severe weather warnings

Storm Ophelia: Dara Fitzpatrick’s sister criticises ‘idiots’ ignoring storm warning

A bather is recorded in the water off of Salthill, Co. Galway despite calls from authorities to remain out of the water during Storm Ophelia. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will consider making it a criminal offence to ignore severe weather warnings as some people - such as those who went swimming in Galway - did during Storm Ophelia.

Mr Varadkar was speaking as he visited an ESB crew repairing power lines on the Meath-Kildare border on Tuesday evening.

“I think it is something that merits consideration,” The Taoiseach said. “People who disobeyed the red alert and travel warnings yesterday didn’t just put themselves at risk they also put at risk the lives of other people, particularly our emergency services. But I would never rush into creating a new crime. I think it is something that we will have to consider.

“It was suggested today in the Dail that we would look at it on an all party basis and that’s what I’d like to do.”

The sister of Rescue 116 crew member Dara Fitzpatrick has said she was “disgusted” at “reckless idiots” who put emergency crew members at risk during Storm Ophelia on Monday.

Despite the red weather warning in place across the entire country, members of the public were pictured wind surfing, swimming and sailing.

In a post on Twitter, Niamh Fitzpatrick wrote: “Re those reckless idiots, now I think that even if it was their mother/sister/brother/father in rescue crew it mightn’t stop them. Disgusted.”

The crew of Rescue 116 - Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45), Mark Duffy (51), Paul Ormsby (53) and Ciaran smith (38), died after their helicopter crashed at Blackrock Island, 13km west of north Co Mayo last March.

Ms Fitzpatrick also backed calls on social media for anyone putting the lives of emergency service personnel in danger by engaging in “knowingly reckless behaviour” to be charged with endangerment.

“Please heed the warnings and do not put the lives of emergency services personnel at risk unnecessarily. Stay in for just one day,” she said on Monday.

Dun Laoghaire Coast Guard said it had to deal with two incidents during Storm Ophelia, including two seven-year-olds entering water at Seapoint with flippers on Monday afternoon and a man who was believed to be about to enter the sea at Killiney Beach.

“Members of public were seen putting themselves in danger and were immediately requested to leave for their own safety,” it said.

The Coast Guard and RNLI crews rescued two wind surfers who found themselves in difficulty off the coast of Blackrock, Co Louth.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said he was “furious” at reports of people swimming and walking on piers during the storm.

“The idea of people putting their own lives at risk and tieing up the emergency services makes me furious,” he told Newstalk Breakfast on Monday.

Mr Murphy said he didn’t know what the legal situation was for dealing with such people, but that he was in favour of some sort of sanction and would be happy to consider financial penalties.

“You have to make sure you have a co-ordinated approach and that people understand that putting other people’s lives at risk is not on,” he said.

Minister of State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe said it had been “absolutely ludicrous, stupid and totally inappropriate”.

“A garda in Galway tried to stop those people going out in Salthill, but they didn’t heed his advice. Had they gotten into trouble the emergency services would have been called,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show. “People were taking their lives into their own hands.”

Fianna Fáil spokesman for Foreign Affairs and Trade Darragh O’Brien said emergency services “deserve our support”.

“I will publish legislation to give them protection they deserve. Strong deterrent against reckless behaviour which put emergency services at risk is needed. I will draft legislation to do so,” he wrote on Twitter.

Sean Hogan, chairman of the National Emergency Coordination Group said he would “deplore” people who put the lives of emergency services staff at risk by entering the water on Monday. “I think they need to have a strong look at themselves” he said.

Speaking in the Dail, Mr Varadkar said two incidents during Hurricane Ophelia almost cost the lives of members of the emergency services.

“We were close to many more fatalities than were suffered yesterday,’’ he said.

A Government spokesman said in one case a tree fell beside a crew which was removing another tree.

In another case, a crew was involved in a rescue after a car crashed into a tree, when it was discovered a live wire had fallen into the tree.

“Fortunately no one was injured,’’ said the spokesman.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin criticised those who ignored safety warnings.

“Not only did those who disobeyed safety warnings put themselves at risk, but they also risked the lives of members of the emergency services,’’ said Mr Varadkar.

Mr Martin asked the Taoiseach to work with other parties to review legislation to make it an offence to disobey safety warnings during a major weather event.

“There was a lot of anger yesterday that the lives of first responders had been put at risk by needless activity,’’ said Mr Martin.

“It is important that, as the legislature, this House show cause by protecting first responders and creating a far greater awareness of the dangers inherent in such reckless activity.’’