HOMELESSNESS HAS TO BE THE ELECTION ISSUE

The fastest growing economy in Europe. New jobs being created every week. Cranes once again stalking the Dublin skyline.  Even Dun Laoghaire, poster town of the recession, has an air of recovery about it with new shops opening regularly.  Although many of us will be playing catch up for decades to come, as we try to replace savings and pensions that were decimated in the crash, until recently, I was relieved that the worst seemed to be over.
Micheal Noonan said the emergency is over.  I knew things weren’t perfect.  I was aware of a homeless crisis but thought the government had it in hand with their plans for modular housing as an emergency solution.  I thought we were doing alright, until I watched the recent RTE documentary “My Homeless Family”.  Rarely has a programme made me so angry.
Using their own voices and most poignantly the voices and the tears of their children, these brave women (and it was mainly women) clearly illustrated just who have paid the price for our recovery.  Living in self-described ‘posh prisons or cages’ the pressure being exerted on these families every day is incredible and the documentary made for surprisingly hard viewing. I wondered why and then I realised it was because we were watching ourselves.  These families are every family; just like us they battled to keep their kids amused, they supervised homework and celebrated birthdays in their collapsed tiny worlds.  It could so easily have been any of us.
Lone parent, Erica and her daughter Emily have a bond that is strong and familiar.  I recognised it just I recognised Erica’s fear for the future as she tries her best to provide for her child.  I was a lone parent for ten years and it was only a twist of fate that meant I had a supportive family with room for me and my daughter to live at home until I could afford to move out on my own.  But I know Erica’s dreams. I dreamed them too.  A house we could call our own; where she could have her own bedroom.  Where she could have more space to play.  Where she could invite her friends over after school.  Erica’s pain although sharper was familiar.  I was just lucky.  But I could have easily been in her situation.
The women who generously let us view their lives in an intimate way, instinctively understand that a secure, safe, place to call home is essential to children’s development and to family life.  A home is not just a roof over one’s head and a bed to sleep in, it’s much more.  The writer and essayist, Samuel Johnson said “to be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution”.  How can these families achieve any of their ambitions living in such tiny spaces and with no security of tenure?
Over the coming fortnight we will all be bombarded with how brilliant the Government were in rescuing this country and dragging us back from the brink of disaster.  Yes, they did take control of the finances and restore some order to them.  But the recovery belongs to the people, all of us who suffered cuts to our incomes and increases in our taxes.  Austerity has been very brutal and almost all of us have paid a heavy price. 
But the highest price has been paid by those who are vulnerable; families on very low incomes or social welfare and lone parents. These people, families just like ours have been sacrificed in the name of this recovery.  Families who now have nowhere to call home, through no fault of their own.
The blame for this does not merely lie with the current government.  For decades’ successive governments abandoned the policy of building social houses. Somewhere along the way our Governments went from running a country to merely running an economy. 
For many (not all) involved in politics it’s a game.  It is a game created by men and still dominated by men, with a very male energy running through it and like any game it is all about winning. Keeping your seat at all costs.

But politics is not a game.  It is the art of caring for the people of the country.  The women on My Homeless Family knew that.  Having been stripped of that most basic right in life – a place to call home from which to build proper lives for themselves and their children, they are now doubly disadvantaged.  If this republic means anything, it falls to the rest of us, to be their voice at the election.  Homelessness must be front and centre of the next programme for government.  Otherwise we are all complicit in their misery.

