Published in the Irish Independent
The hard shell of the Irish male is finally cracking. Men are starting to talk, and it's not just about sex, sport, beer, and work. The honest sharing by two respected public figures in the past week has added to the much needed momentum in getting us lads to talk openly about what's really going on beyond our often hardy exteriors.
Yesterday saw the return to the airwaves of popular RTE broadcaster John Murray who had been absent for the past six months. Murray kicked off his show with his usual humour and high jinx but didn't delay in explaining to listeners why he had been absent for so long.
"One minute I'm happily presenting this radio show and enjoying life, the next I'm ... gripped with anxiety with the simplest task proving beyond me," he said. "Depression doesn't just drop in for a quick hello and run for the hills. It took a fancy to me ... and boy did it make its presence felt."
He thanked all the people who had sent him cards, emails, and letters of support for "helping me get back here this morning" and urged anybody experiencing depression or anxiety to reach out and talk to somebody.
His open and frank confession follows the recently published blog by Cork hurler Conor Cusack, which burst through the outdated popular notion that real men don't cry.
His intimate and articulate blog was followed by media articles and appearances that were welcomed by a groundswell of relief that men are finally starting to admit all is not well in the world of the Irish male. Cusack tells of his years of depression, feelings of isolation and suicidal thoughts, and his continuing journey towards healing.
"I believe depression is a message from a part of your brain to tell you something in your life isn't right and you need to look at it. It forced me to stop and seek within for answers and that is where they are," he wrote.
He has since been inundated with messages of support and it seems he has helped invigorate a key national conversation.
After years of campaigning by mental health groups and, thanks to a growing men's movement, it's increasingly clear that men are starting to talk about their feelings, fears, suffering and frustrations. In a country where 80pc of suicides are men this is not insignificant. Men are in crisis.
Of course, many of us are doing well and are upbeat about the future but too many are not and hence the suicides, anxiety, depression and drinking.
Looking at the statistics in regard to domestic violence, street violence, rape and abuse, it's clear that something is profoundly wrong in male culture. Not convinced? Think about the dysfunction in the overwhelmingly male-dominated worlds of politics, religion, business and banking.
For generations, men have been focused on being the valiant warrior. Each day we set off hunting and battling, seeking to return to the nest with treasures and proud tales of conquest and glory. In the competitive jungle we keep our armour on, watch our backs, run on adrenaline, and maintain that everything is going mightily in our own personal kingdoms.
It's survival of the fittest with no room for weakness. It's a case of keep on pushing regardless of the obstacles in our way. It's the way of our fathers and their fathers before them.
Our women know this. They've been propping us up for years, holding the fort, listening to our woes, and feeling the consequences of men who have bottled things up for way too long. In an era of mass unemployment, where many warrior men have no war to go to, this is even more relevant.
The same is true for the successful man, the guy who looks like he has everything except the one thing that truly matters – inner peace.
Cusack and Murray are part of a new model of warriorship. They are skilled and intelligent, brave and courageous, but also vulnerable and sensitive. They are every bit as manly as the next guy and perhaps even more so given their honesty.
Solving the economic crisis is only part of the solution to our problems. Sure the markets need attention but so do our men, women and children. We need leadership that speaks the language of the heart, shows empathy and compassion, and doesn't shy away from the real suffering of the nation.
Thankfully that leadership is starting to emerge, not from the corridors of power but from men like Cusack and Murray.
Never be afraid to seek help. Talk to friends or family or call Samaritans on 1850 60 90 90 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Irish Independent
LAST week, in a now famous interview with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC, the controversial comedian Russell Brand gave voice to the frustrations and hopes of a generation. He slammed the political system as being a servant of big business and bankers, suggested voting was a waste of time and said nothing short of a revolution was needed.
"The planet is being destroyed. We are creating an underclass and exploiting poor people all over the world. And the legitimate problems of the people are not being addressed by our political powers," he said in an interview filled with passion, drama, humour and urgency. The response was explosive. Social media erupted in support. Someone had said something that many were thinking but didn't have the words, the platform or the courage to say. Russell had stoked a fire, stirred the rabble and given a voice to the voiceless.
Brand's message was straight forward. But as Orwell once said: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." In a world where climate change isn't being addressed and where the wealth of the world's richest grew by 8pc last year as the rest of us struggle, Brand's contribution is timely. His call for us to "wake up" didn't seem to convince a sceptical Jeremy Paxman and he appears to have been largely dismissed as a crank by politicians and pundits, including many on the left who see him more as a self-promoting, childish celebrity showman than as someone who has something of substance to offer. Regardless of the dismissals, Brand has succeeded in making politics appealing in a way that most politicians couldn't dream of. He has injected honesty, edginess and colour into an otherwise grey political landscape. On my last count, various YouTube versions of the interview had over 10 million hits, growing at a rate of around one million a day. A Facebook fan page 'Russell's Revolution' has also sprung up, attracting over 130,000 followers in a matter of days. It's clear that his message is resonating.
In dismissing voting as a waste of time, Brand has touched a nerve and ignited a timely debate about whether our democracy as we know it is working. On the one hand, our ancestors fought and died for the right to vote and there's no doubt it's a system that has achieved much.
However, judging by voter turn-out rates, especially among young people, it seems more and more are inclined to see elections as a choice between tweedle dum or tweedle dee.
They feel too many politicians, once in power, inevitably abandon their promises and principles and end up serving the demands of unaccountable power interests. Meanwhile, many who do vote do so out of duty and pick what they see as the 'best of a bad bunch' rather than feeling they will be genuinely represented.
From my experience, working with youth and community groups, and interviewing hundreds of people on my hitching trip around Ireland this summer, it is clear that democracy is in crisis. People are interested but they do not want to be part of a game that they see as rigged in favour of an elite. They're turning off or turning to other ways of creating change – not out of ignorance – but often out of disillusionment, frustration and mistrust, resulting from years of spin and broken promises.
They are fed up being told to share the burden when it's clear that there are two sets of laws: one for the rich and one for the poor.
Whatever your take on Russell Brand is, he did us all a favour. He sparked a flame that got people talking, especially many who were starting to give up and drift into depression and despair. He has helped politicise a generation and opened up a conversation, not just about politics but also, through his manifesto in the 'New Statesman', about meaning and spirituality.
A revolution is needed. Not a revolution that causes bloodshed but rather a revolution of attitudes and ideas, a truly democratic revolution of systems and structures, a revolution of how we think and how we organise ourselves. Perhaps it's more of an evolution; an evolution beyond the destruction of the planet, the chronic rates of poverty and inequality, and the suffering of the soul through stress, depression, suicide, obesity and addiction that are screaming at us to wake up and change our ways.
How we achieve this 'revolution' isn't clear and we shouldn't expect Russell Brand nor any one individual to come up with the answers. How we each go about creating change is up to ourselves – but we should get busy making it happen rather than arguing the toss on whether the likes of Russell Brand is right or wrong.
When we the people start to lead, the leaders will be forced to follow.
Published in The Irish Times
Twelve months ago I gave a presentation on the subject of youth drug and alcohol abuse to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. I highlighted the huge pressures facing Ireland’s youth, including peer pressure, bullying, unemployment and emigration, all within a national atmosphere of despair over our collective future. I focused on the widespread culture of binge drinking in Ireland, which appears to be often ignored, accepted or normalised by many parents, publicans, politicians and law enforcers.
I pointed to the entrenched culture of alcohol abuse at the heart of Irish life and the fact we know this is damaging our health, our society and our economy.
Research tells us alcohol abuse adversely affects rates of mental ill health and suicide, road accidents, A E admissions, workplace participation, public disorder offences, rape, domestic violence, and family cohesion. HSE statistics show alcohol is estimated to cost the economy €3.7 billion per year.
I called on politicians to show courage and leadership. Central to this is facing down the powerful drinks industry, groups like British multinational Diageo, and lobbyists from the FAI, GAA and IRFU who embrace alcohol sponsorship.
