Living with Poverty and the Poor Health that Inevitably Follows

Did you know that 5,400 die in this country every year unnecessarily and prematurely? The fact that we have the highest number of premature deaths than any other country in Europe,  including Northern Ireland, should alert the people in power that an urgent review of our Health Services is imperative. We as a society should not have to bear the loss of young people dying before their time. The Combat Poverty Agency also state, that those who are poor and underprivileged account for more than two and a half times more early deaths than those who are better off in Society.  That is a staggering figure to be inflicted  on those who struggle every day to make ends meet and should not be tolerated.

People who live on low incomes or live on Social Welfare are more likely to suffer poor health and  experience  more psychological distress and live shorter lives than those with adequate incomes. We see the incomes of one parent  families, people with disabilities, the elderly and the sick, being diminished by added taxes and cuts in social welfare, long waiting times for hospital appointments  or to see a specialist, at a peril to their health and wellbeing.  Research has clearly shown that how we manage the overall poverty suffered by people in this country, is adding to the problems of society at  large.

In Ireland for households headed by people who are ill or disabled, the risk of poverty has risen sharply.  People  who are disabled and suffer ill health are more likely to live on low incomes because of being unable get employment, even in temporary jobs. The connection between poor physical  and mental health escalates their poor quality of life. This imposes stress, isolation and depression on already challenged lives trying to live on an inadequate income to meet their needs. The majority of people who suffer physical or mental disability do not participate in community activities, which  escalates depression and further fuels feelings of uselessness and hopelessness.

Can you believe that with all the criticism  and the inadequate services being provided by the HSE, that Ireland’s health spending is higher than many of the worlds developed countries.   In 2012,  the spend by the HSE was 13.6 billion euros,  and in 2014 it had risen to 14 billion euros.  Surely the time has come to examine the medical resources to see if this high level of spending corresponds with similarly high levels of output. If not why not?  Where is all this money being spent?  Definetly not on those needing urgent medical care and a hospital bed. Until those who have the power to change things, do so, lives will continue to be lost and the burden on the State’s finances further increased. Government agencies must co-ordinate the different services much more efficiently to give value for money and to give care to those in need of medical services, paid for by our taxes. It is unacceptable in a wealthy society, that along with being poor, or vulnerable, their chances  of longevity is also placed at risk.

The enjoyment of good health is increasingly  seen as a human right. We are all critical of avoidable deaths and injury on our roads, street violence and domestic violence. Government saw fit and brought in a law to ban smoking in public places and now in cars. So  it can’t be rocket science to address the predicament that people find themselves in when needing medical healthcare, and stop the staggering number of premature and unnecessary deaths.  This statistic places Ireland higher than any other European country, including Northern Ireland. This is not acceptable and those responsible carry a heavy load on their shoulders.

If the health of people was a priority  with the Health Services to try and match those of other European countries, the tackling of social deprivation and inequalities would be addressed. Our Government and Social partners committed themselves to building a fair and more  inclusive society and that people would have the resources and opportunities to live a dignified life.  This has not happened, in fact, inequality has become more pronounced and high levels of poverty and  disadvantage  are tolerated and a blind eye turned to the devastating consequences. Those in charge appear not to recognise the long-term damage this causes to everyone living in this country and obviously have not the skills to address it, or do not have the desire to do so. If they did, it would be the first thing to be examined when carving up the finances and ensuring we all get value for money.

Public opinion should be fully aware of the burden that  preventable deaths place on the tax system, as well as the disproportionate  number of early deaths carried by those who are poor. We should all speak out about the injustices perpetrated on vulnerable poor, disabled people and children. Now that another election is in the offing, maybe the voice of compassionate people might be heard and make a difference. These frightening statistics should be treated  as urgent and addressed by our leaders, to change what is happening to those who need care and attention. Medical card holders are less likely to see medical specialists, and the poor should not be put on long waiting lists that sometimes allow a sickness or a disease to develop beyond fixing.  This will eventually take up longer hospital stays, more medication and more doctor’s visits.

We are now heading into another budget as to how the money for the next year is spent. With an election in the offing and sweeteners being offered to the electorate, wouldn’t we have a better country if the needs of the poor were given priority.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul has proven to be a disaster. Integrity and honesty would serve the people of this country far better than politicians ingratiating themselves with those who vote. Statistics show those who are poor or disadvantaged are less likely to vote.  If the system gave value for money, that would eventually benefit everybody and make our country fair and equitable. Examining where  all this money is being spent, being more transparent and accountable and being more productive, would help stop the spiralling costs of the HSE and identify where the excesses are.

Being poor, sick, disabled or unable to care for themselves, are all barriers on the road we travel. For those  who are in the power seat, and in whom people trust to do the right thing, we hope that they will honour their commitment and place the old, the vulnerable, the sick and disabled at the top of their list, and give people hope, longer lives and some measure of fulfilment in the short lives, we all have to live.

Parenting and Children

Some parents, as well as children, may not like the results of the longest longitudinal study ever conducted. Over a period of the last seventy five years and still continuing, The Harvard Grant Study, made landmark findings on how to drive human happiness and success. The most amazing factor found was that people who had carried out more chores and housework in childhood became happier and more self sufficient in adulthood. In certain cases, the value of doing chores out-weighed even the strength of familial bonds.

By insisting that children help out with chores, like taking out the rubbish bins, looking after  helping with the dishes, picking up their clothes and being part of a family, children realise that “I have work to do, the work of life, in order to be part of life. It’s not just about me and what I need today, but I am part of a family, an ecosystem, and will eventually be part of a workforce”. This is how you train children to participate in responsibilities and the importance of daily work.

Dr Leonard Sax, Physician, psychologist and internationally acclaimed author, in his recent publication of “The Collapse of Parenting” presents a sad picture documenting the decline of achievement, respect and control, gratitude and humility and the psychological health of children. He states that rising levels of obesity, lack of exercise, depression and anxiety, turbulent and unruly behaviour and even addictions among the very young, as well as the prescribing of psychiatric medications to children and young adults, can be traced to parents letting children call the “shots” and having no parameters, rules and little or no discipline in the home. Many parents now shirk away from being dictatorial, or in charge, and end up abdicating their authority and duty, rather than taking a firm stand whilst rearing their children.

