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Several marine and river rescues merited national bravery awards presented at Farmleigh House in Dublin on Friday.

Greencastle Coast Guard unit member Kevin Barr was presented with a gold medal for rescuing Geraldine Mullan from Lough Foyle, Co Donegal, on August 20th, 2020 after the car in which she and her husband and two children were travelling skidded off the road into the water at Quigley’s Point.

Barr lived locally and was on the scene very quickly, observing Mullan at the bottom of the car, which had turned over and landed on its roof.

The citation says that “without any hesitation, Mr Barr made his way with the assistance of the fire service down to the vehicle and held onto her until the other emergency services arrived and helped get her to safety”.

“Tragically, her husband and two children had also been in the car and their bodies were later recovered. The lady who survived later thanked all those who had assisted on the night but paid particular tribute to Kevin Barr for his intervention,” the citation says.

Michael Downes was awarded a silver medal for rescuing a boy who fell out of his canoe near Oldhead beach, close to Louisburgh. The citation says the incident occurred in July 1974, when the boy had lost his paddle and was grabbing on to the side of the canoe.

“Michael Downes ran over to the pier and assessed the situation. Noticing that the tide was on the turn and without a moment’s thought for his own safety Michael dived off the pier and into the water. He swam out to where the panicking boy was (approximately 120 yards) and attempted to calm him down,”the citation says.

Michael Downes with from left his son Patrick, wife Maureen and Karen Downes who received a silver medal at the Oireachtas National Bravery awards for the rescue of a boy from the sea in Old Head, Louisburgh, Co. Mayo in July 1974Michael Downes with from left his son Patrick, wife Maureen and Karen Downes who received a silver medal at the Oireachtas National Bravery awards for the rescue of a boy from the sea in Old Head, Louisburgh, Co. Mayo in July 1974 Photo: Maxwells

“The tide was now rapidly turning and the boy at this point had become exhausted. Michael, knowing how tired the boy was, secured him over the bow of the canoe and attempted to swim back to the pier, pulling the canoe,”it says.

“ As the tide was going out, he had to navigate across a rocky patch where he received significant cuts resulting in loss of blood and hypothermia. Despite the rocks cutting him he managed to get the boy back to the safety of the pier where they were received and looked after, although Michael still carries the scars to this day,”the citation says.

Two gardai, James Keegan and Colin Kyne-Delaney and Lee Conlon were awarded a bronze medal for saving a man from the river Liffey on March 14th, 2020.

Mr Lee Conlon (left) and Garda Colin Kyne-Delaney and who all received bronze medals at the Oireachtas National Bravery awards for the rescue of a man from the River Liffey at Eden Quay in March 2020 Photo: MaxwellsMr Lee Conlon (left) and Garda Colin Kyne-Delaney and who all received bronze medals at the Oireachtas National Bravery awards for the rescue of a man from the River Liffey at Eden Quay in March 2020 Photo: Maxwells

“As well as the obvious risk to their lives, including the risk of struggling in cold water and possible drowning, there was also the risk of disease such as Weil’s disease which highlights the great risk that these gardai and Mr Conlon took in order to conduct this rescue,”the citation says.

The annual honours are awarded by Comhairle na Míre Gaile – the Deeds of Bravery Council – which was founded in 1947 to enable State recognition of exceptional acts of bravery.

The council is chaired by the Ceann Comhairle and includes the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, the Lord Mayors of Dublin and Cork, the Garda Commissioner, the President of the Association of City and County Councils, and the chairman of the Irish Red Cross.

The Ceann Comhairle said that “on behalf of the people of Ireland, let me thank the brave recipients for their actions, for their selflessness, for their courage and for showing us that we can all make a difference on this island we share and in this world we walk together.”

Full list of citations:

Citation No 1 - Mr John Colfer

Intervening in an assault on a Garda

On the evening of 24 September 2018, John Colfer was cycling home from work and encountered a gang of youths attacking a member of An Garda Síochána. The Garda had been hit in the face, his nose was broken and he had been knocked to the ground. John Colfer intervened and placed himself between the assailants and the injured Garda. Despite ongoing threats and being outnumbered by 5 to 1, John stood his ground and protected the Garda from further attack. John stayed at the scene until more Gardaí arrived on the scene to deal with the gang.

For his efforts, John Colfer is awarded a bronze medal.