I AM ANGRY – AGAIN

I am writing this on the 26thof June; an auspicious date in Irish history.  It was on the 26th of June in 1963 that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America touched down in Dublin Airport to begin his four day visit to Ireland.  It was also on the 26th of June (1996) that journalist Veronica Guerin was murdered on the Naas Road. A less well known event occurred on the 26th of June 1920 when my maternal grandfather, George Power was involved in the kidnap of a British General who was fishing on the banks of the River Blackwater just outside Fermoy in North Cork. 
All of these events are playing on my mind as I attempt to formulate my thoughts on the revelations contained in the Anglo Tapes which were made public by the Irish Independent last week.  Let me begin by saying that I am angry…. again.
Over the last five years there have been many times I have been angry.  I have watched from my corner of suburbia, without the benefit of a university degree or even much understanding of economics, as this country was brought to her knees and I was angry.  I watched as the previous Government stumbled along through their last days as if punch drunk from the events that seemed to be overwhelming them and I was angry.
Each so called ‘austerity budget’ since has renewed my anger as I witness some of the most vulnerable in our society being stripped of allowances to which they are entitled and which they need in order to live.  I have been angry at how women seem to have borne an unfair portion of this austerity through cuts to carer’s allowance, child benefit, lone parent allowance, tax on maternity benefit etc. 
Almost five years of anger and this week I am angry all over again.  I have spoken to my neighbours, my friends and colleagues and without exception all are furious.  All found listening to the cavalier conversations of some very well paid senior bankers in Anglo Irish Bank as they discussed pulling a master stroke on our Government to be truly nauseating. 
The truth is that they pulled a master stroke on US, the people of this country.  What kind of schools, I wonder, produce this type of caricature of a man – overly macho, arrogant, insensitives who seem to be so removed (or perhaps insulated) from the effects of their irresponsible banking practices.  Their supercilious, self important guffawing turned my stomach. 
As I wrestled to make sense of how Ireland has come to this point in her history I thought of my grandfather, George Power and the ordinary men and women who almost a century ago managed to secure freedom from what was then probably the most powerful empire on earth.  I think of their bravery, of the risks they took in the years leading up to 1922.
I think of the women who ran messages, who operated as undercover agents within the British administration securing vital information for Collins, I think of the people of towns such as Fermoy who were subjected to looting and rioting by British Troops in retaliation for IRA activity.  I think of the families who risked their lives by providing safe houses for men on the run and of how they hid and smuggled arms to keep the push for freedom going forward. 
Last week has also brought the visit of JFK to Ireland in 1963 back into focus with the 50thanniversary celebrations last weekend in New Ross.  President Kennedy made a wonderful speech when he addressed the joint houses of the Oireachtas.  In it he referenced George Bernard Shaw when he said
“It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”
These words are only 50 years old but where the hell is that combination of hope, confidence and imagination now?  Where are these men and women who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?  The men and women who were to the forefront of Ireland’s fight for independence were certainly capable of dreaming of things that never were and must have seemed impossible.  They were surely very antithesis to the lily livered bankers we are hearing on the Anglo tapes.
So how has Ireland gone from a being a nation of courage, imagination and action to a passive place where a cohort of greedy immoral bankers can break us and suffer very little consequences for doing so?  And more importantly why has the anger I sense in the community not translated into action?
Just 17 years ago this country got very angry at the murder in broad daylight of journalist Veronica Guerin.  We got angry and we let the heat of that anger be felt by Government.  Within days action had been taken to seize assets of the criminals and the breaking of criminal gangs began in earnest.  Arrests were made and the search for Veronica’s killers was relentless. 
Veronica Guerin, President Kennedy and George Power and his comrades all knew that (to quote Kennedy again) “problems… cannot be solved by sceptics or cynics of those whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.” 

It is beyond time for clear and imaginative leadership.  I am very unconvinced that such is possible in the current government but the very least we, the people of Ireland, can do is to make our anger felt.  We owe it to ourselves and more importantly to our children to insist that action is taken now to prosecute those who gambled our entire country.  I am not sure of how this can best be achieved, no more than those who protested Ms Guerin’s murder dreamed of the Criminal Assets Bureau  .. but that is what we elect and pay our TDs for.  It is our job to ensure it happens.

"Where has all the money gone?"

7 Billion, 24 billion, 35 billion….
Bail Out,
ECB,
Bond Markets,
Ollie Rehn,
Front loaded adjustments,
Budget deficit,
Blah Blah Blah,
Gobbeldy gook
It streams from my radio.
It jumps from the pages of my newspapers.
It scares me to death and yet it is meaningless.
Intangible.
Words, totally unconnected to my day to day existence.
But yet words that are part now of the soundtrack to our lives.

Before these words became common language, long, long ago, at the very beginning of this recession, my daughter Mia, then 8 years old asked me “Mom, where has all the money gone?” At the time I smiled at her innocent grasp of the new financial reality. “Yes, child” I answered her “wouldn’t it be great if the Government could just print some more money for us all.”

I was recounting this anecdote recently to a friend when I thought again of her question “where has all the money gone?” The question stayed with me all day. Yes, where indeed has all the money gone?

Our current financial meltdown was triggered in large part by the property developers. The men who paid hugely inflated prices for parcels of land on which they had ambitious and unimaginative plans to build houses and apartments. We all know what happened next. The property market collapsed. The land became almost worthless and the developers couldn’t pay back the huge loans they had borrowed from greedy and clueless bankers.