The introduction of smart-phones, free texting, playing video games and surfing the net, means that children are becoming increasingly reliant on peers and the media for direction on how to act and how to behave rather than parents giving such guidance at home. In short, Sax argues that parents are failing to prioritise the parent-child relationship and are allowing child-peer dynamics to take precedence over their authority. Thus, resulting in children having no guiding standards of right and wrong,  no morals or values, lack discipline and control, and who look to their peers and the Internet for direction, instead of going to their parents.

It is time that parent authority returned to enable children to grow into disciplined and well behaved adults. We look at teenagers drunk and disorderly on our streets every weekend, many dabbling in drugs from an early age. We have 21% of children leaving school functionally illiterate. In a recent study it was found that 48% of boys and 34% of girls in remand homes were illiterate. We may say that this is the fault of schools, but all research shows that the first learning for children begins in the home by parents, and that goes for literacy and numeracy as well. An alarming 41% of children in remand homes re-offend over the following three years, adding to the belief that once an offender the chances of learned behaviour continues.

Parents appear to have lost their control in these instances and children have not learned from the experience. The statistics show that poverty and exclusion are factors in children being remanded for a diversity of offences. But all parents should be aware that the pitfalls of bad behaviour, including underage drinking and using illegal drugs are readily accessible for all young people today and should be vigilant in how they control their children. There is no greater stress on any family than when a child is acting out of control in their community. Children reared with privilege should be reminded regularly that they must show example and not have bad behaviour made acceptable, and excuses made, by who they are or what their background.

Parents today suffer from confusion. On the one hand they are being told that they cannot punish or slap their children and on the other that they are rearing out of control youngsters. Children who behave in a disrespectful way to parents, teachers, peers and damage the environment, grow up to be disrespectful adults. Recognising the authority of parents and ensuring that children conform to the rules and regulations set out for them are the first acts of discipline a child will learn. Too often in today’s world  parents allow their desire to please their child to govern their parenting. Sometimes this may be because of their working hours and the little time left for sitting down and talking to their children. It is often the case that the parent who puts the child’s wishes first may earn only the child’s contempt, not their love.  A parent must put rules and expectations into the everyday life of children from a young age and enforce them. A parent’s duty is to focus on teaching their child to become a responsible adult. That takes time and patience and being ever present in their lives.

Children and teenagers need unconditional love and acceptance. They may throw a tantrum when being reeled in, but they still know that parents love them. Whereas children who depend on their peers for love and support, which is always conditional, are unable to provide the stability needed when growing up  and will suffer the consequences.

Parents need to teach children from a young age the value of self- control, perseverance, honesty and truthfulness. When you teach children to be conscientious, which is a major forecaster of a useful, productive  and fulfilled life, you are giving them the tools to be more successful in the work place and in relationships. Many studies show that rearing a young adult to be conscientious, ensures them of having more money and having more satisfaction in later life. Data also shows that they have better health and live longer lives and they are less likely to use drugs and alcohol or engage in risky sexual behaviours. Being conscientious means having self control, discipline and keeping to your word, and is one of the biggest predictors of success in all walks of life.

Teaching your children by good example is an inescapable truth. Parents must give good example themselves, in self control and self discipline and enforce rules that promote these values. When children are taught the importance of showing gratitude and appreciation, saying “please” and  “thank you”, being courteous, that every choice they make has far reaching and unforeseen consequences and the importance of integrity and honesty, this is the eventual adult that your child will become. When you teach children humility and  the acceptance that all people are equal and deserving of respect, that makes for good citizenship. When you teach children to have the courage to stand up for what is right, even if no one else does, is an admirable way to instruct children.  There is no greater responsibility or duty on any  parent than to rear a child with qualities and values that will form the core of their lives and attitudes, and how they will eventually grow up to be adults that you are proud of and can take their place in society.

In addition to teaching children life-skills that will remain in their minds, teaching the importance of religious beliefs and practice and praying and attending church services together,  having enough of sleep, limiting time on screens, are all necessary virtues that will bring happiness and contentment in their lives.

Enjoy rearing your child, as all too soon they become independent thinkers and doers, and that important time when you have the influence and the power to have a loving interaction with them, that will have long-term implications on another human being, will pass by. Having a balance of listening, doing and sharing the meaning of life will return great benefits to any parent when the child becomes an adult. That their off- spring  will have become a loving, caring, responsible citizen that understands and contributes to the needs of others  will be your joyous return . You can then know you are and have been a good parent.

The Rural Divide

Pobal, ( an agency that acts as an intermediary for programmes funded by the Irish Government and the EU),  states that the proportion of people living below the poverty line in rural areas is 18.8%. The most recent survey available from the Survey on Income and Living conditions (SILC)  shows  a rising  level of poverty in rural areas between 2008 and 2014, and a continuing escalation of poor living conditions, and a lack of basic services, which adds to the exclusion of those who must live in what is called “rural”. Social Justice, Ireland,  states that the number of people living in risk of rural poverty is close to 350,000,  (SJI) while those living in consistent poverty stands at 194,000, a doubling of the numbers since 2008. (SILC).  Disposable income fell in rural Ireland by 3% between 2012 and 2013.  This means that approximately 350,000 people in rural Ireland are surviving on annual incomes of 10,453.00 euro.

It  goes  without saying that living in rural areas are far more expensive than living in urban areas. The cost of travel, no access to big discount stores, the cost of having a car and the associated cost of goods not being accessible or close-by, all add to extra expense.

Rural Ireland has been decimated over the last few decades with the closures of Garda Barracks, (140 Garda stations closed in 2012 and 2013, mostly in rural areas) Health Clinics, Post Offices, the scaling down of Public Transport  and now the recent exit of doctors from rural practices. If a person gets sick, the absence of a doctor, access to a clinic or hospital becomes a nightmare scenario, especially with the aging population and the poor health, both physical and mental, suffered by those who live in isolation.

