Eulogy for Finbar

Two years ago, on February 6th, we found my younger brother had died – of a heart attack as we found out later. Pretty shocking for a 46 year old, fit man.
What follows is the eulogy I delivered for Finbar. I tried to give a flavour of just what a character he was, and how much he was loved by so many people around him.

I’ve held this for a while, but I wanted to share it on Finbar’s second anniversary.

May he rest in peace.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Before I begin, I have some words here from Jenny in Australia.

We just can’t believe you are really gone Fin. I will never forget all the magical times we shared. So much adventure and so many gorgeous memories. So many times you brought laughter to us all, and fun and music. I still think of you whenever I hear Garth Brooks or Neil Young or Thin Lizzy, your incredible singing voice and your infectious laugh. So blessed to have been able to call you a friend. So incredibly sad we won’t be able to meet again from across the seas. What a void you have left in all our hearts. I will miss you until the day I die also. Yours truly. Jenny.

I would like to begin with a few ‘thank yous’, and some apologies in advance.  I’m going to name a few people here, where I can remember the names. To those whom I have left out, and there were so many of you who helped – I’m sorry that I have left you out.

From the moment we found Finbar had died, people have been amazing.

The guards who arrived to the house were considerate, patient, understanding and kind.  They helped us start a difficult journey that has brought us to today, and a journey that has been filled with the thoughts, prayers, and kind moments of so many people.

I’d like to thank Dr. Motherway who came out as soon as he could after we contacted him on Tuesday morning.  

Within hours, a group of Finbar’s friends had travelled to the Council yard in Killeagh and liberated a trailer load of tarmac, found a low-loader, a lot of shovels, and plenty of willing hands to fill the pot-holes in our road, clean the place up, and make the difficult journey to meet Finbar, and all the rest of us, that little bit easier. 

I can’t begin to name you, gentlemen, but your kindness and generosity has been special.

Deckie Lee, Pat Walsh, Liam Fitzgerald.  Finbar was so close to you and would be delighted that you were so much a part of the past few days.

Thank you to the council, they provided a road sweeper and helped make the yards good enough for parking all the cars that passed through.

I don’t think the home farm ever had staffing levels like it did in the past 4 days.  Thank you so much lads – what you did eased the burden on Mark and Dad.

Inside the house of Mark and Maura generosity abounded.  Christine brought a burco boiler and an industrial volume of cups.  One of Finbar’s friends arrived with trays of sandwiches. People brought candles, cakes and plenty of crazy stories of the kind of things that Finbar got up to.  Elaine has been a star in the kitchen

Trish has been wonderful, taking care of all of our children for hours at a time.  Others were willing to provide beds for strangers who had travelled. People have been willing to be taxi drivers, people were willing to just stand patiently and be a shoulder to cry on.

What you all have done is wonderful, and a tribute to just how many lives Finbar touched.

I’d like to thank Colin Bullman and the staff from Egan’s funeral home.  They have been so patient, sensitive and calm – a huge help to us trying to figure out what to do next.

I’d like to thank Canon Browne who came out to us on Tuesday.  Canon, your sensitivity and care was very much appreciated. I’d like to thank Barry Fitzgerald for organising the church, chairs and mats, to Ann Keniry for the flowers.  I’d like to thank our musicians today. St. Augustine said ‘Who sings once prays twice’. Finbar loved music, and would have been very grateful for what you have done to bring beauty and music to our day.

I’d like to thank Fr. Tim who has been a friend for years, and who has helped us over the past few days.  I would like to thank the other priests who are with us today. Fr. Pat, Canon Browne, Fr. Damian, and Fr. Eamonn who has been a friend of our family for a number of years. 

I would like to thank the hundreds of people who came to Mark & Maura’s house over the past 3 days.  I’d like to thank all of those of you who travelled to be with us and support us today. A special thank you to those of you who travelled long distances.

