My Blog

The story of a journey to conversion

This is the story of a friendship that was celebrated this year in September in Lourdes, a friendship that has lasted sixty years, almost to the day.  It is about  a young priest newly ordained in 1950  by John Charles McQuaid for the diocese of Cashel and Emly,  but was bound for New Zealand  to help out at the request of Bishop McKeefry and sailed on the S.S Captain Cook, the emigrant ship that took six weeks to sail from Glasgow to its destination. He set sail in September 1953 and landed in his designated parish of St. Josephs, Wellington on October 20th 1953.  This priest was Fr. James Feehan, friend,  orator, author and exemplary priest.

On the long ocean voyage Fr Feehan said mass each morning for the very small group of Irish Catholics on board,  including Sheila Hope from Belfast and Jimmy Forkin from Roscommon.  On board also was Iris and Frank Carrie and their two small children, Francis and Angela  from  Jersey. Frank’s mother was Irish and he was one of fourteen children of Bridget Kelly  and  had been brought up as a Catholic but  strayed away from the church. He married Iris in a Catholic church in 1948, which he said was important to him,  but as Iris had no interest in the Catholic religion they both soon lapsed. Frank was the welter weight boxing champion of the Channel Isles in 1950 but decided to emigrate to start a new life in New Zealand. They had travelled through Southampton to get the train from London to Glasgow to board the ship for New Zealand.  The Carries made friends with Sheila and Jimmy and used to wonder about the ceremony every morning in the Writing Room which was shared with 3 other ministers of different faiths on board ship.  Iris used to peer in through the glass door, but gave Fr. James a wide berth, keeping her distance. But Sheila and Jimmy were an inspiration to her and even though she disappeared to the lower deck to avoid being part of the mass going group she was still drawn to the Irish contingency.

She had never seen Mass being said before and was fascinated by the ceremony.  Frank introduced Iris to Father Feehan but she was still sceptical and continued to give him a wide berth. Sometimes she would sit outside the door and listen.  Finally Iris decided to speak with  Fr. Feehan and she asked him about the story of St. Patrick and how the faith came to Ireland. In his own inimitable colourful way Fr. James told her the story and she thought it was a “nice story”  and said she would like to know more.

Iris was touched by the living faith of the Irish she had befriended and who took an interest in helping her with her children then only 2 and 4 years old. Their comraderie and their kindness and new found friendship touched her.  She asked for more instruction in the Catholic Faith and of course Fr. Feehan was the right priest in the right place.  For the duration of the journey, through the Pacific ocean, with flying fish and its magic power, Iris continued to become more and more interested in becoming part of the Catholic church.  She found that when they got to where they were going to live that Fr. Feehan would be her priest and he assisted herself and Frank in getting accommodation through friends of his,  Tommy and Mary McCabe from Cavan.

Iris started going to Mass on the 23rd December 1953 after she had received conditional Baptism and eighteen months later she received First Communion and Confirmation accompanied by her Irish friends.   Iris has said that Father Feehan had given her “a spiritual outlook on life that has sustained her to this day and has enriched her life”.   Iris and Frank called their next son Jimmy after the Padre.  Frank  was so taken by all that Iris knew about the  Catholic religion that he was born into that he  asked to join an instruction class for non-Catholics as Iris knew so much more than he did. They have remained devout Catholics throughout all these years and after Fr. Feehan left New Zealand to return to the Diocese of Cashel and Emly, when it took six weeks for a letter to arrive,  they kept in constant touch.  Iris and Frank and their five children returned to Jersey in 1966 where Fr. Feehan has spent many happy holidays with them and their children.

A celebratory Mass and a diamond anniversary cake presented by Angela Carrie to her parents and Fr. Feehan at the end of the O.M.I. Pilgrimage was a fitting tribute to the  conversion and a lifetime of friendship between Fr. Feehan and his loyal and true friends from Jersey.  Frank Carrie will be ninety years old next birthday as will Fr. Feehan on the 4th July 2014.  May they have many more enjoyable times in the knowledge that their friendship and their devotion to the Catholic Church has remained intact and loyal throughout sixty years and many changes in their lives.  It was indeed a great privilege to be part of that unique ceremony where the bishop congratulated and blessed great friends and wished them health and happiness in the future from the pulpit in St. Bernadette’s Church in Lourdes.

Peg Hanafin MSc.  7/10/2013

 

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Thurles man steps into the shoes of blessed Ignatius Rice

Ignatius Rice died on the 29th of August 1884 and left behind him a legacy of service and the educational model known as the” Catholic School Model” which still exists to this day.  He was born in Callan, Co. Kilkenny and was one of a family of seven  brothers and two sisters. He was educated in hedge schools and at the age of seventeen joined his uncle’s very lucrative business, serving ships that came to Waterford.  The port in Waterford  was on a par with Rotterdam at that time.  From a very early age Ignatius Rice showed empathy and kindness to the poor and very quickly he became known throughout the city.  He was shocked at the high levels of poverty and the amount of young boys roaming  the  city, many homeless and in trouble with the law and no obvious carers.

At the age of twenty five he married Mary Elliot but the marriage was short-lived as Mary was thrown from her carriage and she died.  The baby girl she was expecting was born with a disability.  Ignatius was devastated and to the amazement of his family and friends sold the successful business that he had started, and was now one of the wealthiest people in Waterford. He opened a school in a converted shed in New Street for the boys who roamed the streets.   No teachers would remain with him because the  disruptive nature  of the boys and they were fearful of them.  These teachers he paid for out of his own pocket.  One night as he knelt to pray for help a knock came to the door and two men from Callan were standing there and offered their help.  They were Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn.  In 1803 he opened Mount Sion and the rest lies in the annals of our history.  Seven of his staff took religious vows and took as their role model Nano Nagle of the Presentation Order.  (For the record Nano Nagle had a convent in Croke Street, Thurles).  The Christian Brothers and later the Presentation Brothers were formed and their ethos was the education and care of the poor.

In the recent past the Christian Brothers came in for much criticism over abuse while they took care of the children placed in their care by the State which abandoned them to a group of men not trained or equipped to deal with traumatised and disruptive young boys.  The Christian Brothers have a long  and  outstanding  commitment to education and care right across the world from India to Canada to Australia to Europe and it is sad that all the unique and exceptional work for the poor has been clouded and almost forgotten in this process.