One year later, and following a summer of alcohol-fuelled controversies, there has been some progress in the debate but little in the way of meaningful action. A few months ago Minister of State Róisín Shortall made reasonable proposals to restrict drink advertising, phase out sponsorship of sporting and culture events by 2016, introduce minimum pricing and impose a responsibility levy to help change our unhealthy drinking culture. Despite Government promises to tackle the issue, Ms Shortall’s proposals didn’t make it to Cabinet, with Fine Gael ministers claiming the proposals were too strict. The issue was due back on the table in September but many fear it may be swept back under the carpet.
As the country prepares for Diageo’s annual “Arthur’s Day celebration”, I would like to repeat my call for political courage, leadership and action.
Elected representatives must unify and demonstrate vision and integrity on an issue that is a core part of our dysfunction as a nation. We need to develop the national debate about our drinking habits, to ask on a deeper level why we abuse alcohol so much, and to explore alternative ways and places to socialise and celebrate. Ireland can be a great nation, but it is time to wise up and lose our “drunken Paddy” reputation.
Politicians, if they truly have the best interests of our people at heart, must face down the drinks industry. It is time to work together to create a proud, strong and healthy nation that realises our enormous potential.
Interview with RedBull.com
So, Ruairi, what inspired you to hitchhike around Ireland?
I dreamed up the idea of going around Ireland on what I called a listening tour, recording people’s voices, visions, and hopes for Ireland. I used to hitch when I was younger but hadn’t done it for 18 years. I was also craving an adventure to get me away from sitting at the computer so much.
What kind of people did you meet on the road?
80% of the lifts I got were from men. I got picked by people from all walks of life including a barrister, a butcher, a fish monger, and a beekeeper, and all were mad to chat.
What kind of stories did you hear?
People really open up to you when you’re hitching. One guy that made a huge impression on me was an ex priest who is now a sociology lecturer and was on his way to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He talked about the importance of following your dreams and never giving up. I think he knew what he was talking about.
What was the best lift you got?
One guy who picked me up from the Wexford to Waterford ferry at Passage East asked me where I was going. I told him I wasn’t sure. He offered me a place to camp in a field near an amazing secluded beach. It turned out his friends were there and I ended up sharing food, a campfire and a beer with them while my accommodation turned out to be an old horse drawn trailer which was pretty cool.
How long would you have to wait?
My average waiting time was 5 minutes. My longest was 40 minutes.
Did you meet or see any other hitchhikers?
I only saw two during the whole month. One was outside Sligo and unbelievably he started hitching up the road in front of me which is a big no no in hitch-hiking etiquette. I passed another outside Limerick and the driver of the car remarked ‘I wouldn’t pick that fella up. He looks fairly dodgy’. He might have been right.
Tell us what you had in your backpack.
I had a smartphone, a small laptop, camera, mobile internet dongle, audio recorder, a few books, a notebook, a water bottle, some snacks, a sleeping bag, a one man tent, a travel towel, a rain jacket, underwear, good socks, some warm clothes, some summer clothes, and sandals. I wore a pair of Merrell hiking runners that were really comfy, light and rain-proof.
Did you listen to music, if so what?
I brought music but I didn’t end up listening to much for some reason, probably because I was with people from 8am to 9pm most days. I tend to like indie, folk and reggae and my favourites recently are Bon Iver, The National and Colm Mac Con Iomaire.
Did you take any books on the road, if so what?
I took Dan Breen’s ‘My Fight For Irish Freedom’ and ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.
Did you hold a sign?
I did make one up at the start that just said ‘hitching for hope’ but then I was afraid people might think it was a religious thing so I abandoned it. I also preferred that people just picked me up without an idea of who I was, what I was doing or where I was going.
Where is the best place to hitch?
Smaller country roads are the best. I avoided motorways. When picking a spot to throw out the thumb, you need to make sure the cars coming can see you in the distance and that they have enough space to safely pull over if they decide to stop.
How did it feel being a hitchhiker?
It definitely gave me a renewed sense of adventure and freedom. I think freedom was a key theme and something many of the drivers talked about when remembering their youthful days hitching or adventures they have had.
Did you face any problems on the road? Any crazy people like they show in the movies?!
I got one lift from a guy who kind of scared me when I got in. He had a skin head and tattoos, talked fast and drove fast. However, he ended up being a lovely fella, a great character and a real gentle soul. Situations like this teach you not to judge people in the same way I don’t want people to judge me.
What’s the stupidest thing to do as a hitchhiker?
Not trust your gut instinct or intuition.
What should a hitchhiker wear?
Depends on the weather forecast really. I think wearing layers is good so you can chop and change based on the temperature. Rain gear is good to have handy and bright clothes so you’re
visible and look a little more friendly than standing there all in black.
How did you mentally prepare for it? Like, did you do any self prepping?
I didn’t do any prep whatsoever, which was a bad idea and a good idea. I was too busy sorting out packing and equipment. However, the lack of plans also led to the sense of freedom, mystery and possibility.
What advice did you receive from others?
I didn’t really get any advice except a few people telling me to be careful and others saying ‘I’d never get a lift’ or that it’s very dangerous out there. I understand why people would be worried
or cautious but it’s equally important that we support each other’s dreams regardless. Sometimes people project their own fears onto you.
What’s the toughest thing about being a hitchhiker?
Having to listen to people going on about murderers. I haven’t seen any but there must be a lot of movies out there where the hitchhiker is either murdered or does the murdering. In saying that, I know bad things have happened to some people in the past. But it’s like life, 99% of it is good and positive so you can’t live in fear.
What’s the best thing?
The best thing for me is meeting strangers and hearing stories, as well as the sense of freedom it gives you when you are roaming around without a route or a schedule. I think we are all craving freedom, financial freedom, political freedom but also a kind of soul freedom to be ourselves. Too much of life keeps us safe and conforming. It is boring and it is driving people mad.
Great Ruairi, thanks for the interview, will we see you on the road again soon?
I’ve no immediate plans but that could change within days. I got an email from a German documentary maker the other day asking me to come hitching with him and another from an erotic fiction writer asking me to review her book. There’s never a dull moment! First things first I’m planning to write my own book. Lovely chatting to you!
It's easy to forget to say thanks to people who have helped you out along the way, especially people who are older and no longer in your life. That's why I'm happy to have the opportunity to say thanks (via an Irish Times article today on 'teachers that have inspired') to the legendary Hugh Barney O'Brien, my old history and English teacher. Hugh continues to power on as a huge voice for justice, rattling cages, volunteering, teaching history in the community, publishing books, being part of the drama scene, helping others, and enjoying life along the way. He also survived having me as a student (not easy I'm sure). 'Some man for one man!'. Here's what I said in the paper: >>
Inspirational teachers, Irish Times
Ruairí McKiernan on Hugh Barney O'Brien
"I particularly enjoyed history", says Ruairí McKiernan of his days at St. Aidan's Comprehensive in Cootehill, Co. Cavan. "I had a phenomenal teacher called Hugh Barney O'Brien. He is a local historian and dramatist. He had a small part in Father Ted at one stage." McKiernan recalls "He was stern, but he was also fun. A great character who wasn't afraid to provide a bit of comedy to engage the class. It was so obvious that he enjoyed what he was doing. His animation made us excited about history. So many teachers aren't into what they are teaching and it becomes clear to the student".l
The lessons have stayed with McKiernan. "He basically taught us critical inquiry. To question the source and the accuracy of everything. That's been invaluable for me...He gave me a great interest in history, politics, and media, and how the worldworks. This in turn has influenced me in my campaigning and understanding the importance of making your own media and getting your voice heard."
McKiernan is worried about talk of removing history as a compulsory Junior Cert subject. "It takes away a fundamental tenet of any society, which is to understand your history. Politically, it is quite dangerous as well. To understand politics, you need to understand history. If we all had a bit of that, we'd have a much healthier society and people would be more engaged in how the country is run."
