The Flickering Candle of Self Harm

A wounded heart often leads to a wounded body, and the power of emotional disturbance from constant pressures in life has  highlighted  this  problem  that is more often than not, secretive,  unreported and little known about in general.  Self  harm,  or self destruction can take a number of forms and a broad range of different behaviours  that display  the lack of coping skills and  a

deep emotional distress that is out of control. The Royal College of Psychiatrists  defines  self harm as an “intentional act of self poisoning or self injury irrespective of the motivation or degree of suicidal intent”.  Deliberate self harm is one of the strongest predictors of suicide and those who self harm  increases the likelihood of ending their life by their own hand by between 50 and 100 fold above the rest of the population,  over a twelve month period.  Even though people who self harm live to tell the tale, there is much confusion among researchers and the medical profession as to the diverse guises and the rainbow of issues that incorporate the destruction of self harm.

Consultant Psychiatrist at Cork University, Dr. Eugene Cassidy states that the need has never been greater to develop a response to patients who engage in self harm.  According to the National Registry of Self Harm there was an increase of 96% in the rates of self harm presenting at emergency departments among men between 2007 and 2010 and 35% increase  in  women  presenting  in  Cork alone. A notable increase has been observed since the economic downturn with a 20%  increase  in male self harm.   Disquieting figures  show that for self harm there was a 23%  increase in the figures shown for South Tipperary and 117% increase in Cork.  

It is interesting to note that  in Limerick City,  an area long associated with high levels of self harm,  a significant decrease has been noted since the initiative  between  the  National Suicide Research Foundation and the Suicide Prevention Office in Limerick .  They have  put in place a multi-level programme which consists of workshops for depression and suicidal behaviour.  Included in the programme are GP’s, social workers, counsellors, gardai, teachers, priests and the media, coinciding  with a public awareness campaign on depression and suicidal behaviour intervention  with people who engage in self harm.   If this has worked in Limerick should it not be replicated  and  promoted across the country?

The  most recent figures show that 12,000 patients presented  at emergency departments  in 2011. “This is a significant problem”, Dr. Cassidy has said,  “and  as self  harm is  the single biggest risk factor for future completion of suicide,  is an alarming figure”  According to statistics from the Registry of presenting patients at emergency departments, 17%  who  were  waiting   for  a doctor or a psychiatrist left  the emergency department without  getting appropriate treatment.  The risk of repeated self harm is much higher in those who leave without being assessed so this should be an area for immediate consideration and concern.  Dr. Cassidy   advises   that  patients  who  are obviously in emotional and physical pain should not be left  sit for long periods without been seen urgently,  as that escalates the feelings of being unsupported and a burden on the system.   

Robust data  gathered  shows that in the period between 2003 and 2009  that  71,119 people presented with self harm  at  hospital emergency departments throughout Ireland.   A  revealing study done on attitudes of medical personnel state  that doctors and nurses sometimes see people who self harm as time wasters and lack understanding in respect of self harm  and feel it is associated with mental illness.   88.4% had stated they heard negative comments towards people who present with self harm.   Not an ideal attitude to handle such sensitive issues. Dr. Cassidy also said “ that staff were not trained in the understanding of  this  escalating  health  problem”.  This is now being addressed in Cork University Hospital, where the data on Suicide  in Ireland is collated and stored.  

Unanswered research questions abound and studies are relatively  new,  but anecdotal evidence that those who present at emergency departments are only a small fraction of the overall numbers who self harm.  Most people self harm in private and it has a huge impact on their day to day living and the difficult task of keeping it a secret adds further pressure to an individual.  The burden of secrecy and trying to hide their scars and bruises is hard to carry  and when people do not confide,  even to family  members,  and  it  only  comes  to  light when somebody notices a damaged body or strange behaviours,  the shame and stigma adds to further pain.  It can affect everything from what they  wear,( like  covering arms etc.)  what sports they play,  to  damaging  close relationships with others and has a huge and destructive impact on life.  Young people self harm to cope with their problems and feelings and find it a way of dealing with intense emotional pain.  That soon creates even bigger and more serious problems because it can set up an addictive pattern of behaviour from which it is difficult to break free.

What is self harm?

Self destructive behaviour is a widely used term that conceptualises certain kinds of disturbing  behaviour and self inflicted harm,  that a person  cause  to  themselves.  Self harm is identified as behaviour that includes the following;    when somebody intentionally hurts their own body, attempts of suicide by hanging or strangulation, cutting with blades, glass, knives, scissors etc., burning with cigarettes or others, hitting and mutilating body parts, such as punching, scratching the skin until it bleeds,  causing sores and scarring,  inhaling or sniffing harmful products, hurt their bodies internally by inserting objects,  pulling out hair and eyelashes, scalding the skin, excessive piercing , swallowing things not edible, or inflicting diverse  injuries on themselves.   Banging your head or fists off a wall, off the ground, hitting the body with a stone or a brick or putting your head through a glass door is always the sign of out of control frustration and deep emotional pain.  Drug misuse, drinking chemicals, driving dangerously, and risk  taking  are  also  considered self destructive actions. The most common method used by both males and females who presented at Hospital Emergency was drug overdose  of  tranquillisers, paracetamol  and antidepressants products.  Self cutting was the second most common method of self harm and more associated with males.    

A wide range of psychiatric problems such as borderline personality disorder,  depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol misuse and other addictions are all associated with self harm.  Low self esteem, anxiety, impulsivity, difficulties at home, school, work, fractious relationships with friends or partners, guilt, poor academic performance, being bullied or the fear of bullying, and the incidence of child abuse, physical or sexual are all factors in self harm.

Young people in their teens, for females between the ages of 15 and 19 and males between the ages of 20 to 24 are more at risk of self harming than the rest of the population and should get help as they are also at a higher risk of suicide.  A survey of young people carried our anonymously, estimated that 10% of girls and 3% of boys in the   age group 15—16  self harmed in the previous year.  They report that they use multiple methods and multiple body locations.  Adolescents and young people who carry out self harm need urgent attention and should be seen by medical personnel.   Anger, which they turn in on themselves and contributes to self harm must be addressed  and  the  feelings  of  self hatred and hurting your body in punishment, are all issues that need urgent diagnosis.   An important aspect of self  harm  is the inability to handle feelings of not being loved, being frustrated, and the ultimate shame and guilt associated with self harm.  Self harm is associated with an individual that do not want to confront  painful  issues and are generally afflicted with depression or deep emotional pain.  Addictions are also an added factor in self harm.

High risk  groups

Rates of self harm are high amongst the prison population as well  as  the homeless, minority groups and those suffering from disadvantage.  Respect, dignity and compassion  and  an understanding of this predicament appears to be lacking in their treatment according to data and research.  In St. Patrick’s Institution where young men are detained, the risk of self harm and para-suicide in the first four days of their incarceration   has been noted by Amnesty International and other concerned groups. In the United Kingdom studies carried out estimate that in the year following self harm the risk of suicide is 30—50 times higher than in the general population,  so an understanding of the deep rooted causes of self harm is paramount for those who care for these groups in our country..

We all have the capacity to self destruct with negative personality traits and can cause oneself irreparable harm or damage either deliberately or inadvertently.  It is the part of the emotional  self  that may have suffered unbearable damage in childhood and remembering is just too painful.  Researchers have found that separation from parents, rejection, disappointments, traumas like abuse, rape,  bereavement, being bullied,  serious illness, disability, or being discriminated against  are all associated causes and damage a person psychologically, which may be associated with self harm at a later stage in life.   People find it difficult  to  understand the  implications that accompany the results of self harm.  It is vitally important to have the person who self harm  speak to someone who can listen and understand their predicament and respond in a caring and non-judgemental way.   A person cannot be isolated from the culmination of frightening emotions that they release by self harm.  Without the help of another person in whom they trust and can share their innermost thoughts and bring life back into control again  it can have devastating consequences.  Many people focus too much on the outer symptoms, which of course are important and need attention, but not enough on the inner  emotions  and  pain  that  is  being  endured  and  difficult  to understand.   Children who  grow  up  experiencing  very  little  unconditional love, respect and affirmation  resulting in  feelings  of emptiness, being unlovable and worthless carry emotional scars that are difficult to heal.  These are all catalysts for human misery and for destructive behaviours in the future to ease their inner pain.