But today in Mount Sion a renewed and wonderful facility is growing.  This renewal was started by my father’s nephew,  the late Brother Paul Power, but today we have one of our own, Brother Philip Ryan, son of the late Denis and Peggy Ryan,  Abbey Road, Thurles  at the helm.  This  enterprising,  hardworking and energetic  Brother, who is one of the Order’s youngest members is responsible for this mammoth venture that caters for over one hundred groups on a weekly basis.  It incorporates education of boys, immigrants and facilitates a myriad of courses attended by all classes of groupings.  The enormous building, maintained to the highest standard, immaculately kept,  has many meeting rooms and classrooms  and  a  museum  where  you can see the preserved bedroom belonging to Blessed Ignatius   along with his casket in which he lies in the  magnificent Church, which is also used as a meeting room when not in use. Every square inch of this enormous building is a hive of activity, and the management of such magnitude is a challenge for the man in charge.

Brother Philip  reminded me  that the first five years of his life he lived in Clonoulty and in spite of all his commitments,   he is returning there in the near future to train the hurling team in the hope of winning the County Final in 2013.   Following a motor bike accident in his youth he was left with his right arm incapacitated, but this drawback appears to spur him on and his tenacity, his courage, his spirituality and his energy and  zest for life is inspirational to say the least.  His late father was a very active member of the Thurles Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul for many years and Philip takes example from the way his dad worked for the needy and the disadvantaged and told me he was his role model.  The apple has not fallen far from the tree and if Denis was only here to see and enjoy the labours of his son, he would be so proud.  Brother Philip is humble, dismissive of his input into the renewed life that is visible everywhere you look, from the litter free environment inside and out, to the management of the centre which for one man,  is mammoth. The smile and warm welcome that greets you at the door is memorable.

Philip is quite capable of the enormous task that he has taken charge of and its success, and leaves one very proud of this Thurles native.  He is a natural  inspirational  leader, and is visionary and ready to put his shoulder to the wheel to continue the work of Blessed Ignatius and to achieve the dream that is the Mount Sion International Heritage Centre.  His spirituality and Christianity is palpable and serves him in good stead in this enormous project in the current climate of diminishing Brothers and an older community.  The burden of continuity falls on the shoulders of a young and  generous  Brother Philip.

The International Heritage Centre at Mount Sion is a legacy that the Christian Brothers can be proud of, and even though they get no State funding for this worthwhile and community based project, the  supporters of the Christian Brothers and their past students worldwide that got their education from their schools, continue to assist in the  financial affairs to allow this facility for the people of Waterford and surrounding area to continue.  This is a tribute to all Christian Brothers who worked  tirelessly  and humbly for all the hundreds of thousands worldwide that they educated, and continue to do so.  I would encourage any person who wishes to experience the sense of Christianity that permeates this centre,  to visit and see the legacy of the Christian Brother community to better the lives of all those who use this unique and wonderful centre, in spite of all adversity.    To the unique and courageous Philip we wish him the success that he so deserves and I have no doubt that his contribution will live on after him in the spirit of Blessed Ignatius Rice.

Peg Hanafin, MSc. 23/11/2012

Recognising the legacy of the Catholic church

Ingratitude,  is  an integral part of life.  Ingratitude is a “forgetfulness or poor return for favours received,  or  not valuing what you have, or have been given”.  Unexpressed gratitude is also ingratitude.  For example have you ever given a gift and received no thanks? Have you ever felt unappreciated by family, friends   or neighbours, when  always  there  when  needed?  Have you gone out of your  way  for  friends  and  neighbours  and  got  no  acknowledgement  for your efforts ?  How did that feel?  When as a society we put how we feel into action,  we  feel  indignant, resentful and find our spirit challenged.  An ungrateful spirit feeds unrealistic expectations from key people in our lives. We all, everyone of us,  experienced   the  above  feelings.  They   are  very  negative  feelings, and when one does not receive the recognition for good deeds, life can become very difficult and dispirited.

So how do we think our priests feel?   Am I my brother’s keeper?   Do all priests have to be painted with the same brush for the misdeeds of the few?  Have we, as a   professed   Catholic   nation , abandoned  logic?   In the 2011 census 84% of the population still call themselves “Catholic”.  Another interesting   statistic is that 68%   born into Catholic families remain in the church, maybe not with the same commitment,  dedication   and  enthusiasm  as before, but still remain.

Let  us   look at our abandonment of logic:  logic  is the science and art of being able to  cut through the chaff to attain the truth.   The Irish media is one of the most hostile in the developed world towards the Catholic  church  and on a daily  basis  promote  much negativity about our priests, nuns, and brothers.  I commend them on the exposures of the mindboggling abuse that our children endured until these scandals were exposed, but I do not see the same relentless haranguing of other  abusers ,  for example the swimming coaches, incest perpetrators,  (which are the most proliferate), rapists, convicted moneyed men etc.,  in the same way.  People like William Binchy and   Vincent Twomey  and  others in the church argue about the issues of ethics and morality and have also said that all the many thousands of good and faithful priests cannot be constantly  blamed for the sins of the minority.  The leaders in the church  itself  continuously fail to defend their stance, which is a pity.

It is not possible for a country so steeped in Catholicism to be cut free of our religious inheritance, so a mechanism for renewal will have to be found to restore our faith and give people hope in these times of crisis. We need strong and fair leadership, acceptance of a changing society,  and  also  a  compassionate  society  that   understands  the plight the church has found itself in.  All priests and religious  are  human, needing  our support in their daily survival for to remain faithful,   some   may not  have  the best qualities we all appear to demand, but they have made the ultimate sacrifice for their flock.

 

The Catholic church and the legacy it has left over generations in the fields of education, health  and providing for those abandoned by society, is a legacy that cannot and should not be forgotten by the citizens of this country.  The constant highlighting of sex scandals in a bid to taint all priests is failing  to take account of the intrinsic need  to be part of the Catholic Church embedded in the Irish psyche, is damaging and  undermining.  When “religious capital” declines   and the country  becomes  more secularized, our need  for spiritual nourishment is unmet.   This can be seen by the need of the thousands that attend Lough Derg, Knock, Croagh  Patrick, and indeed our own  Holycross  Novena  and Padre Pio day, highlighting the need for spiritual subsistence and renewal and a prayerful gathering of all the faithful, led  by the priest in charge.  I am sure they do not go to see the scenery, even though it may be an added bonus.  Many people may not agree with all the teachings of the Catholic church, and have different opinions on  many  aspects  of  its  teachings, like contraception, divorce, homosexuality and abortion, but still feel the need to be a part of the celebrations that constantly  require the services of our diligent clergy.

We may appear to have more material wealth, but when the reality of life hits with its challenges, we turn to our priests,  when  somebody close dies, has a terminal illness, a marriage breakdown, has  a loved one in the throes of addiction,  or a death by suicide or any one of the myriad of other daily problems  people  find  themselves in, in  the hustle and bustle of today’s world  their only place of refuge is often what is provided by  priests, nuns and other prayerful people.  When fortitude and courage are needed, we all want a place of refuge and we all want the attention of our priests and church services.