Citation No 2 – Garda Kieran Donovan

Saving a man from a motorway bridge

On the morning of 16 July 2018, Gardaí responded to a report of a man, who appeared to be extremely distressed and emotional, standing on the outer rail of a motorway flyover bridge. It was an approx. 20-25metre drop to the motorway below. Garda Donovan climbed out onto the side of the bridge rail to talk to the man and to help get him to return in off the ledge. The man eventually agreed to walk off the ledge with Garda Donovan and received medical attention and aid immediately.

For his efforts Garda Kieran Donovan is awarded a bronze medal.

Citation No 3 - Garda James Keegan, Garda Colin Kyne-Delaney and Mr Lee Conlon

Rescue of a man from the River Liffey at Eden Quay

On the afternoon of Saturday, 14 March 2020, a man was seen entering the River Liffey. Garda James Keegan, Garda Colin Kyne-Delaney and Mr. Lee Conlon swiftly entered the river to try to save the man. An ambulance was waiting when they brought him to street level and resuscitation efforts began. As well as the obvious risk to their lives, including the risk of struggling in cold water and possible drowning, there was also the risk of disease such as Weil’s disease which highlights the great risk that these Gardai and Mr Conlon took in order to conduct this rescue.

For their efforts Garda James Keegan, Garda Colin Kyne-Delaney and Mr Lee Conlon are each awarded a bronze medal.

Citation No 4 – Michael Nallon

Rescue of a man from an overturned digger

On Friday 7 August 2020, Michael Nallon was working with a colleague in the townland of Ballinafad, Belcarra, Co. Mayo. His colleague, who was driving an excavator, became medically unwell and slumped over the controls of the machine. The machine spun around a couple of times and then entered the river. According to Gardaí, the river was high and fast flowing as a result of heavy rain over the previous days. Mr. Nallon entered the water and climbed into the cab to rescue his colleague. He remained on the machine for almost an hour, holding his colleague’s head above water until help from the emergency services arrived. His colleague was then safely taken from the machine, placed on a stretcher and stabilised. A helicopter was required to remove him from the site due to the remote location and bring him to hospital.

For his efforts Michael Nallon is awarded a Bronze Medal

Citation 5 - Micheál Bourke and Katie Butler Haughney

Rescue of a boy from a waterhole

On 11 February, 2020, Daniel Bourke, who was just 2 at the time went missing and was later discovered, by his brother, head first in a hole which was approximately 4 foot deep and full of muddy water. There had been heavy snow in the area and the extent of the hole had been hidden. His brother Micheál, who was 9 years old at the time attempted to pull him out of the water but due to the weight of Daniel’s saturated clothes he was unable to. His sister, Katie Butler Haughney, who was 14 at the time succeeded in pulling him out. The toddler was blue and lifeless and was carried into the house where his mother started doing compressions.

After 20 minutes of CPR, he started to breathe again and colour began to return to his face. The little boy was taken to an ambulance and from there, lifted by helicopter to Limerick Regional Hospital, where he eventually made a full recovery.

For their efforts Micheál Bourke and Katie Butler Haughney are each awarded a Bronze Medal.

Citation No 6 - Garda Brendan Crawford and Garda Ciaran Murray

Rescue of a woman from the River Camac

On the morning of 17 June 2020 a woman was walking her dog on a harness lead near the Camac river. The dog fell into the water near a culvert running under the M50 motorway and pulled its owner in too. There had been very heavy rain in the previous days and the water level was high. The current was so strong that the lady and her dog were swept into the tunnel. When Gardaí arrived the woman was too far down the tunnel to be seen but could be heard crying for help. The Gardaí took ropes from their car and entered the water. The woman was located about 50 feet into the tunnel which was too far for their rope. Gardaí Murray and Crawford continued through the water and managed to get to the woman who had held onto her dog which was struggling causing her to sink under the water. Garda Crawford took hold of the dog and both he and Garda Murray assisted the lady out of the tunnel and eventually brought her back through the waters. Despite being barely able to speak from cold and shock, the lady made a full recovery.

For their efforts Garda Brendan Crawford and Garda Ciaran Murray are each awarded a Bronze Medal.