In our thoughts today are those who can’t be with us.  Patrick O’Donoghue, Helen, Breda, Anthony, Nora and Josie.  We know that we are in their thoughts, just as they are in ours.

We think of those who are in far countries who would have wanted to be with us today.

And so.

Finbar, the King of Youth, Peter Pan, aged, 46, 36, or 26.  Finbar was full of life and full of light. The man with that smirk, always ready to play.

He was a light that shone brightly, and brought joy, laughs and fun to a lot of people’s lives.

How do you sum up a life like this?

In the early 1990’s Finbar joined the Killeagh Exodus to Australia with the working visa scheme. What may have been the high point of this was his short career on a ranch as the only fella working alongside a load of women.  Finbar worked from horseback, minding the cattle, and developed a love of going up in the helicopter any time he could.  

While in Australia he bought a touring bike, with the intention of a big tour and shipping the bike back to Ireland.  An accident with a random Kangaroo put an end to the trip, the bike and the kangaroo itself. 

Finbar ended up in hospital.

A sign of the friendships he built is that Marty & Liz, new lifelong friends from Australia, flew to where he was in hospital and brought him to their home for recuperation.

This accident was only one of a series of broken bones.  I think the count we came up with was 18 breaks in total.

Morris O’Connor says he and Finbar used to compare x-ray sheets for a while.  

He didn’t allow the accident  to cut his trip short, Monica flew out to visit – he and she had a very close bond.  

As part of the trip they flew to New Zealand and back.  As part of the trip, things were going so well that they decided to announce to the cabin crew that they had just got engaged.  Of course the newly engaged couple were treated to free champagne for the rest of the 4 hours of so of the flight.  

The results were predictable.

Back in Ireland Finbar never lost the wandering bug.  Mark tells a story of one time Finbar knew someone who was relocating from Spain and had 2 bikes that needed to travel with him. Finbar flew there so they could make a road trip of it together.

Finbar loved travel, and regularly collected little things from the different places he had been.  His house has loads of little souvenirs and relics of the places he has been.  

I mentioned how Finbar built friendships.  One of the things that struck me was that a common thing people have said over the past few days is that ‘Finbar always had time for people’.  He always took time out to phone ( and he liked to make phone calls…), to visit, or to stop on the road.  

As with Dad, Finbar went to funerals.  Not because he had to, but because he cared.  He cared deeply about people, and would go and spend time with them.  No words were needed. Just being there was a help.

Finbar was a gent who never bad mouthed people, and didn’t bear grudges.  He loved animals, and the relationship with Rufus the Goat is going to become the stuff of legend.

If you haven’t met Rufus, he’s about this high, and will eat pretty much anything.  He likes to buck, and has scared more than a few walkers in his time. Apologies to Ann & Noreen Power.

Rufus would follow Fin around the farm, and Louise has a photo of Rufus putting his head on Finbar’s shoulder, looking at him.  Both with a similar beard.

Finbar would try anything.  I have a memory as a teenager of Finbar & Mark replacing the rear axle on an old car we had.  No instructruction manual, just the two of them figuring it out as they went. Mark & Finbar were closer in age than the rest of us, and as kids they were inseparable, except for the times when they wanted to kill each other.

I was saying he’d try anything.

There’s a photo somewhere of Finbar rodeo riding in Australia. He tried paragliding, bike racing, kayaking, shooting, deer cooking, swimming, cycling, guitar, anything.  With Micháel Fitzgerald he got to act in a little film. He even sang if you were persuasive enough and had the right liquid bribery handy. He lived life to the full.

But, what ever story you tell about Finbar, it always comes back to the relationships that he built.  He wasn’t always a positive influence – Breda Budds had to have words with him after keeping Therese and Irene out until 6AM one morning.  He spent many late nights in the company of the Kenirys, he loved Louise and was a great fan of her voice. 