So, Mia innocently asked “where did all the money go?” Someone got paid the large sums borrowed from the banks, which we are now effectively paying back! Surely there is a case to be made for an investigation into those who were paid the hugely inflated prices for their land. I understand that this is how land and property speculation works. But it is morally right that this modest cohort of people, whose bank accounts now bulge with possibly millions of euro, should be allowed to hold onto it? Meanwhile our Government considers reducing the Old Age Pension, Children’s Allowance and other benefits, our young people emigrate in thousands and our economy collapses all around us. We in effect are paying for their financial windfall.

To go after this money, would take courage and determination. I know that it wouldn’t solve all our problems, but it would go some way towards restoring a sense of fair play to the rest of us who profited only very modestly by comparison and then only by working hard during the Celtic Tiger’s roar. At the very least surely some kind of extra tax could be levied on the millions paid for what are now useless fields of dreams.

My daughter has a point – “where did all the money go”. We know where a lot of it went, and we seem happy to pay it back in order to protect some principle of a free market economy. I don’t think that Mia, now 10 years old, would consider that to be very fair. And neither do I.

STRANGE DAYS INDEED

The last year or two have been strange ones in lots of ways. I have felt somewhat confused and lost by the death of the Celtic Tiger. My country lost confidence – in its banks, its economy and its Government. And I lost confidence in myself, a fact that I am only realising now.

During the Celtic Tiger years I was happy to be a stay at home mom. The photographer was busy and although we were never loaded or awash with money, we were confident that we would usually have enough to get us by. So he left the cave every day to go and bring home the bacon. I stayed home, tended the fire, kept track of all that needed to be kept track of for the kids and I cooked the bacon (you all know that that is only about 10% of what I and millions of other mothers do, but you can fill in the gaps yourself). I was busy at home and I also did some writing as the inspiration moved me. Latterly I began blogging. We all jogged along nicely. I was happy with my lot and content and grateful to be doing what I felt I should be doing. The photographer felt the same.

Then the world wobbled. Something called Lehman Bros collapsed and a shiver ran down my spine. I was very unsure what all this meant but I know now it was the beginning of a tidal wave of economic misfortune which eventually crashed into the side of the photographer’s business. The world had stopped. It seemed everyone was caught in the headlights of the financial collapse, frozen, unable to move. I watched the lines on his face and the shadows under his eyes deepen as day after day the phone didn’t ring and the diary glowed with pristine unmarked pages. There was very little to laugh about.

As all slowed to a halt, I speeded up in my daily chores, became desperate about getting paid writing gigs, applied for jobs I didn’t want. Round and round I went trying to cut costs, save money and think of ways in which I would help bring home some bacon. In the middle of all this chaos and deathly silence, we somehow reorganised priorities, never gave up and got by. And now as we seem to be over the worst (thank you Irish Times for saying this week that our country is coming out of recession) I am left floundering about wondering who or what am I?

This crisis of confidence was brought sharply into focus this week. We went out ‘en famille’ for a pizza to celebrate the younger two’s great end of year school reports. Over dinner it transpired that Carla (eldest – 23 just) got not one but two emails of commendation to her employer this week. And the photographer also got a great testimonial from a client. I beamed with pride at my family gathered around me and tried not to hear the little voice in my head that said “what is it you do again? How is it you add value to this family”. It was a sobering moment.

I have since given it all some thought and I now realise that the slow, painful death of the Celtic Tiger has made me look at who exactly I am and wonder if I am doing the right thing or am I taking the easy option by being at home with my children. I walked away from my career and a job I loved 9 years ago because I passionately felt that I did not want to miss my children’s childhood. I also wanted to have time to pursue my own hobbies – such as writing and reiki. So now as we begin to negotiate calmer economic waters, I am glad we made the choices we did. I am grateful to the photographer for his tenacity and hard work which has kept our particular boat upright through the storm. But most of all I am very proud of my children…. And am grateful for the reminder that that was exactly why I decided to retire from the corporate world those 9 years ago. Who am I? I am a mother, a writer, a Reiki Master and a worrier. I am happy with the first three and am still working on the fourth.

Picture by the Photographer (http://www.sherwood.ie/ – not out of the woods yet….need a great photographer give him a shout) of the three reasons I retired and am ‘just’ a mom!

A New View From My Kitchen Table

Recently the view from my kitchen table has grown a little dark. I know there are many of us, at home caring for kids, cats and dog while the other half is out in the Big Bad World of Recession trying to earn enough to keep the boat (to borrow from Christy Moore) afloat. The fact that I am a writer doesn’t really help. Alone at my kitchen table in the morning, scribbling away, words and thoughts that no one wants to buy. My world gets smaller and ‘issues’ get larger. It’s too easy to become trapped in a lonely bubble of, not quite despair but certainly of despondency.