Ways of offering a helping hand.

 Self harm is an isolated and secretive behaviour, whether we discuss it or not  it exists. By ignoring it ,  it compounds and reinforces the shame surrounding the behaviour.  So there are ways to help and bring calm to a person who are in the throes of self harm.  For example:

You can create change by talking in a loving non-judgemental manner.

Retrace the steps leading up to self harm. What events, feelings or upset led up to it.

Offer to seek help, find it and offer to accompany the person there.

Acknowledge how frightening it must be.

Keep negative comments to yourself and convey your respect  but do not intrude.

Don’t be afraid to approach the subject. The individual may be glad to talk.

Encourage them to take a bath or a shower. Give them a cuddly toy to hold.

Massage the hands, neck and feet.       Listen to calming music.

Educate  yourself  on the diverse aspects of self harm, do away with myths and assumptions.

For those who self harm

Speaking to someone about self harm may be hard but extremely important and to be able to trust in those you confide in,  is  essential.  Counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists that could  help  work  through  the  reasons  for  your  self -harm or an alternative  strategy for alleviating the pain you feel inside.   Someone that makes you feel comfortable  (that might take several people and time)  and that you trust, or confiding in a family member, who may be worried about you already, are all people who can help through difficult times.  A strategy that is also helpful is to write down your thoughts and if possible try and make sense of what you are doing and look at other ways to alleviate your suffering, like exercise, music, singing,  running, jogging,  cycling, playing games or going to a Church to pray or sit in silence.    It is also important that you take care of your wounds and if more serious  go to an emergency department in a hospital where medical care is at hand. Either ways, you are not alone and recovery is possible for everyone.  There are many help lines with a listening ear including the Samaritans,  Childline,  Aware, Console,  etc.   

It is of the utmost importance that you get help as  the  consequences  may be the ending a very precious life because you did not reach out to those you love and care  about.   The candle which is flickering is synonymous with  how  your life is,  if it is not assisted  it will burn out.      

“Have you ever lived my life, have you ever spent one minute in my shoes?  If you haven’t then tell me why you judge me like you do”   (Anonymous)

What We Know about Suicide

Suicide is the formal term for taking one’s own life.  People have died by suicide for centuries and it is not a new phenomenon. People of all ages, races and backgrounds can, and do, end their own lives.  According to the experts all suicides are attempted or completed by persons who feel totally trapped by life circumstances and can see no way out.  And, if it follows an argument or a failed exam or the break-up of a relationship or other, they say this is NOT the cause of suicide.  The causes of suicide are deep rooted and can be the result of weeks, months or even years of personal struggle where the person sees no other way to escape from their pain.  The experts also say that the ending of one’s life happens when the pain exceeds the resources of coping skills. Those who didn’t complete the act have said they did not want to die, just to be relieved of the pain they suffer.

How suicide is viewed differs among societies and changes over time.  To the ancient Egyptians, suicide was not a violation of either spiritual or legal code.  Suicide was seen as a way to die if one was faced with un-endurable suffering of physical or emotional pain.  After all, martyrdom was acceptable when faced with civil or religious persecution.   Socrates, the Greek philosopher, debated suicide over four hundred years before the birth of Christ.  Sigmund  Freud  introduced  the world to the concept of psychosis and suggested mental disorders were medical conditions which paved the way for shifting attitudes about suicide in modern society.    Shakespeare had many notable characters  who died by their own hand which helped penetrate the cloud of stigma by reminding people that suicide is a part of life.

Change in attitude

It was 1983 before the Catholic Church reversed Canon law that prohibited proper funeral rites and burials in the Church and  the cemeteries  for those who died by their own hand.  It was 1993 before the Irish State decriminalized suicide.  To this day at an inquest, a Coroner, jury, the gardai and the press are present,  and the witnesses must take the Oath for the hearing in a courthouse of how someone who has died by suicide, suggesting that it still has  criminal connotations,  thereby forcing grieving families and friends who have suffered the loss of a loved one to suffer further pain.   This is not a society showing empathy and understanding.   Maybe it is now time for us to move away  from this form of inquest,  if only to get our Institutional Practices to keep pace with essential law changes.

Suicide is a complex and poorly understood problem but despair is one of the main ingredients in the sulphurous cocktail that leads to this event. Widely different reasons have been advanced to explain the high frequency of suicide but it is more correct to say that it does not depend on any one particular cause,  but rather a range of factors which include attitudes in society,  economic situations, the feverish pursuit of what we call happiness, intellectual overwork, the influence of heredity, the results of drug or  alcohol abuse, the loss of the spiritual self,  such as the de-Christianization of a country, mental illness or depression or a temporary mental confusion that may have played a part in that decision. Some of those with expertise in suicide believe that people who end their lives by their own hand are not totally in their right mind and don’t fully grasp the seriousness of their decision and the impact on those left behind. Suicide is now understood to be less about dying, than just wanting to end the overwhelming pain to which there “seems” to be no end.  Only the Almighty knows what is in the heart of  those who die and only He can judge.  We need to feel a deep compassion, free of judgement for those who die by their own hand.

Recent studies

Before I touch on the aftermath of  suicide on those left behind to suffer the most un-imaginable pain I want to look at recent studies by scientists and what they have said.  In 2004 a senior United States government scientist concluded that most anti-depressants are too dangerous to give to young people because they increase the risk of suicide,  but his superiors  in the FDA (Food and Drug Authority) disagreed with his findings and the recommendations were withheld as a secret, according to the New York Times.  In fact a new analysis revealed that antidepressants have been found to even be more likely to cause suicidal behaviour than was originally thought. The British Government has banned all antidepressants except Prozac for young people.  Many studies have shown that depression is a major factor in suicide, so are we looking at what medication is being prescribed by our medics to individuals who present with problems of stress and  mood swings?   It is an interesting point that must be scrutinised  more  seriously  and  also other forms of medication that escalate low feelings of the spirit and depress the mental system.   However, due to the complexity and multifaceted aspects that make up the human condition, it is important that we don’t focus on just one factor when examining the phenomenon of suicide.

Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy, whatever the age.  Feeling  suicidal,  or  thoughts of self harm, arise from a rainbow of stresses, emotional reasons, drug and alcohol abuse, or mental illness  in its many forms.  Everyone at some stage in their life have feelings of “what’s the point, I’m useless, can’t cope, I don’t want to hang around anymore, I just want to die.” But  these  thoughts pass over for most and people recognise that these negative feelings are temporary even if they are painful, and can be changed by more positive thinking.  Even when small things are missing from someone’s life it is common to have negative feelings.  When chemical imbalances, feelings of self esteem and control of life deteriorate –  and when someone experiences extreme hopelessness and helplessness and they believe  that no one can help them, even though these may not be valid reasons but the person believes that to be so, – then the prospect of dying becomes a reality.

The aftermath of suicide

For those left behind to pick up the pieces life will have changed forever.  The level of pain, confusion and devastation left behind is beyond description, beyond imagination.   A loss by suicide increases hugely the emotional intensity and pain felt. Personal values and beliefs are shattered and the individual, be it father, mother, brother, sister or wider family members,  are  changed emotionally forever.  Being angry with God and with the person dead is all normal and a necessary part of the grieving process.  For family members asking questions of “how could he/she have done this to us, they had so much to live for and they were loved so much”  or “if only”  or all the other unanswerable questions, the  realization that there may not be any answers is a grief and a numbness that no human should be asked to bear.

The resurgence of horrific feelings day after day while trying to make sense of their loss is heart-wrenching, the pain that envelops deep down in the very soul is excruciating,  and  the loss of appetite, sleep disturbance and being devoid of  energy are an added burden to bear.  Family members also experience other complicated grief in reaction to their loss and that can include an intense emotion,  a longing for the deceased, extreme feelings of isolation,  emptiness, guilt, anger at your loved one for leaving such a legacy of grief,  and for missing clues about suicide intentions.  The despair which highlights sadness, loneliness, helplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty in concentrating, social withdrawal, loss of interest in your work or play is further highlighted if you witnessed or discovered the suicide.  Although these feelings and physical manifestations sound extreme they are normal responses to a traumatic life event.  However, never is suicide so devastating as when such pain is added to,  from  the cruelty and indifference of others.