Since the 1960’s we have had rapid social change, and  authority was challenged at a frightening rate across all of society the Catholic church and it’s teachings came under fire.  The miss-handling of abuse scandals angered and pained the elderly, the younger generation felt  disgust ,  but even more so,  the innocent and good clergy who have borne the brunt in so many ways  for their erring peers, will have to be supported  in a meaningful, inclusive way.  The lack  of  moral  courage  and  silence, has been a very heavy price to pay for all members of our church.  Many of the allegations  made  were  very badly handled and were not faced up to by those in charge.  When report after report was published showing these cover ups, victims  were still not treated  with  respect,  dignity  and genuine concern ,  indeed the actions of those in charge left a lot to be desired,  adding  to further suffering of  victims and their families.  But   facing  the  public is a humiliating  exercise and done under duress and possibly anger and frustration,  when you have to admit you are wrong  and when it is outside of one’s control, is indeed a real challenge.

Let us  go  back in time to the Middle ages, when the Catholic church was recognised as the unifying force in Europe.  It was first recognised for its commitment to Literacy and Numeracy and for scientific development.  Monastic settlements were the only bastion of literacy, priests and  monks  became the founders of the first Universities  that  were  preceded  by the  schools   attached to monasteries and  cathedrals, and staffed by clergymen.  Convents also educated women.   The Catholic legacy can also be seen in the naming of plants and animals worldwide (in Latin).  Jesuit missionaries were at the coal face of scientific and cultural exchanges and their influence extended to America, Africa, Asia, and  China.  During the Dark Ages,  Church  Scholars and missionaries played a vital part in preserving  the knowledge  of classical learning,  in outposts  like our own Skellig  Michael,  where the Monks were the last  preservers of poetry  and scientific  works of Western Civilization.  After the fall of Rome, almost all men of intellect joined the Catholic Church and practically nobody in Western Europe outside of monastic settlements   was able to read or write.  Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian Friar,  developed  and studied theories  involving bees and their pollination of flowers and plants, which are now called “genetics”. He went unrecognised until around 1900, when various scientists rediscovered   his theories and worked on them.  The Jesuits contributed to  the  development  of  pendulum clocks, barometers, telescopes, microscopes, and electricity among others.  A  Jesuit priest called   Macelwaine   wrote the first text book on Seismology in 1936.  Irish missionaries were world renowned for their contributions to education and health  at  their delegated mission posts, and still are.

So pondering on just a few of  these  amazing  legacies  by the clergy of  the  Catholic Church, surely we as a society owe them  a debt of gratitude, loyalty and support to continue in their lonely and often demanding lives. The  Catholic  church  has   bequeathed  more than any other institution across the world, legacies that continue through the centuries for the betterment of all of humankind.  They may not have all been born to academia,  their oratory skills not up to scratch, but their contribution through the ages should mean that the present upheaval  is just a blip on the horizon of the future. What has befallen our church in the recent past will have to be taken in context of the unquantifiable legacy left by the Catholic Church down through the centuries. The church has man y faults and failings, seeing that it is managed by human beings and cannot be perfect, but it must be more accountable, honest and accept that things need to change, and fast.  Maybe the current crisis will make our church humbler, more understanding of people’s faults and failings, more compassionate for those who have different values,  more aware of peoples’ needs, and  becoming   part of every community,  where every priest, nun and brother continue to minister.  We owe our religious a huge debt of gratitude in trying to preserve the heritage we all need in our lives and give them unstinting support, care   and  concern  in  these difficult times when they are becoming older and  their numbers diminishing.

We,  the  beneficiaries of the ideals and values constantly promoted by the church, should now put our own shoulder to the wheel and ensure that the requirements for a happy and contented life continues for the next generation.   We should not throw away all that is good and pertinent to our lives because some priests, brothers and nuns were weak, violent and sadistic in their lives. They were after all a very, very small minority.  The  committed  religious,   should  hold their heads high and continue their ministry in the life that they have chosen, in the service of the Lord.   I take the liberty to say,  we do not give the recognition that is deserved by the clergy of our church, that are always there in our hour of need with their unconditional support to all of their flock.  They  need  our  sincere thanks, support and appreciation to renew their own spirits and lives,  to continue in these times of unfair trials and tribulations.

Peg Hanafin,  MSc.

8/09/2012

26/10/2012 sent to Michael at the Irish Catholic, weekly paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The students of Colaiste Eile were my candle flame

“I like the dreams of the future, better than the history of the past”  (Thomas Jefferson)

 

For the students who returned to second chance education at Coláiste Éile, the above quotation is extremely relevant.  I am going to speak about the years that I had the honour of being Co-ordinator of Coláiste Éile. When I was appointed on 1 January 1995, I named the Vocational Training Opportunity Scheme (VTOS) facility Coláiste Éile, believing then and now that naming the centre would be a way of bringing dignity and pride to all there. Coláiste Éile facilitated a Vocational Training Opportunity Scheme (VTOS), a scheme which provides another chance for education to eligible persons over 21 years old, who are long-term unemployed, on one-parent family allowance, on disability allowance or on an invalidity allowance. Most students were early school leavers, and had faced numerous and soul-destroying disadvantages in their lives.

 

An assumption is very often made that because you are an early school leaver, that you have no brains or unable to learn for some reason. The students of Coláiste Éile rubbished that belief and in fact many are multi-talented and have multiple intelligences.

The power of education to liberate and transform peoples lives is quantifiable and visible.

Many students come from difficult and challenging lives, yet they return to education with an exuberance and a willingness to learn that always astonished me no matter how often I witnessed it. In the years between 1995 and 2001, I saw many hard examples of this. The students have just two years to attain the Leaving Certificate standard on a VTOS programme. The students themselves opted for classes to start at 8.00am, such was their enthusiasm and it was to their credit that in the dark winter mornings they would be the only people on Liberty Square rushing to have a cuppa and get ready for class.

 

The number of students who went on to third-level institutions every year was both encouraging and exciting, gaining certificate, diplomas and degrees. Many achieved accolades such as “student of the year”, attained honours degrees, and several continued to Master Degree programmes and higher in various universities, institutes of technology and other third-level institutions. Several are now fully qualified teachers, some have managerial positions and others are employed in diverse fields of employment. Their return to education has benefited each and every one and has had a positive impact on their lives.

 

 

Coláiste Éile also opened its doors to Leaving Certificate students who were excluded from their own schools and who finished their Leaving Certificate very successfully. Young teenagers who finished their education at the early age of fourteen or younger also benefited from Coláiste Éile. These very young people were also taught every day by both the staff and the voluntary teachers and by students of the centre. I know that we did make a difference from their letters and from their phone calls. Students often told me then and since, that the motivation and nurturing that prevailed in all aspects of life in Coláiste Éile, worked very successfully and gave every student self-esteem, dignity and a realisation of their valuable contribution to society.