Finbar didn’t worry about going to mass every week.  However he did have a very deep spirituality. He would say the Rosary, and he never failed to bless himself passing a graveyard, it was just one of the ways he showed a connection to something deeper that affects all of our lives.

Finbar adored Thomas, Lena, Andrea, Daniella and Molly.  And, they loved him. He was the uncle who was larger than life for them. He was generous and playful to a fault.  Try and get a small child down from the high from playing with Finbar and you’ll know what I mean.  

I started by saying that Finbar was full of light.  2 ½ years ago that light shone ever brighter. Louise, Finbar loved you, he adored you.  You brought so much joy to him that he shone more brightly still and it made all of us so happy that you were part of his life. 

The journeys you made together were good for both of you, and we all loved seeing you coming down to visit.  I know from speaking to your dad, Seamus, that your family loved Finbar as well, and saw just how much he loved you.

He was, though, more practical than romantic.  

Girls love bags.  So when it came to Louise’s birthday, Finbar got her a tool bag.  She now has a wide range of tools, but nowhere to keep any makeup.  But, Louise, being the special person she is, saw the joke and loved him still.

Finbar had one of his dreams come through last August.  He & Louise hosted a mini-festival down the glen behind our house with the Eirball charity campervan run.  It was an amazing success. Yes, we all got soaked a dozen times over with the wind & rain and Yes, many people had to be towed out of the fields. 

But, a night of music, snacks and drinks with friends around a series of barrel fires and sheltering under gazebos made the night incredible & memorable.  It was brilliant.  

Louise, you have been a light in our lives for 2 ½ years, and know that you will always have a place in our hearts and in our homes.

So.

Finbar lived a full life.  It was a life packed with fun, with chat, with friends.  

He was a light in our lives, and our lives are that bit poorer without him.

But our faith teaches us that that isn’t the end of Finbar’s story. 

We believe that Finbar has gone to God, to be with mam.  And, as Maura said, she may have a few words for Finbar when he gets there.

And so.

As we gather today, and in the days ahead we will share stories of Finbar.  We’ll remember him sometimes with tears, and sometimes with laughter. And as sure as night turns into day, our lives will become brighter again with the memory of the special gift that was my brother Finbar.

May You Rest In Peace

And may your soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace

Amen.

After we leave the church today we will head to Killeagh. We are going to park the cars outside Killeagh Church.

We will follow Finbar as his friends carry his coffin to the new Graveyard on the Cork Road and Finbar will be laid to rest beside Mam.  

Afterwards, I would like to invite you all to the Walter Raleigh Hotel in Youghal where we have food provided.  Please come, and bring stories of Finbar. We would love to spend time with you.

We will have cards and pens on each table, and would love if you could write down your little stories of Finbar for us to share and keep.

That will be the end of the official stuff.  But I’m guessing the Mt. Uniake could get a bit busy this Friday evening.

I’d like to finish with a prayer that I have always liked.

O Lord support us all the day long,
until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes
and the busy world is hushed
the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then Lord, in your mercy give us a safe home
a holy rest
and peace everlasting
Amen.

The US Marines & Me

Waay back in the 20th Century I worked for a while with the banquets in Bunratty and Knappogue castles. It was a great job. I was one of the butlers there, and got to spend every night eating good food, singing, and spending time as part of a brilliant team.

Not me, but this is basically the outfit I wore. You don’t get the tights in this image though…
Image from the Shannon Heritage Website: www.shannonheritage.com/‎

In September of 1998 President Bill Clinton was in Ireland and attended an event in Limerick. The day he flew back to America his transport detail were allowed a bit of down time.

And enter the Marines! You’ve heard of Marine 1. The Helicopter that flies the president on shorter trips. Logical really, but to bring that helicopter means you need to bring a whole support team of mechanics & crew. Along with a security detail. Every one of these men were either marines or ex-marines.

After a few days of almost zero sleep and being on duty, they were given a night out in the castle. And did they make the most of it.

