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Saturday 21 September 2019

Lifeguard station unmanned when girl (5) was swept out to sea on inflatable lilo

Portmarnock beach (22/07/19)
Portmarnock beach (22/07/19)
Cllr Brian McDonagh (Lab)

Evie Kearney

A young girl who almost drowned when she was swept out to sea on an inflatable lilo had been near a lifeguard station - but one that was unmanned, according to Fingal County Council.

On Monday a girl (5) was in the water at Portmarnock beach when she was carried out to sea on an inflatable lilo. She was at the north end of the beach near lifeguard station three, which was not manned, according to Fingal County Council.

Lifeguards are on duty at all beaches in Fingal from 11am - 7pm in July and August while in June the service only operates on weekends. However, only two of the three stations are manned by lifeguards, with the public being warned not to enter the unmanned section.

"Fingal County Council can confirm that lifeguards are on duty at stations 1 and 2 at Portmarnock beach on a daily basis during the peak summer season, from 11am to 7pm," a Fingal County Council spokesperson said.

Labour Councillor Brian McDonagh said that stations one and three should be manned as they are on opposite ends of the beach, but he sees no reason why all three stations could not have active lifeguards.

A spokesperson for the council added said the public should be aware of the dangers of using any kind of inflatable device in the sea and to be extra vigilant when children are playing near the water.

READ MORE: Heroic tourists swim for 40 minutes to rescue girl (5) swept a mile out to sea on inflatable toy

"Fingal County Council can confirm that lifeguards are on duty at stations 1 and 2 at Portmarnock beach on a daily basis during the peak summer season, from 11am to 7pm," a spokesperson said.

"A red-and-yellow flag is flown at stations to indicate that a lifeguard is on duty. Beachgoers are reminded that that they should only enter the water at points that are manned and patrolled by lifeguards who are on duty."

Fingal County Council is responsible for the deployment of lifeguards on a number of Dublin beaches, including the Velvet Strand beach in Portmarnock, where the near-drowning incident occurred.

Four American tourists rescued the girl. Speaking to Independent.ie, the rescuers said the entire ordeal took about 40 minutes.

The Dublin Coast Guard and Dublin Fire Brigade were also quickly dispatched to the area and provided assistance once the girl reached land.

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Cllr Brian McDonagh (Lab)

Cllr McDonagh has said he will be raising the issue of the unmanned station with the council, but that it would not be possible to man the entire 5km stretch.

"People need to take responsibility for themselves," he said.

"Portmarnock is a really safe beach. There's never really any issues, but there is a hidden danger with the wind.

"It seems like being very safe but it actually isn't. It can happen quickly. People need to really mind themselves."

Cllr McDonagh said that stations one and three should be manned as they are on opposite ends of the beach, but he sees no reason why all three stations could not have active lifeguards.

"I don't think there's a resource problem in Fingal. If we need more [lifeguards], money shouldn't be an issue. For next year we should be trying to up the overall coverage," he said.

"The questions are do we need more and where should we be putting them."

READ MORE: Water Safety: Top five tips for safe summer swimming

The councillor, who is also a former lifeguard, said that lifeguards at Portmarnock mostly carry out preventative work.

According to statistics from Water Safety Ireland, lifeguards in Fingal completed 18 rescues in 2017 but prevented a further 414 accidents.

However, Cllr McDonagh does believe that Portmarnock should be seen as a lifeguarding priority as it is Fingal's only Blue Flag beach this season.

According to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, a Blue Flag is awarded under a number of stringent criteria including when "an adequate number of lifeguards and/or lifesaving equipment" is available at the beach.

Blue Flag beaches in Ireland are required to be lifeguarded on weekends in June, daily in July and August and weekends in September.

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