 

Setting up and managing the “Women’s Groups” that operated in the country parishes also provided a very exciting project for me which made education available in rural areas around Thurles. The innovative idea of bringing education to women in their local area was instigated by Luke Murtagh. I was delighted to be able to rise to the challenge of making these groups a reality. In 1995 we started with three groups and this rose to fifteen groups over the following years. These were later overseen with dedication by Sheila Gleeson. David Leahy (CEO) and Jim Casey (Chairman) are carrying on a fine tradition of encouraging access to education and are to be complimented on their commitment to adult education throughout North Tipperary.

 

To ensure a successful outcome skilled and motivated teachers in Coláiste Éile who were generally part-time, and the consistent results, year in year, year out is a tribute to their expertise, their commitment to their profession and the energy, time, care and patience they were prepared to give to those returning to education.

 

Coláiste Éile was a special centre where an ethos of caring and sharing prevailed. The community spirit that existed between staff, students, and volunteers, all of whom were totally committed to the betterment of all students made this a unique centre. In addition to the great academic achievements and progress, there was always laughter and camaraderie, support and concern. Literacy and literature classes were provided by volunteers like Jerry Walshe, Bridie Corbett, Mary Corcoran, Mary Coughlan, Nuala Stakelum, Chris McDonnell, Sr. Angela Kinane and Liam Foley (Fr). Numeracy classes were provided by the indomitable and talented Martin Ryan. Literacy and numeracy problems make the world a daunting place for anyone and without the aid of the volunteer tutors in these subjects we could not have addressed these issues. Professor Micheál Ó hÉigeartaigh and Dr. Jim O’ Shea also joined the volunteer tutors, both giving the students and myself immeasurable assistance in their areas of expertise. We were fortunate in having Fr. Jim Purcell who cared for the essential spiritual aspects of our small community and involved them in the liturgy. Each of these volunteers spent many hours weekly in Coláiste Éile, their successes visible and measurable. No work of education was foreign to the centre, and the challenges were always met with an understanding and a kindness that allowed people to continue to receive the education that they had missed out on. In doing so, teachers, voluntary staff, and others gave the best that it is possible for human beings to give to the education process.

 

 

 

Coláiste Éile was also supported by many statutory bodies, including the Community Welfare Officers,  the Gardai, Social Welfare, Mental Health Services, MABS, the Public Health Nurses, Thurles UDC, Fás, and by  voluntary organisations such as the Thurles St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the Central Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and by members of the local clergy, particularly Fr. Eugene Everard. Their ready support and care enhanced the work of Colaiste Eile and the lives of the students.

 

We also got invaluable assistance from Gairm Scoil Mhuire, the sisters of the Presentation Convent, the Christian Brothers both in Thurles and Cashel and from the early beginnings, from the Tipperary Institute with whom we shared the same building. Without all of this ongoing, unstinting and generous support from all of these organisations the successes we enjoyed could not have been achieved.

 

The Computer training that was set up in 1999 and was the pride and joy of all who used it under the guidance of the uniquely talented and singularly reliable Pat Gormley, and his ace team of Jim Quin, Pat Troy, Adrian Cullagh, Ronnie Jackson, Kevin Carey, Sean Ryan and the Queen herself, Josephine Delaney. The thousands of unpaid hours given by these individuals to the setting up, maintenance and provision of the Computer facility and training programmes, were graciously given and expertly delivered. Thanks to them and to start-up funding received from the Society of the St Vincent de Paul Central Council, we were able to offer a first-class training not only to our own students but to others outside of the VTOS programme.

 

I would like to thank all of the night-class students who supported the College as well as the business people and the professionals in the town and the factories who sent their personnel to be trained in ECDL etc, thereby supporting the day-time students by enabling the modernisation of facilities and IT training equipment that was acquired by the funds generated.

 

The Tipperary Star supported us in a very public way and always added great recognition, dignity and celebration to the lives and successes of our students. This was very important in many ways to the students, not least, that they were being recognised for the challenges that they met and surmounted with great tenacity.

 

Coláiste Éile was a unique and special TRAINING centre, with goodwill and support always available to support the students in their onward journey to success. Over the years I saw over and over again how significant personal life events are, and how inseparable they are from people’s academic and working lives. We celebrated many joyous events, births, marriages and one marriage that was celebrated in the centre itself, without alcohol – a unique – but inspiring occasion for the very happy couple involved and an example for all of us. We shared great sadness together too, when we mourned the loss of Michael Ryan, James Ryan, Andre Gedigh. Billy Phillips, Patrick Doherty and Thomas Brolan. Go dtuga Dia suaimhneas síoraí dá n-anamacha uaisle.

 

My sincere thanks to the Chairman Jim Casey, and the C.E.O. David Leahy, for their generosity and commitment to funding this Bursary in my name. The financial help will benefit a student from Colaiste Eile each year. I would also like to thank North Tipperary VEC for allowing and encouraging me over the years to develop Coláiste Éile as an inclusive, accommodating and nurturing educational centre for the people of Thurles. I would like to thank the staff in the VEC offices for always being aware of the students needs and always answering the call of duty.

 

I am accepting The “Peg Hanafin Bursary” being funded and launched today by North Tipperary VEC on behalf of all the people who gave diverse support, and in recognition of the efforts of all staff members, the volunteers and the students. As you can see no one person could achieve the profound life changes that occurred on a daily basis in Colaiste Eile.

 

 

 

 

Finally my heartfelt gratitude to all the students of Coláiste Éile, who continue diligently to write letters, send cards, and mass bouquets, who telephone and visit me. You have been the candle flame in my life during the long illness with which I was burdened. I was glad I didn’t know in the beginning that the life I shared with you all in such a loving and happy environment was over. But you have kept it all alive and I love and care and wish each of you, all the success you so deserve in the future.

I would like to say a final thank you to both the chairman, Jim Casey and the CEO of NTVEC for bringing my time in Colaiste Eile to a happy conclusion and for making this day possible.

 

 

 

The five giants that helped to build a nation

In 1941 the British Government commissioned a report into ways in which  Britain could be rebuilt  after the Second World War. In 1942 the Government unveil a plan offering care from “the cradle to the grave”. The new Prime Minister would implement the report chaired by William Beverage, an economist and social reformer who had been chosen as the obvious choice, because of his background.  He published his report in 1942 and recommended that the government should find ways of fighting the five giant evils which was besetting the citizens of England as to what could be done for people on low incomes. This White paper was the basis for much social legislation which would be implemented both in Britain and Ireland over the years.