As a butler I got to do my share of serving the food, getting to work the tables with the marines. They were a VERY fun loving lot – though a few had a bit too much of a fascination with my outfit (requiring the put down of “Just how long have you been away from land, sailor?”)

One of the features of the banquet was that each night one person had to be put in the dungeon for some various infraction of decorum. (no shortage of candidates, then). That night the man we picked was the pilot of Marine 1, call-sign “growler”.

So, into the dungeon with Growler, and he had to sing to earn his freedom. So, dutifully he stood, and said “I’d like my bretheren to sing with me…” and he launched into the Marine anthem. Instantly all the marines in the hall jumped to attention and roared the anthem at full volume. Every jaw in the room dropped.

They weren’t done yet.

Part of my duty was to bid farewell to all the guests, being at the door as they filed out.

The Marines had all perfected what we referred to as the Bill Clinton Handshake. Shake with your right hand while giving a solid pat on the shoulder with your left.

Thirty something marines later and my shoulder was definitely none the better for it. Tenderised would be a good description.

Anyway, I went home at that point, but missed the next bit…

The Ladies Of The Castle went out in Limerick for the rest of the night with a group of marines. Talking about it the following night, it appears that each of them was a perfect gentleman. I think there was a hint of disappointment in their voices.

One Year On

This day last year we got the news that my younger brother, Finbar, had died suddenly.

I was at work when I got the phone call, and rushed home to see what had happened. Arriving at his home to find two guards and my sister in law waiting. Other family and friends arriving, in shock and in tears.

Finbar had died peacefully, though it took until June before the coroner’s report came back that it was a heart attack that killed him. At the time there was some comfort in that. There still is.

The rest of the day was a blur. Phoning the rest of our family to let them know. Gathering at the table to figure out what to do next. Food and lots of tea appearing by the magic and grace of wonderful neighbours and friends.

The next three days were more of a blur. Preparing for the dreaded funeral, whilst at the same time trying to make sure it would be a fitting tribute to the life and character of Finbar. Getting friends, family and neighbours involved in the mass. The ceremony itself went well, with a huge turnout, and lots of people gathered to celebrate the life of Fin.

But time passed, and we moved into the period after the funeral.

Following the Month Mind mass things changed. Now that the frenzy, the busyness of the funeral was over, we had to adjust to life without Fin.

I sometimes think that things were a bit easier in a different era. A time when there was an official period of mourning, and a person could visibly display or wear the uniform of grief.

There are times over the past year I could have done with that…
“How are you?”
“Fine.”
Yeah.

The thing is, we often expect people to be fine. To be OK.
A friend of mine had a great phrase based on one of the self-help books from the 80’s. “I’m OK, You’re OK.”
His take on it? “I’m not OK, You’re not OK, but THAT’s OK.”
That’s an important message. It’s OK to not be OK sometimes.

There are definitely plenty of times over the past year that I’ve not been OK.
Times when the loss of Finbar has struck more than others.
Times when I’ve cried for no discernible reason.

But today.
The simple fact that it’s one year today that we found out.
Today is a day that will stand out for years to come.
Maybe today, and the anniversary next Sunday, will be the start of a greater healing.

As a post script, if you are ever in a position where you would like to help another, take into account a great bit of advice I received once.
We normally say something along the lines of “If there’s anything I can do, let me know”
In reality, a bereaved person often feels powerless, and is unable to ask for help, or unsure of what to ask.
A more powerful way to help is to offer something solid. “I’ll look after the kids for a day”, “I’ll cook dinner”, “Take the afternoon off, I’ll cover”
Something, anything.

Finbar on a fishing trip to Knockadoon.
I only realised later that this photo was taken on mam’s anniversary, 15th September.

Bloody Teenagers

I live near a lovely village in East Cork called Killeagh. It’s a small village that’s blessed with a public woodland tucked in behind it.  The wood is full of walks, and a great playground for younger kids.

