Search and rescue volunteers commended
Almost 100 volunteers who risk their lives searching Ireland's coastline and waterways for missing people were commended today for their dedication and service.
The men and women from search and rescue units were awarded long-service medals for saving stricken people and, more often, bringing bodies home to grieving families.
Paddy Agnew, chairman of the Irish Underwater Council, said the job is not for the faint hearted.
"It is not a nice job. In fact it can be quite grim and upsetting," he said.
"But the people we look for are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers and when we get that dreaded call, we have to call on our courage and face our fears.
"Helping a grieving family retrieve their loves ones and bring them home makes the task worthwhile."
Just three months ago Mr Agnew rescued six young people trapped on a sandbank on a beach in Blackrock, Co Louth.
"The water was chest high on some of them ... they would have drowned," said the 47-year-old firefighter.
But he revealed the rescue was in stark contrast from his first "dramatic" recovery in 1979, when the body of a man who had been missing for eight weeks was pulled from a river.
"His family never through they'd see his body again; it's serious closure," he added.
Gardai, the navy and the Missing Persons Bureau rely heavily on the 300 divers in 27 units around the country to search the lakes, rivers and coastlines.
But each member has to fork out about 1,000 euro for their own equipment and each unit has to raise its own funds for a club house, rescue vessel, training and inoculations.
Father and son, David and Timmy Carey, are among three generations of a north Cork family involved with the Blackwater sub aqua club in Fermoy - founded by Mr Carey's father Tim Carey in 1982.
Despite many success stories, Mr Carey Jnr, 35, admitted up to 90pc of calls end with the recovery of a remains.
"Our task is to try and do it with some respect and dignity for the family," he said.
"I've been involved in a couple of searches at sea where no body was found and family members say it's very difficult, that they've no graveside to actually visit."
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, who presented medals to 96 volunteers who have over 10 years service, said society has to recognise the volunteers' contribution.
"What these men and women are doing is vital," said Mr Ahern, a keen windsurfer.
"When anybody goes missing at sea, in the lakes or the rivers, they drop everything, are given time off work by their employers and they basically spend 24 hours seven until the people are found and rescued and in some instances, unfortunately, they are recovering bodies which is pretty awful."