These he recognised to be; Want,  Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.

 Are these still prevalent in today’s world and how do they relate to our present economic circumstances?   Maybe we have not moved  that far away from what were the causes of so much human miseries inflicted on so many, after yet another war between nations.  On hindsight was it all worth it, or was there a better way to settle differences?

Let’s examine what Beverage saw as in need of addressing and see can they be related to what has happened in our own country.

Want.  Throughout our independence we were never more in want of so many different aspects of living in today’s Ireland. We want our security back, we want our peace of mind back, we want our jobs back, we want to be able to live in decent conditions, we want to be able to buy necessities for our children, we want a good education system, we want a health service that meet our needs, we want a government that do the job they are paid to do and we want a Church that we can put our faith in—I could go on and on.

So I think Want is in need of being addressed to conquer our present difficulties and give some hope to our people.

Disease.  Even though mammoth advances have been made, a myriad of diseases are still a very big problem for our citizens.  Disease  have moved on since the like of tuberculosis.       But Heart disease, strokes, cancer, depression, alcoholism and  the  many different diseases that comes with the on-set of older people,  mean that we still have not conquered disease . Hospitals are creaking at the seams, with waiting lists getting longer, community services being slashed, and our mental health services in a shambles.  When we look at the number of very ill people who wait on trollies  for days,  suffering the further indignity of being on public view, we have to wonder how far we really have come. Have we moved on? I do not think so.  Are these facilities,  the ones we thought we were going to get when a structure was put in place by the so-called experts?  How are these results reconciled with the huge work force and the management in our health service.

Idleness.  We are riddled with idleness from the highest paid in our country to the people at the bottom of the ladder. It was surely Idleness that has caused the total collapse of our economy. People were richly remunerated for doing jobs that they did not do. Perhaps some were incapable of the positions they held, but if so, what mechanism was in place to remove or replace them with someone efficient. Or who in the first instance thought they were capable of doing that job?  They were employed to do  important work to oversee and ensure the livelihoods of our people, which have now been shattered. Huge and impacting mistakes were made because not enough of time and expertise was   given to the task at hand.  We still see many of these perpetrators of Idleness playing in the golf links, sunning themselves in luxury on the Costa del Sol, or other such places, without a thought or acknowledgement for the destruction that their idleness inflicted on so many. We have many able bodied people who have got state assistance for all of their lives and cascade that ethos to their children, at the expense of those who do work. We have people heading up large State  bodies, and who were not at their desks, to ensure that the job was  done properly, all at the eventual expense of the public purse and the untold misery that they caused.  Idleness crosses all divides and will have to be addressed more aggressively to make a “day’s work for a day’s pay” the requirement for their salaries. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” as the old saying goes.  Accountability must be rigorously implemented with urgency.

Squalor.  When you look at programmes made and see people who live in poor and inadequate accommodation, those who live on the streets, with no hygiene facilities, those whose homes are now falling in to disrepair due to lack of finances and those who live in poor  and  inadequate housing, people unable to care for themselves and need assistance, squalor  is relevant to all  those, who are the weakest in our communities.  In spite of the Celtic tiger, the many people who were left behind with addictions and lack of employment skills and those who live on the margins all endure squalor to a more or lesser degree. Squalor has not disappeared and for those who have to endure living in conditions that are akin to the third world.  In the Ireland of today, we must surely start to question the pain inflicted on so many, now that all these boom-time houses lie idle surely an innovative plan could be put in place to help those in need of a change in life-style.

Ignorance.  The lack of knowledge, education, awareness, or the empathy with peoples’ problems is causing untold pain in lives today. The “I’m alright Jack” attitude which has infiltrated our society shows a disrespect for the plight of others who are struggling for survival, worried and anxious about how they will make ends meet, are all to be seen on a daily basis. Decisions are  being made by those who have power, but are ignorant of the facts of how other people live and how they have to survive. Is it proper to have people in authority infringing in a damaging way on the finances or daily living of others that they themselves do not understand, or educate themselves as to the circumstance presenting? To make an informed decision, you must be able to understand the facts, so how can someone who live on a large salary  decide what is best and what is the minimum to meet someone else’s needs. Guess work is not the answer.  Informed and diligent personnel, of whom we have many in this country, and who have chartered  productive ideas should be encouraged to blow the whistle on those who made bad and damaging decisions for our country.

William Beverage, if he returned today, would be disappointed in how far we have  progressed  his recommendations and his vision,  which laid the foundation for the marginalised in Britain over seventy years ago, for the betterment of life for those in need of social care and who are the weakest link in our society. In what is supposed to be a Christian country we most certainly should be in a better place than we are today. What a pity for so many, what a lesson to ponder for those in power, who have brought us to this predicament.

 

Peg Hanafin, MSc. Rehab. Couns/psych.

19/05/2012.

053-9127281 0r 0876484518  Printed in Tipperary Star of 07/06/2012

Reflection on Lourdes, 2015

How could you put on one page the diversity of the spiritual journey that is the Oblate Lourdes Pilgrimage. For me, this was probably the best so far because of the many friends that I have made and that I keep in contact with over the rest of the year. Friends, who have come to mean so much in my life and that have given me the courage to join them on the pilgrimage, no matter what the barriers. From the moment I got off the bus in the hospital until the last day, life was filled with fun, laughter, chat, sharing, praying and soul searching. Added to that is the spiritual renewal that uplifts my soul and highlights the need to give thanks for all the privileges I enjoy and that sometimes I take for granted.

The theme this year was the call of Pope Francis to have unity and love of our fellow man, and was to the fore in the ceremonies and homilies. He asked that we not spend time like mourners, but by being joyful and aware of those sick, rejected, or misunderstood and uniting in prayer with those present and for those who asked for our prayers.  These aspirations were encouraged by the many inspiring homilies that touched deep within.

The awesome numbers of pilgrims that continually file past the Grotto until late into the night, the torchlight procession with the praying of the rosary, the uplifting hymns, and the raised candles, is akin to what we expect to hear when life is over. Heavenly, sacred and the unifying of people of all ages and backgrounds in prayerful concert. For anyone poor in spirit and searching, this is an awakening of an encounter with the Mother of God.

No amount of gratitude would repay the work done by the Oblate priests, leaders, helpers and young helpers in enabling people who are sick, disabled in body and spirit and in need of consolation and compassion that is given so freely and lovingly on this unique and wonderful pilgrimage every year. Sincere thanks to all who make it possible.