I recently had an email from a friend who lives in what would  be classed a remote rural area. Sean told me that when he was a young lad in the 60’s there were 4 shops, two with draperies attached, a post office and 3 pubs  in the vibrant village near where  he lived. There was also a petrol station as part of one of the shops and  three blacksmiths working in the area. What is left now is one small shop, run by elderly people, and the two remaining pubs now only open after Mass on Saturday night and on Sunday mornings after Mass. The post office is long gone and people must now travel either 7 or 10  miles to the nearest village for shopping, pensions and any other requirements.  The school is also on a knife edge with dwindling numbers. There used to be a private bus service to the nearest town three days a week and a CIE bus to the city, but by the mid eighties they had ceased and no service replaced ever since. This isolated the elderly and those who were unable or had no car to drive. This was a huge blow to the residents and their families. It is a well recognised fact the importance of rural transport to keep communities alive and socially active.

Sean also said that because there is no sewage system in the village and because of the soil type, septic tanks do not work. This leaves the building of houses or other developments in the area at a standstill. There used also be two creameries nearby,  but with the arrival of big creameries, keeping the older ones open, with all the ridiculous regulations about hygiene etc. was not an option and they also closed. All these jobs and associated benefits were lost in the process. The average age now of this once thriving community is 72 years of age. This is typical of a rural village ravaged by years of neglect and indifference to the needs of people.

Most of the surrounding land is now under forestry and that has  put an end to farming and the part time job opportunities it offered.  The harvesting of the forest,  is now done by one man and a massive machine.  The saddest part of all is that at night there are no lights in windows across the  fields or on the hillsides. They were once a solace for the people who lived there and that there was  life nearby. The owners of these houses are  either dead or have emigrated and are left to decay. Sean also made the point that only for the parish priest, who got the school upgraded with computers and modern equipment, the primary school might have possibly been closed also. The Priest also put in place a meditation garden for people to gather in prayer and meditate whilst trying to keep what is left of his dwindling parishioners having some social contact.

I think this sums up perfectly the demise of rural Ireland.

It is unimaginable that rural life as we knew it, has been left to die. Families have seen their sons and daughters emigrate, and with no possibility of any employment in the area never returning.   The elderly left to survive in the most challenging of circumstances in their old age. For the old, the sick and the feeble, with no long-term care options, living out their lives in solitary and unsuitable homes is a tragedy. For those still mobile, the absence of local services has dealt a death blow to rural communities. Having to travel long distances to get necessities adds to the costs of everyday living, and the added worry of not being able to access medical care, medicines, groceries and normal everyday requirements adds to increased anxiety, worry and exclusion.

For those seeking employment in rural areas, the loss of agricultural jobs and their subsidiaries and the recent loss of construction jobs,  have all contributed to the escalation of poverty and the emigration of the young in rural areas.  For those seeking further education, affordable childcare, social and affordable housing  or financial services, these are all non-existent and people  have to travel to gain access to these essential services.  Studies and available research is scarce when it comes to shedding light on the plight of the rural population and the effects on the economic and social crisis, that is now clearly evident.

Recent research looking at the lack of disposable income or the lack of accessible peer support networks, find that stress and isolation has a direct link to suicide, para-suicide (failed suicides) and self harm in rural communities. All these problems require specific targeted responses. Poverty and exclusion is associated with small farms, under employment and low educational attainment. As well, training, gender, age and lack of opportunities both financially and socially, all add to the deprivation  of people who reside in rural areas. Many of those living alone, down long lanes, isolated from their communities and society live lives of loneliness and social exclusion and suffer from diverse mental illnesses and depression.

In the recent past we see the utter devastation of family homes and farmland and the despair of people trying to overcome floods and damage to fodder and livestock in parts of rural Ireland. There are volumes written since the first Drainage Act of 1842, followed by the Acts of 1867, 1925, 1945 and 1995. In every one of these Acts flooding was a major concern. If even some of the recommendations made over all these years had been heeded the disastrous consequences for rural  families, infrastructure and the disruption of economic and social life, could have been averted or lessened. The prohibition of building on known flood plains,  the cleaning of river basins and river banks, the cleaning of vegetation and other growth  could have saved much hardship and stress for those affected. In 1995 the emphasis changed from the protection of agri- land to the protection of urban areas after the 1980 and early 1990’s floods, protecting those  that had suffered during those years. We now have a large number of people suffering stress, anxiety and other negative impacts on health and morale in the rural areas with nothing of note being implemented for the foreseeable future, leaving families demoralised and forgotten by successive government agencies.

It appears that government  and its agencies have left rural Ireland to die and have ignored  the future consequences for all those discommoded in that process. Rural Ireland suffers enough from constantly living on the fringes, devoid of all the services enjoyed by our urban counterparts,( who have access to services, and  the assistance of voluntary and statutory services), but are still asked  to contribute in the same way to taxation and the upkeep of all citizens, whilst suffering intolerable injustices and inequality. In the campaign for the election 2016, many candidates have put rural inclusion on their agenda, promising a return of the many services that has been whittled away over the past years of the economic downturn.

When and how can this demoralising  and the destruction of rural communities be brought to an end?  It cannot be achieved without the commitment and input of all those responsible for the running and maintenance of our country.  With all the data that is in the public domain about rural poverty, it behoves those in power to put an end to the death of our beautiful rural Ireland,  once and for all.    But,  seeing that there is no single definition of rural, it is assumed that predominantly agricultural areas with scarce population are classed as rural, and will be left to continue suffering at the hands of those who appear not to care nor have  the commitment or vision to aid rural citizens. The Government has reduced investment in community development programmes since 2008. This thinking will have to be reversed and every assistance given to alleviate the growing  exclusion  being experienced in rural Ireland in 2016.

Preparing for the Golden Years and Beyond

As we work our way through our 40’s  and 50’s , through the ups and downs of life,  through the trials and the triumphs, and as we start to stare retirement in the face, have we ever given serious thought to all the problems that this era of our lives carry.

