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Near misses prompt council to consider beach toy ban

A BAN on flotation toys could be introduced at Clare beaches and waterways, after a number of near misses where children were blown out to sea on inflatable devices.

Over the summer months, there were at least two major rescues involving emergency services from Clare, with a number of other incidents causing alarm in coastal areas.

We had several incidents over the course of the summer,” said Clare McGrath, water safety officer with the local authority. “Thankfully, there were no serious injuries. While it has been great to see so many people using the beaches and waterways in Clare, and we have been seriously busy, there is concern over the risks created by these toys. They have been referred to, for good reason, as floating killers. People just don’t seem to realise the dangers.”

Ms McGrath said that lifeguards in Clare had been warning people of the dangers and that most people complied with the advice. “What we would really need though,” she said, “is a major media campaign to let people know just how serious the risk is. People see these things as toys and they don’t realise the risks that are involved with using them, especially if someone isn’t using a buoyancy aid or wearing a life jacket.”

Ms McGrath added that people are often unaware of the danger created by prevailing winds and general weather conditions along the western seaboard. “It could be a beautiful sunny day encouraging people to take to the water,”she noted. “What people don’t realise is that when winds are off-shore, and coming from the land, they can blow these devices out to sea rapidly. In one incident, a child was blown two miles out into the Shannon Estuary.”

Water Safety Ireland’s Chief Executive, John Leech agreed that people often misunderstood weather conditions here. “If you go on the Mediterranean or the Baltic, you’ll have on-shore breezes, you can almost time them, they’re very predictable,” he explained. “However, our island nation, which is on the Atlantic, has very unpredictable winds, changing winds both in terms of speed and direction. A lot of people don’t understand the weather. People weren’t wearing buoyancy aids or life-jackets, either, they had no means of communication and we’ve had literally huge numbers of very close calls.”

Mr Leech added that the use of a signally system to alert people to the direction of the wind might also be considered. “We’re also going to use the ISO orange wind sock on the beach to advise the public of the direction of the wind,” he said. “If they see it, they’ll know the wind is off-shore and not to go out on an inflatable, be that a stand-up paddle board, or whatever.”

At the end of May, the Shannon based search and rescue helicopter and Kilrush RNLI lifeboat were involved in the rescue of a young child in the Shannon Estuary. The five-year-old was rescued from a lilo that had drifted from a North Kerry beach about a kilometre into Shannon Estuary.

After the rescue, the co-pilot of the Shannon-based helicopter advised people to be careful in the water with inflatable toys.

Captain Seán Murphy told RTÉ that “the stars aligned” for the girl when the chopper was radioed from Valentia coast guard station while travelling to Kerry on a training mission.

The following day, a teenager was rescued after getting into difficulty in a small inflatable dingy in the waters off Seafield, Quilty.

Over the summer months, lifeguards around the country reported an increase in the use of inflatable toys such as air mattresses, boats and inflatable rings.

Gerard O’Flynn of the Irish Coast Guard said the risk that an inflatable toy can take a person out of their depth and out of their comfort zone is very high due to Ireland’s changeable off-shore winds and the range of our tides. It is understood that up to five local authorities are now considering banning the devices through the introduction of bye-laws.

The issue is to come before a meeting of Clare County Council on Monday (September 14) when Mayor of Clare, Councillor Mary Howard will call for a ban.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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