Experienced lobster fishermen Danny McDaid (70) and Francis McDaid (68) from Glengad died in mysterious circumstances when their boat, the ‘Strath Marie’, floundered at the mouth of Lough Foyle on Friday, March 14, 2008.
Coroner Dr Denis McCauley, who inherited the case a coroner in Derry, apologized for the length of time it has taken to set an inquest date.
However, he said there had been some delays over “whose jurisdiction this was”, with the men having been pronounced dead in Altnagelvin Hospital.
A pre-evidential briefing at Buncrana Courthouse heard that the case has involved a complex array of investigating agencies on both sides of the border and further afield.
The deaths were first investigated by the PSNI and later involved the Norwegian police and Scottish police, who assessed larger vessels that passed by the McDaid brothers’ boat, the wreckage of which is now in secure storage in Castlerock, Co Derry, near where it washed up.
Initially, a coroner in the North accepted jurisdiction but an inquest was never held and some years another coroner passed it back to this side of the border after making representations to the Taoiseach and the Attorney General that it should instead be held in the Republic.
The Marine Casualty Investigation Board – a State agency from the Republic – then carried out an investigation, while Coroner Dr John Madden [Coroner McCauley’s predecessor] also ordered an independent probe, the details of which have yet to be made public.
Speaking at a hearing in Buncrana on Thursday, Gerry McDaid, a son of Francis McDaid, pleaded with Coroner McCauley to now hold the inquest as soon as possible.
“On behalf of my father Francis, our family is appealing for the inquest to go ahead as soon as possible so we can try to get some closure.
“This has gone on for a very long time and it’s not easy.”
Ciaran MacLochlainn, acting as solicitor for Daniel McDaid’s elderly widow Ellen, also pleaded for urgent progress.
“My client Ellen McDaid is now at the stage where she feels that she won’t live long enough to hear what happened to her husband
“She is getting old and frail and feels her days are numbered. She is anxious that all the witnesses be called and questioned at an inquest.”
Fixing a date for February 27 next year, Coroner McCauley said he too is anxious that the inquest should go ahead as soon as possible.
“If we can get our number one witness list to come and everything comes together then we will go ahead. It is my preference to run it on that day,” he added.
A MCIB report, published in June 2010, found that the ‘Strath Marie’ had sunk “suddenly and without warning” but it found no evidence to suggest that any other vessel was involved in the sinking.
However, solicitor MacLochlainn aired the families’ suspicions that the men may have been overturned by “the wash from another vessel” and not necessarily from a “physical collision”.
He said there was evidence to show that a “large vessel” had sailed out of Lough Foyle close to the McDaid brothers boat around the time of the incident.
Mr MacLochlainn stressed that the MCIB inspector who led the review should be compelled to come to the inquest, with Coroner McCauley endeavouring to do his best to make this a reality.
The inquest is expected to hear from those who saw the McDaid brothers leave Bunagee Pier that morning as well as from those who found them in the water, with lifeboats from Greencastle and Portrush having taken part in the search.
A Garda witness will present evidence of the international investigations that took place, while the report sought by Dr John Madden is also expected to form part of the evidence along with the MCIB report.
Coroner McCauley said he will also assess potential additional reports undertaken on behalf of the bereaved families and decide whether to enter them into evidence.
He pledged to gather “as much information as is practical” before presenting it to a jury.