Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon councillors’ sorrow over weekend road tragedies

Monday night’s (March 25) meeting of Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon (ABC) Council meeting started on a sombre note as councillors from across the political spectrum expressed their sorrow following the loss of five precious lives over the weekend.
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Marina Crilly, Emma Mallon, Phil Mitchell and Keith Morrison, all aged in their 20s, died in a single-vehicle collision in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, Gary ‘Cookie’ McLoughlin, a pedestrian who was in his 40s, died after being struck by a vehicle on the Forkhill Road, Newry, on Saturday evening.

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ABC Lord Mayor, Alderman Margaret Tinsley (DUP, Craigavon DEA), was clearly moved when she began the council proceedings with her own heartfelt tribute to the victims.

Police at the Ballynahonemore Road in Armagh on Sunday following the collision. Picture: PacemakerPolice at the Ballynahonemore Road in Armagh on Sunday following the collision. Picture: Pacemaker
Police at the Ballynahonemore Road in Armagh on Sunday following the collision. Picture: Pacemaker

She stated: “I trust before we commence tonight’s meeting that we could just take a few moments to pay our condolences to the family, friends and communities in Armagh, Markethill, Tynan and Portadown.”

The Lord Mayor had to pause briefly, as she struggled to retain her composure. She continued: “To the broken-hearted families of Marina Crilly, Emma Mallon, Phil Mitchell and Keith Morrison, we pass on to you our sincere sympathies and we pray that the Lord will draw near to you as you come to terms with unimaginable grief.

“Many of us in the chamber tonight have young people the same age as those involved in this horrific accident, as do I. As parents, it is a call we never want to receive, to hear our child has been killed in such a way, so I trust we will continue to remember each of their family and friends in the coming days.

Sincere Condolences

ABC Lord Mayor, Councillor Margaret Tinsley. Photo: Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough CouncilABC Lord Mayor, Councillor Margaret Tinsley. Photo: Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council
ABC Lord Mayor, Councillor Margaret Tinsley. Photo: Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council
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“We cannot forget about another man, Gary McLoughlin, who also lost his life in a road traffic collision on the Forkhill Road on Saturday night. Our sincere condolences also to his family and friends.

“Finally, members, can I also ask that you pray for our PSNI, the Fire & Rescue, Ambulance and hospital staff who have had to deal with this horrific tragedy. I honestly don’t know how they cope with what they’ve seen, and how they’ve dealt with it, and they’ll be back on duty again to help everyone in our community. Members, we need to remember each and every one of these people tonight in our prayers.”

Alderman Gareth Wilson (DUP, Cusher DEA) pointed to the sheer scale of the human tragedy visited upon local families: “I just would like to add my condolences, my thoughts, my prayers and my sympathies to the families of the bereaved.

“The accident happened just on the edge of the boundary there between the Armagh and Cusher DEAs, and it was such a shocking thing to learn of over the weekend.

Alderman Gordon Kennedy. Photo Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough CouncilAlderman Gordon Kennedy. Photo Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council
Alderman Gordon Kennedy. Photo Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council
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“As my boss William Irwin (Newry & Armagh MLA) says he tragically lost a child, and he often recounts that. He always says, nothing in the world prepares you for the loss of that, what that signifies and just the ongoing impacts of it across birthdays and all the special celebrations that go on in families throughout the year, so we just really do need to pause and really remember them in our prayers, and as a community just do all we can to sustain them.

“It’s so horrific, four people coming home from a night out, they’ve been full of joy and fun and then for it all to end in such a horrific fashion, words just don’t do it justice.”

At that stage, many lights came on at the same time in the council chamber, to signify the fact that councillors were anxious to speak on the matter, and convey their condolences.

Councillor Bróna Haughey (Sinn Féin, Cusher DEA) was confident the community would rally round to support the grieving families: “On behalf of myself and Sinn Féin, I just want to send our condolences to the families of Keith, Emma, Philip and Marina, four young people from this area tragically killed on our roads in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon. Photo: Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough CouncilCouncillor Thomas O’Hanlon. Photo: Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council
Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon. Photo: Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council

Deeply Shocked

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“The whole community has been deeply shocked and saddened by the events, and we just want to send our deepest sympathy and condolences to everyone affected by the tragedy.

“Our entire communities are shocked and saddened, but as they always do I’m sure we’ll rally around to support the families in what will be dark days ahead, and weeks and months.

“But our communities are fantastic in supporting families and those at the worst of times. I want to pay tribute to the emergency services and everyone who helped out on the scene.”

As a young councillor, Scott Armstrong (DUP, Armagh DEA) said he could relate to the victims: “I’m not much older than the group of people that passed away there, and I could just think of how my mother would react if she got that knock on the door in the early hours of Sunday morning. It just breaks my heart.

