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Patrolling the city’s waterways

Wednesday, 4th May, 2016 9:32am

Volunteers are being recruited for Galway Waterways Patrol in a bid to prevent suicides and accidental loss of life along the city’s waterways.

Two volunteers currently man the waterways two nights a week but the service is now being extended to three volunteers, seven nights a week in a bid to reduce the number of fatalities. Chairman of the Galway Waterways Patrol Kenneth O’Sullivan believes it is a necessary service for the city, after he and his colleague Martin Nolan successfully intervened and saved two lives last weekend.

"Since we went live we have actually intervened in five cases in total. That’s five families, five mothers, five children, five aunties, five uncles, five grannies.” Mr O’Sullivan said they have identified certain hotspots where tragedies occur more often and this is the route they patrol.

“Only from experience we have identified the preferred areas where these tragedies can occur being from the Claddagh at the Docks all the way along the Claddagh across the Wolfe Tone, up the back of Jurys, up to O’Brien’s bridge, over O’Brien’s and up to the Salmon Weir.”

Mr O’Sullivan and his colleague Martin Nolan typically patrol the area between 12am and 4am at weekends however he said it is still a “learning exercise”.

“We could be wrong. I’m not saying it’s 100 per cent right but we seem to find everything is quiet until kicking out time in the pub and then people transfer from the pub to the clubs and it’s just a sea of people and taxis and that’s when you see it. We’re watching everything.”

Last weekend Galway Waterways Patrol, with the help of the Gardaí, successfully intervened with one person and, as Mr O’Sullivan talked to the person he asked why they were considering entering the river, and the person replied, ‘This is how we do it in Galway’.

His colleague Mr Nolan, who was also there on the night and called the Gardaí, said it was a “frightening quotation”. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg that we know about and it looks to me like there’s more people out there that need help than we realise.”

Mr O’Sullivan described the work they do on the patrols as like a “counselling service”. “There is nothing glamorous about this role it’s a long four hours and it’s a very responsible position and you really, really, really have to have all your wits about you.”

The service has gained massive support on social media and Mr O’Sullivan wished to thank Maire Ní Laimhin for all her work in maintaining the organisation’s social media accounts.

As well as Mr O’Sullivan, the committee behind the patrol service is made up of Maura Fahy (secretary) and Inspector Kevin Gately (treasurer).

The idea for the Galway Waterways Patrol originated from Ms Fahy who wrote an email to Keith Finnegan on Galway Bay FM after her daughter Hannah pleaded with her to do something after reading about the tragedies that were happening in Galway on an on-going basis. 

“I heard that on the radio and I said to myself right I want to get in behind this and try and do something for them whatever way I can,” Mr O’Sullivan said. He also praised local people in Galway and said their “relentless support” of the Galway Waterways Patrol has been fantastic.

“When you go to your Facebook page and you see 200,000 views on your photograph it tells you the seriousness of what it is you’re actually dealing with and the gratitude and support from the people of Galway is absolutely incredible and please keep it up.” He also thanked local businesses for their help.

“Amy Mulryan of O’Leary Insurances secured and underwrote the insurance for us, Joe and Leo Monahan have also agreed to sponsor all the equipment and uniforms we need. Danny Mulryan of Rusheen Bay has also agreed to use us as his main fundraiser for a charity this year so he said it would raise a considerable sum based on years gone by.”

The Anchor Safety and the Irish Water Safety as well as CEO of the Limerick Hospital Colette Cowan, have also given their full support to the service with regards to training, induction and equipping volunteers.

Based on a similar model used in Limerick, Galway Waterways Patrol work in conjunction with local emergency services particularly the Gardaí who, Mr O’Sullivan said, have been invaluable. “The fire and ambulance are an absolutely magnificent service; they are true heroes.

“Our main line of contact is with the Gardaí and the minute we call them they’re here within minutes. There’s no 20 minute wait, we call in and say it’s Galway Waterways Patrol, and they know us now and they say ‘Where are ye guys, what’s your location, what’s the problem, we will have a car with you in two minutes and they literally take whatever resources they have, even in peak hour on a Saturday night, and they have a car with us in two minutes. They are absolutely fantastic,” he added.

All volunteers must be Garda vetted and undergo training before beginning with the patrol team. It is expected it will be another month or two before the team of 21 volunteers is up and running.

If you would like to volunteer you can visit the Galway Waterways Patrol Facebook page.

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