The playground was the work of a local committee who managed to source the land, the funding and the goodwill to get it built.  We’re quite proud of it.

And this year it was vandalised

Not too long after there was a meeting.  Unfortunately I didn’t make it.  However, I heard after that someone was arguing for a higher fence to be installed, so as to keep out the anti-social element.

It strikes me that this is a particularly curmudgeonly way to a) view the whole affair and b) fix the problem.  I kinda doubt a few extra feet of fence would keep out anybody determined.

I suspect this man was at the meeting
(From the brilliant pen of John Connolly – The Wolf in Winter)

The whole affair got me thinking about the mindset of the individual(s) concerned, and how they view teenagers. 

You can see the arguments develop, can’t you?

 And yes, teenagers do get involved in risky behaviours:

  • Teenagers can be moody (shocker)
  • Some teenagers drink too much
  • Some teenagers smoke
  • Some teenagers engage in self-destructive behaviours
  • Some teenagers engage in risky sexual behaviours
  • Some teenagers can engage in anti-social behaviour

But you know what?  Teenagers are amazing

  • Teenagers sleep out every year in Dublin to raise money and awareness for homelessness.
  • On the quiet, many teenagers help out at home in a big way.  They visit grandparents, they help care for others in the family.  They take on a role far greater than we usually know about.  And they do it without any great praise.
  • Teenagers help charities.  How many teenagers go through the mammoth fundraising task of going to India to help street children?  That’s incredible!
  • Teenagers help out in local clubs, committees and societies.  They do this not for any pay, but because they enjoy it, and see it as a good thing to do.

So, whenever I hear the begrudgers giving out about teenagers, I tend to think of the generosity of spirit and the goodness that I’ve seen in the many teenagers I’ve had the privilege to know.

Headlines are easy.  It’s much more challenging to look beyond the drama of that, read further into it, and come up with your own conclusion.

Bloody Hell. 
Teenagers Are Amazing

High Time For Equality In Our Pay Scales

A few weeks ago the TUI voted to accept the government proposals in relation to pay-scales for newly qualified teachers.  A lot of teachers I know feel cheated by this vote, they feel that it is a missed opportunity in the ongoing battle to restore pay for anyone who took up employment after 2011.

By the way, isn’t it getting a little ridiculous to refer to the colleagues who started working with us up to 7 years ago as being ‘newly qualified’? It’s almost as if the language we use is suggesting that this inequality will be a temporary thing.  

That’s simply not true. Unless we are willing to fight the government there will be no equality for our colleagues.

The longer that our ‘newly qualified’ colleagues are on an inferior scale, then the easier it is for successive governments to put the issue onto an ever-longer finger.  

In fairness, it’s easy to see where the government is coming from.  If you can get away with paying newer teachers thousands of euro each year FOR THE SAME JOB, then why wouldn’t you?  Multiply this across the education sector and the government is saving millions each year.

Each year that the government delays pay equality is a year that the government hangs onto millions of euro.  For the sake of our colleagues, we simply cannot stand quietly by and hope that in a few years things will be ok. 

So. What do we do?

The INTO recently voted to reject these proposals.  Media is reporting that they will next ballot members on industrial action. The exact form of this action is not yet decided, I believe.

As a member of the ASTI I have voted against these proposals. If you haven’t voted yet, then do so. We are asked to promote mental health in schools. Our Junior Cert curriculum promotes wellbeing. This is only lip-service as long as we don’t back up our colleagues.

If the ASTI vote against the current proposals, then the INTO & ASTI will be looking to ballot their members regarding industrial action.  I honestly believe that we need to be willing to act strongly in order to make the government realise that enough is enough.  

Debating the 8th

We now have less than one week to go until we vote on the referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution.  The amendment currently outlaws abortion in Ireland, except under circumstances where the life of the mother is under imminent danger.

