By Joseph Murray
There have been almost 300 incidents of ringbuoy tampering reported in Galway City so far this year, according to Galway City Council.
The total of 287 incidents comes despite repeated public appeals from authorities to not interfere with the life-saving devices, meaning that an average of almost 29 lifebuoys are tampered with each month.
Worryingly, the figures have increased compared to those of last year. 316 incidents of tampering were reported for the entirety of 2022, for an average of 26 per month.
A Council spokesperson told Galway Pulse that 47 lifebuoys have also needed to be replaced so far this year, at a cost of approximately €100 per ring.
Chair of the Claddagh Watch Board and Labour Councillor for Galway City, Niall McNelis, has also condemned the damage that has been caused to the vital life-saving devices.
“There’s a saying that Irish Water uses, they say that a ‘stolen ringbuoy is a stolen life’. It’s absolute idiocy that somebody walking home would throw one into the water,” he said.
“Regularly, we’ve picked up 50 of these after a long weekend after they’ve been washed up at the back of the docks, replaced and put back out.”
Under Irish law, incidents of damage to lifebuoys are liable for prosecutions of up to a year, or fines of up to €2,500. Meanwhile, the theft of a ringbuoy can lead to a fine of up to €5,000 and a year behind bars.
However, a bill, entitled the Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017, is currently before the Seanad. The proposed bill would see harsher punishments handed out to those who tamper with the devices. If passed, individuals could face fines of up to €50,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years.
Tampering with a lifebuoy can mean removal and replacement upside down, cutting away or alteration of the rope bag, or even damage to the outside housing units which can cause harm to the equipment itself.
There are 143 ringbuoys located along the city’s waterways. Yet, as Councillor McNelis explains, when one goes missing, it can prove costly in the race against time to save somebody who has fallen into the water.
“The quickest way to save somebody in the water is to throw a lifebuoy to them. When there isn’t a lifebuoy there you’re losing seconds, not minutes, in an aid to recover and rescue somebody. It’s heartbreaking when you see this happen,” he explained.
Galway City Council undertakes weekly inspections of all lifebuoys in the city to ensure they are fit and safe for purpose in the event of an incident.
Missing or damaged equipment can be reported on ringbuoys.ie or by calling 091-536400.