RNLI volunteer named Ireland’s Volunteer of the Year 2023 

by Alex Greaney
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Gary Hayes, an RNLI and Community First Responder volunteer from Dublin, has been named Ireland’s Volunteer of the Year at the 2023 Volunteer Ireland Awards.

The awards, which took place in Limerick on Saturday December 2nd, celebrate Ireland’s outstanding volunteers. 

Gary has been volunteering for 21 years with RNLI Dún Laoghaire and nine years with Dalkey First Responders. As an RNLI lifeboat helm, Gary demonstrates exceptional seamanship skills and navigational expertise. These abilities enable him to navigate treacherous waters and challenging conditions with confidence. His calmness under pressure and ability to make split-second decisions in high-risk situations make him an invaluable asset to the RNLI. Gary turns his hand to many tasks at the RNLI and recently led a project to raise money to buy six defibrillators.  

As a Community First Responder, Gary’s extensive medical knowledge and ability to assess and respond to medical emergencies are instrumental in providing critical care to those in need. His professionalism and readiness to act make him an invaluable first responder, aiding the community in times of crisis. The unfortunate reality of these positions is that Gary often sees death and is very conscious of the mental health and impact this can have on his fellow volunteers. His poise and care is also felt by families and loved ones.  

Other winners on the night include Andy Cullen who rescues huskies the length and breadth of Ireland; Peggie O’Neill who has been volunteering with Riding for the Disabled Ireland for over thirty years; and the Kindness Krew Homeless Group made up of six women who have been serving the unhoused community in Cork for almost two years. 

Commenting on the shortlist, CEO of Volunteer Ireland Nina Arwitz said: “Gary is a shining example of the dedication and commitment of thousands of volunteers across Ireland. Volunteers make a huge difference in our communities whether they are risking their lives to save others; supporting the most vulnerable members of our society; or spreading joy through events and festivals. Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes but what they have in common is their willingness to give their time to others. We are honoured to celebrate our awardees tonight along with all volunteers throughout the country.” 

Minister of State for Community Development, Integration and Charities, Mr. Joe O’ Brien TD said: “It gives me great pleasure to congratulate Gary and all the winners of the Volunteer Ireland 2023 Awards, which are supported by my Department. The Volunteer Ireland Awards gives recognition to a person who has made a significant impact though their selfless acts of service and dedication. These awards celebrate individuals, like Gary, who go above and beyond to make a difference in their community and their work inspires others to do the same. I would also like to thank Volunteer Ireland for their continued work in supporting volunteering.” 

Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Hildegarde Naughton T.D., said: “Volunteers are at the heart of healthy, sustainable communities and the impact that volunteers have on the health and wellbeing of their communities and the people that live in them is invaluable. Volunteers give their time and energy helping others and there are benefits for the health and mental wellbeing of the volunteers themselves. Healthy Ireland is delighted to be associated with Volunteer Ireland and to celebrate with the various nominees and acknowledge their work.” 

The Volunteer Ireland Awards are the national awards for volunteering in Ireland and shine a light on the ordinary people doing extraordinary things in our communities every day.  

Dun Laoghaire RNLI crew member Gary Hayes

RNLI/Conrad Jones

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