The circumstances surrounding the drowning of a Connemara fisherman may never be known, an inquiry into his death was told last week.
In what was a second inquiry into his death, members of a jury were told by the Coroner for West Galway, Dr Ciarán MacLoughlin, that questions raised by the man’s family, who were a ‘seafaring family’, gave cause to call an expert witness.
The body of Michael Mulkerrin (47), from Carna, was found at Rinville, Oranmore, on November 23, 2017, just hours after a search operation was launched when Mr Mulkerrin failed to return to the Docks having left on the morning of November 22.
Mr Mulkerrin’s boat was found near Silverstrand in Barna and his family had previously said it was their belief that his body would not have been carried by the current on that particular night to the location in Oranmore where he was eventually found.
The inquest heard from the housemate of Mr Mulkerrin, Danielle Butler, that the pair had been house sharing in Coillte Merlin, Ballybane, and had shared a taxi to town on the morning of November 22.
“[Mr Mulkerrin] said he had a few things to do around town, like going to the Credit Union, and then he was going out on the boat.
“I work in Dock 1 [bar on Dock Road] and he would usually come in after he returned. He didn’t come in that evening,” said Ms Butler.
Ross Forde, a volunteer with the RNLI, said the alert was first raised with them around 9pm on the night in question and told Dr MacLoughlin they had launched in the direction of Rinville, given their technology had indicated this was where the tide was going.
The rescue helicopter later found the boat at around 11pm and volunteer with the RNLI, David Badger, was first to inspect the vessel, turning on the lights but finding there was no sign of Mr Mulkerrin on board.
“His phone was in the cabin and the boat was ticking over, and the engine was in neutral,” said Mr Badger.
There was some dispute over whether or not the engine was running, but Mr Mulkerrin’s father, Marcas Mulkerrin, said he believed this account was correct as it was his son’s practice to leave the boat running when checking lobster pots.
While the day had started calm, the inquiry heard that conditions had begun to deteriorate and that wind speeds reached somewhere between Force 5 and Force 8.
Martin Oliver of the RNLI noted that there were a number of lobster pots hanging overboard and that there was a rope caught around the propeller.
“The boat was facing with its back, the stern, into the weather and wind,” said Mr Oliver.
A decision was taken to bring the boat back to the docks where Mr Oliver said Marcas Mulkerrin and his son, Patrick were waiting.
The search was suspended for the night at around 2.30am due to worsening conditions but was recommenced at 8am the following morning.
A body was discovered by RNLI crew at Rinville at around noon on Thursday, November 23, when those aboard the Aran Lifeboat saw what they believed to be yellow oil skins on the beach.
Garda Nicholas Delaney got to the scene at 12.45pm where he witnessed the body of a man, dressed in yellow oil skins.
Dr Dan Murphy pronounced the man dead at 1.24pm.
Due to questions raised in the previous inquiry, Kieran Lyons of the Marine Institute in Oranmore was commissioned to carry out a simulation establishing the possibility for Mr Mulkerrin’s body to have gone overboard at Silverstrand and to have reached Rinville by the next morning.
The family had said they didn’t believe it possible, due to the fact that Mr Mulkerrin was still wearing wellington boots when his body was discovered.
Marcas Mulkerrin said he felt the boots would have acted as “an anchor”, dragging his son to the ocean bed – particularly as he wasn’t wearing a life jacket when found.
Mr Lyons stated: “It was plausible, though not inevitable, for a body to be transported to the location where Mr Mulkerrin was found”.
A simulation was used to establish an assertion by Mr Lyons that to have reached Rinville, Mr Mulkerrin’s body could not have been less than three meters from the surface.
“Mr Mulkerrin was not wearing a life jacket and so we cannot assume his body remained above the surface,” he added.
A post mortem examination was carried out by Consultant Pathologist at UHG, Dr Thomas Fitzgerald, on November 24.
Dr Fitzgerald said there was no evidence of any other injuries and said his findings were “death as a result of drowning”.
The Coroner, Dr MacLoughlin told the jury they would have to be considerate of the fact that they did not know how Mr Mulkerrin ended up in the water.
“What we don’t know is how he got in the water – whether it was as a result of falling over, that is purely speculation.
“We don’t know if he went in intentionally – that would be speculation. There is no evidence of a struggle onboard [the boat] and there is no evidence of a struggle on the body,” he outlined.
The foreman of a seven-person jury returned a unanimous decision of “drowning, with an open verdict”.
Dr MacLoughlin said the inquest could not establish an exact location of where the death occurred but would record it as Galway Bay.
“The finding of an inquest is that Michael Mulkerrin died in Galway Bay on November 22, 2017. The cause of death, in accordance with the medical evidence, is drowning, with the qualification of an open verdict,” said Dr MacLoughlin.
He extended his sincere sympathies to the family of Mr Mulkerrin and thanked the jury for carrying out their civic duty.
Ethics Officer finds FF councillors did nothing wrong with €180,000 pot
Four Fianna Fáil councillors in the Tuam area accused by colleagues of ‘hijacking’ a €180,000 fund, have been told they did nothing wrong.
The fund was allocated to Tuam Municipal Council as part of a €1 million allocation by the Government to the county’s five municipal councils in order to “strengthen municipal districts”.
While the other area councils agreed amongst themselves on where the money should be spent, agreement could not be reached.
