A 16-year-old from Killarney, Co Kerry, who was paralysed in a cycling accident is among more than 100 young people honoured at the first ever Garda National Youth Awards.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and Assistant Garda Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon presented 22 individual and group awards to young people aged between 13 and 21 from across the country at a special ceremony at the Midlands Park Hotel in Portlaoise.
Those who received awards included Ian O’Connell from Killarney, Co Kerry, for “showing strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds”.
The teenager was left paralysed from the shoulders down after being thrown from his bike in August 2017.
He now has more than 42,000 followers on Instagram through which “he offers online support to young people and their families who are grappling with similar issues in their lives”.
He is also back in school studying for his Leaving Certificate.
“Ian’s determination is legendary. He was told that he would never come off a ventilator; he got rid of it within 80 days,” the citation read.
“Ian O’Connell continues to defy the odds. He has returned to school. This entails getting up at 5.30am for his rehab treatment each day before he sets off for school.”
Speaking at the awards ceremony on Saturday, Mr Flanagan said: “To be recognised as someone who has made their community a better or safer place to live, or as someone who has defied the odds in overcoming difficult circumstances, is really special.”
He said the award winners represent Ireland’s “best and brightest” and what struck him was the selflessness of each of the young people.
“Their willingness to put others ahead of themselves is outstanding and I believe much can be learned from their dedication,” the Minister added.
Other winners included Odhrán O’Neill and Ruby Hurst from Coláiste Cholmcille, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, for the manner in which they responded to the collapse of a classmate in PE class, performing CPR with the aid of a defibrillator; and Kevin Linehan, Éamonn Nolan and James McDonnell from Castleisland Community College, Co Kerry, for developing a slurry pit safety device.
The national awards build on the divisional Garda youth awards which have been running for the past 20 years.