When we are young,  old age appears a long way off into the future, but as we all get older, people will tell you, life passes by very quickly. In the early years people have all kinds of monetary commitments, like mortgages, education costs, household costs and the running of a car and all the other expenses that go with ordinary everyday living. Can you afford to retire at 68? Will you be totally dependent on the state pension or have you put in place an added income for when your money is reduced? Like a private pension or some other stream of income outside of the state pension? Your first reaction will be, we are only barely scraping by, there is no extra cash that could  be saved and tomorrow will have to fend for itself. For those who live on very small incomes, getting older poses many problems. Trying to save for funerals is one of the biggest. ( I only learned recently that the State Death Grant has been stopped, a huge loss to those on meagre incomes, with no savings).

As you get older, avoid status anxiety. Making social comparisons always makes for an unhappy life. Laugh more and resist watching depressing news on TV and in papers. Keep contact with your friends. Make an effort to meet them for a coffee or to go walking or do some other activity. Find green spaces and enjoy the outdoors with its birds, wild life and the changing seasons. Visit family and friends and enjoy the renewal of old acquaintances that you had never time for during your working life. These are all good ways to make retiring more relaxing and happier.

By 2031 the Department of Health estimates that one in five Irish people will be 65 years or older, and the greatest increase will be in the over 80’s. Can our state afford to pay pensions as they are being  paid today? It looks unlikely.  In 2011 changes were made as to how the Contributory State pension will be paid from 2020. From 2020 the amount of pension paid to retirees will be directly proportionate to the number of Social Insurance contributions/credits you have made during your working life. If you were born after the 1/1/1954, when you reach pension age of 67/68 you will have to have worked 30 years to  get the maximum pension. The minimum state pension  will be paid after 520 contributions or 10 years and will be at one third the rate of the full pension.  So,  it is imperative that people make provision for their retirement years. Many people will not know whether they have an entitlement or not, but people should be aware that anyone at any age can contact the Department of Social Protection and request a record of their social insurance contributions.

In 2009, half of all households headed by someone between the ages of 55 and 64, had credit card debt. It would be prudent and wise to get rid of all debts that  are not absolutely essential. Cutting back on wants rather than needs is a good way to start, and this should start at the earliest possible time in your life. That foreign holiday to the sun may be attractive in this weather, but not if you have not excess cash to spend. Find some other way of getting relaxation. Buying  goods that are not really necessary or overspending on personal items that can be done without, are all ways of cutting down on spending beyond your means.  Credit cards have been the downfall of so many families and put them into unwarranted debt, they should be discouraged at all costs, especially for people who like to “splash” out. A good way to live is, if you cannot afford it and pay for it from reserves, don’t buy it. Unless it is absolutely essential and cannot be done without, don’t go into debt for same.

When you die, do not leave behind a myriad of problems that could easily have been solved during your lifetime. We all think that when we make a Will, we have taken care of our responsibilities.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Have you a grave? Have you savings to cover funeral costs? Are you clear about where you want to be buried and what kind of service you would want? These may all seem simple things but can cause a lot of anxiety.   When you die, if all your direct debits,  bank accounts, and knowledge of the whereabouts of all necessary documents have not been shared, you can leave a sorry mess for your spouse, partner or surviving family, who may be at their weakest and most vulnerable.  For a couple, all utilities bills, bank accounts, accounts in other institutions, should always be in joint names. In this scenario, life can go on without waiting for all the legal requirements that must be faced  when someone dies. If not in joint names, all bank accounts may be frozen until probate is received and that could take many months. In the meantime, your spouse cannot gain access to the money to pay funeral expenses and other accruing utility bills.  All direct debits must be changed into the surviving person’s name,  and that can also be frustrating and time consuming. Making a will can reduce or eliminate inheritance tax and also ensures that those who you want to benefit from your assets gain access to them more quickly. Tell family members where your Will can be located to avoid the expense of unnecessary searches.

Plan ahead for impairment, sickness and death. Discuss with family members and share with them what you want to happen if you become incapacitated or die. This will eliminate a lot of consternation and friction between family members when the time arrives,  either when you die or big decisions have to be made about care plans.  Make any alterations to your home that might be a barrier later on. When it happens it will be too late and  the burden will then fall on someone else. If your social life revolves around work or family, you might be setting yourself up for isolation in old age. Engage in activities that will expand your social circle. Keep a good and positive attitude, as that will help with the challenge of aging.

So we might think that living is difficult, but dying can be a very expensive and stressful time, on top of those suffering grief and loss. It is one certainty that will happen, so why not make the aftermath as easy as possible for those left behind.

Climate Change and its Adverse Effects on the Poor

Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Climate Centre, in his recent report said their agency was already seeing evidence that the poor were the hardest hit in weather related disasters.  He also pointed out that climate change would make it much more difficult for poorer developing countries to get out of poverty, as well as impacting on regions in both rich and poor countries.

So what is Climate change and Global warming?

We think of disasters across the world; like earthquakes, hurricanes, erupting volcanoes and freak tidal waves  that effect many thousands of people. These  only impact on one region at any given time. But a threat greater than anything humankind have faced in recent history is the gradual rising of the earth’s temperatures known as Global Warming which could transform the planet we live on in the future. The weather patterns will become more erratic, forcing great change in seas and on land, leaving more people impoverished by the resulting effects. Climate change means a significant change in the temperatures, rainfall and wind. Climate has changed many times in the world’s history, ranging from the Ice Age periods to periods of warmth. These were all a natural change, the difference now is that human activities are significantly contributing to climate change through emissions of greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gas emissions arise from many diverse activities. The most recent figures compiled show that in Ireland agriculture is the biggest contributor to overall emissions at 29.8% of the national total, followed by energy at 21%. The residential sector accounts for 12%, industry and commercial at 14.8%  and waste, 2%.  These emissions are interfering with air and ocean temperatures,  which cause drought, melting ice and snow, rising sea levels, increased rainfall, flooding and other disasters. Ireland is a very small country with a small population, but our gas emissions per person are amongst the highest of any country in the world.

