- Five family members drowned when their Audi Q7 jeep car slid off Buncrana Pier
- Vehicle then plunged into waters of Lough Swilly in Donegal, north west Ireland
- Sean McGrotty, 46, and his sons Mark, 11 and Evan, eight, were killed in tragedy
- His mother-in-law Ruth Daniels and her teenage daughter Jodie-Lee Tracey also died
- Inquest told Mr McGrotty's reading was 159ml per 100ml of blood – limit is 50ml
- Mr McGrotty's baby girl Rionaghac-Ann was saved by local man Davitt Walsh, 28
Published: 08:09 EST, 22 November 2017 | Updated: 11:05 EST, 22 November 2017
A father who perished in a sinking car alongside his two sons, mother-in-law and sister-in-law was more than three times the legal drink-drive limit when the vehicle slid down a slipway and into the water.
Sean McGrotty, 46, was behind the wheel of his Audi Q7 jeep when it slipped off a pier in Buncrana, Donegal, and sunk beneath the waters of the Lough Swilly.
With him in the car were his sons Mark, 11, and eight-year-old Evan, his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels, 57, and her 14-year-old daughter Jodie-Lee Tracey, all of whom died.
Sean McGrotty (back left) and his sons Mark, 12, and Evan, eight (pictured front) died when the Audi they were in plunged off a pier and into the water. Their baby sister Rionaghac-Ann (pictured with their mother Louise James, who was not involved in the crash) survived
His four-month-old daughter Rionaghac-Ann was the sole survivor after being plucked to safety by a hero bypasser.
Today, at an inquest into the incident, consultant pathologist Dr Katrina Dillon said Mr McGrotty's blood alcohol level was 159ml per 100ml of blood. The legal limit is 50ml.
On cross-examination, Dr Dillon said she could not say how that level of alcohol would have impaired Mr McGrotty.
Davitt Walsh, 28 (pictured today outside the inquest), rescued a four-month-old baby from a sinking car when five other members of her family drowned inside
Earlier, Davitt Walsh, who saved the four-month-old girl from the tragedy, told how he desperately tried to save the newborn's brother as Mr McGrotty shouted: 'Save my baby'.
Mr Walsh had been walking near he pier when he saw the car sinking below the water after having slid off the 'treacherous' slipway.
Without a moment's hesitation, Mr Walsh stripped down to his underwear, diving into the water and swimming towards the vehicle in an attempt to rescue those inside.
As he battled to avert tragedy, Mr Walsh managed to pluck four-month-old Rionaghac-Ann to safety, after Mr McGrotty passed her out through the window.
But today, giving evidence at the inquest, Mr Walsh also described how he also tried to save one of the other children who was screaming for help inside the jeep.
Tragically, as he attempted to haul the boy to safety, the child's foot got caught in the car and the vehicle slipped under the water.
Describing the harrowing ordeal today, Mr Walsh said: 'I reached in and grabbed the wee boy. I tried to pull him out but he seemed to get stuck on something.
'Just as I was trying to pull the wee boy out of the car the water rushed in and I had to let go. I had to let go because I was struggling as hard as I could to avoid getting sucked into the water.
'The father climbed back into the car, looked back and me and said "save my baby". The water gushed in and the car went under the water.'
Ms James's mother Ruth Daniels, 57, (left) and Ms Daniels's teenage daughter Jodie-Lee Tracey, 14, (right) also died
Mr Walsh told the hearing how he was out with his girlfriend Stephanie Knox after playing football for his team Fanad United when she spotted the car in the water.
He jumped into the water and swam out to the jeep, where Mr McGrotty was trying to smash the driver's window with his elbow.
After managing to shatter the pane, Mr McGrotty handed Mr Walsh the little girl as he shouted 'save the baby, save my baby', the inquest heard.
Mr Walsh then took the baby from his hands, giving Mr McGrotty room to sit up onto the driver's window ledge.
'I knew something wasn't right': Woman reveals moment she found out five members of her family had died
The bereft woman who lost her mother, partner, sister and two little boys in the Buncrana drowning tragedy today told an inquest how she knew something was wrong the moment she got a phone call alerting her to the tragedy.
Louise James told the hearing that she had last seen her family on Friday, March 18, when her partner Sean McGrotty and the two boys had left her at a friend's house ahead of a hen weekend in Liverpool.
She was at the airport travelling back from the weekend when the incident took place.
Today, Ms James told the inquest how minutes before the tragedy, she spoke on the phone with her tragic sister Jodi Lee who said the boys were playing in a playpark on the shorefront in Buncrana.
Half an hour later, she received a phonecall from her brother Joshua.
She told the hearing: 'I got a feeling something wasn't right.'
Joshua then told Ms James there had been an incident in Buncrana and that a car had gone into the water, but it was not clear who was in there.