Bullying in all its forms and now the new phenomena of cyber bullying both in the workplace and in schools is a new challenge for those in charge of these institutions, and the permanent damage done to the esteem of a person is often the trigger for ending life,  and needs to be monitored a lot more carefully and heed taken when it is complained about.  A study released on the 24/10/2012 by the American  Academy  of  Paediatrics  at a New Orleans Conference has found a clear association between cyber-bullying and suicide.  Data presented from 41 suicide cases identified by the researchers,  found  that  78%  of young people had been victims of bullying at school or on line.  Face to face bullying was also a major factor.  They also reported that 32% of adolescents who end their  own  life  were reported to have a mood disorder while 15% experienced depression.

Depression, which has  increased  significantly,   is one of the main factors presenting before attempting to end life and effects individuals of every race colour, creed, gender and age.  The liberal society of the availability of alcohol, drugs misuse, sex, the high incidence of broken relationships, loss of faith, bodily image,  and in trying to establish their own identity,-  which may be fragile and threatened by fears of rejection and failure- , all lead to negative feelings which threatens the mental health of individuals.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people in Ireland and has the 5th highest incident rate in the European Union at 15.7 per 100,000 people between the ages of 16 to 34 , and  are notably male and accounted for 40% of all suicides in 2003.     Up to 50% are associated with alcohol and drugs misuse and those who self harm are 100 times more likely to complete suicide.   As it takes two years to compile the statistics about suicide, the records are often questionable according to the statisticians,  and  they say we do not know the  exact  number who end their life  by their own hand.  Some are recorded as car accidents etc.   Rural areas have a higher incident rate and since the downturn in the economy many with financial problems have become part of the statistics.

Trying to cope in the aftermath is a real challenge and should not be borne alone. Keeping in touch with loved ones,  friends and the religious  for comfort and understanding and staying close to those who will listen when you need to re-run the event and those who offer a shoulder to cry on or indeed listen in silence,  should be sought out and their friendship and help used. Grieving in the way only you want to, and at a  time  of  your choosing, is an option that must be accommodated.   Healing will only take place at its own pace, some days down the road will be better than others, and  may  take years  for many.  Burdening yourself or laying fault for being tearful, sad,  mournful,  feeling guilty or postponing family traditions that are too painful,  are all part of the anguish  people suffer.  There are many voluntary groups where people who have endured or experienced  the trauma that others now suffer and are ready to help and walk the lonely road that is the aftermath of suicide  These are often places of refuge and should be used.

So what exactly do we know about suicide?  We can look at facts and figures, make assumptions,  read  the endless volumes of research,  but at the end of the day the taking of a life by  one’s own hand is a final solution to a temporary problem.  The exasperation and destruction  of  paralysed lives  left behind to ponder and endure the incomprehensible,  is a tragedy of immense pain.  No amount of empathy could allow you to walk in the shoes of those bereaved, or even imagine the intensity of the pain.   We can only be there to sit and listen or be silent, to help those bereaved to carry the burden.   Only those who endured the dark clouds before they exited life, and those whose souls are engulfed in pain and left behind  to suffer in  Hope,  that the Almighty who oversees the bigger picture will be there  to  open the doors for those He asks to bear such crosses in life.

Duty of care

While we have a duty of care for those among us who are grieving a death by suicide, this author refuses to believe that we, as a society, cannot replicate for suicide in Ireland what has been achieved when road safety was taken into the hearts  of  communities  in halving the total deaths on our roads in the past ten years.  Now that our elected leaders have themselves experienced  the  sad  and  tragic loss of a member of  the  Oireachtas  to suicide, maybe they will take a courageous step  and stop diverting  funds that were ring-fenced to employ mental health staff,  that would boost suicide prevention, to balance other over runs in the health service, to the detriment of society at large.  Of the 35 million euro  that was to be invested in employing staff, which included people specializing in suicide, only 17 out of the 414 who were to be employed have been given positions in the HSE  in 2012.  These figures speak for themselves.  The Minister responsible, Kathleen Lynch has promised to make changes and to implement the promised staff in 2013.  We live in Hope.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.

How We, as a Society, Actually Care for Our Vulnerable Children

Now that we have passed the children’s Referendum to give the State even more power over vulnerable and damaged children, it is very interesting to read a recent report by Judge Michael Reilly, the Inspector of Prisons.  Judge Reilly sat on the bench for many years in Thurles, Co. Tipperary  and  always approached his duty with understanding, care and insightfulness.  He always considered backgrounds, circumstances and understood the frailties of life when passing judgement.  I felt that when he became the Inspector of Prisons that his visits and his wisdom would be always fair and compassionate to those who are young and incarcerated and would highlight injustices suffered by them and hopefully get the support from Government Departments  (Education/ Justice) to have them addressed.

His report, made public on the 16/10/2012 is damning of our State’s care of the human rights of children and that a culture of abuse of young adults was being ignored and living conditions were beyond intolerable in St. Patricks Institution, where young boys of sixteen and over are held in prison, which  was used as a Women’ Prison located within Mountjoy  and built in 1850.  In 1956 when inmates were transferred from a Borstal in Clonmel   it became the accepted prison for young boys and young adults under twenty one.  In 2002 a new unit was built for boys between the ages of fourteen and  sixteen  but insightfully was never opened. Judge Reilly in his report has raised concerns about many issues of grave injustices in healthcare, lack of  education,  drug abuse,  and the use of deplorable  practices of control and restraint and many other unacceptable practices.  Young boys are locked in their cells for twenty three hours a day and officers there had no  adequate  training  in the care of these boys. One disciplinary procedure which is used  is  the stopping of families visiting the boys, an unacceptable and uncivilized punishment in any society and contrary to European prison rules.  The locking up in small cells  housing three or four inmates and in overcrowded, dirty conditions , for twenty three hours per day  is an indictment of  how we treat the weakest, most vulnerable and  disadvantaged in our society,  and in the care of the State.

Young boys are stripped of their clothes and given just underwear and an over-garment similar to a poncho when placed in observation cells.  Forcing young boys to undress in such a manner is degrading, intimidating and abusive.  The Report also found that bedclothes were dirty, and not changed after a prisoner moves on, cells were  dirty and in need of painting,  toilets  blocked, and no access to running water.  Other areas of the prison were dirty and unhygienic and had broken equipment. Judge Reilly also found that the prison lacked even basics like footballs and structured activities were limited.     He also said that the drug problem in St. Patricks Institution was the worst amongst all prison systems. There is a culture of bullying, fear and intimidation by some prison staff against young boys and young adults who are helpless and defenceless.  He also found that prisoners were forcibly moved to isolation cells using head and arm-locks as a control and restraint method.  These methods are totally outdated and unacceptable.   Once in the cells they were forcibly stripped, at times the clothes cut off their backs by staff using knives and leaving injuries.  Some of these boys had already been the victims of sexual and physical abuse when younger.  Prison gangs were rife and there was no proper management structure.  What a sorry mess  the State stands over, in  retraining  people and preparing  them for going back to their communities,  which all prisoners do eventually.

On a very recent visit Judge Reilly found one young boy on twenty four hour lockup  for two months. This is unimaginable and intolerable and is extremely damaging to the mental health of the prisoner.   He had an eye injury which he claimed he got when he fell from his bed, Judge Reilly did not believe him, highlighting  again  the fear element that exists about making complaints about prison officers.  So obviously nothing of note has changed to better the lot of these young people who today in our society are still enduring the most awful of cruel punishments.  For over thirty years the regime that is implemented in St. Patricks Institution has been condemned by Amnesty International and by  visiting committees,  to no avail.  It is a well researched fact that this type of treatment not alone is capable of permanent damage, to those so young,  but incurs anger and resentments that last all of their lives, and inhibits any kind of  rehabilitation,   making  them into hardened criminals on release.  That is the culture that we as a Society stand over and ignore,  and  the State and the authorities  turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to these helpless and  troubled  young men.  It is shameful and damning, to say the least,  of those who have the power to change this regime.

Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice kept the report of Judge Reilly under wraps for over three months  before it was published, (along with eight other prison reports) suggesting that he was  attempting to limit the impact of Judge Reilly’s findings.  Fr. Ciaran  Enright  chaplain to St. Patrick’s Institution, has said that all these issues have been raised  many times before and ignored,  and we still have young people locked up for twenty three hours a day, to this very day.

Now that the State has been given more power in the recent referendum to “cherish all our children equally” I hope we see a revolution in how we manage and rehabilitate  those so young who are being utterly  neglected by those in power, including our new Minister for Children.  How our leaders and those in power can stand over such a regime and do nothing, beggars  belief.  Every scrap of research shows that without respect and dignity you will never recover normality for those we imprison.    Prisoners must be treated with respect,  dignity, concern, kindness and understanding, to make prisoners,  who will all eventually be released back into society, accept that misdeeds do not pay in the long run and that when their debt is paid to society that they will leave with the memory that those who were in control, led by example.  The example that our young boys, all two hundred and thirty of them who are imprisoned every day in St. Patricks,  will have memories  that will have shaken them to the core,  forever, and  will continue to be even more angry and violent as they return to their communities, far worse than when they were  sent to prison.

It is a sad reflection on a Christian country that have recently given more power to the State that stands over such abuse, which in some cases are worse than what the inmates have been incarcerated for, and appear to think that it is acceptable.  It  should  make us all stop and think what type of society do we want and is imprisonment of children under eighteen  working,  giving Judge Reilly’s condemnation of such  conditions in the 21st century.  In recent weeks the Minister for children said that no more young adults under eighteen will be sent to St. Patricks Institution, this is a step in the right direction but there’s a long way to go.  What about those a little older with poor education, generally from dysfunctional backgrounds,  and  are stuck in the poverty trap with no way out?  And are we seeing the makings of another Redress Board and millions of euros in compensation being paid to these  young  boys  down the road?  The Government do not appear to have learned any lessons from the recent past. With the abuse suffered by those so young at the hands,  and in the care of the State, it will be no surprise.

The Aftermath of Death

Only the unloved and unloving escape the loneliness and deep grief  that comes in the aftermath of  losing a loved one. Loneliness, it is the ultimate price we pay for the loving relationships we had the  pleasure  of enjoying  during our shared  lives. What is this devastating feeling of loneliness? Is it being alone?  Well only those who are in the throes of the agonising pain that follows the loss of a loved one,  truly understand the intensity of the pain and anguish that must be suffered.  A new study conducted in the University of California has shown that loneliness doubles the risk of dying and also escalates the multiple measures of functional decline in people who have lost a loved one during the first year of bereavement.

Being alone for some might be by choice, many enjoy the pleasure of their own company, but the loneliness experienced after death is a different ball-game. Loneliness is now considered the greatest social problem of modern times, and it is especially acute for those who have lost their life partner or  other  significant person in their life. The awareness of society at large of how this impacts is inadequate and more often than not  ignored  to the detriment of those involved.   People do not really want to become involved in somebody  else’s  grief,  as they themselves feel  unsure and unable of how to deal with the aftermath of bereavement and loss.   Death is a fact of life we never really think about, or  were  even  taught how to deal with,  and will be faced by everybody eventually,  and  will be a journey that has to be made alone.

The most  painful  factor that  has to be endured is the intensity of the relationship lost. Research shows that 40% of bereaved people suffer from some form of anxiety disorder in the early  years  after the death of a loved one. Stress after a loved one is placed at the top of the list of the most serious stresses to endure. The loss of a child is extremely difficult because it is not the rule of nature  that  parents  bury a child. The feelings of loneliness after a child is relentless because of the deprivation of seeing and loving that child as they grow up and become adults. Time perspective after this loss is difficult to draw a line under, and for some parents they never get over the loss. The sudden death of a loved one is a difficult challenge and when no goodbyes are said, it escalates the deep anguish and surreal loss that is suffered by those left behind. Parents and families that have lost a loved one by suicide, suffer the added trauma of the “why’s”.       As time moves on it may not be as intensive and painful, but time often stands still, and is difficult to get to the stage of accepting that life has ended for their child.   The  inadequate  feelings that follow is a burden that is hard to get over  in  trying to live life with all the consequences that suicide leaves in its path.   Anger is a very real and present feeling that besets the family  and that brings its own problems in trying to resolve and accept the finality of their loss. The anxiety of separation is an appalling threat to one’s confidence,  and  a return to happiness and hope for the future is a daily struggle.  For many families a nightmare has  begun, and the toll it takes to go on living, is an unprecedented challenge.

The loss of a partner is a life changing event that brings many difficulties for the   person who is mourning.  Most of us measure our happiness by the value we place on our relationships. Many suffer in their anxiety the  physical symptoms common in panic situations, like palpitations, difficulty in breathing, depression, loss of hope, a yearning to be with the departed, fear, the physical lack of energy, an escalation of any existing medical problems, loss of appetite and an intractable sleeplessness. The   feelings and the intensity of the loss suffered and the physical pain is soul destroying and is ever present and   the intense grief unbearable. To find oneself  behaving  unusually, irrationally, fearful, frustrated, feeling foolish and unable to explain why, is a bewildering and frightening experience in an already distressed situation. Friends and family move on and away, and the guilt encompassed in trying to hide the tears, the outbursts of desperation at the loss of someone significant in life, is all fraught with the bitterness of being left alone and with the feelings of purposelessness and denial. In the early months of bereavement the empty hungering aspects of grief and loneliness needs to be expressed, and support, care and concern is of paramount importance at this time.  People who are composed and self sufficient and outwardly appear in  control  are often the people that need careful understanding and help.

Society expects that a person should have the skills to accept their  changed circumstances and this is a hampering of the grieving process and is destructive and elongates the time of grieving, loneliness and acceptance that a life is over and cannot return.  The finality of death is difficult to grasp and often the first feeling is one of numbness which is a merciful insulation from the intensity of the emotional pain, and an auto pilot allows for the suspension of the shock and disbelief that follows,  especially over the days of the funeral. This is always a very difficult time for family and friends, in being there for the support that need to be shared and the comfort that is needed.  Death  and  the circumstances that surround it are not the crucial factors, but the loss, deprivation and loneliness that  will come as reality sets in.  Life  will  ultimately  have to be a courageous leap into the unknown if the loss is to be accepted.  Death is  final , inescapable,  but it has happened to someone else. The loss which those left behind must live with,  in trying to come to terms with emotions, physical and spiritual and the consequences of the challenge ahead often fills the mourner with deep fears.  Only hope can clear the road to recovery.

The many mysteries of life really surface at the time of death;  where are they now?   Can  they see and hear us?  Can they help us in our time of greatest need, or will life ever return to equilibrium?  Memories are fostered, days of significance are remembered and the pain and grief is revived in all its awfulness during these times. There are no travel  agents to  guide us on life’s journey, our destination is always of our own making, and only courage and hope will see us through.

But as time slips by, as time does, the mourner  must  face up to reality and acceptance, the painful feelings may  lessen and the good times are remembered with more enthusiasm and you may begin to look forward rather than looking back.  Grief and  loneliness  will only go away when it is ready, it does not mean that the sadness goes away,  just suspended for now. Acceptance is the first step to a more peaceful existence and a positive step forward in regaining a sense of sanity, and an opportunity to rebuild a life that  no doubt will have grown,  and benefitted from such a new experience.  Faith plays a big part in how we see the end of life and our beliefs in the afterlife.  Many people will tell you  that  only  hope  that comes with faith in an afterlife  sustained them in the aftermath of their loss. A belief that we will meet again eases the pain somewhat, but the eternal question remains, “where are they now”, and there is no human being able to answer that question.  For those bereft of someone they loved, it is of the utmost importance that  family, friends and neighbours rally round to help them make the adjustment, that will allow for a return to being able to live without the inner pain and suffering that envelops life during that sad time and allow for a peaceful return to living.

“ As  long as the day is, the night will fall, and every sunrise is a message from God and every sunset His signature”. (author unknown)

What Makes a Good Leader?

The idea that a leader is born has been debunked and the thinking now is that a leader can be formed or be educated into the role. Of course there are many personality traits that assist  in being a leader and if you have the desire and the willpower to become an effective leader,  then  these traits help in a big way.   Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of people by his or her attributes,  trust,  beliefs, values,  ethics, character and being honourable in achieving the goals set.