Across the world the planet keeps getting hotter and this week a new study in the USA reported that the year 2012 was the warmest ever recorded. This shines a spotlight on how those of us who consume excess energy add to emissions that are destructive to all living things, both in the sea and on land and the disruption that may follow from such a lack of awareness as to the damage we are causing. The people that are the cause of high emissions and are causing this potential catastrophe are those in the richer countries   and are not going to be the ones who suffer. The poorer countries who have not contributed to this problem are the ones that will be most vulnerable.


Natural disasters between 2000 and 2009  were  three times higher than in the 1980’s according to the Red Cross. When we have a disaster that decreases food supplies and damage homes and people are pushed to homelessness, it creates an environment that is susceptible to conflict.  We have all seen TV pictures and documentaries showing food unrest and riots, triggered by shortage of food, spiralling prices and clashes over water and the wiping out of infrastructure. Governments are unable to protect people at these times or have the resources to assist them.  Research shows that the poor suffer most in weather related disasters making them even poorer.


People who are socially, economically, culturally and politically marginalised are especially vulnerable to climate change. The poor or those who live in consistent poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the bad effects of climate change.  The reduction  in crop yields always tend to higher prices across the world.  In poorer countries the shortage of food leads to malnutrition and disease. Infrastructure like water systems, housing and settlements, transport networks, utilities and industry along coastal regions are already at risk, where rising seas and freak tides are causing havoc. In Ireland we have seen coastal erosion escalate at an alarming rate.

Pope Francis has issued an unequivocal statement that climate change is man- made and must be tackled by every person.  At the G7 summit in Germany this year and attended by seven of the most powerful leaders in the developed world  promised to stop using fossil fuels by the end of the century and to cut global emissions by up to 70% of 2010 levels by 2050.  According to a UN-Energy  report  2.4 billion people rely on Biomass for cooking  while 1.6 billion people worldwide have no electricity. In well off or rich countries the lowering of thermostats, dealing with longer, hotter summers and seasonal shifts maybe the only disadvantage.  But for those who suffer weather disasters, unproductive harvests and poor health resulting from climate change which brings  famine, drought and a range of deadly diseases, for those on  low incomes with meagre or no assets, the urgency of addressing global climate change must be seen to be urgent and immediate. We can all do our bit by becoming aware of how our excesses are affecting the lives of so many old, poor and vulnerable people across the globe. In South Africa solar water heaters and biodiesel have helped improve the welfare of people’s homes, these improved technologies also provide job opportunities and skills development which help alleviate poverty.

When we look at ecological systems they have already been transformed. Half of the world’s coral reef system have suffered bleaching as a result of warming, the sun can penetrate 30 metres into the sea, so plankton the food of the oceans are also at grave risk. This could lead to depletion of fish and other living animals that the seas are home to. By 2050 over one million plant and animal species will become extinct due to climate change and global warming.  So it behoves us all to take steps to reduce your energy use, improve efficiency and help end global warming. The biggest cause of global warming is the carbon dioxide released when fossil fuel such as oil and coal are burned for energy.  So as well as saving energy you will save money too. An attractive incentive for us  all.

10 easy ways to reduce global warming.  We can all help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by making even small changes. Here are some;

Reduce, reuse, recycle paper, plastic, newspapers, glass and aluminium tins. Use less heat by insulating walls, attic, and hot water. Turn down the thermostat by a couple of degrees.  Change all light bulbs to CFL’s which last up to ten times longer than ordinary bulbs. Use the car less and keep the tyres correctly inflated, walk cycle or use public transport.  Use less hot water, have shorter showers, use energy saving programmes on dishwashers and washing machines.  Use the OFF switch on lights, TV’s, computers, video players, etc.  Plant one tree which will absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. Don’t let heat escape from your house, insulate, keep windows and doors closed.   Encourage others to conserve.

Are We Grateful for Our Priests

“You never miss the water until the well runs dry”. This is very true about many areas of life, but when it comes to our spiritual needs, the fact that we have instant access to a priest in this country makes us very privileged at this time. Nevertheless, can we expect this to continue?

In 1987, I went to Western Canada to bring home my brother Jack, an Oblate Missionary priest, who was terminally ill. I discovered that he and one other Irish priest ministered to an area almost the size of Ireland. On Sunday morning he said Mass in one small church and then had to travel 90 miles to say the next Mass. When his parishioners realised that this would be his last Mass, men and women hugged him, cried, and hugged each other. It dawned on me that this might be the last priest they could call on to administer the sacraments for the foreseeable future.  They were devastated as a community, and said so, and begged him to return.

So could  that ever happen in Ireland?  The data and research available from the Statistical Yearbook of the Church on our reducing numbers of men being ordained, is a worrying aspect for the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland.   Between 2002 and 2012 the number of Diocesan priests fell by 13% (and nuns by 23%). Priests numbered 3,203 in 2002  but  had fallen to 2,800 by 2012. That is a loss of 403 priests in a decade. Over the same period, religious priests or members of Orders or Congregations had fallen from 2,159 to 1,888 a reduction of 12.5%.   The  Association of Catholic Priests (ACP)   themselves explain that in 10 to 15 years time, Irish priests, apart from a tiny number of aged individuals, will have virtually disappeared unless we have a huge and immediate upsurge in men wanting to be ordained. In 1990 we had 525 men studying for the priesthood, today we have about 70.  In the Dublin Diocese with its 199 parishes, there are only 2 priests under the age of 40.  Going on these figures and trends, the future is bleak for the Church being administered by Irish priests, and will be unsustainable.