Ms James said she had tried to contact both her partner and her sister but could not reach them.
When she landed in Belfast, she was informed that five members of her family had died.
She travelled to her home in Derry before going to Letterkenny University Hospital to see her surviving child and to identify the bodies of the rest of her family.
As he did so, one of the boys attempted to crawl out and managed to grab Mr Walsh's hand.
But, as Mr Walsh tried to pull him to safety, the child's leg got stuck in the car, causing water to rush into the jeep. The vehicle then sank beneath the water.
Amazingly, Mr Walsh managed to swim 25m back to the pier with the baby held in the air.
When he made it back to the slipway – which was said to be 'treacherous' with algae – he handed the baby to his girlfriend and collapsed with exhaustion.
He said: 'I could hardly breath, I was so tired. A man came and pulled me off the algae. I was freezing and knew I had to get warm.
Mr Walsh – who has since been awarded a gold medal for bravery at sea – suffered cuts to his feet which he was treated for in hospital.
The former footballer said he had been aware that the algae would be slippery, but that a stranger would not have been aware of the dangers.
By the time the RNLI lifesavers reached the scene the Londonderry family's car had disappeared into the water and the victims were floating in the water.
The inquest also heard from Francis Crawford, the first person at the scene.
He told the hearing how he and his wife Kay had parked on the slipway just after 7pm when he saw what he thought was a black people carrier in the water at the bottom of the slipway.
He remarked to his wife that 'there was something badly wrong' and shouted at the person in the car – Mr McGrotty – who shouted at him to get help.
Mr Crawford – who said he could hear children crying inside the car – then dialled 999.
He said Mr Walsh then arrived at the scene and, after asking him if he could swim, he asked Mr Walsh to jump in the water.
He told the inquest: 'The car was floating, bobbing in the water, 10 to 15 yards from the slipway, and slowly floating, bobbing off to the right of the slipway.
The tragic brothers are pictured with their sister, who survived when her father passed her out of the car window to a hero who jumped in the water to try and save them all
Ms James, who was at a hen do in Liverpool when the tragedy took place, is pictured with her baby daughter and son Evan
'I could still hear people and the child screaming from the car, all the time the car must have been taking on water.
'I was hoping that the emergency services would arrive and the car would not go down.'
He added: 'I could hear sirens, the nose of the car dipped… and the car sank to the bottom.'
Mr Crawford had called the Coastguard for help after Sean McGrotty urged him to seek emergency assistance.
The witness said it took 12 minutes for the RNLI to arrive.
Mr Crawford said he continued to hear screaming from those inside but he soon saw Mr Walsh coming back to the slipway with a baby in his arms.
He said Mr Walsh told him that he tried to get another boy out but that his leg had got caught.
Francis Crawford (pictured today outside the hearing), phoned 999 when he saw the car in the water. He told the inquest the car was 'slowly floating, bobbing off to the right of the slipway'
Coroner Dr Denis McCauley (second from right) with Irish Water Safety CEO John Leech (second from left) and Garda Siochana members Inspector David Murphy and Sgt Mark Traynor at Buncrana Pier
He added that he hoped Mr Walsh would be able to return to the water but that he was simply exhausted.
Garda Sergeant Mark Traynor said gardai were on the scene within four or five minutes of the call but by that stage there was no sign of the car.
He said gardai were at the back gate of the station when they received the call.
He added that the RNLI responded within a similar time as its members were returning from an exercise.
He also agreed that the algae was thick and very slippy on the pier and that his colleagues were also very aware of this.
Solicitor for Donegal County Council, Mr Michael Staines, said that almost every pier had algae on it.
During cross examination, Sgt Traynor told the inquest that a file had been prepared on the incident and sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Ms James and her brother Josh are pictured carrying their mother's coffin into the family home
The family died when the car slid off Buncrana Pier and into the waters of Lough Swilly in Donegal (pictured) on March 20 last year
He said the recommendation from the DPP was that nobody was to be prosecuted as a result of the tragedy.
The inquest was told that the gate leading down to the slipway was open at the time and cars were freely allowed to enter onto it.
The jury inquest inn Co Donegal, Ireland, which will hear evidence from 12 witnesses, is expected to last two days.
The inquest, held at the Lake of Shadows Hotel, will also consider a report by Donegal County Council, a report from Water Safety Ireland, a report from the Road Safety Authority and another report from Volkswagen Ireland.
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Australia: Scott Morrison saga casts scrutiny on Queen’s representative
In the past fortnight, Australia has been gripped by revelations that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to several additional ministries.
The move has been labelled a “power grab” by his successor as prime minister, and Mr Morrison has been scolded by many – even his own colleagues.
But the scandal has also dragged Australia’s governor-general into the fray – sparking one of the biggest controversies involving the Queen’s representative in Australia in 50 years.