I have snapped at the children a little more than I should have, particularly when they mention stuff like new runners or money for some excursion or other. I don’t want to add to his burdens and so don’t talk about my feelings much with him. And so we begin to function on a surface level of false optimism.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am an optimist by nature and believe in the power of positive thinking but it is not always healthy to be dishonest about how you are feeling. In order to heal lower emotions (such as worry) we must first accept and validate the feeling, before releasing it.

But I digress. Back to my gloomy and lonely kitchen table and my shrinking world. After weeks of carrying this aura of worry and unexpressed concern I begin to feel as if my emotions have all become displaced. They are all now just below the surface of my being instead of deep inner recesses where they normally reside.

I have days when I know that if someone says the wrong thing to me I will dissolve into a million pieces. Alternatively if something strikes me as funny, I can become an uncontrollable laughing wreck; frightening to witness and usually ending in tears anyway.

Then last week himself got a great deal on an overnight in a hotel and as it was his birthday anyway we decide to take the opportunity of a break away. This sounds simple, but when you are in the dark place at the kitchen table it can feel frivolous and wrong. But it was his birthday….

I won’t bore you with the details but we had a lovely, quiet and relaxing time. We had time to chat and to laugh. We had a lovely meal, a lie in, huge breakfast and as today is his birthday he chose to stop, on the way back, at a little airport near the hotel where we passed another pleasant hour having coffee while watching tiny aircraft come and go. And we talked some more.

I am telling you this because I think that in the current economic climate it is too easy to forget how vital it is to look after our own mental health. As parents, we put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list. This is not good. Taking time out, not only renews your spirit and energy but it also grants us the gift of perspective. Perspective I had lost from spending too long, pondering life from my kitchen table.

And there was a bonus kicker too…. We both remembered why we fell in love in the first place and why we are married. We won’t leave taking time out for ourselves so long next time!

Photo of Peacock in full display at Finnstown House Hotel, Lucan.

LETS NOT FORGET WHO WE ARE

I love it when I catch the RTE programme, Reeling In The Years, usually by mistake. Last night, I saw the programme featuring 1982 in Ireland. Rugby was big news – we won the Triple Crown. The other big news was the economy – we were in a deep recession. There was plenty of political turmoil. Familiar? Very – except that in 1982 we had not just emerged from 15-20 years of incredible growth and wealth. And perhaps it is that fact that makes it so difficult for us to accept and come to terms with this recession this time.

Last Friday, the Late Late Show began with one of the most hysterical and depressing panel discussions I think I have ever heard. Four (as far as I can remember) journalists discussed just how dire this crisis is for Ireland. The hysterical ranged from Ger Colleran who suggested that the people of Ireland would like the errant property developers to be shot (figuratively speaking) to Kevin Myers foretelling that it won’t just be our children but our grandchildren and even great grandchildren who will pay for this NAMA bailout of the banks. The whole discussion was totally unbalanced and very dark.
Certainly I know that this country is ‘in the shit’ financially, as are many families and I am not for one minute trying to trivialise that fact. But, as I am constantly saying to my husband, it is only money. We seem to have lost all perspective.
Ireland has not changed. We have not gone from a country of winners to losers overnight. We are still a great little country, full of imaginative, creative, energetic, hard working people. We are a nation who can communicate and sell like few others. We are witty and deeply spiritual, if no longer overtly religious. All the talents we used to build the great wealth of the Celtic Tiger era are still intact.
But if we keep being brainwashed by this wholly exaggerated and dark view of ourselves we will be stuck in the economic doldrums for a whole lot longer than we need to be, or that is good for us individually.
We need to stop the blame game. We all understand how it was our obsession with property that was at the heart of our financial woes. But we need to let the law and economic forces deal with that. The rest of us need to focus on getting our mojo back!
Ireland is going through a painful and major detoxification. We are clearing greed and corruption from our business and financial world. We are also witnessing the clearance of cruelty and abuse of power by the Catholic Church. At the end of this process Ireland Inc., will be a morally and spiritually enhanced country – through and through.
In the meantime, we individually, must all remember who we are. We are still a wonderfully articulate, expansive, open minded, well educated people, as we always were. And now more than ever we need to remember that. Because without that confidence we cannot move forward.