McKieran continues to be inspired by his former teacher. "He's retired now and is a community activist who still campaigns, teaches and publishes. He's influenced me hugely and my main message to him would be 'Thank you'. Thanks for serving me and inspiring me and serving the community at large beyond the walls of the classroom"
- Article by Joanne Hunt, Irish Times (Back to School supplement).
Irish Times, by Harry McGee
The meeting of the Council of State convened by President Michael D Higgins to discuss the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill has ended after more than three hours.
The meeting, attended by 21 members of the Council, began in in Áras an Uachtaráinat about 3.15pm following a brief photocall in the main drawing room of the President’s residence in the Phoenix Park. It ended at 6.45pm.
The meeting was called after President Higgins invoked the powers available to him under Article 26 of the Constitution to convene the Council of State ahead of him taking a decision on whether or not to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court to ascertain if it is keeping with the Constitution.
The Bill completed its passage through the Oireachtas on Tuesday night of last week, when the Seanad voted in favour of the legislation. President Higgins, who received the document on Wednesday of last weeks, will have seven days to make a decision on referral and that process must be complete by Wednesday.
Three of the Council were absent: they were former president Mary Robinson, and former taoisigh Albert Reynolds and John Bruton.
Members of the Council began arriving at the front entrance of the Aras just before 2pm. The Council comprises serving and former office holders including former president Mary MacAleese, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore; serving and former members of the judiciary including Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham, the Attorney General Maire Whelan, and seven members appointed by the President.
Three former taoisigh are also in attendance; the 93 year old Liam Cosgrave; Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen. Mr Ahern and Mr Cowen both arrived using their own transport. Mr Ahern walked up the driveway to the reception area and Mr Cowen was transported in an OPW courtesy bus. Also in attendance today is the former chief justice, Thomas Finlay.
Article 26.1 states: “ The President, after consultation with the Council of State, refer any Bill to which this Article applies to the Supreme Court for a decision on the question as to whether such Bill or any specified provision or provisions of such Bills is or are repugnant to this Constitution.”
A total of 15 Bills have been referred since 1940. The last Bill referred to the Supreme Court was the Nursing Homes Bill in early 2005. The Bill proposed to prevent retrospective payments to residents of nursing homes and other institutions and was referred by then president Mary McAleese. The Supreme Court ruled the Bill was repugnant to the Constitution.
The convening of the Council of State to discuss a Bill is a relatively rare phenomenon. It occurred only eight times during the 14-year presidency of Mary McAleese. This is the first time that President Higgins has called a meeting of the Council of State using the powers available to him under Article 26.
Once a Bill is found to be in keeping with the Constitution after being referred under the Article 26 provision, the legislation can never be challenged on constitutional grounds again by a citizen in the courts.
The meeting is expected to last for several hours with key contributions expected from Attorney General Maire Whelan and, possibly, from Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, president of the High Court.
Those in attendance today are: Taoiseach Enda Kenny; Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore; Chief Justice Susan Denham; Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett; Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Paddy Burke; President of the High Court Nicholas Kearns; Attorney General Maire Whelan; former president Mary McAleese; former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave; former taoiseach Bertie Ahern; former taoiseach Brian cowen; former Chief Justice Tom Finlay; former Chief Justice Ronan Keane and former Chief Justice John Murray. The seven members appointed by the President in attendance are: Michael Farrell; Prof Deirdre Heenan; former Supreme Court justice Catherine McGuinness; Ruairi McKiernan; Sally Mulready; Prof Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh and Prof Gerard Quinn.
Published in The Irish Independent
There is hope for Ireland and I have the evidence. Over the last month, I've hitch-hiked the length and breadth of the country on what I called the 'hitching for hope' listening tour. This was an adventure I embarked upon to help inform my forthcoming talk at the MacGill summer school. I hadn't hitch-hiked in 18 years and didn't have money or a plan but ventured into the unknown and rediscovered the beauty and power of our land and people.
I'd be lying if I pretended this wasn't as much of a personal quest as it was social research. I'm looking for hope as much as anyone. I've struggled to get by financially in recent years; but more importantly, I've struggled to have faith that this country has a bright future.
On my journey, I met and interviewed people of all ages, races and backgrounds. They included farmers and fishermen, atheists and priests, barristers and business people, the unemployed, the depressed and the hopeful.
I spent time at a cattle mart in Connemara; with the resilient islanders of Inishbofin; with pilgrims on Croagh Patrick; with Orangemen in Derry; office workers in Dublin; monks in Glenstal; community workers in Moyross and tourists on the Hill of Tara.
Everywhere I went, I found kindness, warmth and generosity. I was offered lifts, smiles, stories and any amount of cups of tea. Others bought me lunch and offered me a place to stay. The Facebook and Twitter communities rallied behind me with messages of support and invitations to visit. Friends, strangers and colleagues contributed money to help ensure rent money wasn't a concern. The media also played their part by covering my progress as I travelled.
All over I heard tales of hope and triumph. There is the young farmer who will fight on for the sake of his kids; the former priest who is discovering a new form of spirituality; the 50-year-old unemployed man who is retraining in forestry; the young graduate who believes political change is possible; and the social entrepreneur who is setting up a food and energy localisation movement. The visionaries and creatives are out there, ready to play their part if given the chance.
I also heard stories of despair and anger. Many are giving up on this country. They don't have hope and have taken to despair, drinking or emigration in order to survive.
There is a real sense that Ireland is a two-tier State, with one law for the rich and powerful and another for the rest of us, who are supposed to keep taking austerity and injustice on the chin.
Among all of this is a nation that is re-examining its core values. It is through a return to community values that many of us are re-imagining the country from the ground up, finding light in the darkness. There is an emerging return to understanding that true happiness comes from the simple things in life – from friends, family, community, nature and having a purpose bigger than ourselves.
A huge thirst exists for leadership, direction and jobs and I don't underestimate the challenges ahead. At the same time, a new movement of hope and possibility is stirring.
We have one of the most fertile, beautiful and safest countries in the world. As a people, we have the wisdom, warmth, talent and resources to make something great happen. Hope is out there in the spirit of the people. Sometimes you just have to look harder to find it.
Irish Times, by Brian O'Connell
Ruairí McKiernan is thumbing his way around the country to get ‘a citizen’s view of Ireland’ as research for his upcoming MacGill Summer School address
You might expect a 35-year-old man hitching around modern Ireland to spend most of his time waiting by the side of the road, watching cars go by. But Ruairí McKiernan says that, so far, he hasn’t had a problem getting a lift. People consider it a novelty to see someone hitch-hiking and stop out of curiosity.
But then his journey is something of a novelty in itself. McKiernan is a founder of the youth organisation Spunout (spunout.ie), and was appointed to the Council of State by President Michael D Higgins last year. His Irish hitch-hiking tour began after the director of the MacGill Summer School, Dr Joe Mulholland, asked McKiernan to contribute “a citizen’s view of Ireland” to this year’s event.
The hitching trip is his research. McKiernan set out a week ago and hopes to take in about 20 counties, before ending up in Glenties at the end of July for the annual summer school.
When we spoke earlier this week, he was making his way from Galway to Derry, relying on the kindness of strangers, including a pair of Italian tourists who offered him a lift as far as Mayo.
Over a meal on Achill Island, the three compared the economic situations of Ireland and Italy. One of the Italians said that where he came from the average wage was down to €1,000 a month, and so to him Ireland didn’t look too bad a place. It’s all about perspective, McKiernan says.
McKiernan spent some time in Australia this year and on his return, he wanted to get back in touch with Irish people and hear from them what a new vision for Ireland might look like.
He’s at something of a crossroads in his own life – in his mid thirties, soon to be married, and finding paid work in Ireland often hard to come by. So his journey is as much a personal voyage of discovery as a reconnection with Ireland. Along the way, he is blogging about his experiences (at www.community.ie, on Facebook and Twitter) and recording the thoughts of some of the people he meets.
Some of those who have given him lifts have spoken to him about personal tragedies. “One woman had a younger brother killed in a hit-and-run by a drunk driver. She told me she knows who did it and that it happened 20 years ago and there was a cover-up. She gave me an insight into resilience, into how to survive something like that and still enjoy life.”