So does Governor-General David Hurley have questions to answer, or is he just collateral damage?
Governors-general have fulfilled the practical duties as Australia’s head of state since the country’s 1901 federation.
Candidates for the role were initially chosen by the monarch but are now recommended by the Australian government.
The job is largely ceremonial – a governor-general in almost every circumstance must act on the advice of the government of the day. But conventions allow them the right to “encourage” and “warn” politicians.
Key duties include signing bills into law, issuing writs for elections, and swearing in ministers.
Mr Hurley has run into trouble on the latter. At Mr Morrison’s request, he swore the prime minister in as joint minister for health in March 2020, in case the existing minister became incapacitated by Covid.
Over the next 14 months, he also signed off Mr Morrison as an additional minister in the finance, treasury, home affairs and resources portfolios.
Mr Morrison already had ministerial powers, so Mr Hurley was basically just giving him authority over extra departments.
It’s a request the governor-general “would not have any kind of power to override or reject”, constitutional law professor Anne Twomey tells the BBC.
“This wasn’t even a meeting between the prime minister and the governor-general, it was just paperwork.”
But Mr Morrison’s appointments were not publicly announced, disclosed to the parliament, or even communicated to most of the ministers he was job-sharing with.
Australia’s solicitor-general found Mr Morrison’s actions were not illegal but had “fundamentally undermined” responsible government.
But the governor-general had done the right thing, the solicitor-general said in his advice this week.
It would have been “a clear breach” for him to refuse the prime minister, regardless of whether he knew the appointments would be kept secret, Stephen Donaghue said.
Critics push for investigation
Ultimately, Mr Hurley had to sign off on Mr Morrison’s requests, but critics say he could have counselled him against it and he could have publicised it himself.
But representatives for the governor-general say these types of appointments – giving ministers the right to administer other departments – are not unusual.
And it falls to the government of the day to decide if they should be announced to the public. They often opt not to.
Mr Hurley himself announcing the appointments would be unprecedented. He had “no reason to believe that appointments would not be communicated”, his spokesperson said.
Emeritus professor Jenny Hocking finds the suggestion Mr Hurley didn’t know the ministries had been kept secret “ridiculous”.
“The last of these bizarre, duplicated ministry appointments… were made more than a year after the first, so clearly by then the governor-general did know that they weren’t being made public,” she says.
“I don’t agree for a moment that the governor-general has a lot of things on his plate and might not have noticed.”
The historian says it’s one of the biggest controversies surrounding a governor-general since John Kerr caused a constitutional crisis by sacking Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
Prof Hocking famously fought for transparency around that matter – waging a lengthy and costly legal battle that culminated in the release of Mr Kerr’s correspondence with the Queen.
And she says the same transparency is needed here.
The Australian public need to know whether Mr Hurley counselled the prime minister against the moves, and why he didn’t disclose them
The government has already announced an inquiry into Mr Morrison’s actions, but she wants it to look at the governor-general and his office too.
“If the inquiry is to find out what happened in order to fix what happened, it would be extremely problematic to leave out a key part of that equation.”
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – Mr Morrison’s predecessor – has also voiced support for an inquiry.
“Something has gone seriously wrong at Government House,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It is the passive compliance along the chain… that did undermine our constitution and our democracy… that troubles me the most. This is how tyranny gets under way.”
PM defends governor-general
Prof Twomey says the criticism of Mr Hurley is unfair – there’s was no “conspiracy” on his part to keep things secret.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect that he could have guessed that the prime minister was keeping things secret from his own ministers, for example.
“Nobody really thought that was a possibility until about two weeks ago.”
Even if he had taken the unprecedented step to publicise the appointments or to reject Mr Morrison’s request, he’d have been criticised, she says.
“There’d be even more people saying ‘how outrageous!'” she says. “The role of governor-general is awkward because people are going to attack you either way.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also defended Mr Hurley, saying he was just doing his job.
“I have no intention of undertaking any criticism of [him].”
A role fit for purpose?
Prof Hocking says it’s a timely moment to look at the role of the governor-general more broadly.
She points out it’s possible the Queen may have been informed about Mr Morrison’s extra ministries when Australia’s parliament and people were not.
“It does raise questions about whether this is fit for purpose, as we have for decades been a fully independent nation, but we still have… ‘the relics of colonialism’ alive and well.”
Momentum for a fresh referendum on an Australian republic has been growing and advocates have seized on the controversy.
“The idea that the Queen and her representative can be relied upon to uphold our system of government has been debunked once and for all,” the Australian Republic Movement’s Sandy Biar says.
“It’s time we had an Australian head of state, chosen by Australians and accountable to them to safeguard and uphold Australia’s constitution.”
But Prof Twomey says republicans are “clutching at straws” – under their proposals, the head of state would also have been bound to follow the prime minister’s advice.