Today more than ever, we need good leadership skills.  When we allow people to take over the leadership of “whatever” organisation, do we examine the aspects  of  their  lives  that will   ensure we are getting the best person to put our trust in?  When we place our trust in the Principal of a school,  the  coach who train our children, our  local statutory personnel,  our priests and  those who have authority that effect our lives, do we examine their performance, their character, and their insight into the needs required and the values they have to offer?  If we do, then in our present circumstances we ourselves must be held responsible for placing people who are incapable of leading  us and our country into a better place and be prepared to suffer the effects.  We suffer the effects of poor and ill-informed leaders  every  day in this country, from the voluntary to the statutory organisations.

The   ideal  scenario  for a leader is to have infinite flexibility,  to be an executive leader when putting a team  together , ie.  making the decisions,  but to be a participating leader, ie,  putting your shoulder to the wheel,  when the need arises.  The need  to  change  our leadership style according to the circumstance,  is a fundamental principle of being a good leader. How you develop as a leader  always  depend on whether you are involved in an organisation or as an individual.  The former is driven by need,  the latter by talent. Some have a natural leadership and strength for different aspects of what type of organisation they are leading, for example if you are a sports leader, you need physical fitness, while for some other organisations you need knowledge, empathy, education,  a knowledge of how a system works, and most of all common sense.  Jago in 1982 said “good leaders must develop through a never ending  process of self study, education,  training and experience  and be able to inspire a higher level of teamwork by what you know, and what you do”. Good leaders do not rest on their laurels and are humble in their contribution.

Certain characteristics make a leader unique, top of the list is  knowing  your strength and your weaknesses, your knowledge and skill for the job in hand, to be able to respond to human needs, know where to get help, provide direction, be efficient. To be able to communicate, co-ordinate, supervise and evaluate are all  essential  elements  in good leadership.  Successful leaders set high standards and goals, have strategies, plans, and value those who support them. The road to successful leadership according to Kouzies and Posner (1982)  are  common to all successful leaders,  are as follows:

  • Challenge the process. ie. What needs to be changed?.
  • Inspire a shared vision. ie have the group understand in simple language.
  • Enable others to act. ie  Allow them to solve the problem.
  • Model the way. A boss tells others what to do, a leader shows how its done.
  • Encourage the heart. ie. Share the glory, keep the pain to yourself.

The fundamental starting point is a good understanding of  human  nature, such as needs,  emotions, and motivational  skills.  Different people require different styles of leadership skills, like a new employee needs more supervision than an experienced one, and a person who lacks motivation requires a different  approach  to someone highly motivated.  Leaders,  lead  by example, by communication and by diligence and never asking a person to do something they would not be prepared to do themselves. A leader must be able to judge if the confrontation is to be harsh or  gentle  to inspire a follower. If the followers do not trust or be inspired by their leader, and it is the followers  who determine if a leader is successful or not, not the superiors, well then your worthiness is in question and your leadership flawed.  Leadership is different from being the “boss” – good leadership makes people want to achieve high goals,  not “ bossing”  people around.

Good leadership influences people to do great things, and must be able to communicate in a manner that is easily understood.  If the message  do not  take root then you have a less chance of it being implemented. Leaders must be able to be a keen listener, and astute in their observations.  Trust is paramount and it must be earned.  Some personality traits may lead people naturally into leadership roles,  or  often a crisis brings out extraordinary strength in an ordinary  person that belies an underlying leadership skill.  People can learn leadership skills, look at the Army and see what extraordinary leadership skills are got by training and formation.

People want to be guided by  those  they respect and who have a clear sense of direction.  We place people in positions to run our country, and we expect them to have an ethical and strong vision for all of our futures.  But as time goes by, we wonder if they have any trusted and honourable commitments to the leadership roles they are being asked to shoulder.  Self serving people misuses authority to look good and perhaps get promotions, presenting a good image at the expense of the citizens at large.  We should all observe and decide if those in power are delivering on the promises made, and if not, why not.  The very basis of a good leader is an honourable character who gives selfless service to those who are their followers.  Trust and confidence in our top leaders is the most reliable predictor of satisfaction. Leaders in all types of organisations,  be  they church or local communities, politicians, or  those in public office, must be an exemplary  role model to achieve their full potential of keeping their followers happy and willing.  Responsibility for your actions, and seeking to be responsible, taking the blame and taking corrective action are all actions expected of a good leader.

Leaders must always be aware of people’s wellbeing by showing care and concern. Being   professional, honest, competent, open, committed, showing courage and integrity in the face of many demands, are some of the many facets of good and caring  leadership.

Being a leader,  commands  a grave responsibility towards  those who choose to follow your example, and the decisions that are made that impact on the lives of those who have trusted somebody else with their happiness and success,  must always favour the follower.  Trustworthiness and loyalty to take care of the human needs of the people who hold a leader in high regard  and respect your judgement,  should not be tampered with or carried out in a cavalier fashion. That is the grave responsibility a leader takes  on  when  they make that judgement call. Without leaders that show the way, the followers, who are the general run  of  people, would become lost in the on-going decisions that are made in everyday life.  Good leaders are gold, if they carry out their duties and produce the results that people hope for and leave an  everlasting  legacy in their wake. We remember Ghandi, Golda Meir, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parker  and  so many more who gave us example and  a code to live life by. The greatest acknowledged leader ever in the world,  was Jesus of Nazareth. We should all look to the values that He left and that still remain relevant every hour of every day for the betterment of all human lives.

The 6 most important sentences in a leader’s life:

I made a mistake.                 If you please

You did a good job.               Thank you.

What is your opinion.            We.

Least important word            I.

Thoughts on the Referendum 2012

We are being asked by the State to make changes to our Constitution on the 10th November 2012.  It is about the rights of children.  So we must be vigilant about what we are voting for and ensure that we are doing what is in the best interest of the most vulnerable and traumatised citizens  in our society.   We are joint carers of the Constitution with the State, as a change cannot be made without our permission.  So let us examine the change and make an informed judgement.

We already have in our Constitution an article which says “That all the children of the nation be treated equally”.  We also have article 42.5 which covers  the State as the guardian of the common good and which can now be changed  to give some added powers if the citizens so wish.

So let us examine the Curriculum Vitae of the State in how they have upheld the Constitution so far in our history.  Our State has delivered some very positive things for its citizens and it continues to do . As our children are the future of our country we must have absolute certainty in how their rights are exercised. We look at what is historically factual.

  • In the past ten years alone, 196 children died in the care of the State, that is one child every three weeks.  They are the ones that are documented and that are a statistic and are on record.
  • The Redress board was put in place and paid out millions of tax-payers money to make restitution for the failure of the State to do their duty of care to children, institutionalised in State care.
  • We have St. Patricks Institution where we incarcerate our vulnerable and traumatised boys, and where the State has been made aware by several national and international concerned bodies of the inhumane and scandalous conditions that children are kept in with little or no retraining, severe overcrowding, much violence and drugs freely available.  Not a place to rehabilitate those so young who have broken the law.  In the very recent past our Minister for Justice has said that no young boys under eighteen will be sent there in the future.  Fine, but what about the young adults of eighteen and over?   Is there another Redress Board coming down the tracks?
  • The State stands over the 23% of children who leave school with literacy and numeracy problems, which handicap them for their lives, and have not addressed the problem.
  • We look at parents begging and imploring in tearful desperation, for the State to help them rear a disabled child, and they are often not listened to.


I could write volumes on the neglect that our children suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of a State and could point out many articles governed by the laws of the land which are not implemented.   So why at this time are we looking for changes?   Perhaps the State should be taking charge of the changes that are so evident and that need to be urgently addressed  and examine where they have failed in the care of our children while in their own care.   We are now spending more millions trying to put more words into our Constitution,  whereas if the original wording was adhered to it would make this country a more caring and more   secure place for our children to grow up in.

We all need to make informed choices when we go to vote, this time it is about the future of the weakest in our society, let’s hope we get it right.

How Do We Develop our Communities?

