Council begins legal challenge to HSA investigation of fatal crash

Donegal County Council commenced High Court proceedings yesterday aimed at preventing the Health and Safety Authority from conducting an investigation into a road traffic accident which claimed the life of a young woman.

The Council claim that the HSA has "exceeded its jurisdiction" by deciding in late 2006 to investigate the circumstances of 22-year-old Sinead McDaid from Carndonagh, who died following in a single-car crash after her car skidded on the evening of June 12, 2001.

The accident occurred in the townland of Dunross, between Culdaff and Malin where Donegal Co Council had been carrying out resurfacing works. Sinead's family have conducted a long-running campaign to have the matter fully investigated.

The Council argues that as the scene of the fatality was not a place of work the HSA is not entitled to conduct such an investigation. However HSA claims it's entitled to investigate the accident under provisions of the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act.

In judicial review proceedings before Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns yesterday the Council where seeking orders from the court prohibiting the HSA from conducting an investigation into the accident.

The council claims that the HSA has adopted unfair procedures in the manner in which it has opened the investigation, and that the investigation is oppressive.

The Council says that the health, safety and welfare of users of roads that had recently been tarred and resurfaced doesn't come under the 2005 legislation.

The Council, in arguing that the scene of the accident was not a place of work, claimed that on the date of the accident the resurfacing work started at 8am, and had finished by 11am. The road was fully opened to traffic users by 3pm that afternoon. The tragic accident occurred at 8pm that evening.

The court heard that the accident was initially investigated by the Gardai and the National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health. Arising from those investigations no action was taken against any party.

However Sinead McDaid's family were unhappy with those probes, and claimed that the scene was not properly preserved and there was "a cover up". They made representations to politicians, including MEP Jim Higgins, and to the HSA.

A second Garda investigation was held into the matter, in the form of a review of the initial Garda investigation. Again no action was taken against anyone, however under an established protocol the gardaí contacted the HSA in relation to the matter.

In December 2006 the HSA, who had previously declined to investigate the accident, decided to conduct an investigation. The HSA claimed that it's entitled to investigate on grounds including that the site of the accident remained a place of work until the resurfacing job had been fully completed.

The court also heard that civil proceedings arising out of the accident were brought against Donegal Co Council by Sinead's husband Rodney McDaid were settled without admission of liability. An action by Sinead's parents, Sean and Magdalene Farren, is pending.

Both Mr and Mrs Farren, who are not parties to the current proceedings, attended yesterdays hearing.