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Not All Politicians Take Care on the Water

13th January 2016
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Not all of our politicians have the necessary awareness and training to understand the daily risks of working and living on an island nation with the coastline, streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and canals that have the potential for drowning tragedies – unless care is taken and safety on the water observed.

That became clear to John Leech, Chief Executive of Irish Water Safety, the State body responsible for promoting safety on the water, during the recent flooding. I have known him for many years, a man dedicated to making people aware of being safe around water.

He is not a man who merely talks about this concept. A former Lt.Commander in the Naval Service, where he served for 21 years, he is a qualified Naval diver. He has been in charge of the Naval Diving Section, commanded Naval Service vessels and been involved in search-and-rescue operations. So he knows all about tragedy, its effects and the aftermath of such tragedies.

I have the highest admiration for him.

JOHN LEECH SPEAKING AT CONFERENCE

John Leech speaking at a conference

In his pursuit of creating a mindset about safety he has spoken out strongly against disregard for the wearing of lifejackets by yachtsmen and women and there has been a noticeable change in attitudes in this regard, including by myself. I now never allow anyone aboard my boat for racing without a lifejacket. I carry extra lifejackets aboard in case people arrive without them. This is not to make sailing unpleasant or to stress danger instead of enjoyment. It is to value life and enjoyment and to ensure that everyone who sails on our family boat, cruising, racing or just out for a day, returns safely.

John would not have endeared himself to everyone in the fishing industry either when he campaigned for the wearing of ‘personal flotation devices,’ a generic term used to describe lifejackets and buoyancy aids. However, he persevered and there too a change has been noticed, with less of the old adage in fishing that if a man fell into the sea it was better to drown than to fight for life.

“It is vital to wear a buoyancy aid or a lifejacket when afloat or if your activity takes you near the water,” he has often told me.

John is also a sailor himself and a Race Official, so he knows the water from many aspects. His dedication has led to the introduction of safety regulations for different type of craft and so, when he makes a point it is for a good reason and should be listened to. On this week’s edition of my radio programme THIS ISLAND NATION he discusses the winter flooding and the effects in County Galway where he lives himself:

“For those of us who have to live and operate in a flooded area like myself who lives in South East Galway or my mother’s house on the banks of the Shannon in Athlone, there are some very simple measures that we should all take,” he says on the programme, recommending the wearing of lifejackets “in all aquatic environments.”

He speaks favourably of those seen wearing lifejackets, “however quite a few people still don’t wear them, perhaps they think it will never happen to them and this culture is what prevents many people from wearing them.”

He refers to the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Marine, Simon Coveney, filmed on television in flooded areas wearing lifejackets “and in the case of Minister, a dry suit, which demonstrates his awareness of the risks surrounding flood waters. Being a keen sailor he is aware and understands the risks of drowning in these situations.”

Then he makes a point about Tanaiste Joan Burton seen falling out of a canoe in County Kilkenny. For many people it became an incident occasioning some hilarity, the water depth seeming to be only about a foot and there were many comments as to why she had not walked the area rather than going into a boat.

John – and I credit to his courage for saying so and pointing the incident out – takes a view about water safety in this regard and I support what he said on my programme:

“What was very disappointing to me was to see our Tánaiste and Minister of State Ann Phelan fall out of a canoe with no lifejackets on. They were demonstrating very poor example to our Island Nation. Then, not all of our politicians have the necessary awareness and training to understand the daily risks of working and living on an island nation with thousands of floods, streams, rivers lakes, ponds and canals to drown in.”

What John has said may not go down well in some political circles. That would be regrettable. The incident may have originated from a publicity photo opportunity stunt conjured up by some public relations or media official which was ill thought-out and rebounded on them. John Leech as Chief Executive of Irish Water Safety is correct to point it out. The Tanaiste and the Minister of State should not have been in the boat without lifejackets. It was a bad example. It was disregard for water safety.

Well done John Leech for your courage in highlighting it.

I hope that the two Ministers concerned, senior and junior and their advisor or advisors responsible for the publicity stunt, will admit their mistake and never again go afloat without a lifejacket.

It is the lesson, as John has often told me, to always wear a lifejacket.

• Listen to John on the programme above

Published in Island Nation
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