Campaign bears fruit for tragic family as overseas death register is set up

A city family whose eldest son died four years ago in an accident while holidaying in the United States say they are delighted that the Government plans to set up a register of Irish people who die overseas.

The O’Reilly family from Woodhaven in Merlin Park are “absolutely thrilled” that their four-year campaign has been successful.

Their son Keith (21 ), a third year engineering student at NUI Galway, died in Chicago after going for a swim late one evening. While diving off a pier he hit his head on a rock. He had been on a J1 Visa and would have celebrated his 22nd birthday just two weeks later. This was his second year to visit the US.

Under current law only deaths which occur in this State can be registered here. The exceptions to this rule are where the deceased are members of the Gardai or the permanent Defence Forces or in cases where the person died on a ship or on an aircraft.

However, a memo on the Civil Registration (Amendment ) Bill 2013 has now been brought to cabinet which means that it will be possible for Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton to amend the act, allowing the register of deaths to be set up.

Yvonne O’Reilly says the planned new legislation will give her family closure. “As a mother I could not leave him in no man’s land. I feel I’ve brought him home.”

The mother of four says the family spearheaded the campaign for “all the other Keiths around the country and sadly there is an awful lot of them”.

Following Keith O’Reilly’s death the US coroner gave his family his death certificate and told them they would have to register his death in this country.

“A couple of months afterwards I went to the register’s office behind UHG and they told me it had been done in America,” says Ms O’Reilly. “That upset me hugely as he was was only there for the summer on holiday. I wanted a record here. This is his home, he was an Irish citizen. He was registered here when he was born.

“I got in touch with Cllr Padraig Conneely and he arranged for us to have a meeting with the Oireachtas Committee in Dublin. I did some media interviews at the time and other people in the same situation go in touch. In 2010 the Oireachtas passed a motion saying they would look into the issue and a motion would be brought before the Dail. They said they were amending the 2004 Civil Registration Act and this would fall in underneath that. Now a motion has been put before the Cabinet and approved and legislation should be introduced by the end of the year.”

She says this means that for the first time ever the deaths of Irish people abroad will be recorded here. “I’m not 100 per cent clear but I think it will be voluntary, whether people decide to register the person or not. We are delighted that there is something happening. Until it’s done we won’t have closure. It’s what we want.”

She says she is indebted to former city businessman Billy Lawless from Dangan, now living in the US, who was a major support to her family following her son’s tragic death.

“Keith was on life support for two days at the Western Memorial Hospital in Chicago. It was fantastic. We had never met Billy Lawless before but he came to the hospital with an Irish priest called Fr Mike. Billy took care of everything in America. All the students with J1s were there, Keith was never alone.”

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