Other common themes are the importance of community in many parts of Ireland, a vibrant local sense of right and wrong, and the number of people struggling to make sense of modernity and progress.
Back to basics
“Many people talked to me about simplicity and about how life has become way too complicated,” he says. “The dream of progress as promised was all about making life easier. There is a sense it has failed us. I’m hearing [that] we are going off track not economically, but socially.” People tell him they are interested in “getting back to basics and prioritising things like friends, family and spending time in nature”.
McKiernan has heard stories of hope and heartache, including a farmer in Connemara who was selling his remaining livestock and moving back in with his parents as he couldn’t survive financially on his own anymore. The young farmer had rejected emigration so that he could have a role in the life of his young daughter.
McKeirnan also detects an ambivalence towards political parties, stronger than anything shown in opinion polls.
“A major theme is one of power and a feeling that a particular elite in Ireland is shafting the majority of people. I have yet to meet anyone who said they will vote Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. A lot say they either won’t vote at the next election or simply don’t know who to vote for.
“I also detect sometimes from the professional classes a sense that emigration is not such a big deal. You get to travel the world and come back. That’s true for some I’ve met, particularly those whose parents are financially well off. In the west though, for many of those I met emigration is very real and raw and of the forced variety.”
To pay his rent and look after food, phone and accommodation costs while on the road, McKiernan set up an online donation page. Within the first few days, he received several hundred euros in donations from people he calls “shareholders” in his journey.
He used to hitch-hike a lot growing up in Co Cavan, and while new road networks can make hitch-hiking between major cities tricky, he hasn’t had a problem getting a lift so far. “I think a lot of people giving me lifts grew up hitch-hiking themselves,” he says. “I know from my past that people really open up when they pick up a hitch-hiker. The material I’m getting is really very honest .”
He spends several hours each night writing his blog.
He expects to return to Dublin next week and may cycle around parts of the city if hitch-hiking there is not possible. A community group in Moyross has challenged him to hitch-hike to their area (an invitation he will take up), and he also hopes to spend time in Cork and Cavan before eventually ending up in Donegal at the MacGill Summer School where he will present findings and videos from the tour on July 28th.
Published in The Sunday Times and The Huffington Post
The outpouring of global love for Nelson Mandela shows that people everywhere crave courageous leadership and celebrate those who are prepared to break the rules to uplift humanity. Mandela remains a rare role model of substance in a world dominated by the pursuit of fame, wealth, fame and power. His story is one of vision, hope and healing and is a powerful testimony to the human quest for freedom.
The teachings of Madiba, the tribal name by which he is affectionately known in South Africa, offer us an opportunity to reflect on the values and principles that we hold. They challenge us to ask whether we are upholding our beliefs by putting them into action in our day to day lives and whether these values are represented in our economics, our politics and our media. They also show us the power that one person can have in transforming lives and nations. We don’t all need to become Mandelas, but we can each achieve great things in small ways.
If Mandela spoke to us today I wonder what he would say about the modern struggle for freedom? What would he say about the global financial cartels that are subverting democracy, about the ongoing brutality and hunger strikes in Guantanamo Bay, or about the hunting of whistle-blowers and prisoners of conscience such as Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden?
In a world of lies, spin, and doublespeak telling the truth deserves to be celebrated and rewarded. As with apartheid South Africa, when the rules that are supposed to protect people are actually oppressing them, there is a duty to dissent. It is no accident that modern day freedom fighters are being demonized in the same way that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan called Nelson Mandela a “terrorist” during the ANC campaign to end the injustice of apartheid.
Surely we don’t have to wait until the history books are written, until Edward Snowden is celebrated for giving up his well-off lifestyle and his freedom to reveal how we’re being illegally spied on. Or, in this Orwellian age, is it better to keep our head down and pretend this is nothing to do with us, for fear we too will be targeted as thought criminals and potential terrorists?
The tensions involved in navigating truth these days are evident in the mixed messages conveyed to our young people. On the one hand parents and teachers do their best to instill a strong sense of fairness; telling children to be kind and honest, don’t fight, share, help others, and speak out when something is wrong.
This basic moral code underpins much of our society but exists side by side within a contradictory dog eat dog world where bullying, image, money, ego and war making often reap the rewards. Young people are encouraged to become customers and consumers first and citizens second, but not to become activists like Nelson Mandela who fearlessly challenge injustice wherever they see it. If they did, then 25-year-old soldier Bradley Manning might be a Nobel Peace Laureate rather than being locked up in solitary confinement for upholding his legal duty to report war crimes.
In this competing moral order it’s hard not to be compromised. We’re rewarded for keeping up appearances, turning a blind eye, and keeping busy by pushing on up the ladder regardless of who is left behind. No time to worry about war, poverty, human rights violations, corruption, or environmental destruction. Someone else will look after all of that. Or will they?
This moral maze suits the dominant version of political and economic development where the fittest thrive and the majority is left to fend for survival. It does so by promoting individualism over community cooperation, and by keeping us fearful, separate and in competition with each other.
It weakens the natural human desire to care for each other and keeps us focused on individual achievement and progress. The logic is that if we focus on our own self-development then others will do the same and we’ll meet down the road either as winners or losers.
The reality is that within the competition paradigm we all end up losers as when one suffers, we all suffer. This is something Nelson Mandela understood well when he embraced his oppressors upon release from prison. He understood that an injustice to one was an injustice to all and that without forgiveness there could be no peace. He thereby helped to prevent retribution, vengeance and hate by promoting cooperation for the common good of all South Africans, regardless of race.
Mandela represents the higher human spirit and the light within each of us that craves truth, justice, fairness and freedom. From adversity and against all the odds, he has stood for what is right and for the betterment of all. He overcame the injustice of 27 years in prison, offered reconciliation to those who jailed him, and gave the world a profound lesson in leadership, love and forgiveness.
When confronted with despair in this age of great change, we could do well to remember the life of Nelson Mandela and to invoke his enormous spirit and courage. None of us is perfect and Mandela is no different, but he has shown us how great the human spirit can be even in the darkest hours. ‘Nothing is impossible until it is done,’ he once said.
His legacy is a challenge to us all to rise above adversity, to unlock our own greatness, and to uplift each other. Let us honor Mandela through our actions and by carrying the flame of hope and freedom forward for future generations.
Published in The Irish Examiner
As protests continue in Turkey and the G8 meet in Northern Ireland, the right to peaceful assembly and free expression has never been more important, says Ruairí McKiernan
PROTEST might not always be an attractive proposition, and we won’t always agree with those doing the protesting, but we must defend with all our might the right to express the change we dream of.
The right to protest is essential for the health of any society. Protest offers a channel for expression to people who otherwise don’t feel heard and puts pressure on governments and companies who aren’t acting in the interests of people and planet.
The end of slavery and colonialism, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and civil rights in Northern Ireland have all been achieved because committed individuals and communities, often facing ridicule and repression, had the courage to protest oppression and injustice and proclaim that better ways were possible.
There has been much speculation as to why the Irish don’t protest more, given the litany of scandals and abuses we’ve endured. It may be because people feel it’s a tactic that belongs to hippies, students, lefties and anarchists or that they believe protest doesn’t work.
Or it may be that our inheritance of colonialism and repression has given us a fear of rocking the boat — something that is convenient for those with power.
Aside from this, too many have been led to believe that people power is ineffective. Instead, they put their faith in the political system, or decide to ‘get real’ by leaving aside their idealism, accepting things as they are, thereby risking cynicism, despair and things getting worse. “Sure what’s the point?” we hear said in defeat, before the opportunities have been explored.
The point is that injustice and greed thrive when good people do nothing. Taking action changes things. It is uplifting, empowering, and effective in changing opinions, laws and lives. By not acting we end up as helpless spectators dependant on the promises of politicians and the goodwill of profit-focused corporations. If done in a healthy way, protest offers a practical way to maintain our humanity and dignity by expressing ourselves beyond shouting at the telly or giving out on Twitter or in pubs.