Peg Hanafin, 24/9/2015

 

 

Intergenerational Poverty

All research and data provided by many different organisations dealing with the causes of intergenerational poverty  say that its elimination can be achieved by education and productive employment. At this moment in time, in Ireland,  we have 137,000 children who live in consistent poverty, an indictment on the way our Governments have chosen to abandon a whole section of society with the policies they continue to pursue. We all know families who are consistently poor from generation to generation and life appears to have dealt them a raw deal.  They are excluded from society, are in constant difficulties, many have criminal inclinations, drug  and alcohol addictions, gambling addictions, poor health and are lacking in literacy and numeracy skills.  They pass on all of these disadvantages to their children and another generation remains poor.

A wide range of issues are associated with the intergenerational transmission of poverty from parents to children. A complex set of negative factors make up the package that is transferred from generation to generation. A poor child becomes a poor adult because of the way in which they were reared and the values given to them. If you come from a family where nobody  works, have constant financial troubles  and little motivation, the example shown by parents is how that child will live.  Just like a household where there is a work ethos and education is of paramount importance, these skills will be passed to their children who will then have all the advantages and choices of having a successful way of living.

Discrimination and intolerance by society surrounding those who spend their lives “living off the state” adds to the problems of children from poor families. If you live in a home where early childhood education is taboo and going to school every day is not important,  then from the start a child is disadvantaged through no fault of their own.   Addictions, domestic violence, poor nutrition and healthcare, exclusion associated with class, ethniticy,  gender or religion  are all signs known to be the pathway to poverty. A poor child who is disadvantaged from  birth will be more  likely to eventually become a poor adult. This is what the statistics tell us.

Other factors that keep people poor are sickness, adolescent pregnancies, early school leaving, coping with family conflicts, household degeneration and mental distress. Those with little coping skills and low educational levels will find themselves poor and isolated and excluded from society at large when trying to deal with all these negative issues.

Household income and individual assets are another facet of intergenerational poverty. Where parents have no disposable income,  have no assets and who continually struggle to pay the day to day costs of running a home, have no way of giving their children a helping hand when they need assistance.  The breakdown in relationships with the resultant fall in income for the family all add to rates of poverty that is unacceptable for the children who suffer.

According to EU SILC 2013, we have 12% of children between the ages of 0-17 living in consistent poverty.  How do those in authority condone such disadvantage  that will have long-term negative consequences for other citizens in this country into the future?  How can leaders and policy makers who know what the statistics say,  as well as the numerous reports that Government agencies pay large sums to produce,  choose to do nothing about the results?

The poverty figures surrounding children have doubled from 6% in 2008 to 12% in 2013 in spite of the fact that our minister for Social and Family affairs tell us differently. In  July of this year all lone parents with children over seven will lose their lone parents allowance and the additional supplementary payments that they receive. Seeing that the figures produced show that 63% of lone parent households experience deprivation, it is inconceivable that further poverty will be inflicted on these children. These are the children of the future and to escalate their lives into a poverty trap belies the equality that we should be promoting. Down the road poverty will have to be addressed  and the further escalation of children into a lifetime of being poor is a question that we should all ask ourselves. Is this how we want our country to progress? Education and gainful employment supporting a living wage is not too much to give the children of the nation, and bring a secure future which will benefit every citizen and allow a better standard of living to all, could be addressed if the will  and  the  policies were implemented by government.  Intergenerational   transmission  of  poverty from parents to children, especially families where criminality is resorted to, interferes with the rights of every citizen. So why then do we condone the infliction of poverty on our most vulnerable  citizens  when  education  is a basic right and equality is part of our constitution which we are supposed to uphold.

Until such time as government policy change in favour of a just income for parents with children and the educational system erases literacy and numeracy problems,  we will continue to have intergenerational poverty.  Intergenerational poverty affects us all either directly or indirectly and its consequences have far reaching circumstances for all of society.  We need to address poverty in all its forms to make our society just and equitable and each one of us are duty bound to achieve this goal.

 

Peg Hanafin, MSc

23/02/15

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alcohol and women – the gap is narrowing

In Ancient Rome, an alcoholic woman was considered such an affront to society she could be legally put to death.  It was assumed that every woman who drank alcohol was also promiscuous, another reason to put her to death. We still have women treated with rejection, disgust, prejudice, apathy or indifference who suffer from drug addiction, alcohol addiction or drunkenness.

Today, the gap between the amount that women drink relative to men is much narrower and in the younger age groups, girls are drinking more than boys. Recent studies show that in Ireland 52% of young women compared to 48% of young men have been drunk before the age of sixteen. Looking at the damage that alcohol inflicts on women this is an alarming statistic and needs to be highlighted.  Women are more vulnerable than men to the medical consequences of alcohol.

 Women need to educate themselves on the harmful effects of alcohol on their bodies.

When we look at research carried out, it states that addiction or dependence on alcohol progresses at a faster rate in women than in men, a phenomenon referred to as the “telescoping effect”.  For example women develop alcohol induced liver disease, with a lower intake  and fewer years  of drinking than men. They are more likely than men to develop alcohol induced hepatitis and to die from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Women are also more susceptible to alcohol related heart disease than men, even though they may drink less alcohol than men over their lifetime. Other studies have identified an an association between drinking alcohol and breast cancer with one study by Hernandez and his colleagues stating that women who consume just one drink per day have a 1O% higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink. They also have an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, as well as a weakening of the heart muscles which affect the lungs. Alcohol also affect the brain with binge drinking, (now a regular thing with women) causing heart irregularity and sudden death. It also causes problems with stomach ulcers, internal bleeding and cancer.

Research also shows that female reproductive health is affected by the heavy use of alcohol and it also markedly interrupts regular menstrual cycling, ovulation and fertility.  For young girls even moderate alcohol use has been shown to reduce oestrogen levels and also disrupts normal growth and body development. In midlife, alcohol misuse can result in early menopause as well as impacting on hormone levels, affects  bone health and accelerates cognitive and physical decline. Many women use alcohol to increase sexual responses, where in fact,  it decreases sexual functioning. Prolonged use of alcohol has been found to have a negative effect on desire or arousal for women.

Because women have more body fat than men,  alcohol is less diluted in women and it takes longer to break down, so women get drunk faster than men.  It is important that women do not try to keep up with the rate men drink at for that reason. Alcohol is measured in standard drinks.  A pint is two standard drinks and a pub measure of spirits is 1.1 standard drinks. A glass of wine or beer is one standard drink. ( A half a pint is a standard drink).

Drinking three or more standard drinks a day puts women at risk of diverse health problems and drinking more than 11 standard drinks across a week should be the maximum. If you drink more than this you are drinking too much. If you can drink large amounts of alcohol be it wine or any other, without getting  drunk,  it does not mean that that is ok. You have developed a tolerance for alcohol by drinking a lot and this means you are drinking regularly over the risk limit which leads to damage to your internal organs,  including the pancreas which is extremely painful and can be fatal.