Citation No 7 – Michael Downes

Rescue of a boy from the sea in Old Head, Louisburgh, Co. Mayo

In July 1974 a boy fell out of his canoe in the sea near Oldhead beach. The boy had lost his paddle and was grabbing on to the side of the canoe panicking and shouting for help. Michael Downes ran over to the pier and assessed the situation. Noticing that the tide was on the turn and without a moment’s thought for his own safety Michael dived off the pier and into the water. He swam out to where the panicking boy was (approximately 120 yards) and attempted to calm him down. The tide was now rapidly turning and the boy at this point had become exhausted. Michael , knowing how tired the boy was, secured him over the bow of the canoe and attempted to swim back to the pier pulling the canoe. As the tide was going out, he had to navigate across a rocky patch where he received significant cuts resulting in loss of blood and hypothermia. Despite the rocks cutting him he managed to get the boy back to the safety of the pier where they were received and looked after, although Michael still carries the scars to this day.

For his efforts Michael Downes is awarded a Silver Medal

Citation No 8 – Liam Halpin

Rescue of a woman from the sea in Co. Clare

On August the 3rd 2020 at approximately 4:30 pm, a twenty year old woman and her thirteen year old foster brother were on the beach at Doughmore Bay in Doonbeg. They were playing in the water and jumping the waves. Shortly afterwards the young boy ran up the beach screaming that the young lady had been suddenly swept out to sea due to the undercurrent and strong waves.

He pointed to where she was, but no one could see her as she was being swept out further and further to sea. Nobody could go in as no one had any kind of buoyancy aid. After about 15 minutes Liam Halpin jumped in with a small red body board, despite the pleadings of his family not to go in. He managed to get to the young woman just as she felt she could no longer fight on. Around 15 minutes later he had her back on shore. The Coastguard attended and she was then airlifted to Limerick University Hospital.

For his efforts Liam Halpin is awarded a Silver Medal.

Citation No 9 – Miley Doran

Rescue of a woman and her daughter from the River Barrow, Co. Carlow

On Sunday 30 May 2021, 17 year old Miley Doran saved a woman and her 13 year old daughter from drowning on the River Barrow. The girl went into the water with friends but got into difficulty and when her mother entered the river in an effort to save her, she too started struggling with the strength of the current in the water. Miley Doran, who was fishing nearby heard the screams calling for help and ran to their aid.

Miley dived into the water without hesitation and rescued the young girl first, pulling her to the bank, whereupon he turned back to rescue her mother. He then put his jumper back on, gathered his fishing gear and left without seeking praise or recognition.

The President of Ireland himself commented on Miley Doran’s actions saying he was enormously impressed by his courage and generous instinct.

For his efforts Miley Doran is awarded a Silver Medal.

Citation No 10 – Rosaleen Feeney

Rescue of a man from a burning house in Co. Mayo

At 6.20 am on the morning of 31 May 2021 a fire broke out at a house near Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. On noticing the fire, the elderly occupant activated his emergency pendant and Rosaleen Feeney, who was his emergency contact, responded. On route to the house she could see flames and rang the Gardaí and fire service. On her arrival Rosaleen could see the fire closing in around the elderly man who was shouting at her through the window. He told her he could feel the heat of the fire. Rosaleen smashed the window and pulled him through it, burning her hand in the process. The man’s clothes had started to burn and he was treated by ambulance crew and then moved to Mayo University Hospital.

For her efforts Rosaleen Feeney is awarded a Silver Medal.

Citation No 11 – Stephen Ryan

Rescue of 3 women from the sea in Greystones, Co. Wicklow

On 23 April 2022, at the North Cove, Greystones, Co Wicklow, three females entered the sea at a point known locally as “The North Cove”, a sheltered area of the beach behind a line of rock armour. There was a strong easterly wind blowing ashore, causing heavy seas. A short time later a number of calls were made requesting emergency services.

Stephen Ryan, having already made it back to the beach, took his surf board and re-entered the water himself, swimming out to the females beyond the safety of the North Cove. He then held the three females on his surf board whilst attempting to provide CPR to one of them as best he could whilst in the water. The stiff easterly wind and rising tide made his task more difficult and the group spent approximately 40 minutes in the water, before being brought ashore. Sadly, despite Stephen’s best efforts one of the women brought ashore was pronounced dead. However local Gardaí noted that without his help there would have been more fatalities.

For his efforts Stephen Ryan is awarded a Silver Medal.