Anytime I have debated the issue of abortion I try to keep a few guidelines for myself:

  • I do not know if the person to whom I am speaking has ever had an abortion, or suffered a miscarriage.  Therefore, I need to be mindful of the hurt that others carry
  • My views on religion are not always shared by others –  and I do not have the right to force those views on others

This has been a difficult campaign, with some campaigners spreading vitriol and venom: personalising attacks on those who hold a different viewpoint to themselves.  This is as sad to watch as it is understandable. This is a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ issue. There is no maybe.

However, there is one hard truth to be faced:  In 2016 a total of 3,265 women gave Irish addresses at abortion clinics in the UK.  That’s 9 women and girls a day travelling to the UK for an abortion.

Abortion happens in Ireland, whether we like it or not.  We just export it at a great cost to the women who travel. The cost is not just financial, it is in terms of health. The risks inherent in getting a medical procedure with no follow-through or back-up available afterwards mean that some of these women suffer mental and physical trauma as they journey home afterwards.

One argument against abortion is that we should be able to do better as a country and look after women and children.  It’s a lovely idea – but not a reality that we are likely to see happen anytime soon.  Just look at this country’s history in protecting the vulnerable, we seem to be far better at protecting institutions.  If we truly care about the life of the unborn, then we need to do more to change the world that our children are being born into.

I think that Sr. Joan Chittister put it very well.  We need a broader conversation about what pro-life really is.  But until that Utopian moment arrives we need to deal with the reality of the struggle that so many women go through each year in Ireland.

 

Over the past few weeks I have heard a number of stories and read a number of accounts by women who have had abortions in traumatic circumstances.  Women who carried children who could not survive birth; women who felt they could not care for a child due to poverty or an abusive relationship; women who were not women but children themselves when this all happened.

Many on the No side have not shown respect towards women in crisis. I personally find a number of the posters distasteful, insensitive and occasionally emotionally abusive. That some do this in the name of their faith displays a faith lacking in compassion.

Whether abortion is legalised or not, I’m going to leave the last words to a friend of mine:

“The place of the Christian outside the abortion clinic is not shouting at those going in but holding and loving those coming out”  Scott Evans – Closer Still

A ‘Thank You’

A little over two months ago the lives of me, my family and friends were hit by the sudden loss of my brother Finbar.

The days and weeks that followed were a blur; with plenty of crying, frustration, sadness and some aimlessness.

A thing that struck me so strongly from the first day is just how good people are. The day Finbar died we had neighbours and friends out fixing the road, preparing the house for the wake, looking after the farm, and caring for us and those that travelled to be with us.

It was such a comfort that friends and neighbours were willing to take charge. We didn’t need to worry about any practical things. We were fed, watered, kept warm. Our children were minded, our visitors were cared for. People were just amazing.

Friends travelled from all across the country to be with us. People drove from Dublin, Galway and many other corners of the country to join us for the funeral, and then took the long journey home again. An incredible gesture of support and humanity from so many.

When he died, Finbar was in the middle of renovations of his house and some of his friends decided that they would finish the renovations and have the house ready for his Month Mind mass. (For anyone who doesn’t live in Rural Ireland, this is a Mass held about one month after someone dies – usually a more gentle get together than the jolt of a funeral mass).

The next month was inspiring. This group of men came up to Finbar’s house on their free weekends and evenings to do plastering, electrical, plumbing, flooring, painting and general cleaning up. It was a humbling display, exercise, of generosity. It was so touching to see so many lads who’s lives were touched by Finbar, and who wanted to do something to pay tribute to him.

Equally valuable were the visitors. My dad is 87 now, and having people come and sit with him has been a huge comfort. I’ve developed a new appreciation of how important my own friends are in my life, and so glad for all those who have taken time to come and visit.