The Ballyhea protesters in Co Cork demonstrate this each Sunday as they march through their village to remind the world that they don’t accept that their children will have to pay the gambling debts of bankers and bondholders. Imagine how fast things would change if everyone did this. So too the people of Rossport, in holding hope alive against the might of Shell and the State. Protest helps us see we’re not alone. It can turn us back into power brokers. It reminds politicians that they are paid to represent us, pressures them to act in our interests and helps them deliver difficult reforms at key moments.
Despite the bad name given to activism and protest, it is no accident that many of our heroes used protest, demonstrations and marches as core tactics in their toolbox for change. Michael Davitt, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, John Hume, Mary Robinson, and President Michael D Higgins all dared to disagree.
There are those who stopped a nuclear plant being built at Carnsore point in Wexford, and the 12 Dunnes Stores workers who gave hope to an imprisoned Nelson Mandela by going on strike for two years because they had to handle the fruit of apartheid South Africa. There are those who have marched to save hospitals, and those who picketed and petitioned to ensure schools were built.
The victories of protest are often undervalued. We may never know how bad things could have been if it was not for the courage of the few to stand up for the rights of us all.
Those courageous enough to stand up and speak out are often attacked, dismissed and isolated for doing so. Their careers and reputations are threatened, their health suffers, and it becomes difficult to be a lonely voice in a sea of silent support. It is therefore all the more important to support people who say the thing the rest of us are afraid to voice.
Of course protest isn’t always the best or only way of doing things. As the saying goes, ‘it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’.
Too much emphasis on protest, anger, outrage and opposition can be draining, unappealing, and counter-productive. It is sometimes better to propose and create positive alternatives and to offer hope where there is none. Sometimes though, as with the Arab Spring, protest is that flame of hope, a visible declaration that we are alive and not prepared to take any more.
In a world faced with war, poverty, austerity and climate change, it is vital that the right to hold this flame of hope remains alive. It is essential that groups such as the G8 are reminded that they are failing humanity and compromising the survival of the planet. It is no accident that 1% of the world controls 39% of the wealth (their wealth grew 7.8% last year) while 80% of the world lives on less than €8 per day. The policies of the G8, a self-appointed group, prioritise the wealth of some over the wellbeing of all, drowning out opposition and alternatives. Raising our voices for change is therefore as much a duty as it is a right.
Amid revelations of government spying on innocent people, a crackdown on protest, and the demonisation of dissent, the freedom of free expression and peaceful assembly has never been more important. Europe’s recent history of dictatorships is a reminder of what happens when we lose this freedom. Now, more than ever, we need to be vigilant, vocal and courageous in protecting our rights to dissent and in daring to dream of better ways.
Published in The Sunday Times
‘Why are our young people killing themselves?’ an older man asked me the other day. Having spent the last twelve years working in the community and running suicide awareness campaigns, I suppose he hoped I’d have a straight forward explanation for him, but I didn’t. That’s because there is no one cause when it comes to suicide. Suicide is complex and demands a deeper look.
There has been a historic underinvestment in mental health services in Ireland. Increased demand and cuts to youth, health and education services have piled pressure onto already struggling support services. Many people looking for help are met with unanswered phones. Costly and rushed GP visits often prioritise prescriptions for anti-depressants over listening and talk therapy. The waiting lists for mental health services can be weeks or months unless you can afford private care. In the absence of better support, all too many medicate their pain by abusing alcohol and drugs. The suffering and isolation is there for all to see in the streets and pubs of Ireland.
A colleague in her twenties described her own experience of seeking help as this:
‘I have been told on numerous times to come back in a month after telling a GP I was feeling suicidal, or been told that I wasn’t feeling suicidal enough. This made me feel worse and stopped me from going back for help when I needed it most. Eventually I ended up in a crisis and was in hospital for two months. This could have been avoided if I had received the support I needed when I needed it. There is very little support for someone who is experiencing severe depression or suicidal thoughts. They are given medication, and little other options. More time to talk would help, but waiting lists are long and often it takes months to be seen which is often too late. There is a shame associated with suffering from depression and it can be difficult to admit to others that you are going through a tough time which means that often the people who you need most are not aware of what you are going through. ‘
Suicide affects all ages and classes but hits those on the margins much harder. Young men, farmers, asylum seekers, and the unemployed are all disproportionately affected. Studies show suicide among the Travelling community is six times the national average and that gay people are seven times more likely to attempt suicide. What’s needed is a more equal, loving and inclusive society that respects all people as well as developing supports based on specific needs. Cultivating a culture where men can talk openly and seek help is critical in all of this.
The tragedy of young people taking their own lives is particularly hard to comprehend. Loneliness, bullying, abuse, depression, unemployment, and growing up gay in a country that hasn’t fully accepted difference can all be factors but not the only ones. Each suicide is different and we may never know the cause. Loved ones are left with pain, confusion and often self-blame.
It could be argued that being young in Ireland today is a suicide risk in itself. Young people are surrounded by negative news and told to prepare for emigration amid a 30% youth unemployment rate (50% in some places). Many of them witness their parents stressed about money and the future. They are groomed by advertisers to see success in terms of unhealthy celebrity lifestyles focused on sex, money and image. The education system locks them into a production line of rote learning with little space to learn about themselves or about life before being catapulted into a visionless society grappling with debt, austerity and climate change.
The challenges of these times are being felt by all ages and it can be hard to find peace between all the pressure and noise. It is no accident that the western world is facing a mental health crisis. Science and technology have brought civilisation to a bold new frontier but many of us are out of sync with the soul. An over emphasis on material growth hasn’t been balanced with the human need for meaning and the desire to be free. It has imprisoned our spirits and left many of us disconnected from our true selves, from each other, and from the natural world around us.
We’ve a long way to go but there are signs of progress as we seek to reclaim our power. The closure of mental institutions, the Amnesty International and See Change anti-stigma campaigns, singer Bressie talking about his mental health struggles, walking therapy groups, and the Slí Eile recovery farm in Cork are examples of moves in the right direction. So too is the growing interest in wellbeing, diet, fitness, yoga, meditation and counselling.
It is possible to prevent suicide but only if we start co-creating a kinder society with a less unjust economy. Just as community campaigning led to political action on road traffic deaths, the same is possible with suicide. Public pressure can lead to funding and to joined up thinking and services but suicide cannot be solved by government alone. It requires a deeper look at root causes and the source of our pain. By offering time, listening and love to those around us, by seeking support when we need it, and demanding the services we deserve, together we can bring healing and hope to Ireland.
Published in The Irish Examiner
EMIGRATION is tempting these days, especially as I’ve struggled to get by working in the community sector, which has been hit by 20%-50% funding cuts.
During a recent trip to Australia it was easy to see why so many people are flocking there in such numbers. A strong economy, decent health, education, and social services, and a sunny outdoor lifestyle all contrast favourably with the mood in Ireland at the moment.
Two recent reports show how younger people in Ireland are disproportionately affected by austerity. Issues like unemployment, personal debt, negative equity, and suicide are hitting the under-40s harder and it’s understandable that many are leaving our shores to seek a better life abroad.
Australia is no utopia though. It has its fair share of problems, and is dependent on a mining boom driven by Chinese economic growth. Inevitably, many emigrants settle there, growing old away from friends and family, something that breaks the hearts of so many Irish parents.
The prospect of emigration has raised interesting questions for me. When I was 12 my family emigrated to Australia during the recession of the late ’80s. My parents were my age at the time and wanted to build a better life for their family. They were inspired by my uncle, Jim McKiernan, who left difficult times in ’60s Ireland and later became a member of the Australian parliament for 18 years.
After a while though, they decided on returning to Ireland, preferring to be close to relations and to try and make a go of it at home. Two decades on, Ireland is in recession again. I’m preparing to get married and, like my parents before me, I’m contemplating the future. I have been considering future prospects for work, housing, healthcare, and the conditions for raising a family in a country that seems to stumble from one crisis to another.
