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Courage of RNLI's lifesavers honoured at awards ceremony

By Sophie Inge

Published 25/10/2016

Justice Minister Claire Sugden with Coxswain Mark Mitchell on board the RNLI Lifeboat
Justice Minister Claire Sugden with Coxswain Mark Mitchell on board the RNLI Lifeboat
21 volunteers were honoured at Belfast Harbour Commissioner’s Office

RNLI volunteers in Northern Ireland have been honoured for their dedication and commitment to lifesaving.

A total of 21 volunteers received awards at a ceremony at the Belfast Harbour Commissioner's Office.

Outgoing RNLI chairman Charles Hunter-Pease said there were many reasons why people volunteered for the RNLI.

"There are the friendships forged through a common lifesaving aim; the thrill of seeing visitors enjoying your carefully planned events; the weight of a heavy bucket after a hard day's collecting," he said.

"And yes, many are motivated to volunteer for us by the pain of losing a loved one to the sea. They have converted that loss into a determination to make a difference to the lives of others.

"To every one of you receiving an award - whether your service has been at sea or ashore - wear it with pride. It is the mark of someone very special, selflessly dedicated to the lives of others."

The awards included eight gold badges for bravery, while four lifesavers received a bar for their gold badges.

One supporter award was handed out as well as two honorary life governorships and six long service awards.

Paddy McLaughlin (53), who has volunteered for Red Bay RNLI for over three decades, was awarded a gold badge.

Over the years, he has carried out hundreds of rescues, as well as volunteering as a council member and press officer. He was also one of the coxswains on the station's new all-weather Trent class lifeboat, which is currently on a two-year trial at Red Bay.

Speaking after the ceremony, Mr McLaughlin, who also runs his own restaurant, said: "I've been involved in the RNLI for a very long time and it's a nice acknowledgement of what we do."

Asked why he decided to join as a teenager he said: "I live by the sea and I just wanted to give something back to the community. The RNLI is key in all the communities around the coast of Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK. It's a great charity to be involved in. They do really great work and have saved lots of lives over the years."

The RNLI operates over 230 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and has more than 100 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK, providing a 24-hour search and rescue service.

Since it was founded in 1824 it is estimated that its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 137,000 lives. In 2015 alone, RNLI volunteers from Northern Ireland's nine lifeboat stations rescued 279 people and saved 11 lives.

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