The community in which we live is where we derive a way of living that is comfortable, safe and supportive. For many years now some communities are fragmented and neighbours do not know or even appear to care  about  each  other.  That is a very sad way to live or survive. Neighbours are vitally important as  they are closest to us in a crisis, and can be there to assist with a problem when needed and also to share in the good times. The enhancing of a community has many benefits for all who live in a neighbourhood. There are always leaders who can organise and bring together a community to take advantage of the many skills that people can contribute. Simple gatherings to clean up, paint, sow grass, develop a playing patch for children, meeting up,  music , singing,  organising games  or fun-days  makes  a good start to developing a caring neighbourhood.  Many housing estates have access to green  areas  where neighbours can meet,  share and develop friendships and strategies. These are the strengths that will eventually pay big dividends and encourage peaceful and happy living, but will have to be inclusive and accepting.  Good ways of involving everybody is running community days and giving some responsibilities to those who are shy of interaction.

Since the onset of television, modern technology, cars, and movement of people , all  communities  have lost out enormously.  Relationships and the development of social capital,  creating  a sense of belonging are all very positive and healthy ways to develop a community.  The structure of every community must incorporate a sense of duty to those in need of help, be they the elderly or the young, people with problems or families who are dysfunctional, and especially those afflicted with substance misuse.  Neighbours are the very best people to give help to all of these families, and set the example that they want to develop and encourage in their neighbourhood. All people must be included,  even  if they have different standards and ways of living.  Very often when people feel excluded in their own area, it breeds anger and resentment which causes problems, which if not confronted in a compassionate and understanding way, leaves that family isolated and out of kilter with the other neighbours. When these problems are confronted in a gentle way, it is amazing how quickly people want to be socially accepted by their peers and in their community.

Loyalty is one of the most outstanding ways of building the blocks that will eventually make a strong community. Take for example when a local team are playing, very quickly people gel and communicate in a way that includes everybody and that is where friendships develop. People who work together for the betterment of a community, who share and understand and live up to a certain standard of expectation, provide the makings of a strong and caring community.  Everyone   gains from good neighbourliness, and the betterment of the community must be inclusive of every citizen in that area.  Young people who may be troublesome and causing problems are always in the better of being cared for, advised and supported by a neighbour or someone willing to befriend and mentor their lives. Our young unemployed adults,  often  feel excluded and irritated at not feeling part of the community at large and turn to lawlessness to gain notoriety at the eventual upset of the people around them.

People who perform small tasks, are  there  to help and are kind and perceptive of the needs of their neighbours,  are  always welcomed by everyone. In every community you have people whose sense of duty is always to the fore and they give unstintingly, but are often left to carry the can and are sometimes seen as do-gooders.  But without caring people, living would become impossible for families and those that live alone,  without  the input that these exceptional  and generous people offer to others. People who live close-by have a better idea of the wants and needs that can improve the quality of  life and these are the talents that must be tapped into to form an inclusive neighbourhood where all persons are treated equally.

The old adage of being at everyone’s “beck and call” has many benefits and the commitment that some make, generally on a voluntary and a good neighbour basis, is what makes  life liveable for others.  Imagine if everybody was a little more “givish” to those they live beside, what a difference that would make. Long ago, (not that long ago),  people shared what they had,  and nobody was ever short of tea, sugar or milk in a crisis.    It would be nice if people only realised that when you give,  you  receive, and the benefit for a community is enhanced by feelings of generosity,  care and concern.

In recent times we had several television programmes promoting communities and developing an ethos where everybody was encouraged to take part. There are many communities that have many small groups operating, like the Tidy Towns, Neighbourhood Watch, Retirement Groups, Youth Groups etc.,  these  groups do exceptionally  good work, but all  of  a community must be involved to gain the full benefit of inclusion.  Many people feel worthless and feel they have nothing to offer, but good leaders must always remember that every person has some unique gift that they can add to developing a close-knit neighbourhood.  It is important that all people are  warmly  welcomed and given responsibility for some input into the decision making, and that their opinions are taken on board.    More often than not people who are finding life difficult and troublesome, and suffer from a lack of self worth find   interacting  with their neighbours a challenge.  They find it easier to keep to  themselves and in that process are excluded and left to their own devices. These are the people who need to be brought on board.

The Diarmuid Gavin programme to paint and clean up eyesores in chosen areas was hugely successful. You do not need television cameras to do  exactly  the same thing in any area.  All you need are  leaders to encourage all people to come out, clean up, sow flowers, clean up the green area, involve the young and acknowledge their contribution.  It has been noted that very quickly the problem of  vandalism  reduces and  everybody becomes proud and interested in living in  a supportive and clean environment.

Community involvement allows for everyone to become friends  and  be able to talk and laugh and know people’s names and the names of children and their peers. This is how a real community is built, by speaking and spending a few moments in a greeting to all, and to ensure that no one is left to feel on the perimeter. It is extremely important to involve young people in all decisions made and to take on board their ideas and their needs.  It is important that the elders in any community involve youngsters in their plans, fishing expeditions, their attendance at local matches, concerts, and all activities that will bring young and old together.

This type of communication and friendship costs  nothing and can bring untold benefits to every community, and leads to a much more relaxed and disciplined way of living.  It allows for the elimination of squabbles, which can be easily diffused by mediation and understanding when differences are dealt with at an early stage.  We all need to live in a place where we feel secure and confident, and  that if we need assistance in any way,  that we will have neighbours that will be there to call on.  The families of today  are  scattered,   so it is more important now than ever before to develop good and strong neighbourhoods that will be there to support people in times of crisis.  It always amazes me when a  tragedy  occurs  how neighbours rally around, giving  emotional, practical and spiritual support, unconditionally and with generosity.  This is how many families cope with life at difficult times.  When the Lord said  “ love your neighbour as yourself” He really knew how best to help another human being,  and make life bearable  and peaceful for both the giver and the receiver.

In a community, it is important to always remember that everyone is unique, every person has a right to his opinion, even if it is wrong, and that must be respected  to make inclusion possible, and  you must be able to disagree, without being disagreeable.  Kindness begets kindness, a smile will be returned with a smile and goodness does have a ripple effect.  Try it and see if it works with those who live around you. It is important that shared kindness and concern, for whatever the problem big or small,  is felt and is visible for those in need and promoted every day.  Every  household have needs at different times in their lives and a helping hand is what changes opinions and  allows  for the love that is needed to feel you live in a safe neighbourhood.  The place where you live is the most important space on earth for you,  so effort and reaching out is the operative modus operandi.  Leaving your mark is all that will eventually matter.

The Privilege of Adult Education

You would have to be immersed in an adult education system to understand the life-changing effects on  learners,  when they return as adults to get a qualification and advance their knowledge.  Adults who return to, or maybe just getting their first taste of what  education  means, do so because they want to. This is especially true of early school leavers who had a bad experience when they were young.  We must remember that even in today’s Ireland,   20% of school going children leave without functional literacy skills.  So it is paramount that our educational system opens up pathways to this large group when they become adults, and  allow  unlimited,  unrestricted, affordable  and flexible  access to education.  For those needing to gain new skills it is important that such a facility is open to them and meet their needs.

Aontas,  the organisation for advocacy of adult learning and whose mission statement is that “every adult in Ireland should have affordable, meaningful, and accessible  courses that lead to progression,  to employment or further gainful courses and certification” should  be highlighting the need for a proper funding system, which adult education do not have.  Only 5% of the educational budget goes to adult education.

For starters,  I always believed in a short course which would introduce adults who are often scared what education would bring to their lives especially if their experience of school is negative.  To gently lead people back to education  by providing a system that is not intimidating,  followed by encouragement and  respect  and  allows  people to decide what they would like to study and gain skills in, is a better way forward.

The teaching of adults is different from what is taught in schools.  Teaching methods that apply in schools would rarely work for adults or make the  changes  that  adults  require to be successful.  Adults  that  want  to get further education, be that literacy or numeracy, or the myriad of other skills that can be attained,  have a great motivation to succeed, and their life experiences will be of huge importance in understanding the problems that they have encountered and wish to rectify. Every adult learns in a different way and at their own pace. You cannot force them to rote learn, as they will have gathered diverse experiences on the  pathway  that  has  brought  them  to this junction.  Just because they missed out when they were younger, does not have any bearing on their learning capabilities.