Even now, we have elderly priests who have given their life in service to their flock, being  pushed into running busy parishes long after they should have retired.  We have sick and disabled priests carrying out duties that are demanding, but made necessary in today’s climate. The life of a priest is a difficult and demanding one and now more than ever they need a significant level of competence, communication and emotional maturity. They are on constant call day and night, are present at times of great sadness and trauma in people’s lives and must stand up and give homilies after these events that are a challenge and an emotional drain. They say they have little support except from family members and close friends. They are  being asked to take on roles of responsibilities on top of their everyday duties in their parish. This would not be acceptable in any other walk of life without the necessary back up service. Housekeepers are almost a thing of the past, necessitating priests to attend to housekeeping duties after long days of work in their parish.

A recent survey carried out shows that 90% of Irish Catholics would support married priests. Married clergy are acceptable in other religions so why not ours? It may solve some of the loneliness and isolation issues that priests endure. It would, perhaps, give support, a listening ear and bring balance to their work. I have no doubt that priests suffer excruciating loneliness, being alone in sickness, in old age and have problems with obedience and chastity. Why should those responsible for the spiritual care of others have to endure such deprivation themselves? Others in the caring field have support, understanding and concern from their spouses and family. After all priests are in the caring profession also, looking after the spiritual welfare of their flock. There is no valid reason, except a Church Law imposed by the hierarchy of the Church. The men Jesus called to the Last Supper were married men. Even though they were His disciples we do not know if they returned home to their families when they completed their duties.  Presumably they did.

For many Catholics the scandals of the fallen few challenged their beliefs and some now attribute their lack of commitment or contribution to that episode. In no other profession would  the sins of their counterparts be hung on innocent shoulders. That is what has happened in Ireland and nobody speaks about such an injustice to men who have dedicated their life to an ideal. People tend to forget that when they need spiritual guidance, someone to officiate at deaths, births and marriages that they call on their priest and the comfort of the Church services to add to their ceremony. I have known and worked with many inspirational priests who gave their life to the protection of the poor and those on the fringes. They brought solace and comfort to those who suffered and needed help. The presbytery door was always open and help of every kind was there to support those in want. They kept confidential knowledge entrusted to them secret, even outside the confessional, much of which must have been burdensome and foreign to their way of prayerful and disciplined life.

We must all ask ourselves the question of how we would  manage without a priest in times of life’s struggles. Would we be like the parishioners of  Vancouver Island, and only realise when the “well is dry” what we are going to miss? Or are we now at this late stage prepared to encourage vocations,  pray every day for the work of the priest, offer our unstinting support in parish duties, speak with unconditional love and respect of those who have sacrificed their lives for the love of other people and for God?  And make the life of a priest attractive to those that may harbour vocations.  If we don’t, well then the fate of having no priest at our bedside when death is nigh, is imminent.

This is a tragedy that could be averted by encouragement, commitment and understanding in helping young men choose the road of priesthood for their life. The hierarchy of the Church must reassess their thinking on how they are going to ensure that the spiritual needs of Catholics can be met in the future. They have no more time to procrastinate but must act decisively and immediately to ensure that the needs of those under their spiritual care are facilitated and the words of Jesus preached by ordained priests.

We owe a debt of magnanimous proportions to all our priests, those at home and those who have done Ireland proud across the world.  It would be remiss of us not to leave to the next generation what we were privileged to have in our own lives. So let us pray for change and vocations and express our gratitude to those who blessed our lives and who gave us solace and spiritual care when we were in need.

As we all know “we won’t miss the water until the well runs dry”.

Procrastination – the Thief of Time

“Never do today what you can put off until to tomorrow”.  We are all well aware of this syndrome. But this thinking has many negative consequences both emotionally,  physically and mentally.  This is a learned behaviour and can be unlearned. Procrastinators are not born,  they suffer from fooling themselves that they are avoiding doing what will eventually have to be done.. A recent study carried out in the USA has shown that 20% of the general public say they are chronic procrastinators. They don’t pay their bills on time, continually leave duties undone, are always late for appointments and leave  important things to the last minute or beyond. Their relationships suffer because their partners are having to do tasks that should have been already done and feel they carry all the burdens of responsibility ensuring that jobs are completed.

When it came to the student population this increased to an alarming 70% who identified with “leaving things on the long finger”. Procrastinators sabotage themselves. They put obstacles in their own path, and make choices  that hurt their performance. There is one sure way to become unsuccessful, and that is by procrastination. With young people this may be a form of rebellion and is often reinforced by their peers who condone or are more tolerant of excuses of why an assignment is not completed on time. Students fool themselves into thinking they have lots of time to do a job, or underestimate the time it takes to complete a job or task in hand and they overestimate how motivated they will be the next day. They also mistakenly believe that working when not in the mood is an option and foolishly delay things until next week or even next month. They tell themselves they work better under pressure, thinking they will get it done tomorrow, squandering their time and other resources.

Procrastination has many damaging effects on health. Putting off doing things leads to high stress levels and increase health issues like insomnia, colds and flu, and gastrointestinal problems.  In a study over one term, it was found that

students who procrastinate suffered higher levels of alcohol consumption, drink more than they had intended to, laze about or doing things that are not important,  which are also manifestations of the lack of self regulation and discipline.  Procrastinators are also people who find it hard to make a decision, because that absolves them of taking responsibility for the outcome of events. If you don’t do the job, you cannot be judged.  In the workplace, procrastinators destroy team work and other team members feel they are carrying a bigger load than if everyone got things done on time and become resentful and unhappy. They also feel that the burden of responsibility shifts to them , making for an unhappy environment.

Those who put off doing tasks have very negative feelings about themselves and very often do not know what they are avoiding or why they cannot finish a job in time. If you are punctual and get things done on time either in the learning environment, the workplace or in your private life, you gain the respect of others in society. The ability to get things done in time necessitates a lot of discipline and will power as well as the motivation to succeed. People who deliver on time have proven to be more successful in their life. They grasp every opportunity and seize it,  before it disappears into the midst of lost opportunities as may happen with procrastinators. In every  walk of life people who get the job done are held in high esteem and all employers seek their services.