Citation No 12 – Kevin Barr

Rescue of a woman from Lough Foyle, Co. Donegal

On Thursday 20 August 2020 Storm Ellen brought very high winds and heavy rainfall across the country. At around, a car skidded off the road and fell into the water at Quigley’s Point, Co. Donegal. A member of Greencastle Coast Guard Unit, Kevin Barr, lived locally and was quickly on the scene. A woman was observed on the bottom of the car as the car had turned over and landed on the roof. The waves were washing over her and she was in danger of being washed off the vehicle. Without any hesitation Mr Barr made his way with the assistance of the fire service down to the vehicle and held onto her until the other emergency services arrived and helped get her to safety. Tragically , her husband and two children had also been in the car and their bodies were later recovered. The lady who survived later thanked all those who had assisted on the night but paid particular tribute to Kevin Barr for his intervention.

For his efforts Kevin Barr is awarded a Gold Medal.

Published in Rescue

The Air Corps bid to deliver a search and rescue service for the eastern seaboard at less than half the cost of an international aviation firm was rejected by senior government officials as not credible, according to tender documentation.

As The Sunday Times reports, the Department of Transport rejected the Air Corps bid as consultants KPMG found that splitting the new search and rescue contract in two would increase overall costs.

The Air Corps had said it could provide cover for the east and southeast coasts for €232 million over ten years, €378 million cheaper than a commercial provider.

The Department of Transport pointed out that there was no government approval to pay for the helicopters and pilot salaries the bid required.

Days after receiving the 415-page submission from the Air Corps in March 2021, the department’s secretary-general Ken expressed doubts about “the deliverability” of the bid in an email to Jacqui McCrum, Department of Defence secretary-general.

Spratt said the Air Corps was counting helicopters and pilots in its bid before “securing the requisite approvals and funding from DPER (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform)” for their purchase and for wage costs.

“The proposal relies on the procurement of at least two additional helicopters and an increase of over 40 per cent in pilot numbers, so these issues are crucial to the overall credibility of the proposal,” Spratt said in his email to McCrum.

In an earlier letter to Spratt, McCrum said that “the success of the proposed approach to recruiting and retaining such personnel is predicated on a range of remuneration and HR policy approaches, many of which are not in keeping with current practices across the public sector … DPER buy-in and agreement is, therefore, a pre-requisite to the feasibility of the Air Corps proposal.”

The Air Corps was eventually excluded from the tender process, understood to be worth over €1 billion.

Aerossurance, a Scottish aviation consultancy, had challenged the suitability and range of the AW1391 helicopters proposed to deliver the service, but the Department of Transport said it had continued to engage with Air Corps on the basis of using larger helicopters.

The correspondence was released under the Freedom of Information Act to Senator Gerard Craughwell, who had protested about the exclusion of the Air Corps on the basis of the Aerosurrance report.

However, the department has confirmed it was ruled out because its proposal was more costly, according to consultants KMPG.

Read more in The Sunday Times here (subscription required).

Published in Rescue
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On 13 March 2017, the Rescue 116 crew of Capt. Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt. Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith took off from Dublin airport just after 11 p.m. for a medical evacuation off the west coast of Ireland. The first indication of disaster came when the crew failed to answer a radio call at 12.46 a.m. Shortly after 2 am on 14 March, sister helicopter Rescue 118 spotted a casualty and debris in the water. There would be no survivors from R116, and extensive searches failed to locate the bodies of two of the four crew.

The crash occurred just six months after the loss of experienced Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitríona Lucas, from Doolin Coast Guard in Co. Clare, and eighteen years after the loss of four Air Corps crew who were returning from a night rescue in thick fog off the south-east coast.

In Search and Rescue, author Lorna Siggins exposes the shocking systemic flaws that led to these tragic deaths, but also looks at successful rescues where, despite all the odds, the courage and dedication of members of the Irish Coast Guard, Air Corps, RNLI, fishing crew and the volunteers who work with them have saved countless lives.

Paperback • €16.95 | £14.99. 336 pages. Preview here. On Sale Now on this link here

Published in Book Review
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Safer Waters is a unique service in Northern Ireland, established in 2020 to provide a Safety Boat service for water-based community events. The service is there to support events such as Sailing, Swimming, Paddle Boarding and Windsurfing that have no safety cover of their own or may need additional resources. Safer Waters is based in Bangor Marina and serves all communities as they will travel by sea and road to any coastal or inland location.