The many adults that went on to third level institutions from humble beginnings in Coláiste Éile were a great eye opener to all that were responsible for their successes. Tutors  that  were able to seize the moment and with respect and concern lead so many to a better life and to fulfil their dreams, derived great satisfaction themselves,  in their successes.  They understood  that  adults  need to be able to master each task before moving on, and encouragement and feedback is essential for them to know that they are making good progress. What they learn must have a personal benefit to them and meet their everyday needs. Adults like to focus on the here and now and their learning must show immediate value.  When learning is voluntary,  participation  and involvement with the tutor and other class members is enjoyable.  When each member of class is showing example and dedication this  cascades to others in a class  and is part of the learning process,  which is very valuable.  Adults only learn by doing and solving problems that are associated with reality and must be allowed to bring life experiences unhindered to their learning.

North Tipperary V.E.C.  always recognised the value of encouraging adults returning to education and especially in all the areas of second chance education.  Over the years they have provided the where-with-all  for  courses and certification to a wide range of society, including  the bringing of education to country villages  where the seed was sown to continue and partake in education.  The flexibility and understanding of local needs were always catered for, and the short courses in interesting  subjects  saw people very soon graduate to fulfil dreams of advancing to degrees, diplomas, and certificates when they became confident.  Since  the introduction of  Fetac  which  allows  gradual  progression  to bigger and better things,  the whole area of adult education has ballooned.  According to Aontas  over 200,000 adults are involved in further education  programmes throughout the country.    Over five thousand of these learners are admitted to Third Level institutions every year.  These adults add much to the courses being taught and over the years, and many lecturers in Universities and Institute of Technologies have commented on the resource that adults bring to their classes.  Dr. Mike O’Sullivan from the University of California was a regular visitor to Coláiste Éile and was always intrigued with both the quality of the teaching and the magnificent results that were achieved in such a small centre.  Joining an adult education programme has positive  life changing consequences,   and now that a new and exciting  facility is coming on stream in Thurles,  a great privilege has been bestowed on those lucky enough to partake in the educational courses on offer there,  with the added bonus of being able to continue their studies  in the local advanced educational centres.   Research has shown adults have a greater learning capacity, are more active in their communities, have stronger social networks, attain new and better skills for the workplace and for many who have become unemployed, a method of up-skilling  or retraining and keeping busy for the day they return to full employment.  Adult education centres are usually happy, upbeat places, with confidence and self esteem boosted by being integrated with others who are also at a gateway to bettering their lives and a resulting happiness. The Department of Education  should acknowledge that all the embargos and financial restraints  that are being constantly imposed are  foolhardy  and short-sighted. The changing of the parameters  for entry, the necessity for Adult education to be   properly  funded and affordable  should be a priority and  an acknowledgement  that education  is  the only way out of our present dilemma in this country.  The poorly funded adult educational  programmes ,  need to be addressed urgently if we are to allow adults to be able to return to education and meet the future needs that will be demanded for our economy to be restored.

The importance of centres like Coláiste Éile  and the vision and the effort to put it there, is to be commended and I offer my congratulations  to all involved in its successful conclusion.

We live in exciting times to think that so many citizens want to better their knowledge, get a broader education and in doing so, pass on to the next generation the importance of education for a better and happier life.  When people lose their jobs and their life is up-ended,  there is a life line in returning to education to up-skill or develop new interests that will benefit their return to employment.

I left school at seventeen, went farming,  got married at twenty,  reared five children, ran a business and was involved in my community,  and at forty-eight went back to education and continued in education until I retired.  The years I spent as Co-ordinator of Colaiste Éile in Thurles were the most productive and happiest years of my life,  and to this day the ramifications of my time there,  bring untold joy from my on-going contacts with my many  friends  that had their life changed by adult education,  as was mine.

To finish by quoting Nelson Mandela “ education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”.  You can change your world by joining the Educational system that is assessable and welcoming  and  bring untold benefits to your life.  

Christmas Needs, or Wants?

This year is likely to be a bumper Christmas, with Retail Ireland expecting core retail sales for December to reach €4.05 billion, an increase of 3.5 per cent on last year’s figure. They also say that personal spending on core retail goods in December will be €2,580 per household, about €700 more than in any other month of the year.  Even during the bust, Christmas spending in Ireland held up with Christmas spending in Ireland the highest in Europe, with France coming second. One survey from the Irish League of Credit Unions published in recent weeks suggests that Irish consumers will splash out an average of €763 on Christmas.  This figure is per person rather than per household. Eighty per cent of those polled in that survey said we spend too much over the festive season. So if people are aware that spending gets out of hand at Christmas,  why does it continue?

Overspending at Christmas can easily happen during this season of generosity and giving, but the payback time will come in January, and then reality will set in and we wonder what got us into all this unnecessary debt and worry. For those on low incomes, many borrow money to tide them over this extravagant period, leaving it hard to pay back debts when the New Year arrives. We must all ask ourselves is this essential,  or are there other ways of celebrating the festive season and the birth of Christ? In all the panic buying and the hustle and bustle that follows, we often find that things that cost nothing and mean the most, are lost. Instead of spending time thinking about and buying gifts, would it not be time better spent calling and sitting down and having a chat and keeping friendships alive? Except for young children who still want Santa to call, spending time is the most valuable gift of all to give. For the vast majority, they have their needs met with ample food and heat, so sharing time and stories are far more beneficial to their wellbeing.

Owing money, that will be difficult to repay, only cause anxiety and frustration at what should be a joyful time. The root cause is often the pressure of spending too much money on Christmas – gifts, food and drinks, parties and nights out. January is often a miserable month as people struggle to pay for overspending at Christmas. Think practical, think realistic.  Instead of asking – ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ – work out how much you can afford to spend and then ask ‘What’s the best possible Christmas we can have on our budget?’ Recognise that our children may put us under pressure for the next new gadget – but the best gift we can give them is our time, attention, love, security and peace in the home.  Keeping a record of your spending and sticking to your budget is one way of not owing money, as most of us are likely to underestimate our spending.

Plan your Christmas menu in advance. The amount of food wasted over the Christmas period is unacceptable when so many are hungry and homeless. Don’t leave the Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve! Work out how much you really want to eat and drink, and don’t buy more than you need that will end up being thrown away. The shops will reopen again a couple of days after Christmas, some the very next day. So what is all the stocking up about?

Stop giving unnecessary presents especially if you must go in debt to pay for them.  What about a family gift that can be used like fuel, or buy the ham or turkey to save expense on someone else.  Only buy what you have the cash to pay for, and leave the credit card at home when you go shopping.

Even though we have more people in employment and there is more money in circulation, Christmas is a time when we feed our wants over our needs. This causes much upset to many and as research shows often leads to domestic violence on a large scale.

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year – the scent of Christmas trees in the air, decorations, lighting up towns and cities and many loved ones returning home.  Instead of  the over- consuming of alcohol and other drugs, why not enjoy a winter’s walk or catch up with family or friends by calling and spending time with them.

Always aim to use time constructively and prioritise wisely in the run up to Christmas, that way Christmas will be more relaxed and happy.
• Make a list of what needs to be done and tick off once completed.
• Assign tasks to family members and write down what tasks to be done on Christmas eve and Christmas day. These small things help to be organised.


But to look at the reality for many people who dread Christmas and all the furore that goes with it,  lets us look at some startling statistics and ponder on their lives in the midst of so much extravagance. Social Justice Ireland has found the following figures in the midst of all the excesses of Christmas:

18% of adults living in poverty are employed – which it called ‘the working poor’
The top 10% of households receives 24% of Ireland’s total disposable income, while the bottom 10% of households only receives 3%

Almost one in five children live in households with incomes below the poverty line. Most weekly social assistance rates paid to single people are €30 below the poverty line.

More than 57% of those in poverty are not connected to the labour market; they are people who are retired, students, people in caring roles or people who are ill or people with a disability.