Time never stops, time never slows down, and once gone, is  gone  forever. Time is the one resource that can  never be replaced. If you spend money, you can always get it back, if you expend energy it can be replenished, but all the money  minted, can’t buy one minute back.  It is our use of valuable time that matters. Successful people do not waste time, the most successful managing on little sleep and are always punctual in their daily efforts to finalise whatever job they are involved in. Procrastinators look for distractions, especially ones that do not take a lot of commitment on their part. Success is the difference between the doers and  those who choose to delay and fill their time otherwise.  Good ways  to help stop procrastination are found in the following suggestions;

  1. Make a list of everything you need to do.
  2. Write down a timeframe for completion.
  3. Set realistic goals.
  4. Break task to be done into specific areas.
  5. Make your task more meaningful.
  6. Promise yourself a reward.
  7. Eliminate tasks you never plan to do and be honest about it.
  8. Estimate the time you think it will take to complete the task and increase the time by 100%.

As we start a new year, those of us who are procrastinators, who regularly keep putting off doing what should be done now, should look at how we could better our lives  by “ never putting off until tomorrow what we can do today”. It is one sure way of getting our lives in order, having a more relaxing time, having a mind free from the stress of the added pressure of thinking we “must do” and being in control of our free time. All of these changes will bring happiness, peace of mind and open the door to success in a way that we never thought could  be achieved by such small changes.  Once that change is made, the rewards are so great that when a job needs to be done, we do it now.  Try it for a week and see.

Understanding Dementia and Alzheimers

We all worry about being forgetful, misplacing keys, articles or forgetting appointments.  As we grow older, we nearly accept that it is part of aging, but that is not the case.  Very little is known about Dementia and Alzheimers disease, so their affects are often a mystery to family, carers and patients themselves. Dementia is a group of symptoms that affect mental tasks, like memory and reasoning. Dementia and Alzheimers are often confused and the difference  between the two, while related, are completely different.

According to the National Institute for Aging (NIA),  Dementia is a brain disorder that affects communication and performance of daily activities. It is an umbrella term that refers to a group of physical and mental symptoms that are severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily functions. Some of the recognised symptoms include memory loss, poor judgement, confusion, and changes in personality and mood.  People who suffer with dementia may also lose their ability to solve problems or control their emotions. Other problems include difficulty with co-ordination and motor functions, paranoia, agitation, hallucinations and withdrawal from the outside world and not wanting social connection or activities.

In order to be diagnosed with dementia a person must show serious problems with brain function such as memory and language. A person can be diagnosed by blood tests, mental status evaluations, neuropsychological testing and brain scans.  In 90% of cases doctors can diagnose accurately the cause of the dementia symptoms.  Dementia is a major cause of disability in older people and places huge burdens on care givers or family members.

Early signs

The early signs of dementia can be as simple as forgetfulness, keeping track of time, or losing their way in familiar settings. As it progresses, forgetfulness and confusion grows.  It becomes harder to recall names and faces and personal care becomes a problem. Obvious signs of dementia include repetitious questioning, inadequate hygiene and poor decision making. As dementia advances patients become unable to care for themselves and time, place and people become more confusing. Behaviour continues to change and can turn to depression or aggression. However, normal aging, stress, depression or the side effects of medication can all add to forgetfulness and need not be dementia. Strokes, heart disease, or chronic drug use are all possible causes also.  If a patient has problems with vitamin deficiency or taking drugs with side effects that causes dementia, these can be reversed or may be temporary.



Alzheimers is a specific form of dementia that affects the part of the brain that controls thought, memory and language. It is not reversible. It is degenerative and incurable. Patients have a high risk of changing behaviours, acting out of character and personality change. Memory, emotions, comprehension and judgement  will be affected by the progression of Alzheimers. It is important to understand that Alzheimers is a medical condition and a disease of the brain. The range of symptoms are enormous and as the patient don’t look sick and their appearance remains the same, until later on, this can be very confusing for carers and family members. Coming to terms that your loved one has an incurable disease is an uncomfortable place to be, even if the signs were adding up for some time.

Warning signs

Recognising warning signs and the need to take action starts with memory loss that disrupts daily life. The person’s short- term memory is usually affected and they tend to forget recent information, names and events. They find it challenging when their ability to do normal simple things become difficult, like dealing with money, household tasks or to follow a plan. They may have trouble finding familiar places or driving to locations that they should know. Being confused with times and places, losing track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They also have trouble with conversations and have difficulties understanding what people are saying. A constant problem is misplacing things or losing the ability to retrace steps or placing things in random places and accusing others of stealing items.  Leaving doors unlocked or open when going out and without telling other members of the household. They suffer changes  in mood and personality changes at very low stress levels that can make them over-react to seemingly ordinary situations.  They become suspicious, confused, fearful, anxious and depressed. They become easily upset at home, at work or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.  It is a difficult disease for carers to manage and also for family members who are not recognised and even told to leave when they visit.

Caring for the carers

The demands of caring for a person with either Dementia or Alzheimers can force one to focus all their energies on their care, at a peril to their own health. Neglecting your own health could be a costly mistake. It is imperative that the carer takes extra care of the energy and health needed to survive the challenge of the vigilance of minding someone with Alzheimer or Dementia.

Research shows that many people start neglecting their own care when they are caring for others. Making sure you get enough sleep, exercising, eating proper meals and having regular check-ups. Taking all the support offered and looking for support where it can be got.

If there is a support group in your area, contact  them as you can learn from their sharing of experiences. Let go of guilt  and ensure that respite is available to give the carers a break from a mammoth task. Be specific and be grateful for all help given and offered. Every type of help relieves the burden of constant caring and uncertainties, surrounding the behaviour of the patient.

Isolation and Loneliness of Rural Men Living Alone

Poverty and social exclusion manifest themselves differently in rural areas than in urban areas. Disadvantage is a widely used term to describe living conditions where a person or a family experience circumstances or conditions less favourable than other citizens or communities. While rural poverty is widespread, the plight of men who live alone and the  research around them, show that men who live alone are more prone to extreme poverty.  This may not mean that their poverty is about income, but about other issues that impoverish people. The ability to access key services  like transport, shops, medical help, lack of employment, social exclusion, educational disadvantage and loneliness are all factors that escalate poverty for men who live alone in remote rural areas.