Depression is closely linked to heavy drinking in women and women who drink alone at home are more likely to have drinking problems. This is becoming more of a problem with cheap wine and other alcohol being freely and cheaply available in off-licenses. Female alcoholics have a death rate of 50 to  100 percent higher than those of their male alcoholics.  Alcohol abuse leads to a pattern of missing work or skipping child care responsibilities, drinking in dangerous situations, such as before or while driving or having  fractious relationships within family and friends, getting into fights and being aggressive and unruly.

Young women under the age of 21 should not drink alcohol according to the research experts. Drinking at an early age increases the likelihood of liver, heart and brain disease and the suppression of the immune system. Because women become pregnant in their twenties and thirties, this group faces the greatest risk of having babies with growth, mental impairments and foetal alcohol syndrome which is caused by drinking during pregnancy.

Older women are especially sensitive to the stigma of being an alcoholic and thereby hesitate to admit to having a drinking problem. They are more likely to use other medications that can affect mood and thought, such as those for anxiety and depression. These psychoactive medications can interact in harmful ways with alcohol. Aging reduces the body’s ability to adapt to alcohol leading to high blood pressure, depression, sleeping problems, heart problems and falls.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that women over 65 should limit their drink to one a day.

If you drink more than the safe amount every day, examine these signs of alcoholism:

  • craving or a strong need or compulsion to drink;
  • loss of control or the inability to stop once you have begun;
  • physical dependence, like having withdrawal symptoms like nausea, sweating, shakiness, anxiety;
  • tolerance, the need for increasing amounts of alcohol to get the same buzz.

Women should also recognise that other factors escalate drinking further when they are experiencing the following;  parents and siblings with alcohol problems, a partner who drinks heavily, the ability to “ hold her liquor” more than others,  a history of depression, a history of childhood physical or sexual abuse.  The presence of any of these factors is a good reason to be especially careful with drinking. Much research to understand the consequences of alcohol abuse and addiction in women and to find new ways to prevent and treat alcoholic problems are ongoing with the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Most of the research done previously was about men.

Finding out why women drink too much is the first step. The role of genetics, and family environment and also a woman’s life such as the type of job she has, whether she combines family and work, a change in marriage status, divorce,  departure of children, infertility, relationship and sexual problems all appear to add to the necessity of women drinking to excess.  Scientists also want to know why women in general seem to develop long-term health problems more quickly and are examining issues like alcohol and breast cancer and the extent that alcohol may lower the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis in some women. They are also trying to determine   how to identify women who may be at risk for alcohol problems and to ensure that treatment will be effective when the time comes. Binge drinking has become fashionable and acceptable leading to blackouts and memory damage and the ability to remember and to learn.

So why have there been such an increase in women drinking alcohol?  Given the long-term damaging effects to mental and physical health why would anyone lay up such a store of problems?  Drinking leads to feelings of sadness and depression and those who consume alcohol  have  a much higher risk of suicide or attempted suicide. We have a serious problem with binge drinking in Ireland, and this can and does lead to alcohol poisoning and it can be fatal. Hangovers that make you miserable is highlighting the body’s way of saying “you are abusing me”,  leaving headaches, sick stomachs and depression to be dealt with the next day.

Drinking alcohol is a choice we make.  We can live quite well and even happier without it, so is the time here when we must ask ourselves “why”. Try  abstaining for a while and see if life becomes better, easier and more tranquil.  I can assure you it will.

Peg Hanafin, MSc.  5/08/2014

Author of “Getting more out of life”

What is religion in today’s world?

I watched a thought-provoking priest giving a sermon recently on the television and when he said that the recession had increased the numbers attending special ceremonies at Christmas and Easter it made me think about how we feel about religion and its necessity in our everyday lives. He said we turn to religion when we are in trouble, sad or seeking some favour. He is correct of course, that is what we do.  So what is religion? The definition in the dictionary says religion is an organised collection of beliefs, cultural systems and world views that relate to humanity and to an order of existence. The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith, belief systems, or a set of duties, the service and worship of God or the supernatural.

A global report in 2012 reports that 59% of the world population is religious, with more women than men having religious beliefs.

We live in a world full of mysteries and unknowns. Fear of the unknown makes people turn to religion and to God.  It is this fear of the unknown that makes religion such an attractive alternative and is the root of all religious beliefs. Almost all religions are designed to bring about a packaged peace of mind and give us values and strong beliefs and an attitude to live by.   Religion offers comfort and a moral guidance for how to live life and helps us believe in a life after death.

We do not hear much preached about hell in today’s sermons, any more than we hear about grave sins, but it is these fears that a strong belief in God eliminates and gives people hope for the receiving of the Lord’s compassion at the end of life.  People do turn to religion in bad times and seek solace and answers to questions that are bigger and more complicated than they can understand, like when people have a terminal illness, but it is our own deep spirituality that sustain us eventually.

Freud saw religion as a way for people to reassure themselves that their difficult lives are worthwhile and tolerable in view of the benefits that may come in the afterlife. According to him, people just go along with the philosophy, morality and instructions that religion or the church dictates in their daily lives. Some think that religion is only a crutch for those who are weak and have no strong opinions.

Well, it may be true that religion is a crutch for many believers who have difficult lives and turn to faith as a solace to the soul.  Religion and the rules that govern a religion  gives a strong foundation upon which to build daily lives, stops people making serious mistakes and helps them find ways to care for others, puts boundaries and rules into a framework for living, which is of vital importance to our everyday lives.  Religion even used as a crutch is a useful tool, beneficial and helpful, but it must not be overused, or abused to a point where instead of helping to heal they cause disruption and damage. When we look at religious extremists and the damage they cause to the lives of others, we must accept that religions can and do harm people in the name of whatever God they support.

Religion is often used to control, manipulate and disempower people and to keep the oppressed silent and the militant obedient. We should ask ourselves have we handed over our direct connection with God and outsourced our spirituality in a blinded way to external powers, who decide the rules that govern religions of all hues?

The promise of life after death has kept many on the straight and narrow, and in recent years the damage done by the abuse of children and those vulnerable  by church clergy,  has left many questioning what they believed in and held sacred. There are no perfect people in this world so erosion of values and beliefs are a fact of life.

But fundamentally religion encourages positive changes in our lives. We have all experienced divine intervention in our lives in one way or another, even if we think it is coincidence.  Our faith teaches us humility, patience, gratitude, to reach out to others in our family, community and to those that need a helping hand. It also encourages us to challenge abuse of power, to stand up for the oppressed and downtrodden, and to fight injustice at every corner. Faith and religious beliefs also allow people to be truthful and loving of others. It also encourages us to fight against greed, corruption, manipulation, deceit and the abuse of power by those in authority and in leadership roles. Every individual must rely on their own spirituality to trust in themselves to loving and  making  just  and compassionate decisions.