Instead, the four Fianna Fáil councillors, who have control of the seven-member Tuam Municipal Council, decided where the money should be allocated, which infuriated the other three members.
The matter was referred to the Ethics Officer of Galway County Council who was asked to investigate if this contravened the Minister’s direction as to how the money should be spent.
Now, Fianna Fáil Chairman of Tuam Council, Cllr Donagh Killilea, has been informed that they did not contravene the ethical framework for local government and it was a democratic decision.
He said that it was a needless and expensive route to ask the Council’s Ethics Officer to investigate how they conduct their business as local representatives “given that there was never any clear evidence of wrong-doing.”
When the dispersal of the €180,000 was being discussed by the Tuam area councillors, it was the four Fianna Fáil members who used their majority vote to dictate where the money would be spent – the other three councillors were ‘left out in the cold’.
This infuriated Cllr Andrew Reddington (FG), Cllr Pete Roche (FG) and Cllr Karey McHugh (Ind) who accused the Fianna Fáil councillors of pulling ‘a political stunt’.
They also took issue with the fact that the other municipal districts arrived at a general consensus as to how the money should be spent.
A ‘behind closed doors’ meeting between the seven councillors to discuss the dispersal of the fund that was agreed, but it never took place.
In prompted Cllr Reddington to table a motion at a full Galway County Council meeting that the Ethics Officer investigate the manner in which the distribution of the €180,000 was being handled.
A report from Council Chief Executive Jim Cullen states that the Ethics Officer investigated the claims that the €180,000 was unfairly distributed between the four FF councillors.
But the official concluded that the matter was discussed at length and that the decision on the allocation of the funds was determined by a majority vote of the members.
The officer stated that the decision was based on a motion that was voted upon and duly carried and complied with the Minister’s requirements.
The Chief Executive along with the Cathaoirleach of Galway County Council, Cllr Peter Keaveney, having considered the Ethics Officer’s report, have concluded that no further action is required.
“If every time we call for an investigation when a vote is won or lost, it is my opinion that we will never get any business done as a Municipal.
“It’s time to bury the sour grapes and get on with representing the people who elected us; the distractions of the past six months have to end,” Cllr Killilea added.
(Photo: Cllr Donagh Killilea)
Coffins have to brought by tractor over flooded North Galway road
Annual flooding on a stretch of road in North Galway requires the necessity for a tractor and trailer to bring the remains of a deceased person from the area to the local cemetery.
This was the claim at a local area meeting when it was demanded that Galway County Council carry out flood relief works on the road near Glenamaddy which is left under several feet of water every winter.
It resulted in Cllr Peter Keaveney tabling a motion at the Ballinasloe Municipal Council meeting that essential drainage works take place along the Roscommon road out of the town now that water levels are low. He wants this carried out within the next two weeks.
During one of the worst winters in recent years, the road was closed for three months and the Fine Gael councillor and agricultural contractor said that he pulled around 20 cars out of the flooded stretch when motorists decided to take the chance of driving through it.
Even in drought conditions, the levels remain incredibly high and this is mainly down to a local turlough that retains water throughout the year.
While he said that Galway County Council officials were extremely helpful, the problem lay with the Office of Public Works who would not allow drainage works as the road is situated in a Special Area of Conservation.
Senior Executive Engineer Damien Mitchell informed the meeting that Galway County Council are in a position to carry out some works but there are certain areas that only the Office of Public Works can drain.
Mr Mitchell said that the best way forward was a co-ordinated approach involving the County Council and the OPW while accepting that there was a major problem with flooding along this road.
In response, Cllr Keaveney said that this was a very acceptable move and added that a joint approach to the flooding in Glenamaddy was required at this stage and particularly with the winter approaching.
Williamstown’s Cllr Declan Geraghty said that residents were living in hell as some of them saw their houses destroyed by rising flood waters near Glenamaddy.
“There are even deceased people being brought by tractor and trailer to be buried which is an absolute disgrace. There is an opportunity to do this now or otherwise we are looking at flooding for the next 10 years.
“People have put everything into their homes only to see them destroyed when it comes to prolonged heavy rainfall.
“There is a solution to this problem and environmental issues should not take precedence,” he added.
The Independent councillor said that raising the level of the road, which leads to Creggs and onto Roscommon, was not the answer to the problem because the levels were so high.
Galway County Council have carried out several surveys of the area around the flooded road and officials told previous meetings that, subject to approval from the OPW, there was an engineering solution possible.
(Photo Cllr Declan Geraghty (Ind) and Cllr Peter Keaveney (FG) at the Creggs road out of Glenamaddy where flooding occurs on an annual basis.)
Teen arrested over €45,000 cocaine seizure
Gardaí have seized €45,000 of what they believe to be cocaine in Ballinasloe.
Gardaí attached to Ballinasloe Garda Station conducted an intelligence-led operation in the Dunlo Harbour area of the town yesterday.
During the course of this operation a quantity of suspected cocaine, estimated to be worth €45,000, concealed on derelict grounds was seized.
A male in his mid-teens was arrested at the scene and detained at Ballinasloe Garda Station on Sunday.
He has since been released with a file being prepared for the Garda Youth Diversion Office.
The focus of Operation Tara is to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute drug trafficking networks, at all levels.