Public swimming pools in Ireland are provided to the public and maintained by local authorities. Under the Local Government Act, 2001, the provision of recreational facilities such as swimming pools is a function of local authorities. Although this does not compel a local authority to provide a swimming pool, in practice there is at least one public swimming pool in most local authority areas.
The Government provides capital grants to local authorities to build and renovate public swimming pools. The current scheme in operation is the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme, which is managed by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The closing date for applications for the current programme was July 2000.
All bathing areas in Ireland must meet the quality standards set out in Directive 2006/7/EC on Bathing Waters implemented by the Bathing Water Quality Regulations 2008 (SI 79 of 2008). Transitional measures are in place until the 2008 Regulations are fully implemented in 2015.
The legislation applies to freshwater and seawater bathing areas. It does not include swimming pools. The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is responsible for monitoring the quality of water in all public bathing water areas. Swimming pools are not currently subject to any statutory quality requirements.
The EPA has to ensure that all freshwater and seawater areas where citizens may swim conform to a minimum water quality standard, as set out in the directive. Each State is required to retest their freshwater and seawater areas at regular intervals. The EPA report for 2011 indicated that 98.5% of bathing areas around Ireland were up to EU minimum standards.
Irish Water Safety is the statutory body that deals with water safety and swimming rescue. The organisation is financed by a combination of Government, local authority and private funding. Its function is to promote water safety in Ireland by providing information, running lifesaving training courses and advising local authorities.
Each local authority has a water safety development officer. Contact details for each water safety development officer in the country are available from Irish Water Safety.
Public amenities such as swimming pools are required to have fire exits and a designated place of assembly, often the car park outside, under the Fire Safety in Places of Assembly Regulations 1985 .
Anyone over 16 years of age who is a competent swimmer can join a course to become a qualified lifeguard. To work as a lifeguard in a swimming pool, you must have an Irish Water Safety Pool Lifeguard Award, which is given to people who complete the Irish Water Safety Pool Lifeguard examination and to those who complete the Lifeguarding training offered by Quality and Qualifications Ireland.
The Irish Water Safety course requires a minimum of 24 hours of lessons in resuscitation, water safety and life guarding to be completed. To get the award, candidates must then pass two physical examinations and a written examination. Irish Water Safety also has details of water safety courses currently running in each county on its website.
Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) is the national awards agency that certifies vocational courses run in local education centres around the country by local Education and Training Boards (ETB). Through QQI, some local VECs offer foundation modules in Swimming and in Water Safety, but to be certified as a lifeguard, candidates must complete the Water Safety module and two further modules called Swimming and Water Safety (a level one module) and Lifeguarding (a level two module). The third module is similar in content to the Irish Water Safety course. Candidates for the Lifeguarding module must be competent swimmers and must have already completed the foundation module and the Level 1 module, be certified with the Irish Water Safety's Rescue 2 Award or have relevant life experience. Candidates are assessed by skills demonstration and a theoretical examination and are then given a pass, merit or distinction grade. Candidates who complete the Level 2 module receive a certificate and are also automatically awarded with certification as a lifeguard from Irish Water Safety.
There is no statutory provision for monitoring hygiene and water quality in private swimming pools. Ireland Active and An Taisce run a voluntary White Flag Award scheme that seeks to promote high quality leisure facilities, including swimming pools. The criteria for the award include quality of access, hygiene, safety, environmental policy, indoor and outdoor facilities, water quality and information and education.
Most public swimming pools and many private swimming pools offer courses in swimming for swimmers of all levels, ability and ages. For details of courses in your area, contact your local authority to find out where your nearest swimming pool is and what classes and courses are on offer.
Grant funding for the construction or refurbishment of swimming pools is subject to a maximum award of 3.8 million euro and may not exceed 80 per cent of the total cost of the application. In certain disadvantaged areas, funding of up to 90 per cent is available.
The grants are available for building or updating a swimming pool, toddler pool, sauna and steam room.
Applications under the Public Authority Swimming Pool Programme are made to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport by local authorities. Civil groups such as sports clubs can also apply for funding under the scheme.
If a project to build a swimming pool is planned by an organisation other than a local authority, that organisation must first apply to its local authority for approval. Before the local authority can support such a project, it must be satisfied that the balance of funding is available and that the project when completed will have a satisfactory level of access available to the general public. There is no specific definition of what a satisfactory level of access is, but in practice, most local authorities would try to have a lower entrance fee than local private pools to facilitate greater public access.
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport gives approval to applications that comply with the Department's Procedures for the Planning, Approval and Financing of Swimming Pools and Technical Guidelines. This means that the proposals for a pool must satisfy a number of conditions. These include:
If an application is approved, the project will be completed in four stages. These stages are the Preliminary Report Stage, the Contract Document Stage, the Tender Stage and the Construction Stage. Technical advisors from the Office of Public Works (OPW) supervise each project and the OPW's approval is required before a pool project can proceed from one stage to the next.
If you want to complain about the lack of a swimming pool in your area or about the standard or condition of swimming facilities in your area, you should first contact your local authority to find out who processes complaints in that local authority.
Most local authorities have a complaints officer or customer care officer who deals with complaints. Within a few days of sending a letter, you will receive a notice in the post confirming that the local authority has received your complaint. A decision on your complaint will then be made within four weeks.
If you are not happy with the decision, you can write back to the local authority and request a review of your case. If you are not happy with the outcome of this appeal, you can take your case to the Office of the Ombudsman, whose decision is final.
Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme
Tel:+353 64 662 7357 / 7353
Locall:1890 273 000 extns 7357 / 7353
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.