Paul Healy’s Week

Saturday

While I probably would have paid to see Michael Healy-Rae’s reaction to the spread, I was a little bemused by the Irish Independent’s massive expose on the wealth of the country’s TDs.

Our friends in the ‘Indo’ dedicated a spectacular ten pages to their report, coverage on a scale probably not seen since the Sunday Independent LIFE magazine last featured Miriam O’Callaghan.

Basically, a team of Indo reporters spent two months (yep!) assessing the ‘assets and pension pots’ of our TDs. Their conclusion (published with great fanfare, analysis and comment) was that there are 68 millionaires in the Dáil, and that Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is the third richest ‘TD landlord’, worth an estimated €6m (trailing Michael Lowry on €7.3m).

How justifiable this exercise was is debatable. I understand that TDs need to be transparent about their interests, to avoid any conflict of interest. I can see too why the fact that people who make housing policy are themselves also landlords is a public interest issue. Still, this hyped expose was arguably intrusive and a touch unfair. It was certainly overblown. Anyone for another Miriam special?

 

All weekend

The Ryder Cup was entertaining both as a glitzy show and as an event adorned by frequently brilliant golf – from the Americans. As a competitive sporting battle, it left a lot to be desired, Europe never really managing to recover the ground lost during a lacklustre start on Friday.

This was a Ryder Cup which was always going to be of huge interest in these parts, with Padraig Harrington – arguably Ireland’s greatest ever sportsperson – having the huge honour of being Europe’s Captain, and Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry both in the team.

I felt sorry for Harrington all weekend. This was not how it was meant to be. By Sunday evening, with a big defeat looming, Harrington cut a lonely figure, shell-shocked and desolate.

Social media was already on the attack, much of the comment being predictably vitriolic, ill-informed and abusive, many of the posts the creative brilliance of faceless and nameless idiots.

Some within the mainstream media may not spare Harrington either, but expect the post-mortem there to be much more considered, balanced and respectful. Mind you, it’s a moot point as to just how much influence a non-playing captain can have; at the end of the day, guys have to sink key putts and hit great shots, and the European players were consistently outplayed on that front.

Harrington may have made a selection error or two, but he was unlucky that his Ryder Cup captaincy coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic. It meant Europe had very little on-course support, giving the Americans a distinct advantage. It is also the case that Europe just aren’t as strong as America at the moment; a few of the European players are past their best, while the Americans have a young team laden with most of the world’s finest golfing talent. Harrington did not have twelve John Rahms.

 

Monday

Restrictions are being lifted, vaccinations are flying, there are less furrowed brows…but the road back to where we once were will be long and challenging.

Covid-19 has turned our world upside down, and there is no guarantee that it will be put back the way it was. Chances are, it won’t. If it isn’t (which it won’t be) it will take us time to adapt to the new-look world!

Speaking to a few local business people, I sense continued apprehension about the emerging picture. Traders are relieved and pleased to be open again, but the business environment remains very challenging. Businesses are weighed down with extra administration demands (due to the pandemic), and the growth of online shopping is also having an adverse affect for many. There is too a staff shortage which is reaching crisis proportions. SMEs that have been availing of government supports (such as the wage subsidy scheme) are deeply worried about their fate when these props are withdrawn.

I am quite sure that many, many people are still greatly challenged – not just economically, in other ways too – by the unprecedented upheaval of the last nineteen months. There is loneliness, loss, social anxiety, fear, depression and worry. It is imperative that supports are readily available and that people recognise how important and advisable it is to seek out such supports.

Of course it’s great to see signs of a slow and welcome return to the type of life we had before. Some cafes and restaurants have much of their atmospheric buzz back, the aroma of coffee and hot food, the soundtrack of conversation bubbling again. Children and adults playing sport again is another example of society moving back towards the simple joys of the recent past.

For everybody, there is hope, reason to believe that we are close to the end of the pandemic, if not close to the end of its consequences. We are on the right road. Slowly but surely, the stalking shadow of the pandemic is fading.

 

Tuesday

Having dropped a family member off for an appointment at Sligo Hospital, I have a few hours to spare. A few months ago, in the same situation, I was restricted to coffee at a filling station, Ray D’Arcy on the radio, and a nostalgic wander around Rosses Point. Now it’s different, much more like it used to be.

Mind you, there’s the strange experience of being addressed by my first name in a café I’ve never been to before. That’s because the friendly lady took my name and contact number, while almost apologetically asking for a quick glance at my Covid cert. After that, it’s all ‘take a seat Paul’ and ‘if you need anything else, just ask, Paul’. Excellent!

Seated to my left are two elderly men who simply will not stop talking. To my right, a woman hovers close to a woman sitting on her own, until the latter woman – reading the unsubtle signals – invites the new customer to share her table. ‘I’ll be going in a few minutes’. Just then the newcomer is joined by another woman, who had been paying at the counter. ‘Sit down, this lady is going in a few minutes…I could have paid for that!’

My all-day breakfast is tasty, and great value at €8.65. A man leaving the café stops to chat to the two men on my left. He backed a horse at 25 to 1, it came in fourth at 9 to 1, and he collected because it was an each-way bet. They chat about horses for ages, then the subject switches to current affairs. The plight of Gerry Hutch of gangland notoriety is analysed, and it’s agreed that the Spanish prisons “are a lot different to the Irish ones”. I order a new pot of tea, and begin to type this on my laptop. I’m in no hurry. This, in all its ‘simple pleasures’ vibe, feels so much more like how we like to live.

After more chat about the horses, the man who won in the bookies leaves, delivering a parting “see you on Thursday” to the two men seated beside me. They chat contentedly for a few more minutes.

When they get up to leave, there’s a greeting for the two ladies who now have sole call on the table on my right (the first woman presumably having made her escape). There is immediate agreement between them that time is flying, the years are flying, and “we won’t find Christmas coming”. “See you on Thursday” the men announce to one another as they exit into the sunshine.

It’s only then that I spot a sign on the wall: ‘Please respect our table allocation time of 45 minutes (due to Covid restrictions)’. I’d better free up my seat. Time is indeed flying. It waits for nobody, maybe even in Spanish prisons.

As for the men who know about horses – and life – there are a lot of lost Thursdays to make up.

 

Later on Tuesday

A sign on the exterior of a restaurant in Sligo catches my eye: ‘Going vegan is a missed steak’.