A Christmas Message from Clare McGrath, Chair of Water Safety Ireland
On the 8th of December, I was delighted and very proud to accept my appointment as Chair of Water Safety Ireland. When making this announcement, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys TD, paid particular tribute to our organisation’s rich history of volunteerism and the deep commitment shown by volunteers who teach swimming and lifesaving and promote drowning prevention initiatives nationwide. We can certainly be proud of the fact that we are consistently to the fore in raising awareness of the dangers of drowning and this is so well reflected in the communities nationwide where our members educate and train thousands of people in water safety best practices.
My objective is to continue our efforts to bring drownings down further by promoting the necessary rescue skills, attitudes and behaviours. I very much look forward to working with the members of our thirty Water Safety Area Committees nationwide, with Local Authorities, and with other Agencies to develop policies and projects that help encourage more participation and engagement at all levels. Over the next five years as Chairperson I also look forward to providing leadership to the Council in the continued delivery of Ireland’s National Drowning Prevention Strategy 2018-2027, and the strategic development of our organisation.
The last two years have been especially demanding due to the challenges of COVID-19, which affected our teaching, training of Lifeguards, summer weeks, lifesaving sport and all our other activities. I wish to thank you for your efforts to deal with this situation which still required tremendous voluntary commitment and resulted in quite a number of our activities running, albeit at reduced capacity in some cases.
We ran a national outdoor competition – our National Lifesaving Championships – at the beginning of October in Kilkee, Co. Clare. Our Water Safety Area Committees a number of summer weeks following a new standard operating procedure and while numbers were curtailed, thankfully some venues were able to operate. We made changes to our Lifeguard training regime to ensure that beaches, pools and waterways had trained qualified Lifeguards on duty. Our winter courses are also proceeding following Government guidelines From this perspective I especially wish to highlight the excellent work of our Winter and Summer Course Organisers over many years and look forward to meeting as many of you as possible throughout my tenure.
One figure that brings home the importance of this work is the number of rescues performed by Lifeguards each year, a figure which reached 473 this summer. These same Lifeguards, trained and assessed by Water Safety Ireland, administered first aid on over 6,000 occasions and reunited with their loved ones, more than 500 children found wandering alone by the water’s edge.
I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the Working Groups, Committees and Commissions for remaining focused throughout the year. For example, while Covid-19 continued to present challenges, the Inshore Rescue Boats Commission provided safety cover for our surf championships and organised two I.R.B courses throughout the year. WSI’s Lifeguard Commission modified the Lifesaving and Lifeguard Syllabi for use during the Covid-19 period, and tailored the Local Authority Beach Lifeguard Tests for nationwide use in both pool and open water settings. Risk Assessments were a priority activity for the Rescue Commission in 2021, particularly on Blue Flag Beaches, as well as reviewing the VAT inspection process in line with recent SAR developments.
I also wish to recognise the Education Committee and Strategic Marketing Committee for targeting at-risk groups with initiatives to highlight best practice so that drownings are reduced. These initiatives and public awareness campaigns endeavour to keep water safety in the public consciousness all year round. Through continued government funding, partnerships and sponsorship, we were able to reinforce our ‘Better Safe Than Sorry’ brand message across audio, print and digital promotions. One such initiative this year was our “Hold Hands” programme for Early Learning Centres which empowers creches to start teaching water safety at a very early age.
An important and indeed historic day for the drowning prevention community in Ireland during 2021 was the approval by the United Nations of the first ever resolution on drowning prevention which will be marked annually on the 25th of July. We are grateful to the many Lifeguards, parents and children, heritage sites and the range of buildings and organisations that in some way went blue to mark the occasion. We hope that you will engage with this initiative and help it to grow in the years to come.
At this time of year in particular, our thoughts are with the families of those members who have passed away. I am also conscious of the number of members that have lost family members themselves. We extend our deepest sympathies to all families who are feeling their loss. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.
I wish to thank each member of the Council for their commitment and dedication to ensuring that 2021 projects were successfully completed. I look forward with confidence to the continued growth of our organisation and a future free of Covid-19 related hinderances.
The staff of Water Safety Ireland’s Head Office provide essential support all year round. Without them we could not deliver on our Goals and Objectives. I would like to thank them for their continued hard work and for adapting to new working arrangements resulting from Covid-19.
As we conclude 2021, I wish you and your loved one’s good health and happiness for the festive season. I hope you enjoy the fellowship of friends new and old and cherish the company of family, in this season of goodwill.
Water Safety Ireland