Sean Healy, of Social Justice, Ireland told that almost one in             five of those who are living in poverty are people with jobs and 57% of our citizens fall into the poverty trap. So,  in these time when people are more prone to giving, remembering these figures may allow a fairer distribution of charity to those who are poor and under the radar. We all recognise the need for helping those who are considered poor and disadvantaged, but the above statistics should broaden our minds as to the many that live on the minimalist amount of money and are never thought about at this time. Many are proud and will never ask for help, even though they may live on small pensions and appear to well able to manage. Some are not.


At this time of year, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, this should be the foremost cause for celebration. Of the 84% who stated they were Catholics in the last Census, it behoves them to remember what Christmas is all about.

Is Religion Obsolete or Should We Look at its Proven Benefits

Many people today say that they are more spiritual than religious. So what does that mean?

To explore the difference between the two we must define what  they are and the difference. Religion can be defined as a belief in a God, involving a code of ethics, rituals etc. ( i.e Baptism, Communion) and rules ( like the 10 Commandments) to have a correct relationship with God and your neighbour.   Whereas  spirituality is defined as a focus of spiritual things and the spiritual world, instead of physical or earthly things. In the examining of such meaning, religion and spirituality come together. Spirituality highlights qualities such as caring, kindness, compassion, tolerance, service and input into community, and, in its truest sense, so does religion. But whereas many  diverse religions are defined by tradition and teachings, spirituality is defined by what is real in our own experience, arising from an inner search within ourselves, the finding of our own truth, what you believe in and can only be yours.

In recent times people appear to be shying away from organised religion, especially in the Catholic Church where mass going has fallen dramatically. In spite of this, the last Census showed that 84% of people living in Ireland considered themselves Catholics.  So, are we as a nation losing out to what is now factually proven, that those who practice organised religion are happier and more successful in life and has huge positive  benefits for society. There has been numerous studies done in the USA, across a diversity of Universities, including the University of California, University of Washington, University of Michigan etc.  and they have now issued their findings which makes for interesting and challenging reading as to a better way forward..

Many people adhere to religion for the sake of their souls, but it turns out that regular participation in faith-based activities is good for the body and mind, too. Some of the ways that religion can make people happier and healthier have been studied and now reported on. First a belief in God, according to data provided by  researchers  and psychologists, lead to a happier life.

The results of widespread studies, research and data provided by the various researchers and psychologists carried out across the USA  are detailed here. These should  be noted by our politicians and church leaders, and acted upon, by having more debate and facts put into the public domain for people to make their own decisions. Parents always want what is best for their children, so the time has come to publish and debate the important findings of these extensive studies.  We must all challenge corporate sin and institutionalised evil, which has gained mammoth proportions in recent times. Every day a new revelation about misuse of money/funds through greed and avarice and pure dishonesty is coming to the fore. We must change that culture now. But how?

Policymakers in America have already been implored to take cognisance of the numerous studies and research carried out by the many Universities about the  grave social problems, including murder, violent crime, substance abuse, welfare dependency, fraud and deceit  that have escalated in their country.  That those in power should  heed and implement the findings in the research and professional literature on the positive consequences that flow from the practice of religion when drawing up policy.  That more debate and publicity be given to the true value of the practice of religion in lives.


For example

It was found that the strength of the family unit is intertwined with the practice of religion. Churchgoers are more likely to be married, less likely to be divorced or single, and more likely to manifest high levels of satisfaction in marriage and in life in general. Young people are less likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour, drug abuse, criminal activities and succeed better in their studies, careers and lead a happier and more fulfilled life.


Church attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability and general happiness.


The regular practice of religion helps poor and disadvantaged people move out of poverty.  Regular church attendance, for example, is particularly instrumental in helping young people to escape the poverty of inner-city life and deprived areas. This stems from the feeling of social and community inclusion as well as the supports and status that community involvement brings.


Religious belief and practice contribute substantially to the formation of personal moral criteria and sound moral judgment.(much needed values today)


Regular religious practice generally protects individuals against a host of social problems, including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime, divorce and dysfunctional and troubled families.


The regular practice of religion also encourages beneficial effects on mental health as less depression (a modern epidemic), self harm, with more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness being  experienced. In repairing damage caused by alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital breakdown, religious belief and practice are a major source of strength and recovery.


Regular practice of religion is good for personal physical health, it increases longevity, improves one’s chances of recovery from illness, and lessens the incidence of many killer diseases.


What society wouldn’t want these benefits?


The overall impact of religious practice is illustrated dramatically in the three most comprehensive, systematic reviews carried out by the designated researchers/psychologists in a diversity of Universities in the USA. They found that;

Some 81 percent of the studies showed the positive benefit of religious practice, 15 percent showed neutral effects, and only 4 percent showed harm.  Unfortunately, the effects of unhealthy religious practice  (the Screamers for example) are used to downplay the positive influence of religion. This both distorts the true nature of religious belief and practice and allows many policymakers in government to ignore its positive social consequences and to shirk taking on the positive outcomes of religion and its benefits.

Religious practice appears to have enormous potential for addressing today’s social problems. Considerable evidence indicates that religious involvement reduces “such problems as sexual permissiveness, teen pregnancy, suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, and to some extent deviant and delinquent acts.  It increases self belief, family cohesiveness and general well being.  More generally, social scientists are discovering the continuing power of religion to protect the family from the forces that would tear it down.

So why we are not promoting things that would change how society operates, is beyond understanding. This is not flying in the dark but taking the research and committing to it.

Almost every commentator, researcher and TV programme, along with all the other data available on the current situation in our country, bemoans the increase of violence, lowered ethical standards and loss of honesty, transparency and integrity that mark our society today. This is visible with all the recent reports that has degraded and destroyed confidence in the charity sector as well as banks and corporate businesses. Trustworthiness and honour appear to be fading fast, and with no apparent comeback  is taking hold of persons who would once have been trusted and been the pillars of society.

Is the decline of religious influence part of what is happening to us here in Ireland and the fact that ritual, like mass going has declined?

Are parents losing out by not giving their children the example and encouragement to partake in organised religion, to combat the vagaries of today’s world and lead them to happier and fulfilled lives, as is confirmed by all the studies now available?

Is it not just possible that anti-religious bias masquerading as religious neutrality is costing more than we have been willing to acknowledge? Or are we fearful that we won’t be seen as liberal?  Or are we afraid to stand up and shout loud about how we want to live and the standards we want to pass on to our children?

Some of our media presenters and those with influence  are reducing the benefits of religion in a negative light to suit other agendas. The positive effects of religious belief and practice in reducing such problems as suicide, substance abuse, divorce, and marital dissatisfaction is well recognised, and as such we should advocate for religion to be kept in schools where it is now in danger of becoming obsolete to the detriment of children’s futures. All the evidence available indicates clearly that religious practice contributes significantly to the quality of life, to happiness and successful careers.

Given this evidence, which is freely available, and that could have such an enormous impact on how we live, is it not time that our leaders heeded what has come out from these reports? It should be a cause of concern that we have elected leaders promoting another agenda, when the fruits of participating in religious beliefs are so positive and substantial. We take on board and use other research undertaken by skilled people so why not this research that could change all our lives dramatically.

 We should begin a new national debate to help renew the role of religion in all of our lives.  And to review the evidence  of the beneficial effects of religious practice in combating the social downside of life and to address social exclusion.

Those in power should have the courage to examine the  relevant social science literature and report its findings to a social justice group where decisions can be made for the betterment of society, and have them implemented.

When we look at all the murders, illegal drug misuse, violent crime, robberies, white collar crime and the prison population growing, as well as all the other social ills we are experiencing, our leaders both in the State and Church  must try other ways of improving how we look after and care for our citizens. We should act on what the research has shown and proven factually and conducted by Universities in America, who spend large amounts of money seeking other ways of examining all aspects of life, so as not to continue on the road that we are now on where we do not appear to have any real solutions.

We need our church leaders, of all faiths, to be more forceful in advocating the practice and benefits of religion for their flocks to ensure a more wholesome and satisfied life. In this way we may start on a journey that would change the country for the better. The present system and practices have not worked, so why not take cognisance of what research proves and encourage a more holistic way of addressing social issues across every aspect of life. The answer is simple, live within the rules and regulations that religion provides and upholds. It might bring back some respect and authority and conquer greed, avarice and dishonesty, as we appear to have forgotten these necessary values to live peaceful and happy lives.