This is Tim’s story; I was the youngest of the family of seven who lived on a small unviable farm.  My other siblings all went their own way and left as they reached an age where they became independent. My father was elderly by this stage, but my mother was younger, but in poor health. I was  expected to look after the farm and be there for my aging parents.  I liked the farm and   supplemented my income with part-time work in the local quarry.  As the years passed I had a very nice girlfriend and was hoping to marry her. But as she was not willing to take on two elderly people, along with myself, we parted company. That is something I regret every day.  My father died from  lung cancer, no doubt from all the cigarettes he smoked and then that left me to look after my mother. As she got more feeble I had to remain at home in case she fell and to look after meals, washing, cleaning the house and all the other chores that had to be done. I had to give up my part-time job, that was my saviour.  I spent a lot of lonely nights sitting by the fire looking at television and wishing things could be different. I was very lonely and as I was confined to mother-sitting, became more and more removed from friends and going out. Mother died when I was fifty- six and I missed her a lot. I had got out of going to the pub to meet up with neighbours and then when the drink driving laws came in, it destroyed the possibility of having a social life or meeting up with men I knew and hear the local gossip. I  felt depressed and alone and lost interest in life and became reclusive. If people came I wouldn’t open the door and would sit without any lights on. I wouldn’t answer the phone and didn’t want any conversations.

My life started spiralling downwards.  I lost interest in shaving, washing, stopped going to Mass, neglected the animals and the farm.  Neglect of the house  followed and the house deteriorated. My siblings might come for a few hours as they were all in the town and in the city.  Farm life for them and the neglect of the house didn’t encourage them home. They all had their own families and children to care for. Eventually the shame, isolation, loneliness and the loss of company took its toll.  I wasn’t eating properly, mostly tea and bread, cooked ham or boiled eggs. I would not light a fire until night- fall to spare fuel and so the old house became damp and cold. The bedroom became mouldy and the bedding needing renewal. As I lived down a boreen, I rarely saw neighbours or had people call. The house didn’t lend itself to visitors, so if someone called , which was rare, I would meet them at the door and make excuses about not inviting them in. After my mother died, my income diminished and even the basics I needed, I couldn’t buy. When the car needed new tyres I wasn’t able to put the money together for about 6 months to replace them. I had lost cattle because I wasn’t fit to look after them. Life was a constant lonely, hopeless struggle.

 Then I became very sick and was  taken to hospital. I was there for several weeks, along with being sick I was suffering from malnutrition and depression. The doctor said I was not fit to live alone anymore and that I should consider selling the farm and moving where I could  be looked after. When two of my brothers came to visit and I told them what the doctor had said, they objected to the sale and said they were entitled to their share. That really depressed me further as they had never given any time to the farm or my parents. They appeared to think that just because I was all alone that they could bully me into thinking they had rights. The farm was left to me but I had been asked by my father not to let it go out of the family name. Seeing that I was never going to have children they  thought it should go to one of their sons. I just wished to die and be left alone and in peace. The doctor sent out a social worker to see how I lived and she said the house was uninhabitable.  That was the final nail in my coffin.  I went to a sheltered home where I continue to live in comfort and in warmth.  I don’t miss rural living and the hardships and loneliness that goes with it. I feel I wasted my life and am full of regrets and am sometimes extremely angry at how I ended up. But at least I have a clean bed, showered and clean clothes to wear. I have no friends and I miss not having a partner and children to share my life with. All because of living in a remote rural area where many other men fall into the same trap.  ( Name changed for privacy reasons)  This is the fate of many single men who live alone in rural areas.  Their poverty stretches far beyond what money could fix. Their lives are spent loaded with regrets and sorrow and a hopelessness that is painful and destructive.  It is more than being cut off and marginalised from the wider social and economic activities. Especially when men are poorly skilled, unemployed and live in difficult circumstances.  Inadequate and cold damp houses, far from public transport, shops and medical assistance, all add to a life of utter deprivation and powerlessness.  We forget that these men have social, emotional and cultural needs and the feelings of exclusion and shame all add to their problems. The more isolated they are, the more reclusive they become.

The recent closure of health centres, garda stations, post offices, banks and shops are all adding to the hardships suffered by those in rural areas. For people with little education dealing with Government Agencies is a huge problem.  SILC in its recent report said that people who live in rural areas were more likely to live in consistent poverty than their counterparts in the urban areas.  A person who is socially excluded is at a greater risk of becoming disabled in both physical and mental health and that adds to further problems in their lives.

Laws governing drink driving have also added to the loneliness and isolation of rural men.  They once went to their local pub to meet company and get relief from  their lonely lives. Because of the consequences of having a pint and being over the limit and losing a driving  licence, this outing is also denied to these men now.

Researchers have found that the existence of the notion of rural idyll concealed poverty, with the poor unwittingly conspiring with their more affluent neighbours to hide their challenging lives by denying its existence.  By a perceived loyalty to family, pride, and shame of their living conditions and their limitations they cover up the truth. Sometimes older men will not seek their proper allowances or entitlements and this is a fundamental task for those seeking to tackle exclusion. The stigma of being poor and disadvantaged in rural areas makes it more unlikely for people to self identify problems to anyone.

Part time work with farmers doing agricultural work has fallen by 68,000 in recent years and seasonal work has  also diminished, making added income non-existent for men who relied on these ways of contributing to their community and giving them self esteem. High levels of rural emigration has added to the stress and isolation and also the high levels of suicide in rural areas  and are all problems often swept under the carpet by government agencies. As a Christian country we should all make an effort to “seek and find those who are forgotten, bring our love to the suffering and deprived” and change the sad existence that so many men must endure in rural areas.

Now that the season of Goodwill is upon us, if you know any single men or women  living alone in remote areas near you,  or even not so remote, do please give them a call and offer some solace to your neighbour and befriend him/her so that he/she knows they are not alone.