Increasingly I’ve been wondering about what kind of future is in store for us and what role I want to play in that. Much of it boils down to having hope in the future and, sadly, hope is in short supply these days. Ireland is a struggle at times but ultimately I love it. I’m proud of our rich heritage, our culture, music, and sport. I love the wild beauty of our land and the spirit, warmth, and wit of our people. I value my friends and my family and can see how difficult it would be to leave them. Like most people, I want to see things change for the better and I’m impatient with the pace of change.
I am fed up waiting and I’m not prepared to be a spectator watching the unfolding litany of hypocrisies, calamities, corruption, and incompetence.I don’t underestimate the challenges ahead. While our biggest priority might be economic in nature, I believe the underlying issue is one of national confidence and self-belief, belief that we can really and truly transform things.
Throughout history and against all the odds, Irish people have transcended fear and dared to dream that a different reality was possible. We let the world know that Ireland was a place that valued truth, justice, democracy, and the dream of freedom.
We could do well now to invoke that same spirit of freedom and reclaim our country from rogues and profiteers, and the despair that is holding us back.
It can be hard to be positive at times but it is often during the most painful times that the conditions for breakthroughs and true transformation are most ripe. The best antidote for despair is action, and it is time for us to rise together and become the leaders we are waiting for. What role we each take will be different, but together we have the skills, talent, and heart to bring hope back to Ireland.
A new Ireland is possible, one that takes risks to create a bold new vision. We have the perfect opportunity to put new systems in place, transform our politics to give people a real say, and overhaul our economy to promote green energy and social innovation.
We can rethink education, health, transport, and our relationship with the natural environment. If we want a new, vibrant, and equal republic then we can have one. First we need to get active, vocal, and organised, and demand better from ourselves, each other, and from those that claim to serve us.
I don’t want to have to leave my country and I am prepared to fight for a bright future here. As tempting as the Australian dream might be right now, for me the dream of co-creating this new Ireland is much greater.
Published in The Irish Independent
INFORMING young people about drugs doesn't make them run out and get high at the next opportunity. Similarly, informing them about threesomes doesn't mean they will suddenly jump into sexual experimentation that they otherwise hadn't thought about or planned.
The recent controversy surrounding the SpunOut.ie article on the pros and cons of threesomes (one of the site's 3,000-plus articles) raises the important issue of how or whether sex education is taking place in this country.
The fact that the Health Minister and Taoiseach felt they needed to weigh in on the issue suggests we as a society are still hung up when it comes to sex. It is particularly interesting that the article which stirred the controversy was featured in a newspaper that appears to celebrate titillation on a weekly basis.
Traditionally, issues around sex in Ireland were guided by the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Sex was said to be an act between married people, more for procreation than enjoyment, and certainly not to be talked about or celebrated.
Supposedly celibate men preached to us that contraception was bad, divorce was wrong, masturbation was sinful, and that people attracted to the same sex were either ill or evil.
Because of the unique influence of the church in the foundation of our State, the government and our education system shamefully toed the line. The result has been decades of avoidance, ignorance and repression when it comes to all things sex.
Unmarried mothers or flirtatious young women were isolated and incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries whilst homosexuals simply didn't exist in pure holy Ireland or were criminalised and forced into depression, suicide, marriage or emigration. Others struggled on in relationships lacking in love and intimacy while a culture of abuse and double standards thrived within the church.
They say money makes the world go round but sex is way more powerful. It's at the heart of everything, helping shape relationships, health, happiness and society at all levels.
It's an often invisible force that motivates and drives us at so many levels, not sinful or wrong, but if approached from a place of awareness, it is something that can be beautiful, natural, loving, human, sacred – and fun.
It's understandable that parents and politicians are concerned about what information our young people have access to. They should be concerned, very concerned. Increasingly young people's realities are being shaped by a shallow celebrity, advertising, and media culture that promotes an unhealthy view of body image, success, and sex that leaves young people feeling inadequate and vulnerable to self-harm, eating disorders, depression and unhealthy relationships.
Equally worrying is the fact that a huge number of young people, particularly young males, receive their primary sex education from hard-core pornography.
Their first introduction to the wonderful world of sex is all too often a tragic representation of sex as something where women are objectified, used and abused for male pleasure.
The advent of accessible internet and smartphone availability means many young people have instant access to the world of pornography without any grounding, support or education to contextualise it and let them know that porn doesn't and shouldn't reflect reality.
There's a misguided assumption out there that parents and schools are providing this essential guidance, but sadly this isn't the case.
Many schools, teachers and parents shy away from open discussions around sex simply because of the culture in which they were raised. In many cases the religion of the school is a dominant factor in preventing proper sex education from taking place, education beyond just the birds and the bees.
It is in this vacuum that SpunOut.ie was created and the reason it has emerged against great adversity to become an internationally respected award-winning quality youth health resource used by hundreds of thousands of young people, parents, teachers and indeed politicians.
SpunOut.ie achieves this on minuscule funding, paying very modest salaries, and doing what governments working alone continually fail to do – that is to reach and support young people in relevant, engaging, appealing, and effective ways.
It is for this reason that a unique and effective partnership with the HSE has been a win-win for SpunOut.ie and successive governments over the past eight years.
It is also a reason why short-sighted sensationalist journalism, religious lobbying and reactionary politics shouldn't jeopardise what is an essential service for a generation who have inherited a country that is more than just financially bankrupt.
SpunOut.ie reaches young adults aged 16-25, an age group who are sadly far from sheltered from the dangers and realities of the world. Allowing and trusting them to make informed decisions can help empower them to become fuller, healthier and happier citizens of our beleaguered nation.
The threesome issue presents us with an important opportunity, a chance to grow together as a country and to start talking about sex and all the other things we've been told to stay away from.
Parents, teachers, and youth organisations like SpunOut.ie all have a role to play. Central to this is listening to people, responding to their needs in relevant ways and realising that the world isn't going to collapse once we start to talk about all that has been repressed for so long.
From The Irish Independent / Foinse
Ruairi McKiernan, founder of the youth organisation Spun Out and a member of the Council of State, told Foinse that cuts to youth work funding will rise from 20% to 50% over the next two years.
“Ireland will pay for the planned cuts to youth services through suicides, mental illness, antisocial behaviour, alcohol and drug abuse amongst our young people,” he said.
“The current services are under-resourced and these cuts will be devastating. Youth centres are closing down and as it is there are not enough alcohol-free facilities available to young people.
“The government’s current model is shortsighted. We need to invest in people when they are younger. They should be acting in our name instead of prioritising the needs of foreign investors and bankers.”
Read this story in full in today’s Foinse which comes free with the Irish Independent. More information: www.foinse.ie
TÁ RABHADH tugtha ag comhairleoir de chuid an Uachtaráin gur amach anseo a bheidh an tionchar ag ciorruithe ar sheirbhísí don aos óg le brath; ardú ar líon na ndaoine óga a chuireann lámh ina mbás féin san áireamh.
Dúirt Ruairí McKiernan, bunaitheoir na hógeagraíochta Spun Out agus ball de Chomhairle an Stáit, go méadóidh líon na gciorruithe ar an maoiniú d’obair don aos óg ó 20 go 50 faoin gcéad sa dá bhliain atá romhainn.
“Íocfaidh Éire go daor as na ciorruithe seo sa todhchaí mar go méadóidh féinmharú, meabhairghalar, iompraíocht, fhrithshóisialta, mí-úsáid drugaí agus alcóil i measc daoine óga,” a dúirt sé.
“Le cúrsaí mar atá, níl dóthain acmhainní ag seirbhísí don aos óg – tubaiste a bheidh i gciorruithe breise. Tá roinnt ionad ógra ag dúnadh síos, níl dóthain saoráidí ar fáil nach bhfuil baint acu leis an ól.
“Tá samhail an rialtais místuama. Caithfear infheistíocht a dhéanamh i ndaoine nuair atá siad óg. Ba cheart don rialtas a leithéid a dhéanamh in áit tús áite a thabhairt do riachtanais na n-infheisteoirí agus na mbaincéirí eachtracha.