Last week we had a fun chance to get together. One of Finbar’s friends had made a short film based in the Star Wars universe, and we were invited to the premier in Mitchelstown Caves. It was a great evening, and the film was dedicated to Finbar, so that was very touching. (Read This if you want a bit more on the film)

Years ago I heard a great piece of advice: “When someone is hurting, don’t just offer ‘if there’s anything I can do, call’. Instead offer something concrete, and take that burden off of them”. Without being told to do so, it’s what hundreds of people have done for me and my family over the past few months.

For that I am deeply grateful, and can never fully repay that kindness. If you’re reading this, thank you.

DSC01816

Finbar. May you rest in peace.

Pesky Public Pensions

Those pesky public sector workers.  Them and their pensions are costing us money, and we need to sort it out.

Of course their unions are going to stand up for them, they are entitled to do so.

So runs the core of the argument by Paschal Donoghue, the minister for Public Expenditure.

It is now nearly nine years since the infamous bank guarantee, and we will be paying the cost of that mistake for years to come.  That mistake, on top of a property bubble and a global financial crisis created a financial crisis in Ireland that has cost us in an obvious business level, but also cost Ireland as a society: one just needs to look at the trolly crisis in hospitals, the cutting of resources in the Gardaí, in schools, in the broader public service.

It may have got old to say this by now, but the people being made to pay for the crisis were not the ones who created it.  The ongoing cost of the bank guarantee alone was something like €60 billion euro, with the interest costing approximately €1 billion every year. And yet, despite not being the ones to cause this crisis (it’s not over as we’re still paying the costs), members of the public service are still expected to suffer penalties.

For a while now the Fine Gael line has been that the public service bill is too high, and was part of the problem. And so, the public sector took some brutal pay cuts and changes to conditions in order to help the country as a whole deal with the mess that we, as a society, were in.

That cost has proven to be huge.

  • People have died while waiting on trollies in hospitals.
  • A&E units are swamped, leading to longer waiting times with greater stress on patients and medical staff
  • School resources cut and pupil/teacher ratios increased leading to poorer outcomes for many students
  • Longer working hours across the public service, less pay, and even less pay for those unfortunate enough to get their jobs after 2011
  • Wives and partners of those serving in the Army forced to protest because the pay is so poor

And yet, even with all this, the minister decides to push the idea that the public service costs too much and that he needs to cut where he can – with pensions the focus of today’s agenda.  Yes, we’ll finally reduce the pension levy, but must find a different way to get you to pay for the pensions.  So, um, get rid of the levy so long as we can keep the levy?

For me, there’s a premise behind all of this.  That the public service is a low-value cost, that should be cut where possible.  It’s a premise that I refuse to accept.

The public service is an integral part of Irish society, and is an excellent investment.

Just look at the work done by so many people across so many different parts of the public sector.  

  • Look at how hard our nurses and doctors work
  • Look at what teachers bring to and from their students
  • Look at the pride our navy has brought us from its mission in the Mediterranean

Fine Gael has managed to dominate the discussion of public sector pay by simplifying it to basic numbers.  An effective and healthy public service is more than a simplistic stating of the blunt cost.  The cost must be understood in context, and the value of what is achieved by the public service.  There is great value in the work being done, and it is Fine Gael that is devaluing it.

An open letter to the Irish Times

140 characters is usually enough

Dear Sir,

I buy a copy of the Irish Times every day. Over a week, it costs me €12.90 and I usually consider that to be money very well spent.

I am saddened that you chose to publish online an article written by – but not identified as – a member of the white supremacist “alt-right” movement. The article contained racist phraseology and was published even as its author was tweeting racist comments about refugee children.

This is not to suggest for a moment that the Irish Times should ignore the so-called “alt-right”, but neither should you publish their propaganda as clickbait.

This week I will not be spending €12.90 on the Irish Times but will instead take that sum, top it up to twenty quid, and donate the money to the Irish Refugee Council.

Please consider this my small protest against a very bad decision on your part.

View original post 4 more words

Trump and Public Discourse

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller

Like an awful lot of people, I woke up on Wednesday morning to a sense of shock and disbelief.  Donald Trump had won the US election, and I just couldn’t believe it.