With several big event commitments this year, such as the Irish Youth Sailing Championships in April at Ballyholme Yacht Club and rescue and mark laying for Bangor Town Regatta in June hosted by Royal Ulster, Safer Waters is currently looking for members to join the dynamic team, both on and off the water.

Mike Meharg who heads up the organisation says he is already getting calls for event coverage this year. “Following a very busy and successful first year of operations during which we supported over nine hundred participants on the water we are receiving calls already. To help meet these commitments we could do with more members to crew our boats as well as provide shore support and communications. If you would like to try something exciting and a bit different, why not get in touch and we will take you through what we do. We can provide formal training through our RYA recognised Training Centre in Bangor Marina as well as free in-house training – all are welcome. Please visit the link below or message us if you are unsure of how you could help. You are welcome to come along and meet us at one of our training evenings”.

More here

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This bank holiday weekend, with more people expected to take part in water-based activities, the RNLI is sharing some advice and top tips to help people stay safe on the water, whether travelling to the coast or visiting inland waters.

RNLI Water Safety Lead, Kevin Rahill said: ‘This Bank Holiday weekend, many people are going to be heading to the water to enjoy themselves. We want to see people having fun in or on the water and keeping safe while doing it. By taking a few simple steps, everyone can reduce the risk of an accident.’

‘Even in Summer, water temperatures can be cold, rarely going above 15 degrees. Cold Water Shock can affect everyone. To avoid this, acclimatise to the water slowly to get used to the cold. If you fall in unexpectedly, remember to ‘Float to Live’ – lie on your back and spread your arms and legs, gently moving them to keep afloat. Keep floating until you feel your breath coming back before calling for help or swimming ashore if nearby.’

With swimming becoming increasing popular Kevin Rahill offered the following advice, ‘Always choose to swim in a lifeguarded area and swim between the flags. Stay within your depth and swim parallel to the shore. Watch out for rip currents, if you do get caught in one, try to swim parallel to the shore until you can feel you are out of the current before trying to swim shore. Inflatable toys are not suitable for any open water and should be kept for the pool. They can easily be blown offshore very quickly.’

For other activity such as water boating, sailing, canoeing, paddle boarding, wear an appropriate personal flotation device suitable for the activity, and always carry a means of calling for help.

Water safety Ireland adds:  Nine people have drowned at waterways on the island of Ireland in seven days, six at inland waterways, leading Water Safety Ireland to make a national stay safe appeal to the public throughout the Bank Holiday weekend and the month of August. People are advised to swim only at Lifeguarded waterways or in areas that are traditionally known to be safe and have ringbuoys available for rescues.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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The 1.2 km Ballycastle Beach is a popular tourist destination on the Causeway Coast Route on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. It was the scene shortly before midday yesterday (15th July) of a serious incident, when as reported by the Belfast Telegraph, five people got into difficulty.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) said three people on water pedal bikes went into the surf zone where they were swamped by a wave before being helped onto a group leader's boat which then capsized. Two people were taken to hospital, and three people were treated at the scene by paramedics. These were two separate incidents that occurred within metres of each other and within minutes of each other. The Irish News reported that by the time emergency crews including an ambulance and the NI Air Ambulance arrived at the scene, the group had made it back to shore.

The coastguard has appealed for people to exercise caution around seaside areas this weekend after this trip to the beach almost ended in tragedy.

A spokesperson for the Coastguard said there has been an increase in such incidents this year as a result of people spending more time locally due to the pandemic. "The weather has been particularly good over the past week or so, and it's looking like that's going to be the case for the next week, so we do expect to be quite busy. Temperatures in the low 20s can be expected until at least the middle of next week. We'd also recommend if you're going to go into the beach and go into the sea, to go to a beach that has lifeguards on it, especially at the weekend".

The Police Service thanked those involved in the incident. "Thank you also to Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), the Helimed team, Coastguard, RNLI, and all members of the public who helped, provided support to those involved and assisted with the moving of equipment and persons. All persons were transported by road ambulance to hospital as a precautionary measure with no life-threatening injuries".

A spokesperson for the Ambulance Service said four emergency crews, an officer and the charity air ambulance were called to the scene. 

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In the early evening of last Sunday (20th June) Lough Neagh rescue was tasked to a broken down motorboat with two children, three adults and a dog on board. The vessel had been making its way from Battery Harbour on the west shore of the Lough to Gawley's Gate in the southeast corner.

Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake by area in the British Isles at 392 square kilometres.

