Gardai in Inishowen are piloting unique equipment which could save lives in the event of an emergency along our coastline.
Gardai in the Buncrana District are being trained to use the equipment which will be stored in their patrol cars.
The equipment includes special throw-bags and ring-buoys which can be used in the event of a water emergency along beaches, harbours and piers.
Local Gardai are currently being trained in their use ahead of what is expected to be a very busy summer with many staycationing at home.
The pilot initiative is being run in conjunction with Water Safety Ireland and is supported by the RNLI.
Garda Mike McGrath, who has led-out the pilot programme, is a daily sea swimmer.
He said that very often Gardai are the first at the scene of marine emergencies.
He explained “Many people are not used to finding themselves in water for whatever reason when they happen to end up there.
“They can be very difficult conditions and the throw rope and throw bag and buoy allows Gardai to reach people in safety.
“The three steps when we do find someone in the water are throw, wade and then swim.
“This is a very simple yet very effective piece of equipment which I hope we don’t ever have to use but which could be vital to us if we do.”
The throw bag consists of a length of rope in a bag which is attached to a life-ring.
The beauty of the equipment is that it does not get tangled so it can be thrown with ease and will hopefully reach the person in distress.
As part of the pilot scheme, ten Garda cars across the Buncrana district have been fitted with the life-saving throw bags and rings.
They include Buncrana, Carndonagh, Culdaff, Burnfoot and Moville.
Garda McGrath said he hopes the scheme can be extended across the Donegal divisions as there are stretches of inland water in all the Garda divisions.
John Leech of Water Safety Ireland said they have been trying to set up such a programme with Gardai for the past 20 years.
“We have tried but for whatever reason, it has never happened and I would like to commend Mike McGrath and his colleagues for pushing this on.
“Mike is one of the good guys who knows the sea and we consider him one of our apostles, if you like, spreading the message of water safety.
“This is a simple piece of equipment that will save lives. They are relatively cheap to provide and we hope the pilot goes well,” he said.
Mr Leech added that he hoped the scheme will eventually be rolled out across the country including inland counties revealing that 62% of all drownings in Ireland take place at inland waterways.
Those piloting the scheme along the coastline of the Inishowen peninsula know too well how a happy Sunday afternoon can turn to tragedy all too quickly.
In March 2016, Buncrana Pier was the scene for one of the country’s most heartbreaking coastal tragedies.
Five members of the same family perished when their car slipped off the pier into the waters of Lough Foyle when they were enjoying a drive after a family meal out in a nearby restaurant.
Those who died were Sean McGrotty, 49, his sons Mark, 12, and Evan, 8, his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels, 59 and Ruth’s daughter Jodie Lee Daniels, 14.
Heroic local man Davitt Walsh risked his own safety by swimming out to the family’s jeep and rescuing four-month-old baby girl Rionaghac-Ann from the sinking vehicle.
The tragedy also led to Donegal County Council ordering a review of safety around more than 150 piers and slipways in the county.