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2023 Volunteer Ireland Awards gives recognition to people who made a significant impact through their selfless acts  2023 Volunteer Ireland Awards gives recognition to people who made a significant impact through their selfless acts 

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WATCH RNLI volunteer named Ireland’s Volunteer of the Year 2023

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2023 Volunteer Ireland Awards – Gary Hayes, an RNLI and Community First Responder volunteer from Dublin with his wife (centre) pictured above with CEO of Volunteer Ireland Nina Arwitz (far left), Cliona Buckley and Ivor Downey, Regeneron (far right) Picture: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick

2023 Volunteer Ireland Awards gives recognition to people who made a significant impact through their selfless acts 

2023 Volunteer Ireland Awards
The staff of Regeneron pictured at the event. Picture: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick

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 2nd December, celebrate Ireland’s outstanding volunteers.

Gary has been volunteering for 21 years with RNLI Dun 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 turned 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. 


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MC Richard Lynch of I Love Limerick pictured with the Volunteer Ireland Awards staff. Picture: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick

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.”

The event was hosted by Richard Lynch of I Love Limerick. The 2023 Volunteer Ireland Awards are made possible thanks to the sponsor, leading biotech company Regeneron, support from the Department of Rural and Community Development, and award partner Healthy Ireland.

Niall O’Leary, Senior Vice President and Site Head, Limerick said, “At Regeneron we are committed to ‘doing well by doing good’. As a company with a strong culture of volunteerism, and giving back to our local communities, we are honoured to support and celebrate the many people across this country who exhibit incredible compassion and selflessness, carrying out acts of kindness that often go unrecognised.”

As 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 through 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.”

2023 Volunteer Ireland Awards
Volunteer Ireland Awards 2023 too place at Limerick Racecourse on Saturday, December 2, 2023. Picture: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick

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 awards take place at this time of year to coincide with International Volunteer Day on Tuesday 5th December, coordinated internationally by UN Volunteers and in Ireland, by The Department of Foreign Affairs. Minister of State for International Development and Diaspora, Seán Fleming TD, emphasised the significance of the awards, stating, “The Department supports the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, which contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide, working with partners to integrate qualified, highly motivated and well-supported UN Volunteers into development programming and to promote the value and global recognition of volunteerism.”

“Ireland has focused on sponsoring the deployment of UNV youth volunteers (recent graduates) and UNV specialists (experienced professionals) to assignments with UN agencies, primarily in Irish Aid’s partner countries and priority sectors. Ireland has been funding UNV on an annual basis since 2012, and in 2022 contributed €1.306 million.”

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. 12 category winners and the overall Volunteer of the Year were named at an awards ceremony in Limerick Racecourse on Saturday 2nd December.

You can see the full shortlist and winners and read more about each 2023 Volunteer Ireland Awards nominee HERE

Related stories here

Pictures: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick

Richard is a presenter, producer, songwriter and actor. He was named the Limerick Person of the Year (2011) and won an online award at the Metro Éireann Media and Multicultural Awards (2011) for promoting multi-culturalism online. Richard says that the ilovelimerick.com concept is very much a community driven project that aims to document life in Limerick. So, that in 20 years time people can look back and remember the events that were making the headlines.