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“Sometimes words are not enough to describe the events that happened at the weekend, in the space of six hours on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Councillor Keith Ratcliffe. Photo: Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough CouncilCouncillor Keith Ratcliffe. Photo: Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council
Councillor Keith Ratcliffe. Photo: Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council

“Five people lost their lives in County Armagh, four on the outskirts of the city itself on the Ballynahonemore Road, and then one in Newry. Marina Crilly, Emma Mallon, Keith Morrison, Phil Mitchell all lost their lives in Armagh, and Gary McLoughlin in Newry.

“My sympathies, my thoughts, my prayers go out to all the families and the circle of friends who are grieving at this difficult time. The whole community is in shock and the outpouring of love from them may not bring these young people back, but it may bring some comfort to the families in these coming days.

First Responders

“I’d also like to pass on my thanks to the first responders, the PSNI, the NI Fire [& Rescue] Service, the [NI] Ambulance Service, and also the civilians who were first on site, who tried their best to help and did everything they could. I would just like to pass on our condolences.”

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Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon (SDLP, Armagh DEA) pointed out that one of the victims had a three-year-old son, around the same age as his own child: “I wish to add my deepest sympathies and condolences, thoughts and prayers to the families of Emma, Marina, Keith and Phil, four young lives cut short, and no words we or anyone else can say will comfort their families at this time of unimaginable grief.

“As news broke in our community yesterday morning of the tragedy, the whole community were stunned and a dark cloud descended over the area as it started to sink in. ‘Devastation and heartbreak, it’s just awful’ was how people were describing it, and heartbroken friends took to social media to leave their tributes.

“In Middletown and Tynan, Ballymacnab, Armagh and Markethill, the lives of families and loved ones have been changed forever. For their parents this is not how it should be, nothing prepares you for the loss of a son or daughter, no matter what the age or the circumstances.

“For their brothers and sisters and friends in the months ahead, it will be the first birthday, the first holiday or the first Christmas without them, the milestones in life, the weddings, the family gatherings that should have been and that we all look forward to.

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“Emma, Marina, Keith and Phil leave voids in life, in homes and in people’s hearts that can never be filled. Marina leaves a little three-year-old son. His nanny – or ‘Granny Pat’ – is a member of our Community Development team in Council.

Heart Breaks

“My heart breaks for that little man and his entire family circle. As a daddy of a soon-to-be three-year-old boy, I can tell you no matter how hard you try, he’s always Mommy’s boy, no matter how hard Daddy tries to tell him otherwise. The trips, the falls, the grazed knees, and just when he needs a cuddle, it’s Mommy who does those best.

“This is not the first time our community has been plunged into grief like this. In November, the community in Madden lost Patrick and Ciera Grimley and Ciara McElvanna, in just as equally tragic circumstances, and I think of them and their families tonight as well.

“Lord Mayor, can I use the opportunity tonight to address the young people in our community. They have lost wonderful friends and soulmates, and whilst these are dark and difficult days, there will be light, there’ll be hope and laughter again, but if you’re struggling to cope with the tragic loss, please reach out, ask for help and seek support, speak to someone. Help is there and we are here for you. You don’t have to deal with this on your own.

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“Lord Mayor, I ask that we engage with our partners in health, the community and sporting sectors to ensure that we can facilitate whatever help we can do as a local authority in the months ahead, and we keep all the families in Armagh, Middletown, Tynan, Markethill, Ballymacnab and Madden in our thoughts and prayers this evening.”

The Lord Mayor replied: “I totally concur with everything that you have said there.”

Alderman Gordon Kennedy (UUP, Cusher DEA) said he knew several of the young victims: “I would like to be associated with these comments on behalf of the UUP grouping. I knew Keith personally, many a night he sat at our kitchen table. The Crilly family lives less than a mile from me. The Mitchell family is about two miles from me. I didn’t know the young girl Emma, but I knew two very well and the third family I went to school with his father.

“And [regarding] the man in Newry as well I pass on our sincere sympathy. Our hearts and prayers are with all the people involved in the tragedy over the weekend.”

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Councillor Keith Ratcliffe (TUV, Cusher DEA) said he was at a loss for words: “I think as we all sit here tonight it’s extremely hard to gather words for what to say in these circumstances.

“Whenever you think of these young people, Emma, Marina, Keith and Phil, in a split second just wiped off the face of the Earth, it’s just absolutely tragic, and my heart goes out to their parents.

“I cannot imagine what they were going through whenever the police came to their doors in the early hours of the morning. It’s just unthinkable. I would like to pass on my deepest sympathy and condolences and prayers.”

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Councillor Peter Lavery (Alliance, Lurgan DEA) echoed what had been said by his council colleagues on the tragedy: “I agree with all that’s been said in the chamber. It’s devastating news. On behalf of my own grouping I pass on our condolences to the families, to the circles of friends, the first responders and all who are impacted, not only over this past weekend but over the coming months and years.”

The Lord Mayor concluded: “Members, thank you for that. It’s just nice to be able to let the families know that we’re thinking of them tonight.”

François Vincent, Local Democracy Reporter

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