Crowds gather at 'Newfy' for the diving competition in 2013 in this stunning picture by photographer Alan Place
IT is a Kilkee tradition that is fast threatening to become a potential litigation flashpoint.
The diving boards at Newfoundout – or ‘Newfy – have been a focal point for swimming in Kilkee for generations, host to a diving competition named after Limerick man Pat Lawler and where it is believed that diving has taken place for nearly a century.
However, the spot has become a cause of controversy in recent years, with issues surrounding the question of liability for potential injuries caused from diving at the spot.
Outrage was expressed at a decision to unceremoniously remove the boards in 2010. They were later replaced and an uneasy truce reached, with the diving competition returning in 2013.
Last year however, after damage to one of the boards, Kilkee Chamber of Commerce elected to replace them and organised a successful crowdfunding drive to do so.
The new set of boards were manufactured and acquired by the Chamber, a body naturally keen to promote tourism in a fleeting season.
An expert risk assessment, organised by Clare County Council and carried out in June, advised that a number of new safety measures be implemented, including obtaining a warrant from the manufacturers of the diving boards “that they were fit for purpose to be used at the location”.
“The manufacturer was unable to provide such a warrant and consequently, Clare County Council will not be erecting the diving boards this year,” it said.
Kilkee Chamber has submitted a proposal asking the authority to examine various options to provide a diving platform for the 2016 summer season and beyond, which Clare County Council is “assessing”.
“Clare County Council would like to facilitate diving at Kilkee but acknowledges that this needs to be done to the best standards, in the safest manner possible,” it said.
“For the remainder of the 2015 summer season Clare County Council advises that there is no safe location for diving into the sea at Kilkee. The council wishes to remind parents to advise their children that diving from the cliff, rocks and pier in Kilkee at any time is dangerous.”
The council has since erected warning signs at various points around the town, as well as installing railings and ladders at Newfy itself, identified as necessary in the risk assessment.
Gerard O’Flynn, search and rescue operations manager with the Irish Coast Guard, concurred with the Council’s view on diving in Kilkee.
“As far as the Coast Guard is concerned, Clare County Council are the competent authority, and we would strongly urge the community to heed their warnings, because they are very genuine warnings, based on a genuine risk assessment and there is a very grave risk of a very serious accident in Kilkee if those warnings are not heeded,” he said.
Cillian Murphy, a spokesperson for Kilkee Chamber, said the issue relating to the diving boards at Newfy revolved around “risk assessment, insurance and litigation.
“From our point of view, there is a bigger picture and that is that we end up with something more concrete that is there for 30 years and we are not having a discussion every two years about whether the boards go up or don’t go up; put the proper structure in place,” he explained.
“The reality is you can have all the signs in the world and all the structures – and something could still go wrong. Most sane people will look at it and go, ‘We are happy that it is going to be addressed in the future’. Clare County Council have given a fairly strong commitment that it will be there in the future.
“Hopefully by this time next summer, we will have a permanent structure there, with appropriate safety measures. They have committed to building railings, proper ladders – they have done a great job, but that is only half the work.
“We would expect that they will appoint someone to design it or look elsewhere to do that, but they are committed to doing it,” he added.