MORE PEOPLE will die before a simple measure to warn about carbon monoxide poisoning is legislated for, the sister of a woman who died in 2011 has predicted.
Siobhán Barrett’s sister Miriam Reidy died in Kinsale’s Trident Hotel, Co Cork, after the deadly gas leaked into her hotel room. Mrs Barrett is to launch a campaign to make it compulsory for all buildings – whether public or private – to have a carbon monoxide alarm installed. They cost as little as €16 and take just seconds to install.
‘Since Miriam died, nothing has changed as far as I can see it,’ Mrs Barrett said last night. ‘In health and safety terms, her death was little more than an insignificant incident and just doesn’t seem to have made any difference to anything.
‘As much as I hate to say this because I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, I believe more people will die before the powers that be actually do something.’
Her comments come as a joint Oireachtas committee report on gas safety is due to be released in the Dail on Wednesday. It follows on from a warning in 2012 about the ‘ticking time bomb’ of illegally-installed gas boilers.
There are an estimated 100,000 illegally-installed gas appliances around the country. In addition, there are more than 2,300 plumbers operating around the country who are either not fully registered or even qualified to install gas boilers.
Wednesday’s Dail report is due to recommend that anyone who wants to buy a boiler will either have to be a fully registered gas installer or be able to prove that will be installed by one.
The issue of carbon monoxide alarms in public premises is not, however, among recommendations for action, yet. This is in part to do with the recent change in law which means all new build dwelling houses have to have them installed.
But it is the lack of any legal obligation on the part of owners of public premises to install carbon monoxide alarms that most concerns Siobhán Barrett.
Last night, Trident Hotel MD Hal McElroy said: ‘There is no legislation or requirement for hotels to have carbon monoxide alarms in hotel rooms.
‘Having given this consideration and taken advice, we fitted detectors on the new boiler system at source which is a more efficient way of ensuring that the CO or any variation in output will close down the boilers.
‘There can be no CO without combustion. This is in fact a safer and more efficient way of ensuring the safety of our guests and staff.
‘This device detects, at source, a presence of carbon monoxide or any irregularities in the system, and in the event of either, would immediately shut the boiler system down.’
Miriam died at the hotel on January 9, 2011, five days after the hotel’s boiler was converted from natural gas to liquid petroleum gas. Plumber Richard Davis, who converted the boiler, was subsequently tried for manslaughter and other charges and found not guilty. Mr Davis of Killanully, Ballygarvan, Co. Cork, had denied all charges.
‘There is a frustration in our hearts and in our heads about the fact that someone can die in a hotel room and nothing happens as a result. That adds to the hurt we all feel as a result of her sad loss’.
The Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard how Ms Reidy, 35, and her sister, Patricia Reidy Russell, were staying at the hotel while in Kinsale for their cousin Marie Reidy’s hen party.
They had returned to their room at around 1am. Neither of them had drunk very much. Miriam collapsed when she got up to go to the bathroom during the night and Patricia called a doctor after helping her ‘dazed’ sister into bed.
The women, who initially thought their drinks might have been spiked, were treated with injections for the vomiting bug. Later that day, when Marie – concerned she couldn’t contact them – went to their room, she discovered them and performed CPR on Miriam while a pal called 999. Paramedics fought to save her but she was already dead. Patricia, who was also violently ill, was rushed to hospital and her life spared.
The State had alleged Mr Davis failed to correctly convert the boiler to run on petroleum gas. The trial heard it was installed without a carbon monoxide safety test being carried out. It also emerged that shaft ducts in the hotel, which was built in 1965 and refurbished in 2004, had not been fire-sealed.
As a result, the boiler produced large amounts of carbon monoxide, which migrated through incompletely sealed service ducts and into hotel rooms, the trial heard. Other guests, including Limerick City FC player Ian Turner and his girlfriend, were also affected by the poisonous gas.
The defence argued commissioning of the boiler was not the only issue. They said the accumulation of gases due to ineffective flues and the passage of gases through incompletely sealed service ducts into Miriam and Patricia’s room were also factors.