Tá an chuid eile den scéal seo le léamh in Foinse inniu, a bhíonn ar fáil saor in aisce leis an Irish Independent. Breis eolais: www.foinse.ie
- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/terrible-legacy-of-youth-service-cuts-presidential-advisor-says-suicides-will-increase-26892074.html#sthash.dQvDaEDS.dpuf
Published in The Irish Times
Young people may have it good compared to many in the world and to generations before them but they also face daunting challenges
THE YOUNG people are at it again. They’re drinking, fighting, losing their religion, and causing havoc on the streets of Ireland. They have no respect, no manners, no get up and go. They’re mollycoddled, dossing on the dole, sunning themselves in Australia and only interested in sex, fun, Facebook and their phones. You’d think that Ireland’s young people were the scourge of the nation.
Sadly that’s a common view shared by many and something that urgently needs to change. Yesterday was International Youth Day and the theme this year is “building a better world, partnering with youth”, a proposal that is in great need of consideration here in Ireland.
A staggering 40 per cent of our population is under 30. Think about that. Four out of every 10 of us is under 30, meaning a new generation is coming of age to fundamentally change every aspect of this country.
When you turn on the TV or radio it sometimes feels like a funeral for Ireland or indeed humanity. It’s no wonder there is a mental health crisis and that many of us choose methods of self-medication or escapism through alcohol, drugs, entertainment or apathy.
Our leaders aren’t leading us through this. They’re busy trying to appease the markets. It’s hard to be convinced or inspired by vague talk of recovery and reform. “Stick with us, we’ll be back to ya” is the overarching message – a message we oddly seem to be accepting. Where’s it all leading to? Where is the big vision to get excited about? Recovery towards what? Another Celtic Tiger? No thanks.
This is not about us versus them, youth versus age in a battle for sympathy and solutions. Surfing the storms of change can’t be easy for the older generation. My parents were born in the 1950s and grew up in a rural, Catholic and conservative Ireland broken by generations of colonialism, conflict and emigration. It was a romantic Ireland in many ways but also a country where young people were to be seen and not heard in an authoritarian culture where the influential in society held sway over the rights and voices of the majority.
Of course young people today still have it good compared to many in the world and to the generations before them but they also face new challenges. The power of consumer culture and advertising often has more power than their parents. They are affected by the continuing cuts to education, youth and health services, and by the financial pressures and stresses of their families. Young people are bombarded with overt and often abusive sexual imagery online and in the media, all contributing to the already difficult anxieties of adolescence.
The results are evidenced by high levels of anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, political disengagement and suicide among Ireland’s youth – all symptoms of a country that is failing our young. This can lead us to ask questions of our elders but if they too are lost then what chance do our young have?
All of that said, things are changing, new ways are emerging and a cultural shift is under way. People all over the world are increasingly questioning those in positions of power and asking big questions of themselves and their leaders.
Young people are often at the fore of this questioning as was the case during the Arab Spring and in the 80 countries where the Occupy movement emerged as a youth-led attempt to stir debate and ask why 1 per cent of the world’s population controls 40 per cent of its wealth.
We need to celebrate and encourage this questioning and foster a culture of debate, dissent and discovery. If we do not question, we are lost. Perhaps this calls for the teaching of philosophy and civic education in school as is the case elsewhere in Europe.
Moving towards empathy and a compassionate understanding of underlying issues would serve us better than knee-jerk reactions to youth and other issues. Asking why a large part of the nation’s youth are getting off their heads every weekend would be much more useful than rushing to criticise them. The dominance of alcohol advertising in sport and music has a huge role to play in this.
Beyond this the reason young people are abusing their bodies, minds and spirits is everything to do with them needing support, a listening ear, a hug, an education system that nourishes the human spirit and uncovers the enormous gifts and potential within each person, alternative safe and fun places to hang out, healthy role models, guidance and wanting to hear messages of “You matter”, “Ireland needs you” and “I love you”.
There seems to be a vacuum in the heart and soul of public dialogue. We are too busy reacting or understandably caught up in survival mode. Together we must reclaim our power as citizens of Ireland and meaningfully discuss our hopes, dreams and future. Can we collectively find a new vision for ourselves and our country, something to believe in that offers young people, and indeed all of us, hope for the future? Of course we can.
In my experience of growing up in Ireland, going through my fair share of trials and tribulations, and of 12 years working with young people, nothing is more empowering than opportunities to participate in decisions that affect your life. Ten meaningful minutes with a young person can change their life.
Our huge youth population is one of our greatest untapped national resources. It’s time to meaningfully engage with them, to mobilise and resource a national inter-generational effort that connects young and old in homes, schools, clubs, communities and in government. It must mean an end to the prioritisation of bond holders over young people (the youth centre in the Taoiseach’s home town of Castlebar, population 10,000-plus, recently closed), the establishment of a youth parliament with real power and radical democratic change that provides real citizen engagement beyond the limited scope of the forthcoming constitutional convention. It means the passing of the delayed Children’s Rights referendum, injection of fresh young voices onto boards and into the worlds of media, politics and business.
We cannot continue to stand by and lose more young people to unemployment, emigration and despair.
By investing in young people, they will prosper and we will be rewarded individually and as a nation. We will unleash a part of us that is missing: a bold, energetic, creative, entrepreneurial, imaginative, and irreverent force for change that can build the bright new world that we are crying out for.
By Noel Baker, The Irish Examiner
IRELAND is in the grip of a “heroin epidemic”, while alcohol abuse among the young is leading them towards drug use, two youth support organisations warned yesterday.
The Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children were told by Spunout and the Aislinn Adolescent Addiction Centre that alcohol was both a gateway and relapse drug and that issues such as the availability of alcohol and its below-cost selling needed to be tackled as a matter of urgency.
Both groups also told the committee they had suffered funding cutbacks and were struggling to maintain services.
Breda Cahill, general manager of the Aislinn Centre, which provides treatment for adolescent drug users from its Ballyragget location in Co Kilkenny, said staff had noticed four crucial changes since it opened its doors in 1998.
“It has become the norm for adolescents to drink and take drugs and go beyond experimentation,” she said.
Ms Cahill said alcohol was still the main drug abused by adolescents and the main drug of relapse.
“As a society we are unable to stop the flow of drugs and underage drinking.”
She also noted a rise in the prevalence of suicide among adolescent drug users, versus the lack of stepdown facilities.
Ruairi McKiernan, chief executive of Spunout, said 50% of young people surveyed on the group’s website believed the future was bleak.
He said following a move from Galway to Temple Bar in Dublin, staff at Spunout regularly witnessed up to eight people at a time taking heroin on a nearby street.
“Ireland is actively in the midst of a very, very serious heroin epidemic,” he said.
He also pointed to the growth in the number of off-licences in recent years while services for young people were being cut. He said changes on alcohol policy needed “political will and political courage”.
Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten said there had been “doublespeak from the state on the whole position of alcohol”, while people were still able to purchase cannabis seeds online and have them delivered to Irish addresses.
He said one website was even offering free seeds to people in Ireland making an order.
Mr McKiernan said that Spunout’s HSE funding had been cut from 30% to 20% of its budget, while Breda Cahill said the level of state funding Aislinn received would not cover the growing demand for services at a time when there were gaps in the mental health system for those aged 13 to 18 and no stepdown facilities.
She said its HSE funding had also been cut, meaning the Aislinn Centre was trying to plan for the delivery of its family support service on the same level of income it has had for the past two years.
Mr McKiernan said that some major philanthropical organisations, which had been “propping up” certain services were now “exiting stage left”, causing anxiety for those people involved.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved
By Deaglán de BréadúnThe Irish Times
THE LACK of engagement in Irish politics by young people reflects the conservative nature of the system, the MacGill Summer School was told yesterday.
Speaking on the theme, Is Ireland a country for young men and women?, communications specialist Andrea Pappin said: “Irish politics is about making the least amount of change you can get away with.”
She recalled how, in 1997, both Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair were elected as heads of government.