The Lifeboats launched and searched the broken-down boat in rough conditions and large swells. It had drifted quite a few miles off course. Once located, a crew member went aboard to check on the casualties and transferred one adult onto the lifeboat to be brought to shore.

The other lifeboat rigged a tow and brought the vessel to Maghery in the southwest corner as this was the safest option due to the wind direction and large swells. It was handed over to the awaiting Coastguard team.

Lough Neagh Rescue is a voluntary search and rescue organisation based on the shores of Lough Neagh.

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“Aquabikes” caught the attention of former Irish Times journalist Kevin Myers back in 1982.

The Irishman’s Diary writer was seriously concerned about the pressure windsurfers were putting on the RNLI Dun Laoghaire lifeboat at the time.

He had read about these “aquabikes”, made by a Japanese motorbike company, which “skid across the water, steered by handlebars”.

Although there might be “cacophonous” drawbacks, this vehicle might prove useful in rescuing windsurfers, he wrote - if it wasn’t engaged in knocking them down, or worse...

Almost 40 years later, and jetskis have proved their worth in rescue, with trained riders able to access areas of the coastline that may prove too dangerous for coast and cliff rescue crews, lifeboats or helicopters.

However, jetskis still get bad press among those who don’t understand their benefits – or those who have witnessed untrained and ill-considerate use of them. Now Clare County Council wants to ban their use altogether on a number of beaches.

The Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club has objected to a proposed jetski ban Photo: ITSRC via FacebookThe Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club has objected to a proposed jetski ban Photo: ITSRC via Facebook

Clare fireman, lifeguard and surfer Peter Conroy owes his life to a jetski rescue. He was one of the founders of the Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club which has provided training, and invaluable support to surfers, and to open water sea swimmers.

Organisers of marine events have benefited from their voluntary assistance, and the club has also provided defibrillators at a number of coastal locations.

Conroy spoke to Wavelengths this week about his rescue, and about why his club opposes the proposed ban.

Listen to Wavelengths below

And you can then view a bit more of the work of the Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club here

Published in Wavelength Podcast
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Lough Neagh Rescue was called last Friday evening to a 24ft cruiser that had lost power.

The vessel was located about 1.5 nautical miles to the east of Ballyronan on the west side of Lough Neagh.

Lifeboats were launched and located the vessel with two people on both of whom were safe and well. A towline was secured, and the vessel towed into Ballyronan Marina, where it was safely moored to the jetty.

The lifeboats returned to base, were cleaned, refuelled and are ready for the next tasking.

Lough Neagh Rescue is a Limited Company and a registered Charity. It is made up of 60 highly trained volunteers, four lifeboats, two vans and an off-road jeep, operating on the largest lake by area in the British Isles with a surface area of 151 square miles.

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Rescue agencies are reporting a record year for incidents on the water as thousands of people turned to the coastline, lakes and rivers during Covid-19.

The Irish Coast Guard, RNLI and Water Safety Ireland have all been under pressure to comply with Covid-19 protective measures and to cope with the large number of emergency alerts.

A total of 500 people were rescued by lifeguards this season, compared to 260 last year.

The last time figures were this high was in 2013, when there were 430 rescues.

There were also no confirmed cases of lifeguards testing positive for the Covid-19.

Water Safety Ireland (WSI) has recorded the lowest number of accidental drownings, at 37 to date, compared to 62 accidental drownings in 2019.

The RNLI said its lifeboat crews have been “exceptionally busy”, with 730 call outs to date this year compared to just over 1,000 launches in the Republic last year.

Dun Laoghaire RNLI is busiest

The busiest station has been at Dun Laoghaire Harbour, Co Dublin, with nearly 100 call outs for this year so far, according to RNLI Lifesaving Lead for Ireland Owen Medland.

Both organisations had to put special Covid 19 avoidance measures in place for volunteers and lifeguards employed by local authorities.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly is calling for publication of an Irish Coast Guard analysis of one of the most high profile rescues – that of paddleboarders Sara Feeney (23) and Ellen Glynn (17) in Galway Bay on August 13th last.

Ms Connolly is among those who have paid tribute to Claddagh fisherman Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan for their rescue of Ms Feeney and Ms Glynn after 15 hours at sea. She said, however, that "lessons needed to be learned" about the search pattern in the inner bay, rather than out towards the Aran islands, and co-ordination of volunteers onshore.