‘Miriam will be forever in the hearts and thoughts of all those of us who work in the Trident Hotel.”
The jury found Mr Davis not guilty of unlawfully killing Miriam. It also found him not guilty in his capacity as a director of Davis Plumbing and Heating Contractors Ltd to two breaches of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 relating to the conversion of a gas boiler for use with liquid petroleum gas at the Trident Hotel on or about January 4, 2011.
His company, Davis Plumbing and Heating Contractors Ltd, was found not guilty of two similar breaches of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act on dates in January 2011.
‘We still carry an awful lot of hurt about the whole thing,’ Siobhán said last night. ‘The court case got us a hearing and the outcome was the outcome and as a family we have to respect that.
‘But it is heart-breaking to think a young woman, our sister, died and there was no accountability on any level for her death and that is one of the heart-breaking things about her death.
‘There is a frustration in our hearts and in our heads about the fact that someone can die in a hotel room and nothing happens as a result. That adds to the hurt we all feel as a result of her sad loss.
‘If Miriam’s death meant anything in the context of health and safety, then something would have been done to help make sure it doesn’t happen again.
‘We are trying to get on with our lives but we are always hoping that something will be done to change the way things are as far as carbon monoxide detectors are concerned.
‘Miriam died through no fault of her own but the fact that there is no accountability it just heart-breaking. It’s almost as if her death wasn’t enough of a wake-up call for someone to do something and pay attention.
‘I suppose the reality of the situation in this is that if it happened a second time, and another person’s daughter or sister died in a hotel again, maybe then they might realise the situation. Maybe they might finally say “Hello, we might need to change the law here.”
‘I wish it wasn’t the case but I feel that is the only way they will do something, because clearly Miriam’s death hasn’t been enough for them. And you know the pace of change in this country.’
Of her sister, she said: ‘Had Miriam been alive this year she would have celebrated her 40th birthday this May. Instead of attending a 40th birthday party, we visited her favourite beach in Kerry – Banna beach and released some balloons in her memory.
‘Miriam was a kind and gentle natured young woman, very close to her family and she had a good circle of friends. When she died she was just in the middle of plans to move into a new home with her boyfriend and move onto the next phase of life – get married and have her own family.
‘Instead that dream was stolen from her – she was taken from us and it now appears that her death was insignificant.’
She added: ‘Her death has left a huge void in our family and in all of our lives and that will be there forever. We live with the pain of her loss every day.
‘It would be of some small comfort to us to know that her needless death was not in vain and that legislative changes would have come in to effect as a result.’
Cork County Council was asked to explain what it has done since Miriam Reidy’s death to help prevent another death like hers but it declined to comment on any action it has taken.
Instead, spokesperson Tom O’Sullivan said: ‘The Health and Safety Authority investigated this incident in Kinsale and is the statutory body responsible for the issues raised in your questions. There is no issue for the CCC planning department.’
When Cork County Council mayor councillor John Paul O’Shea was then approached, he replied: ‘The HSA is the statutory body that inspects promises from a health and safety compliance perspective and has powers to enter any building at any time to do so and to order specific actions.
‘Also, Cork County Council does not have responsibility for certification of completed works to a building, it is the developer and their professional advisors who do so.’
Unlike Cork County Council, the Trident Hotel did at at least acknowledge the loss felt by the Reidy family.
MD Hal McElroy said: ‘Following the tragic death of Miriam Reidy, we expressed, and again wish to express our sincerest condolences to her family and loved ones, and we wish to state again how profoundly sorry we are for their loss. Miriam will be forever in the hearts and thoughts of all those of us who work in the Trident Hotel.’
A Department of the Environment spokesperson said: ‘From an analysis of the incidents that have occurred in the UK, the predominant area for carbon monoxide fatalities is in dwellings.
‘This analysis would appear to suggest that non-domestic buildings would not be considered high risk category having regard to the number of carbon monoxide incidences involved.’
Have you lost a loved one from carbon monoxide poisoning in a public premises? Email randomirish @ icloud . com