ONE of the men who died in the Thomond Bridge incident in Limerick city had just started work with the contracting company that day.
TJ Herlihy, from Castleisland - who was a member of a local trade union in Limerick - had just returned from Sweden and was in his first job with the company Irish Bridge when tragedy struck on Saturday.
The 36-year-old and 29-year-old Bryan Whelan from O’Brien’s Bridge drowned when the cage like structure they were working in, which was suspended from Thomond Bridge, snapped free from its cable and plunged into the water. The men were connected to the cage via a harness.
A third man, Paul Murphy from Askeaton, managed to free himself and survived.
The workers were harnessed into the cage - as is a requirement under regulations - and were also wearing life jackets. The trio were plunged into the water when the cable holding the cage snapped. Mr Herlihy and Mr Whelan were unable to free themselves, while Mr Murphy managed to escape and raise the alarm.
Joint investigations, carried out by the Health and Safety Authority and Gardai, are now underway. The company, Askeaton based Irish Bridge, said it was a “terrible tragedy”.
“Irish Bridge would like to offer its sincerest sympathies to the families of Brian and TJ. It’s heart-breaking, our thoughts and prayers are with their families, relatives and friends at this very sad time. We would like to thank most sincerely the emergency service personnel for their professionalism. We will, of course, co-operate fully with all authorities examining the incident.”
Mike McNamara, president of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, expressed “deep sadness and regret” at the incident and also called for a change in health and safety legislation after the two men drowned in the tragic incident.
“We would call for a change in health and safety legislation to make it mandatory to have a rescue boat on the water during all such works in the future,” he said.
“Obviously people working at heights would normally wear a harness, but once you have a flotation device on - it should be one or the other,” he explained.
“It was a tragic and unfortunate accident, but still preventable had that been foreseen and I think a lot of lessons will have to be learned from this,” he said.
Mr McNamara said TJ Herlihy, who has a partner and young children in Sweden, had “only just started work with that company” on the day of the accident.
“I have known TJ for a number of years now. He served his apprenticeship as a stone mason on the refurbishment of the Desmond Hall in Newcastle West, and he was a well respected tradesman, having served his apprenticeship under the watchful eye and guidance of Gerry Flynn, a heritage stonemason with the OPW,” said Mr McNamara.
“He was also a member of the Building and Allied TU in Limerick and he will be sadly missed by all who knew him,” he added.