Northern Ireland

Alex Attwood wrote to Northern Ireland councils over quarries

Colin Polland and Kevin O'Hare - drowning victims
Image caption Colin Polland entered the water to try to rescue Kevin O'Hare after he got into difficulty

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has said he has written to all councils asking them to check the safety of quarries in their areas.

On Saturday evening, a 15-year-old boy and a 39-year-old man drowned in a disused quarry near Annalong in County Down.

Mr Attwood, who wrote to councils in March, said there are more than 3,000 disused quarries in Northern Ireland.

The minister said there were problems over ownership of the sites.

"It seems to me the management of how quarries transfer from owner to council needs to be tightened up," he said.

"That's why in addition to writing to the councils, I wrote to the DETI (Department of Enterprise and Trade) minister who's responsible for the Health and Safety Executive and wrote to the Quarry Producers' Association in order to tighten the arrangements to avoid risk and potentially to avoid tragedy."

Tributes have been paid to the teenage boy and the man who drowned at the weekend.

The victims were Kevin O'Hare, 15, and 39-year-old Colin Polland.

It is understood a group of boys were swimming at the quarry at Glassdrumman Road, Annalong, at about 18:00 BST on Saturday.

Kevin was in difficulty, they ran for help and Mr Polland tried to rescue him.

Kevin O'Hare was from County Down. Mr Polland was originally from the area, but lived in England.

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Media captionEnvironment Minister Alex Attwood has said he has written to all councils

It is understood he had returned on holiday to County Down.

Kevin was a pupil at St Malachy's High School in Castlewellan and Principal Joan McCombe said he was a "wonderful young man" and ambassador for the school.

"He was a young man that embodied goodness and kindness, a son that any parent would be proud of and a student that we as teachers were privileged to know. He will be sadly missed by us all," Mrs McCombe said.

"We have been to pay our respects to the family and offer our support. We are opening a book of condolence and offering pastoral support for all our returning pupils."

Dromara Gaelic Athletic Club (GAC), where Kevin O'Hare played, described him as a fabulous young man.

"Dromara GAC is trying to come to terms with the tragic loss of Kevin O'Hare," it said.

"Kevin and his family lived for Dromara GAC. They were at the heart of everything good at the club. Kevin was a terrific son and brother and a fabulous young club man. He will be fondly remembered by all who knew him, particularly his teammates.

"Dromara GAC would also like to extend its sincere sympathies to the Polland family."

Emergency crews, including police divers, were involved in an evening-long operation to recover the bodies from the former granite quarry that is close to Spence mountain, between Newcastle and Annalong. The site is popular with young people wanting to swim on hot days.

An investigation is under way.

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said she was "deeply saddened" at the deaths.

Image caption It is understood a group of boys were swimming at the quarry in Annalong

"My heartfelt sympathy and that of all the people goes out to the families, friends and relatives of the two men who lost their lives in such tragic circumstances in a disused quarry at the bottom of Spence Mountain in the Mournes."

South Down MLA Jim Wells said: "The whole community's thoughts and prayers go out to the two families involved who have suffered this horrendous tragedy."

Alliance South Down representative Patrick Clarke said he was "deeply saddened" by what had happened.

"There is a deep sense of loss and shock in the local community," he said.

"I would like to commend the efforts of the PSNI divers, the Fire and Rescue Service and the coastguard who were involved in trying to rescue both men."

Sinn Fein MLA Chris Hazzard said the entire community was in shock.

"There have been similar tragedies in Derry and Strabane over the past few years and more needs to be done to improve safety at large bodies of water," he said.

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