‘Privatisation of pools having adverse effect on provision of safety classes’

The privatisation of the country’s swimming pools is having an adverse effect on the provision of safety classes for children, the statutory body established to promote water safety has said.

Irish Water Safety runs a dedicated programme for schools, but its CEO says the cost of pool hire has proven prohibitive to those wanting to take part in the Primary Aquatics Water Safety (PAWS) scheme.

“The main reason for the lack of take up in the PAWS programme is that the schools or the majority of their pupils cannot afford the pool hire,” said John Leech. He added that local authorities’ withdrawal from managing swimming pools has played a part in the problem.

“When this country started building swimming pools in the 1970s our members started teaching in them,” he said.

“In those days, they were given free usage of the pools as arranged locally with pool managers.

“In those days the pools were run by the local authorities. Nowadays most of the pools are the result of public private partnerships whereby the local authority owns the pool but the management is run by a private company. They require payment for the rental of the pool or, more normally, a number of lanes to teach swimming and lifesaving.”

He added that transport costs are a worry for schools in counties where pools can be an hour’s drive away.

“There are however three theoretical modules to this programme that can be done in the classroom and if that were undertaken by primary schools then in the long term we can reduce drownings further,” Mr Leech said.

“But when every primary school child that leave school can swim and understand survival, rescue, and life-saving, then we will have educated our children with an essential life skill that is needed for them on this island nation of ours, which has thousands of rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.

He said poverty was often a reason children went without the lifesaving lessons.

“Many families simply cannot afford to pay for the swimming pool sessions and so do not get sufficient water safety training and this is one of the reasons why we continue with the summer week programmes as they are affordable to most people,” said Mr Leech.

“Our organisers also are aware in local communities who is capable of paying for classes and who are not, and provide waivers for certain families and also waivers when there is more than one child in the class, etc.”

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