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Case for the defence

The Interview
Typography
John Maughan speaks into a microphone


Case for the defence

THE INTERVIEW
Michael Duffy


IT’S a word that will always be associated with John Maughan. Throughout his working and sporting lives, he’s always been part of the ‘defence’, whether it be the Defence Forces, the Mayo football defence or, latterly,  Mayo’s Civil Defence Force.
As the county’s full-time Civil Defence Officer, John is charged with training volunteers who can act as a back-up support to the statutory services like the Gardaí and the HSE in an emergency situation.
Every local authority in the country has a civil defence force and, although their work is generally low key, it is an integral part of community life right across the country.
“We have volunteers trained from right across the county, from all walks of life and we train them in casual first aid, search and rescue, capabilities in water search, land searches. We also have capability to monitor and test radiation in the event of any type of radiation fall-out, we have equipment and scientific intelligence officers that are qualified to monitor and take samples. This would be our most specialised area, but our role stretches right down to teaching young children the basics of first aid.
“Our day to day activities see us very involved in a huge amount of community activity, for example, I just got a request there to provide first aid cover for a concert that is taking place down in Lahardane over the weekend, so it is up to us to get an ambulance and a crew to attend there.”
The Civil Defence Force is now in operation for 57 years in Ireland and there are over 6,000 members nationwide. While providing safety cover at community events is an essential part of the Civil Defence’s duty, they must always be prepared for the possibility of an emergency situation developing.
“When the Emergency Plan is activated we are called to support the statutory body. We were called in for the Pullathomas Landslides, our volunteers were there within a couple of hours. Before that, from memory, we were called out to a major fire at the Cow Comfort factory in Belmullet in 1999 and when a train was derailed carrying Knock pilgrims a number of years ago, so basically our plan kicks in to action and we respond.”
There are 70 volunteers in Mayo at the moment, of all ages, from all walks of life. In this modern age of economic prosperity, lots of people just don’t have the time to volunteer but as John explains, the Civil Defence feel their volunteers get something valuable in return - social and life skills.
“Some people ask, what do people actually get out of it? For me, there is a whole host of things. First of all there is the feel-good factor of giving something to the community and, of course, some people see the training you get in the Civil Defence as useful in furthering a career. Some go on to be Emergency Medical Technicians and work for the HSE or if you’re applying for the Gardaí it will also look well on your CV.
“We have experienced a slight drop in volunteers but volunteerism is all about quid pro quo, people like to get something in return. At the moment I am part of a Civil Defence committee and we are examining the notion of developing a BA in Civil Defence Studies at a third level institute. We are only in preliminary negotiations at present, but it is would be an exciting development.”
While the Civil Defence can help further the careers of its volunteers and add to their individual talents, there is also a very positive social aspect which members enjoy.
“It’s also a great place for networking, we have 20 or 30 people here every Wednesday night doing advance first aid training and people just enjoy it and make good friends.”
Just last week, Breaffy House Resort was the venue for the Civil Defence’s National Educational and Training Conference, titled ‘Emergency Preparedness’, at which representatives from all over the country met to listen to experts and discuss the future role of the Civil Defence.
“We like to think we offer a good level of service and this has to be the way if we are to continue to be relevant into the future. Our national conference in Breaffy House Resort was attended by a huge crowd of people who are all willing to make sure the force stays relevant and is well used in modern Ireland.
“We had a host of international speakers and the conference heard how the force played a huge role in organising one of the biggest sporting events in the world last year, the Ryder Cup. The reality is that the likes of these events would not go ahead without the huge input of volunteers and we are able to provide trained volunteers, who can operate in a structured fashion and not just show up and put on a yellow bib. That, I feel, is one of our true values in modern Ireland; a trained volunteer is a highly valuable volunteer.”
While John Maughan admits to really enjoying his work, he received an ideal training while spending 19 years in the Defence Forces. He went there straight from secondary school and became a cadet, training for two years in The Curragh. He was then posted in Cork before going on to do a BA in Economics and Political Science. He then went oversees to the Lebanon and Cyprus before being posted all over the country in places like Athlone, Galway and Cork.
“Basically, I wanted to settle down in Mayo because I had a young family so I applied for this job and, luckily, I got it. I am now in it six years and I enjoy the challenge of it. I am also currently Chairman of the Civil Defence Officers Association and am a member of the Civil Defence Board and we are always looking at ways of improving our service.”
How county football managers manage their time has been a topical subject of late as the public digest whether John O’Mahony’s aim to be a Dáil representative and a county football manager is feasible. John Maughan sees it as no problem, for him it’s a question of time management.
“Good time management is obviously the key. For myself, a lot of our Civil Defence training is after what you would call ‘working hours’. I try to be here in the office from 9 to 5pm but we train on Wednesday nights in Roscommon so it’s hard to be here 100% of the time. That’s when it’s good to have our highly-trained instructors available.
“Of course, there will be times when I might be up in Roscommon training the team and a call may come that I need to mobilise a team. I have to take the call because that is my primary job - that’s why I need two mobiles.”
Some observers think that people like John Maughan and John O’Mahony are mad, spending most of their free time training a bunch of footballers, but for Maughan it’s a labour of love.
“The reality is that everyone involved in GAA is also working and to me it’s a choice of what your pleasure is. For me the pleasure is to be involved in football, for others it’s to watch Manchester Utd on the television on a Wednesday night. I don’t do that. I have been managing football teams for 17 years and I love it. And hopefully I will continue to enjoy both the day job and the ‘pastime’ for another few years yet.”