In a Dáil reply to a question tabled by Ms Connolly, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said the initial search was focused along the northern shore to ascertain if they were attempting to get ashore or had got ashore.

He said the RNLI Galway lifeboat was tasked within three minutes of the initial report at 10.05 pm and the RNLI Aran lifeboat was tasked at 11.19 pm.

He said the Shannon based Coast Guard helicopter was tasked to the scene at 11.02 pm and was recorded as proceeding at 11.25 pm.

Mr Ryan said the search was moving to the south-west of Galway Bay and the Aran Islands, with aerial surface and coastal searches off the islands on the morning of their rescue, and a member of the public alerted Valentia Coast Guard to a possible sighting after 11 am on August 13th, he said.

Visibility had been very poor in the early part of the day with fog at sea till mid-morning.

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Irish Fishing industry 

The Irish Commercial Fishing Industry employs around 11,000 people in fishing, processing and ancillary services such as sales and marketing. The industry is worth about €1.22 billion annually to the Irish economy. Irish fisheries products are exported all over the world as far as Africa, Japan and China.


Over 16,000 people are employed directly or indirectly around the coast, working on over 2,000 registered fishing vessels, in over 160 seafood processing businesses and in 278 aquaculture production units, according to the State's sea fisheries development body Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

All activities that are concerned with growing, catching, processing or transporting fish are part of the commercial fishing industry, the development of which is overseen by BIM. Recreational fishing, as in angling at sea or inland, is the responsibility of Inland Fisheries Ireland.

The Irish fishing industry is valued at 1.22 billion euro in gross domestic product (GDP), according to 2019 figures issued by BIM. Only 179 of Ireland's 2,000 vessels are over 18 metres in length. Where does Irish commercially caught fish come from? Irish fish and shellfish is caught or cultivated within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but Irish fishing grounds are part of the common EU "blue" pond. Commercial fishing is regulated under the terms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983 and with ten-yearly reviews.

The total value of seafood landed into Irish ports was 424 million euro in 2019, according to BIM. High value landings identified in 2019 were haddock, hake, monkfish and megrim. Irish vessels also land into foreign ports, while non-Irish vessels land into Irish ports, principally Castletownbere, Co Cork, and Killybegs, Co Donegal.

There are a number of different methods for catching fish, with technological advances meaning skippers have detailed real time information at their disposal. Fisheries are classified as inshore, midwater, pelagic or deep water. Inshore targets species close to shore and in depths of up to 200 metres, and may include trawling and gillnetting and long-lining. Trawling is regarded as "active", while "passive" or less environmentally harmful fishing methods include use of gill nets, long lines, traps and pots. Pelagic fisheries focus on species which swim close to the surface and up to depths of 200 metres, including migratory mackerel, and tuna, and methods for catching include pair trawling, purse seining, trolling and longlining. Midwater fisheries target species at depths of around 200 metres, using trawling, longlining and jigging. Deepwater fisheries mainly use trawling for species which are found at depths of over 600 metres.

There are several segments for different catching methods in the registered Irish fleet – the largest segment being polyvalent or multi-purpose vessels using several types of gear which may be active and passive. The polyvalent segment ranges from small inshore vessels engaged in netting and potting to medium and larger vessels targeting whitefish, pelagic (herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting) species and bivalve molluscs. The refrigerated seawater (RSW) pelagic segment is engaged mainly in fishing for herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting only. The beam trawling segment focuses on flatfish such as sole and plaice. The aquaculture segment is exclusively for managing, developing and servicing fish farming areas and can collect spat from wild mussel stocks.

The top 20 species landed by value in 2019 were mackerel (78 million euro); Dublin Bay prawn (59 million euro); horse mackerel (17 million euro); monkfish (17 million euro); brown crab (16 million euro); hake (11 million euro); blue whiting (10 million euro); megrim (10 million euro); haddock (9 million euro); tuna (7 million euro); scallop (6 million euro); whelk (5 million euro); whiting (4 million euro); sprat (3 million euro); herring (3 million euro); lobster (2 million euro); turbot (2 million euro); cod (2 million euro); boarfish (2 million euro).

Ireland has approximately 220 million acres of marine territory, rich in marine biodiversity. A marine biodiversity scheme under Ireland's operational programme, which is co-funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the Government, aims to reduce the impact of fisheries and aquaculture on the marine environment, including avoidance and reduction of unwanted catch.

