AN average of 25 lifebuoys are stolen from Cork city waterways every month, costing City Hall up to €15,000 a year to replace.
The head of parks at Cork City Council, Liam Casey, has revealed that 300 lifebuoys were stolen last year and the latest theft was from the Grand Parade area.
Each lifebuoy costs €50 and Mr Casey said staff check the life-saving equipment on a daily basis to ensure that no area is left without one.
There are just 170 buoys at different locations across the city and a further 1,400 across Cork county.
Mr Casey pleaded with people not to steal or dump lifebuoys, saying: “They are there for an essential purpose – to save people’s lives.”
The issue was raised in the Seanad by mayo-based Fianna Fáil senator Keith Swanick who is seeking legislation to tackle the area.
He said: “In 2015, a 15-year-old-boy, Caolan Seoige-Webster, got into trouble when he went swimming with friends in Athlone, County Westmeath. The youngster’s friends ran to get a lifebuoy from the station but, unfortunately, it had been stolen the night before and Caolan lost his life.”
He urged the Seanad to prioritise bringing his Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017 through the Oireachtas.
If enacted, the Bill would make it an offence to damage or steal pieces of life-saving equipment such as life buoys. Currently, the theft of buoys falls under criminal damage.
Senator Swanick said: “It is not tenable to deal with these types of crime under the Criminal Damage Act 1991 any more. The thugs who damage lifesaving equipment need to know they will be dealt with harshly.”
Conviction in the district court under the Criminal Damage Act results in a fine of up to €1,000 and/or up to a year in prison.
Senator Swanick elaborated: “The penalties set out in the Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017, which I drafted, would send a clear message to these thugs that they will not get a slap on the wrist but rather a significant fine and the very real possibility of up to five years in prison.”
If enacted, the proposed legislation would also bring in fines of up to €50,000 or jail sentences of up to five years for people convicted for damaging or stealing a lifebuoy.
The legislation would also apply to defibrillators.
Deputy leader of the Seanad, Fine Gael’s Senator Catherine Noone, said: “It is a difficult crime to understand and is probably mostly perpetrated by vandals who do not know any better. Certainly, promoting a greater awareness of the harm caused by damage to lifesaving equipment would be a good idea, in tandem with legislation like that referred to by Senator Swanick.”