If we believe that there is a loving God who created us, cares for us and want what is best for us, then it follows that blessings for a happy life will be showered on us when we practice love, care and sharing, all of which brings us closer to our God.  Religion and how we practice it is the right path in life, some people may disagree, but as faith leads to hope which in turn leads to a life of happiness and fulfilment, even those that consider it a crutch for bad times will benefit from faith in every area of life.

Religion has always been part of humanity and has taken a central role in virtually every civilization and culture. Critics are continually telling us that religion is on the way out, but we need only look at the numbers climbing holy mountains, attending sunrise masses, attending novenas, thronging to holy places, to see that people want to be part of religious beliefs.  It is a powerful and persistent part of our life and shows no sign of disappearing as the critics suggest.

Indeed that preacher was correct, since the recession we have seen a rise in churchgoers and professions of faith at every level. We are now facing a dwindling clergy and we must face up to the fact that we may have a society in the future that will be short of priests and religious to care for our religious needs. That is when we will have to resort to our own strengths of spirituality. With the absence of clergy to conduct funerals, weddings, sacraments or be at a bedside as someone dies, the awareness of how precious their presence were in our lives may only then be realised.

Our faith, beliefs and inner spirituality encourages us to love God, love our neighbour and live within the commandments of the Lord.  But we must also re-examine our dependence on external sources that have tried to take ownership of our individual spiritual development from without, to the detriment of our God-given spiritual power within, and to the escalation of our fears around the unknown.   We need to remember that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and asked to trust in His compassion and love and not feel ostracised by the choices we make in life. You can only feel outside the fold if you fail to nurture your own spirituality, which is God’s unique and personal gift to every human being.

 

Peg Hanafin, MSc 9/7/2014

Sent to Bulletin  11/07/2014

The controversy about the holding of suicide inquests

The  controversy  about the holding of suicide inquests is raised again by Barry Egan  in an interview with a mother of a young boy who died by suicide on the 27th December 2012 and printed by the Sunday Independent on the 13/07/2014.

In November 2013,  I wrote an article about the procedures  surrounding  inquests  held after someone has died by suicide and it appeared in many papers.  People affected  contacted me after the publication and I decided to write to all the Coroners in Ireland to see if some changes could be made as to how an inquest into death by suicide could be made more compassionate and family friendly.

There should be  no  whiff of criminality surrounding this type of inquest, as suicide has been decriminalised since July 1993.   A colleague and myself  did write to every Coroner in February of 2014. We had many replies from Coroners,  some  understanding the predicament for families, others saying that what was written did not happen in their jurisdiction and that they were well aware of the problems that surrounded the inquest for family members.  But on reading the interview with the lady, who may be high profile,  but felt the same way as all other families, speak about the ordeal of being at an inquest into her young son’s death, the subject has again risen as to what it is we could do to alleviate the upset  and trauma suffered to accommodate the requirements of the law.

Writing about the procedure in the last article I pointed up issues that could be changed without interfering with the basic process. The fact that the first contact with a family about the inquest is usually with the gardai   informing the family of the time and place,   gives a sense of criminality to the process. The place is usually in the courthouse or a hotel room,  neither of which allows for privacy,  and families have continued to say so.  The time span between the death and the inquest may be as long as 18 months.  Wherever the inquest is held,  it is a public event with a Coroner (acting as a judge), a  jury in some cases, uniformed  gardai,  journalists, the general public,  the witnesses called to give evidence, (which may be the first time that families will become aware of other facts) as well as members of the bereaved family, if they so wish to attend. This is a similar scenario as to what happens in any courtroom.  It is all in the public domain, a harsh reality for a parent or a loved one to be present to hear and  witness  perhaps  unknown  facts  about a close family member. The presence of many other people, some strangers, witnessing their grief and often fear, as to how their loved one died and what facts did others know that they were unaware of.  A  daunting  scenario.

Since suicide was decriminalised in July, 1993,  surely  twenty years on,  we should have found a way that families are not further traumatised by the inquest system, which is a requirement of our laws. There are no legal barriers to changing how the inquest is carried out, it is there to establish “the who, when, where and how” of unexplained deaths. The Act which  governs  the Coroner’s  Court  was established in 1962 and has not been reviewed since. The  Coroner’s  Court  is an independent office of the state and  a report published in 2000  had  more than 100  recommendations made but  little has changed. That report stated that rules should be capable of being amended and that changes in the work practice of Coroners are inevitable as the complexity and demands of modern society increase. These statements would appear to give a mandate to those in charge to change the system as they would see fit. Why don’t they?

The  Coroners  that made contact after receiving the letter are compassionate and understanding of the problems encountered. The lady in question did say that the Coroner’s Office could not have been nicer, but the fact that it was reported in every single newspaper the following day was hurtful and the inquest itself was very difficult.    The inquest did not answer any of the questions about the things she wanted to know about her son’s death and she wondered what public service was achieved by putting it into the public domain.

Every day in this country we have people who die by suicide and after the funeral is over they will face into an inquest at some stage. Surely the authorities that are in charge, and it is the County Manager in every county who pays for the service and could decide if he so wished the place where suicide inquests are held. In light of all we know and hear from those who have gone through the system is it not time to find a venue where public access may be difficult for onlookers and others not involved in the case, in which this most painful of events must be relived for the family involved?  In every town we have places that could be used to give privacy to those who grieve and perhaps have a support system in place to help people at a time of unimaginable pain. Some Coroners have set up people to be there to meet and explain the procedure and offer comfort but this is not widespread.

We as a society must raise our voice and stand up for people who are suffering what is an excruciating pain, who  remain silent because of the stigma and horror of what they have been through, and ask those who have the power to provide a place where dignity and privacy can be had for those who appear before,  what to them is a court of law.  All we need is for people who can make the change to have the courage and empathy  to do so. I know the Coroners would be amenable to this as they have said so, as often they themselves are deeply upset by what they reside over.

So why must we continue to read about people,  who should be accommodated by the State,  that must endure such a public outing of the trauma and deep despair they suffer in the aftermath of suicide. We can and should make other arrangements for this public hearing, that opens up  further  wounds  endured  by families, and give them the respect and support that they need at this time of unimaginable pain and distress.

In these times we never know whose door will be knocked on next, and if our own, I should hope that the necessary supports that could ease the burden of appearing for an inquest be considered and put in place without further delay right across every jurisdiction.

 

Peg Hanafin, Msc. Rehab/Couns. Psych.