Belfast Telegraph

Donegal council has no plans to put warning sign at Buncrana deaths pier

By Andrew Phelan

Donegal County Council has no plans to erect a "slippery surface" warning sign at Buncrana pier following the tragedy that happened after Sean McGrotty's car slid off the slipway into the waters of Lough Swilly.

A council official, John McLaughlin, confirmed that while other signs were recommended there was no proposal to warn the public about slippery surfaces.

However, he said the council would take any of the inquest's findings into account.

The inquest also heard it cost around €400 to scrub algae from a slipway but this was not done in winter time at little-used piers.

There was thick algae on the slipway at Buncrana pier and tyre marks "like train tracks" going directly into the water that were assumed to have been caused by Mr McGrotty's car, the coroner's court heard. A gate leading to the slipway had been locked in the open position and the only signs at the time advised no swimming close to the slipway and another that referred to shellfish. Mr McLaughlin said the gate was put in place only for the operation of a ferry service as a traffic management measure.

Since the accident, it was now closed but the council's recommendation for the future was that the gates stays open.

The council did not keep piers like Buncrana algae-free in winter when there would be little or no use, he said. It was generally done from June to September.

Mr McLaughlin said since the accident, there was a sign saying that the slipway was temporarily closed.

Mr McLaughlin disagreed with a suggestion by barrister Paul Gallagher, for Louise James, that "nothing has changed and nothing will change" at the pier.

Modern lifebuoys had been installed since the accident.

He said people would not be just aware of the algae but environmental signs, including waves on either side, and the risks were "self-evident."

A witness, Francis Crawford, had given evidence that he heard about 10 other incidents in which vehicles had gone into the water in Buncrana but the drivers were able to escape. Mr McLaughlin replied that he only heard about one incident but there were no full-time staff at the pier.

The inquest heard the pier maintenance budget in Donegal in 2016 was €2.2m and it cost €400 to power wash algae from a pier. However, Mr McLaughlin said "it doesn't say the frequency of the removal" and total cost.

There were around 100 piers in Donegal and they had been all reviewed after the accident.

Irish Water Safety CEO John Leech said the slope on the slipway was in the range of the acceptable norm.

"This is the only accident of its type that I have encountered in 17 years," he said.

Algae should be removed according to footfall usage of a pier, he said, and some were never cleaned but people knew when to use them.

He said Irish Water Safety would carry out a risk assessment of Buncrana Pier if requested by Donegal County Council.

Belfast Telegraph

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