A Cushendall man has played a key role in establishing a new partnership to reduce the number of people who lose their lives through drowning.
The RNLI and the GAA have announced they are teaming up on the ‘Respect the Water’ campaign.
The charity aims to halve coastal drowning by 2024 and the GAA will work with it to engage with clubs and communities, particularly on the coast, to provide information and support that could save lives.
The idea came from Red Bay RNLI volunteer Paddy McLaughlin and it was the Cushendall man who made the initial contacts with the GAA and drove the project forward to its fruition.
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 Croke Park launch was RNLI Chief Executive, Paul Boissier, who commented: “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.”
Through the partnership the RNLI invited the GAA to their training college in Poole and to Portsmouth University to meet cold water shock expert Professor Mike Tipton. Among four player was Neil McManus from Antrim who experienced what it was like to be plunged into cold water and see the effects of it on the body. Neil also took part in rescue scenarios in specially created challenging weather and sea conditions.
The Antrim champion hurler and Cushendall native said: “The stories of loss through drowning that we’ve heard from the RNLI really hit home. You can’t help but think of the grief of the families. I play hurling across the road from the local lifeboat station and I know not everyone can be rescued.
“In backing this campaign I hope that the message reaches as many people as possible because no family should have to suffer the pain of losing a loved one through drowning.”
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.