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Companies face trial over deaths of two stonemasons in Limerick after six years of waiting

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Nationwide Crane Hire & Palfinger Ireland are to face a criminal trial next March in relation to the deaths of two stonemasons, who drowned whilst carrying out work on a bridge in Limerick six years ago.

Father-of-two Tim ‘TJ’ O’Herlihy, aged 36, from Castleisland, Co. Kerry, died alongside his workmate, Bryan Whelan, aged 29, from O’Briensbridge, Co. Clare, after they became trapped beneath the surface of the River Shannon in Limerick City, on August 29, 2015.

The men were working from a man cage that was suspended over the side of Thomond Bridge and held by wire rope attached to a knuckle boom crane. When the man cage plunged into the river, both men were wearing life jackets, but also safety harnesses attached to the man cage.

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(Left to right) John Paul, Margaret and John Whelan at the Coroner’s Court in Limerick. Margaret and John’s son, Bryan, died in an accident on Thomond Bridge in August 2015. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Speaking outside the court on Monday, John and Margaret Whelan, parents of Bryan Whelan, through their solicitor Rachael O’Shaughnessy, said: “We are relieved that all parties involved in the Health and Safety Authority’s (HSA) criminal prosecution are finally prepared for a trial date to be set. We have waited more than six years to get answers as to why our 29-year old son died tragically in a workplace accident, at Thomond Bridge, in August 2015.” 

“We have suffered immeasurable grief, and this delay has been heartbreaking. However, we hope that today brings us one step closure to gaining closure,” they added.

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Members of the O’Herlihy Family leaving the Coroner’s Court in Limerick today. Father-of-two Tim ‘TJ’ O’Herlihy died in the accident in 2015.Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Paul Murphy, 26, from Askeaton, Co. Limerick, who was working alongside Mr Herlihy and Mr Whelan on the platform, was rescued by emergency services after he managed to swim away from the submerged man cage.

Following an investigation by gardaí and the HSA, criminal prosecutions were brought against Nationwide Crane Hire Ltd, with a registered address at Dock Road, Limerick, as well as Palfinger Ireland Ltd, registered at Church Hill, Cloncollog, Tullamore, Co. Offaly.

At Limerick Circuit Court today, Judge Tom O’Donnell listed the case for trial on March 28, 2022. The families of both victims, who were present in court, heard that the trial would likely last up to two weeks.

Nationwide Crane Hire faces two charges, that it allegedly exposed the workers to risk by failing to ensure that a crane and winch, which were mounted on a truck were in a safe condition; and that an “overload protection safety device” on the crane was defective, and “did not operate to protect the wire on the winch rope from being overloaded”.

Palfinger Ireland faces a single related charge from March 12, 2003, the date it imported and supplied the crane to Nationwide Crane Hire, that it allegedly failed to adequately inform Nationwide Crane Hire Ltd about the use for which the crane was designed or provide information about “the carrying out of a functional test of the safety overload protection system”.

The two defendants have yet to indicate a plea.

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