It was hard to stomach, because, on the face of it Trump espoused values that we have seen as being abhorrent, malign, vicious, cruel and petty.

Wednesday was a day spent in a daze, trolling through social media looking for some release of emotion – and there was plenty of emotion there.  Fear, mostly; and shock that over 60 MILLION people voted for him.

So, to put a shape on my thought: What has he said, what will he be like in power, what are the likely repercussions, and what will my reaction be?

What Has He Said?

Over the course of the campaign Trump has been a bruising fighter.  He has displayed an absolute ruthlessness in how he deals with anyone with the misfortune to cross his sights:

  • He has mocked a disabled reporter
  • He has referred to Mexicans in America as rapists and criminals (but he thinks that some are probably ok)
  • He has boasted about sexually assaulting women (and then dismissed it as locker room talk)
  • He has said if Ivanka weren’t his daughter, he could be dating her (!)
  • He tried to deny Obama’s citizenship
  • He tried to promote violence against protesters in his rallies “I’ll pay the legal fees”
  • He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States

What Will He Be Like In Power?

The simple fact is that we don’t know what he will actually be like in power.  For the very good reason that the American system has checks and balances.  There is the Senate and there is the House of Representatives.  The politicians here all care about being re-elected, and some may have their eyes on a larger prize.  I REALLY hope that they will be able to put the brakes on some of his excesses.

However, some of the signs aren’t good: his Vice President is a right wing Christian who thinks members of the LGBT community can be ‘cured’ by conversion therapy.  Hmmm.  Not to be underestimated is the sinister nature of an advisor who wants to start a register of all Muslims in America.

Public Discourse

Let’s take the idea (possible fairytale) that the checks and balances work, and that Trump doesn’t get to exert the xenophobic, homophobic, islamophobic, misogynistic ideas that he appears to treasure.

No. Even if Trump is kept in check, he has still done an untold amount of damage to Public Discourse.

You see, even if he is kept in check, his words have been uttered.  He has spoken, and he has been repeated, quoted, and (God help us) admired.

There is a trickle down (or flash flood) effect from his words.  When the head of state speaks as if misogyny, racism, discrimination and hatred are normal – then it’s fair to assume a number of citizens will take that lead.

His words alone won’t create racists – but they do give freedom to any racist to express their repugnant views.  Already, there is a lot of evidence of an increase of racism.

So, there is a lot to fear.  Will the next 4 years see the dismantling of civil society?  Will we see a rampant increase in hate crime; in sexual assault; in intolerance?

The fact that the Ku Klux Klan can announce a parade to celebrate Trump’s election means I’m not optimistic.  In other news, one Southern University had posters put up warning white women not to date black men.

My (Our) Response?

As a people, we can’t allow hatred to win.

In a number of American cities there are ongoing protests against Trump’s victory, and against the policies he as spewed.  This is partly heartening, but partly disheartening as some of the protests have turned violent (the very antithesis of what the protests were intended for)

However, correcting a slide in civic discourse is a task that falls to all of us.

How often have any of us:

  • heard racist language against someone in our presence?
  • seen a person with disability overlooked or belittled?
  • tolerated institutional racism in our own country? (Direct Provision in Ireland, anyone?)
  • seen discrimination of women?

It is the task of all of us to stand up to discrimination and hatred in all its forms.  And this only works in a spirit of nonviolence.  Look to the heroes of the 20th century – people like Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King.

This kind of thing isn’t easy.  The good stuff never comes easy, but is worthwhile.  We need to speak out. We need to speak out for the socialists, the Trade Unionists, the Jews.  And yes, we need to speak out for the Muslims, for the members of the LGBT community, for the poor, in fact for any minority who’s Human Rights are being undermined.

There has been huge progress in civil rights over the past century, let’s not let the next four years undermine all of that.

And for any Americans out there – look to the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

statue-of-liberty-writing