EU fisheries ministers hold an annual pre-Christmas council in Brussels to decide on total allowable catches and quotas for the following year. This is based on advice from scientific bodies such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. In Ireland's case, the State's Marine Institute publishes an annual "stock book" which provides the most up to date stock status and scientific advice on over 60 fish stocks exploited by the Irish fleet. Total allowable catches are supplemented by various technical measures to control effort, such as the size of net mesh for various species.

The west Cork harbour of Castletownbere is Ireland's biggest whitefish port. Killybegs, Co Donegal is the most important port for pelagic (herring, mackerel, blue whiting) landings. Fish are also landed into Dingle, Co Kerry, Rossaveal, Co Galway, Howth, Co Dublin and Dunmore East, Co Waterford, Union Hall, Co Cork, Greencastle, Co Donegal, and Clogherhead, Co Louth. The busiest Northern Irish ports are Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel, Co Down.

Yes, EU quotas are allocated to other fleets within the Irish EEZ, and Ireland has long been a transhipment point for fish caught by the Spanish whitefish fleet in particular. Dingle, Co Kerry has seen an increase in foreign landings, as has Castletownbere. The west Cork port recorded foreign landings of 36 million euro or 48 per cent in 2019, and has long been nicknamed the "peseta" port, due to the presence of Spanish-owned transhipment plant, Eiranova, on Dinish island.

Most fish and shellfish caught or cultivated in Irish waters is for the export market, and this was hit hard from the early stages of this year's Covid-19 pandemic. The EU, Asia and Britain are the main export markets, while the middle Eastern market is also developing and the African market has seen a fall in value and volume, according to figures for 2019 issued by BIM.

Fish was once a penitential food, eaten for religious reasons every Friday. BIM has worked hard over several decades to develop its appeal. Ireland is not like Spain – our land is too good to transform us into a nation of fish eaters, but the obvious health benefits are seeing a growth in demand. Seafood retail sales rose by one per cent in 2019 to 300 million euro. Salmon and cod remain the most popular species, while BIM reports an increase in sales of haddock, trout and the pangasius or freshwater catfish which is cultivated primarily in Vietnam and Cambodia and imported by supermarkets here.

The EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983, pooled marine resources – with Ireland having some of the richest grounds and one of the largest sea areas at the time, but only receiving four per cent of allocated catch by a quota system. A system known as the "Hague Preferences" did recognise the need to safeguard the particular needs of regions where local populations are especially dependent on fisheries and related activities. The State's Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, based in Clonakilty, Co Cork, works with the Naval Service on administering the EU CFP. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Department of Transport regulate licensing and training requirements, while the Marine Survey Office is responsible for the implementation of all national and international legislation in relation to safety of shipping and the prevention of pollution.

Yes, a range of certificates of competency are required for skippers and crew. Training is the remit of BIM, which runs two national fisheries colleges at Greencastle, Co Donegal and Castletownbere, Co Cork. There have been calls for the colleges to be incorporated into the third-level structure of education, with qualifications recognised as such.

Safety is always an issue, in spite of technological improvements, as fishing is a hazardous occupation and climate change is having its impact on the severity of storms at sea. Fishing skippers and crews are required to hold a number of certificates of competency, including safety and navigation, and wearing of personal flotation devices is a legal requirement. Accidents come under the remit of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, and the Health and Safety Authority. The MCIB does not find fault or blame, but will make recommendations to the Minister for Transport to avoid a recurrence of incidents.

Fish are part of a marine ecosystem and an integral part of the marine food web. Changing climate is having a negative impact on the health of the oceans, and there have been more frequent reports of warmer water species being caught further and further north in Irish waters.

Brexit, Covid 19, EU policies and safety – Britain is a key market for Irish seafood, and 38 per cent of the Irish catch is taken from the waters around its coast. Ireland's top two species – mackerel and prawns - are 60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, dependent on British waters. Also, there are serious fears within the Irish industry about the impact of EU vessels, should they be expelled from British waters, opting to focus even more efforts on Ireland's rich marine resource. Covid-19 has forced closure of international seafood markets, with high value fish sold to restaurants taking a large hit. A temporary tie-up support scheme for whitefish vessels introduced for the summer of 2020 was condemned by industry organisations as "designed to fail".

Sources: Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Marine Institute, Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Department of Transport © Afloat 2020