“In the UK, there was the devolution of powers to the Scottish parliament, Welsh assembly and Stormont, the creation of a directly elected mayor of London, the removal of most hereditary peers from the House of Lords, the introduction of PR for European elections and a referendum on the voting system for Westminster elections.”
By contrast, in Ireland since 1997, she said that “while we had a number of referendums, not one of them had to do with planned constitutional reforms to improve or modernise our country”.
There was a need for a parliament that was more than “just an electoral college for the cabinet” and that would allow TDs to be more than constituency administrators or champions of their locality.
Economist Ronan Lyons said “Charlton’s children”, the generation born when Jack Charlton’s tenure as Irish soccer manager was at its height, “are perhaps the luckiest generation that Ireland has ever had”.
He said they were lucky “because they are the first generation to see Ireland for what it is and pick their future accordingly: a small open economy completely dependent on its ability to sell its talent on international markets, but with plenty of opportunity for those with the right skills”.
“Yes, there is lots of unemployment in Ireland. Yes, there is a lot of debt and, for the next few years, there is going to be tough budget after tough budget,” he said.
“But Ireland’s teenagers can sidestep all that, because they have a clean slate.
Ruairí McKiernan of national youth organisation SpunOut.ie said: “We need a participatory democracy where we are involved much more in decision-making than once every five years stroking a pen at the ballot box.
“We need to be involved and that requires effort and responsibility from all of us and that includes true youth participation at all levels.”
SpunOut.ie’s Ruairí McKiernan talks about promoting positive mental health and booking the Dalai Lama
Why did you start SpunOut.ie? It started in my bedroom in Ballyshannon, in rural south Donegal, in 2004. I’d been an activist with ambitions to change the world. But I became tired of being anti-everything. I thought, well, where does change come from? So I decided to set up an NGO (non-governmental organisation). I had noble ideas about helping people on a global scale. But that’s the great thing about being young and naive – you don’t see any of the barriers that might stand in your way.
Where does your funding come from? I originally applied for office space from local enterprise groups. But they’re all fixated on attracting multinationals. As a result SpunOut was based in Galway for eight years, before relocating to Temple Bar in Dublin this year. The HSE provides a lot of our funding. On the civic side, we get assistance from people like Atlantic Philanthropies.
What does the site do? We have a staff of seven. We provide hundreds of videos and thousands of factsheets, covering everything from skills, education and jobs, to alcoholism, mental health, self-harm and suicide. We provide young people with opportunities to discuss and debate issues and to connect with the help and services that are available. We also offer them small grants to help get their ideas off the ground.
The website is aimed at young people aged 16-25. How has this demographic been affected by the economic crash? There are 630,000 people in Ireland aged 16-25, so you can’t really tar them all with a broad brush. But the most obvious change in recent years is that the things young people could once take for granted – access to culture, opportunities for travel, graduate employment – are no longer a given. Ireland has one of the youngest populations in Europe and also one of the highest rates of youth unemployment and emigration. There is a sense that the future is bleak and that’s not a good place to be when you’re just starting out in life.
Are there any positives? At the end of the day, it’s up to young people to make thing happen for ourselves. We need to get organised, to make demands and not sit around waiting for someone else to do it. Even in this economy young people are being enterprising and entrepreneurial. There’s a great energy, a great DIY spirit – things like Seomra Spraoi and the Exchange in Dublin, for example – that I think need to be celebrated.
One of your more high-profile events was a Hugs For Health day. What was the point of that? Each year we hold an event with Google. They have a staff day which they donate to charity, so we usually do something fun and quirky.
On this occasion we had about 80 of their staff, plus some of our own people, giving out free hugs on Grafton Street to promote positive mental health. The idea ended up going viral when Ray D’Arcy encouraged workplaces around the country to get involved.
You know, I believe I may have almost punched one of your volunteers that day. Well, it is weird. Different people react different ways. Most are delighted. Others even become emotional and start crying. But if anyone doesn’t want to be hugged, there are ground rules.
You’re also behind an event entitled Possibilities, which is being held in CityWest this Wednesday. Possibilities is something we’ve organised in partnership with Afri and Children in Crossfire. It’s a gathering of people, young and old, who want to take a deeper look at where we are, culturally and politically, and where we’re going. Among those taking part will be the Dalai Lama, Mary Robinson, Kila and representatives of a huge line-up of theatre, poetry and community projects. Two thousand tickets went on sale and they’ve all sold out.
When the Dalai Lama makes a personal appearance, does he have a rider? Is there a particular colour of M&M he refuses to tolerate? No, there’s no rider. He doesn’t have any special requirements, except that the event must be organised on a not-for-profit basis. He doesn’t fly first class, he’s very low key.
He doesn’t have an entourage of freeloading high school buddies? Nothing like that? No, he only has bodyguards. He’s the leader of occupied Tibet, so obviously there are security concerns. He’s retiring from political life later this year. He’s 75. There aren’t too many world leaders choosing to retire voluntarily at the moment. So for me he’s someone with rare integrity and vision.
What about yourself? Could you see yourself ever deciding that you’re too old to run a youth organisation? That it’s time to hand over the reins to someone else? Absolutely, I’m 33. I’ve been in this game a long time. NGOs are funny old beasts. Some end up just existing for the sake of existing, fundraising just for the sake of staying in business. I’ve started to look at other projects and I may soon decide to move on. But we’ve embedded three or four young people on the board of SpunOut.ie. That means new people and new ideas. I’ve no intention of getting in their way.
Ruairi McKiernan, founder of SpunOut.ie, has said that while Ireland is in a difficult situation, job creation is not impossible, though it would require a “radical re-think” of economic strategies.
Speaking after returning from a fundraising mission to Silicon Valley where he met start-up companies and leaders at Facebook and Google, McKiernan said Ireland should stop waiting on others to come to the rescue.
Instead, McKiernan believes the country should focus on harnessing the “energy, ideas and passion” of a younger generation by giving concrete support to the start-up sector.“There are thousands of people out there with innovative ideas and the skills, determination and passion to make great things happen,” said McKiernan.
“There’s no reason we can’t create our own Google, Facebook or Nokia, or to look beyond IT and truly become a world leader in green energy,” he said.
McKiernan urged the government to “stop depending on the needs of multinationals to determine our fate” and to support Irish talent.
“Our brightest and our best are starting to ship out once more to the benefit of the UK, Australia and Canada,” said McKiernan.
“It’s time that we stopped shedding crocodile tears and paying lip service to our young people. We need instead to offer real investment, equal opportunities and meaningful support to them,” he said.
Starting up in a challenging situationMcKiernan has experience in dealing with unemployment and building up a company from scratch.
He set up SpunOut.ie, an award-winning social media agency, seven years ago from his bedroom in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, after becoming unemployed when funding for the youth health research project he was working on dried up.
McKiernan considered emigration, but decided to stay to make a difference in Ireland and realised the opportunities in the social media sector.
However, it is a challenging environment today. SpunOut.ie is seeking a new office in Dublin in which to expand, but McKiernan said that in spite of the economic collapse and a large availability of vacant buildings, it's impossible to find an affordable space.
“It seems as if NAMA-type thinking would prefer to save the banks and have empty, unaffordable buildings than have them used for innovation, social solutions and job creation,” said McKiernan.
“It’s time we shook up this type of failed thinking and focused on community development and small-scale job creation which will have better long-term benefits for all.
“At the moment, there are too many barriers and nothing short of radical policy changes will help build the new Ireland we so desperately need,” he said.
From RTE national TV
A new campaign was launched today to encourage young people to talk about difficult times they may be having.
The 'Tough Times' campaign is aimed at creating awareness that suicide should not be an option for young people when facing a crisis.
Ireland has the fifth highest suicide rate in Europe for the 15 to 25-year-old age group and death by suicide is now the most common cause of death among young Irish men.
RELATED AUDIO & VIDEO
Organisers say men are generally reluctant to talk about their problems and it is important that the message is transmitted that no problem is insurmountable.
A selection of Ruairí's articles published in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Times, the Huffington Post, and other publications.