The tragic deaths of Noel Spence and his sons Graham and Nevin in a slurry pit were recalled as 200,000 people prepared to attend the three-day National Ploughing Championships, the biggest outdoor event in Ireland.

The Health and Safety Authority has urged farmers to invest in safety measures and training to prevent deaths on their farms.

The senior inspector of the authority Pat Griffin said, “I want to call on farmers to invest in themselves. If they invest some money in training and invest some money in safety about the farm, I think we would prevent an awful lot of deaths with tractors and machinery.”

Griffin also warned of the dangers of toxic slurry gases, following the deaths of 22-year-old Ulster rugby player Nevin Spence and his brother Graham and father Noel.

They died, as reported in last week’s paper, after they were overcome by poisonous fumes in a slurry tank at their farm in Hillsborough, Co Down.

Griffin said farmers often underestimate the risks involved with slurry gas because they do not know the full facts.

He said, “Slurry gas is very toxic and one lung full can kill.”

The ploughing championship, which is being held over three days near New Ross, Co. Wexford, is the largest event of its kind in Europe. It features livestock, machinery, food and fashion as well as a host of ploughing competitions.

It was opened by President Michael D. Higgins on Tuesday. He said the championships represent both tradition and innovation.  He added that there was a strong symbolism in turning over the sod, of beginning anew and moving on.

Higgins said Irish people are living in difficult times but he said they had a sense of hope and were moving forward.

Other visitors to the championships included Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.

The National Ploughing Association, which runs the event, said this year’s championships had more trade inquiries than ever before. An extra four miles of metal walkways were laid to lead the way to 1,300 exhibitors.

A UCD study of last year’s championships estimated that visitors spent just under ***36.5 million during the three days of the event, including more than ***7 million in the various shopping arcades set up at the championships.

The Ploughing Championships get under wayIrish Independent