Another Minister, another series of smug soundbytes.
As ever, it will ‘end in tears’ – with more broken promises, more missed deadlines, more redundant reports.
But, as ever, the ministerial merry-go-round will continue, and Ireland’s two worlds will continue on their divergent paths.
This is the sad story of the people who live on the streets and the people who live on another planet.
Ireland’s homelessness problem has grown into a crisis. The figures are shameful. About 8,000 people are homeless in Ireland. Up to 3,000 of these people are children. Despite the apparent improvement in the country’s economic fortunes, homelessness has risen by about 25% over the past year. In our cities, many families are living a wretched existence in cramped conditions in B&Bs, hotels and hostels. On our streets, vacant stares signify vacant lives.
In the past week alone, three homeless people have died on our streets. Humiliated, abandoned, stripped of dignity.
We will always have some level of homelessness, but does it have to be this pathetic?
Why my derision with regard to our ‘political elite’? Because it is shameful. I will refer readers back to the otherwise angelic Simon Coveney, who let himself down badly in 2017 with his shocking ‘contribution’ to this debacle. Cool, clean hero Simon was, you will recall, Minister for Housing. And Minister for Saying Things In A Very Solemn Tone.
I actually think Simon has a lot of potential – he may well be Taoiseach within a decade or so – but Simon was a naughty boy on this one. In full ‘Trust me, we will sort this crisis out’ mode, Simon told the nation that he would personally end the housing of homeless families in hotels and B&Bs. When critics said he was “crazy” to pledge to end emergency accommodation by the end of June 2017, Minister Coveney said: “I am going to make this happen.”
This wasn’t a casual commitment given by the Minister; it wasn’t presented to the public as one of the usual political promises that we routinely invite to enter our heads via one ear while progressing to exit through the other. Almost on a ‘sincerity par’ with the (written) pledge of James Reilly to retain all emergency services at Roscommon Hospital, Simon went out on a limb; he set a deadline, he was definitive (“end all use of hotels and B&Bs”, “no emergency accommodation”, etc.) and he never shied, during media interviews, from insisting that he would achieve his ambitious goal. End of June 2017.
A new Sheriff had arrived in town – and he had the scourge of homelessness in his sights.
Two questions then: Why, when new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar selected his first Cabinet in the middle of June, did he offer ‘Defeating Homelessness by the end of June’ Sheriff Coveney a different ministry? Second question: Why did Coveney accept the offer?
Surely if Minister Coveney was to retain his full credibility, he would have insisted: “Thanks for the offer of Foreign Affairs Leo, but I said I’d sort homelessness by the end of June and by God I intend to see it through.”
He could even had told Leo and the public that the June deadline may have to be extended, but at least he (Simon) was going to stay in town to oversee the mass exodus of hotels and B&Bs.
Fast-forward to August/September 2017 and three homeless people die on our streets. Danielle Carroll and Jack Watson died in Dublin. The homeless lady who died in Cork hasn’t been named publicly. The new Sheriff, Minister Eoghan Murphy says: “Neither resources nor money nor ideology are an impediment here. A huge amount is being done but clearly more is needed.”
The public are, I suspect, losing patience with the political establishment’s repeated failure to address this enormous social problem.
There will probably always be some level of homelessness. And I am not naïve; I realise that some of those who end up homeless are ‘their own worst enemies’ and probably destined by circumstances to journey on an irreversible path. But I suspect that is a tiny minority. Most of the homeless people are being failed by the state. Most would and could take life’s conventional path. And the families languishing in hotel rooms are living in one world – a shoddy one – while our elite live in another world. These families, the people for whom the end of June wasn’t the promised day of destiny, have been let down.
What can we say to Ireland’s homeless people, as the degrading congestion continues in ‘emergency shelter’, and as darkness descends on the streets?
What is the latest update for our forgotten people?
Well, “ideology us no impediment” to addressing/solving the problem – and Simon Coveney is flying in Foreign Affairs.
Follow the maroon
We watched Galway’s irresistible march towards their glorious destiny in a pub in Dublin. Galway were in Croke Park, we were in the pub, having Sunday Lunch, I might add. We had just dropped off our eldest daughter to her ‘digs,’ College life beckoning. Three hungover young men on our right passed little enough heed on the hurling. A young couple in front of us cheered every Waterford score. Our hearts were with Galway, of course. They were not to be denied this thoroughly deserved victory. Here’s hoping Mayo footballers can follow the maroon brick road to glory.
Fond memories of
He was a presence on the music scene for around a half a century, and that’s how thousands of people will remember the late Eamonn Kelly.
It is true, technically speaking, that we performed together, but after a few duets in the early 1970s, our musical careers drifted apart!
One night in 19790 Eamonn Kelly and his Merrymen performed at the opening of the Kon Tiki Lounge Bar (outside Rooskey). It was a venture with a difference, which was started by my parents. In the summertime, the Kon Tiki was usually packed every night of the week, and there were two separate music sessions on a Sunday. For a period when I was a small boy, Eamonn would invite me to the stage when he was singing ‘Two Little Boys’, and I’d join him in a verse or two. As the decades passed, the make-up of the Merrymen chopped and changed – as with all bands – but I never got the call!
Eamonn was surely known to thousands of people, and fondly regarded, because he was a natural entertainer and enjoyed a career of great longevity. It probably peaked in the 1970s and ‘80s. The ‘singing pubs’ phenomenon started in the 1970s, in the wake of the swinging sixties and the showband era. Eamonn was made for the singing pubs. Later, his career moved into a new phase when he began to perform on the circuit as a solo artist. In more recent years, came a third phase, as Eamonn – who clearly didn’t see retirement as an option – became a popular entertainer in local nursing homes. Eamonn had a huge repertoire of songs, most of which became fond audience favourites.
There was of course much more to Eamonn than his music career – a loving family man, a Bord na Mona employee, a proud community figure – but it was through music that thousands of people over a wide region will remember him.
Eamonn passed away last Thursday following a brave battle with illness. The people of Rooskey and beyond paid him a fond and fitting farewell. Our family had a long association with Eamonn and we extend our sincere sympathies to his wife Paula, son Paddy, daughter Mary and extended family.
The king of the Merrymen made a lot of people happy.