Canoeing Ireland is to work closely with third-level institutions following the tragic death of a young Donegal student.
It comes after a major investigation into the death of Aisling O’Connor (21), from Ballyshannon, who drowned after she was trapped under a tree branch in the river near Glencar, County Kerry, during a trip in November 2019.
She was part of a 27-member group from the University of Limerick (UL) Kayak Club.
An investigation by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) found the trip was not properly assessed for risks given the conditions on the day, and the experience of those taking part.
Another male student required medical resuscitation and hospitalisation after he became unconscious in “a near fatality”.
A spokesman for Canoeing Ireland told the Irish Examiner the safety of all paddlesports participants is its “number one concern.”
“All clubs registered to Canoeing Ireland are required to operate within our safety guidelines and are supported to do so,” the spokesperson said.
“These guidelines are in place for our clubs to ensure any engagement in Paddlesports is done in the safest possible manner.
“We are working closely with third-level institutions to ensure all university and college clubs are registered with Canoeing Ireland, allowing us to better support these clubs to facilitate safe participation in the sport.”
The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) graded the River Caragh as ‘difficult to very difficult’ for kayaking. Weather conditions on the day resulted in the river being swollen, increasing its difficulty level.
The MCIB found that those in charge of identifying and assessing the risks were themselves insufficiently trained and experienced to make those calculations given the river conditions and the nature of the group.
The report also found that the absence of any overarching “spheres of responsibility” between the UL students’ union and the university had led to an environment at club level where there was a serious disregard for the kayak club’s safety statement and policy and procedure on trips as well as Canoeing Ireland’s recommended standards.
In a joint statement, UL Student Life and UL said they are “extremely conscious of the heart-breaking loss of life at the centre of this tragic accident.” “We remain absolutely committed to the health, wellbeing, and safety of our student community of over 18,000 students.”
The MCIB report into the incident contains recommendations that are relevant to UL Student Life, the UL Kayaking Club, University of Limerick, Canoeing Ireland, and the Minister for Transport, it added.
“UL Student Life and UL have and will continue to work together to consider the findings of the final MCIB Report and their implementation so that the highest possible safety standards are in place within all clubs to which our students are affiliated.”
The activity of the UL Kayaking Club has been suspended while the recommendations are considered further. “While this was a most tragic accident it is acknowledged that lessons can and will be learned as well as improvements made to ensure the safety of our student community.”