“It wouldn’t result in any changes that would have made one iota of difference.”
Australia election: PM Morrison’s security team in car crash in Tasmania
A car carrying the Australian prime minister’s security team has crashed in Tasmania during an election campaign visit.
Four police officers were taken to hospital with “non-life threatening injuries” after the car and another vehicle collided, authorities said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not in the car, but the accident prompted him to cancel the rest of his campaign events on Thursday.
The other driver involved was not hurt.
Tasmania Police said initial investigations suggested the second car had “collided with the rear of the police vehicle, while attempting to merge”. It caused the unmarked security vehicle to roll off the road.
The two Tasmania Police officers and two Australian Federal Police officers were conscious when taken to hospital for medical assessment, the prime minister’s office said.
“Family members of the officers have been contacted and are being kept informed of their condition,” a statement said.
“The PM is always extremely grateful for the protection provided by his security team and extends his best wishes for their recovery and to their families.”
Australians go to the polls on 21 May. Mr Morrison – prime minister since 2018 – is hoping to win his conservative coalition’s fourth term in office.
Polls suggest the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, is favoured to win. However, Mr Morrison defied similar polling to claim victory at the last election in 2019.
Mr Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives – the minimum needed to retain power.
Political observers say the cost of living, climate change, trust in political leaders, and national security will be among key issues in the campaign.
In recent weeks, the prime minister has faced accusations of being a bully and once sabotaging a rival’s career by suggesting the man’s Lebanese heritage made him less electable. Mr Morrison has denied the allegations.
Mr Albanese stumbled into his own controversy this week when he failed to recall the nation’s unemployment or interest rates.
Sydney airport warns delays could last weeks on third day of travel chaos
Long queues at Sydney airport’s domestic terminals have continued for a third day, with some passengers missing international connections, as the airport warns delays resulting from a surge in travellers and a shortfall in security staff could continue for weeks.
Chaotic scenes were reported in the departure halls as early as 4.30am on Saturday, with some frustrated travellers, many of whom heeded the pleas of airport chiefs to arrive at least two hours before their domestic flight was due to take off, claiming only one security line was operating.
While the queues that formed early on Saturday are understood to have cleared later in the morning, the airport apologised to affected travellers.
“Traffic numbers are picking up and the close contact rules are making it hard to fill shifts and staff the airport. We appreciate your patience,” Sydney airport said on its Twitter account.
A wave of families travelling as the term two school holidays begin this weekend, combined with close contact rules that are understood to be taking out about 20% of security shifts in any given day, are driving the problem.
Certis, the company that Sydney airport contracts for its security operations, is desperately trying to recruit personnel, while the airport has reallocated back office, IT and retail workers to the departure hall to comb queues so they can prioritise passengers at risk of missing their flight.
“We are working around the clock to resolve these issues and have teams in the terminals bringing passengers forward in order of priority,” a Sydney airport spokesperson said.
He added that the airport is “anticipating it will [be] busy right through the school holiday period and peak over the Easter and Anzac Day weekends, in some cases at 90% of pre-Covid passenger levels”.
“We’re deeply grateful to passengers for their ongoing patience and we’re sorry to everyone who has been inconvenienced,” the spokesperson said. “We would also like to thank passengers for getting to the airport early and treating staff and each other with kindness and respect.”
The Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce was forced to clarify comments he made on Friday that passengers were “not match fit” and that those forgetting to remove laptops and aerosols from their bags at the security check contributing to the delays.
“Just to be clear, I’m not ‘blaming’ passengers,” Joyce said. “Of course it’s not their fault,” he said.
Qantas shed thousands of staff during the pandemic, and outsourced ground crews in a decision that was challenged in court.
On Saturday, Qantas also apologised to a Melbourne family left stranded in Sydney, after domestic flight delays caused them to miss an international trip.
Javiera Martinez, her partner Daniel Capurro and their three children were supposed to be flying to Chile on Friday to visit relatives they had not seen in three years.
But after their 8am Qantas flight from Melbourne was delayed by half an hour, baggage handling and airport transfer delays in Sydney meant they couldn’t make their 11.30am LATAM Airlines flight to Santiago.
Martinez said the airline’s procedures at the airport were chaotic.
“We think Qantas didn’t behave appropriately. I got berated by the person at the counter – they never apologised, they never assumed any responsibility at all,” she said. “It was a rude conversation. We have been mistreated badly I would say.”
The PCR tests they need to travel have now expired and they will have to take them again as they wait for seats on the next flight to Santiago from Sunday.
The airline has apologised and paid for a night’s accommodation in Sydney.
“We sincerely apologise that the family missed their connecting flight on another airline due to delays moving through Sydney airport on Friday,” a Qantas spokesperson said.
The family is among many affected by hold ups amid the busiest travel period in two years, with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports warning passengers to arrive two hours before domestic flights.
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