Speech at the Opening of the Lifeguard Training Centre
Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, 20th March 2015
I am delighted to be here with you in Miltown Malbay at the opening of the Clare Water Safety Lifesaving Training Centre, and also to have the opportunity to mark the achievements of an organisation that has been making such a significant contribution to the welfare and safety of our society for seventy years in its different formations. I thank John Leech for his invitation to join you, and all of you for welcoming me so generously.
As another summer approaches, many of our citizens will spend increasing amounts of time enjoying water based activities and sports. For most, they will be enjoyable days that will end well. But sadly, we can also anticipate that the good weather we hope to enjoy will also see accidents at our beaches, rivers, canals or swimming pools. This occurrence of accidents should concern us all and we must never cease in our urging of greater care and compliance with good regulation and advice.
Water is the most important element on earth, essential to life and human functioning. It can also, however, be a most dangerous element if it is not treated with respect and caution and care. An average one hundred and forty people lose their lives in this country every year as a result of tragic, and usually avoidable, drowning accidents. Behind each of those figures, is the lost potential and possibilities of a precious life; and the parents, spouses, sons, daughters or siblings whose own lives are changed irrevocably, often in the space of just a couple of minutes.
There can be no doubt that the figures add up to much heartbreak and sadness, and many shattered lives. There can be equally no doubt, however, that without Irish Water Safety those figures would be significantly higher, with many more lives lost, and many more families across the country facing a future without a loved one.
Irish Water Safety is an inspiring example of how a small initiative, rooted in a spirit of caring and solidarity, can grow and develop so that it encompasses and impacts on society as a whole. Irish Water Safety has its foundations here in County Clare where the vision of Harry Gillespie saw a local water safety committee become a network of similar committees around the country, which developed and evolved to become the national organisation that we know today.
It is appropriate therefore that this afternoon we return to County Clare, during this year when lifeguarding celebrates seventy years of voluntary activity in Ireland, to mark yet another achievement by Irish Water Safety. Miltown Malbay has played a significant part in the history of water safety in this country, and the opening of this important new resource, which will be a centre of excellence for Clare and the environs beyond, is yet another chapter in that story.
We know that, in addition to fatal accidents, many hundreds of people are rescued from drowning every year by trained lifeguards whose work is so critical to the safety of our citizens. It is important that we increase, and support, opportunities for training in this crucial area and ensure that as many aquatic environments as possible are supervised by highly skilled personnel.
We also know, of course, that prevention is better than cure and awareness programmes are vital if we are to reduce the number of citizens who knowingly or unknowingly put their own and other lives at risk around water every year. Programmes like the Primary Aquatic Water Safety aimed at primary school children, and the national three stage swimming programme which equips children with the important life skill of swimming, are immeasurably important for the future prevention of tragic accidents.
It is therefore both impressive and uplifting to view the scope of this new centre, a community space which will provide training for lifeguards and those who operate rescue boats, awareness programmes, opportunities for fundraising, and a venue for county, regional and national life-saving events. All of these facilities are critical, not only to increasing the numbers of trained lifeguards around our coast, but also to increasing general awareness and knowledge of how to keep ourselves and our children safe around aquatic environments.
I know that this Centre could not have become a reality without much hard work, determination and commitment. As President of Ireland I meet with many organisations, groups and volunteers and have gained much insight into the great spirit of active participation that exists in this country amongst people of all ages. Today is yet another valuable and uplifting example of participative citizenship and democracy, reminding us of all that is best about Irish society.
May I thank and congratulate all those who have been involved with the development of the Clare Water Safety Lifesaving Training Centre. May I also thank all those who give of their time and skills to save lives and prevent accidents in water environments across the country. As a society we owe you a great debt of gratitude.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.