Three Gaelic footballers from Realt Na Mara GAA in Bundoran joined RNLI volunteers from Bundoran, Lough Swilly and Arranmore RNLI at the launch in Croke Park last week of a major new partnership between the RNLI and the GAA. The partnership is aimed at reducing the number of people who lose their lives though drowning in Ireland.
Shane Smyth, Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer at Bundoran RNLI and players Niall Dunne, Paul Delaney and Fearghal McKiernan from Realt Na Mara GAA in Bundoran, were in Croke Park when the partnership announcement was made. They were joined by John McCarter, Lough Swilly RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager and Gregory McDaid, Lough Swilly RNLI mechanic and Frank Green, a fundraiser from Arranmore RNLI.
Each year an average of 28 people drown accidentally around the Irish coast.*
The RNLI aims to halve coastal drowning by 2024 and the GAA will work with the charity to engage with clubs and communities, particularly on the coast, to provide information and support that could save lives.
The RNLI’s drowning prevention campaign ‘Respect the Water’, will be supported through the GAA’s Healthy Clubs initiative and the wider club network. Many GAA clubs are based in coastal communities with 333 of them in a 10km radius of the 46 RNLI lifeboat stations in Ireland. Their location makes them ideally placed for sharing information and raising awareness of the causes of drowning and how to prevent it.
Through the partnership the RNLI invited the GAA to their training college in Poole and to Portsmouth University, to meet cold water expert Professor Mike Tipton. GAA athletes experienced what it was like to be plunged into cold water and the effects of it on the body.
Speaking after the launch, Niall Dunne, Realt Na Mara GAA player said: ‘Growing up in the coastal town of Bundoran, I am all too aware of the dangers of the sea and how people can get into difficulty on the water. I am also very aware of the invaluable service the Bundoran lifeboat provides. So many of our GAA club players live and train near the water, whether on the coast or near inland rivers and lakes. We have a responsibility to help and our sport and our ethos encourage this. I know our supporters get behind us in our games, now we are asking them to get behind this campaign; it could help save a life.’
In announcing the partnership, the President of the GAA, Aogán Ó Fearghaíl said: ‘In the RNLI the GAA sees an organisation that mirrors its core values of community activity and volunteerism. We welcome the 'Respect the Water' campaign and its efforts to keep people safe all year round.’
Joining the President at the launch was RNLI Chief Executive, Paul Boissier, who added: ‘Drowning devastates communities, but it’s often accepted as just part of life by the water. We believe that many of these deaths are preventable and we need to work with other organisations who, like us, want to keep their communities safe. Much like a lifeboat station, a GAA club is at the heart of community life. Sporting communities can play a major role in preventing deaths by drowning. Through their approach to the sport and their position in the community they are well placed to be lifesavers.’
Legendary broadcaster Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, who was Master of Ceremonies for the launch, also narrated a specially commissioned short film for the partnership, which was given its first screening at the event.
The RNLI will work with the GAA and their volunteers in local communities to promote the campaign and share key safety messages and advice.
* This figure includes the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and was collated by Irish Water Safety. The average number of drownings annually in Irish waters (including inland) over the last ten years is 133.