Compulsory water safety training call as tragedy averted

Irish Water Safety (IWS) has called for compulsory aquatic training for primary school children as part of a long-term strategy to prevent future drowning tragedies.

The call came after the dramatic rescue of two children off Ballybunion in Co Kerry yesterday during a weekend in which three people drowned.

The deaths brought to 10 the number of people who have drowned since the Irish heatwave began.

IWS spokesman Roger Sweeney said a fundamental cultural and attitudinal change is needed if tragedies are to be prevented.

“There certainly is an argument for our Primary Aquatic Water Safety (PAWS) programme to be made compulsory in schools,” he said.

“The teens of today who are getting into difficulty are the children we could have been training in recent years if PAWS had been compulsory in schools.”

IWS developed PAWS, which includes three classroom-based elements, after consultation with the Department of Education.

Last year, IWS issued 40,000 certificates to pupils in some 200 primary schools, but Mr Sweeney said far more schools need to adopt the scheme.

“The resources are free to the schools and the programme is delivered by about 2,500 volunteers who are expert in this area,” he said.

Tragedy was averted in Kerry yesterday after two children who had drifted out to sea in an inflatable ring buoy in Ballybunion were rescued by the local sea and cliff rescue service.

The alarm was raised at 9am by a man who saw the boys, aged seven and 10, being blown out to sea.

Their parents were at the water at the time but the children were caught in an off-shore breeze.

Their father was about to swim out to them but was dissuaded by the man who made the 999 call.

The children drifted for almost a kilometre before they were picked up.

A short time later, rescue service members were involved in another operation after a female swimmer got into difficulty.

She had gone as far as the Virgin’s Rock and had become fatigued earlier than expected. She was brought ashore by the rescuers and did not need further attention.

The Coast Guard and gardaí reiterated appeals for people to exercise caution and common sense when involved in water -based activities, after the three weekend drownings.

Cian O’Donoghue, 20, from Killarney, drowned while swimming in Lough Leane on Friday. He got into difficulty while swimming from Reen, near Ross Castle, to Heron Island just after 5pm.

The body of Joe Grinsell, 65, was recovered yesterday morning from a lake in an old slate quarry near Ahenny, Co Tipperary. He had been reported missing on Saturday.

A 24-year-old man, named locally as Conor Cunningham from Ard Connell, Ardara, Co Donegal, drowned on Saturday afternoon after he got into difficulty while swimming at Maghera beach, said to be a notorious danger spot.

Emergency services were called to the area around 2pm as a Brazilian woman who was with him tried desperately to rescue him.

He was pulled from the sea by members of the Malin Head Coast Guard and airlifted to Letterkenny General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

Five people drowned in Ireland the week before last, including a teenage boy who was swimming in a canal in Roscommon, a woman in her 20s who was night swimming with friends in a river at Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, and a 10-year-old boy in the sea off Youghal, Co Cork.

It was another busy weekend for the emergency services, with several more water rescues.

The Shannon-based Coast Guard helicopter airlifted a 52-year-old man from waters at the southern end of Lough Allen in Co Leitrim on Saturday evening as an un-powered boat with his wife on board drifted away from him. They were on a holiday break in the lake area.

A man in his 40s is recovering in hospital after he got into difficulty, displaying symptoms of the bends, following a dive near the Diamond Rocks in Kilkee Bay on Saturday.

And a woman in her 30s is in a serious but stable condition after being rescued from the River Nore near Kilkenny City on Saturday.

Safety tips

* Swim at lifeguarded waterways — a list of safe bathing spots is available at

* If there is no lifeguarded waterway nearby then swim at a recognised, traditional bathing area.

* Swim within your depth – stay within your depth.

* Use local knowledge to determine local hazards and safest areas.

* Ensure that ring buoys are present.

* Make sure that the edges are shallow shelving so that you can safely and easily enter and exit the water.

* Only drink alcohol after your aquatic activity has ended.

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