Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Fairytale Of Athlone"

“Fairytale of Athlone”

Once upon a time there was a 38-year-old married man with one child. He spent 6 months of 2009 unemployed. He spent every day searching for jobs, while doing the best for his family.
“Job seekers allowance” paid him and his family 365.00 euros per week. That money was badly needed.

When he had the chance to get back into the workforce he jumped at it. Working again, a reason to rise in the morning and a belief that he could make a difference.

The job paid minimum wage, which meant that he would be 25.00 euros worse off per week. Not a great start but at least he was working, back in the swing of things, back communicating with people, making decisions and making a difference.

He applied for Family Income Support on the 15th October 2009 and was told that there would be a delay of 4-5 weeks before payment would be made as there was a huge increase in the volume of applications for F.I.S

He waited until the 23rd November and rang the social welfare to see how his application was progressing.
He was then told the astonishing news that there would be a further delay of between 5 – 6 weeks before any payments are made.
The employee at the social welfare office did say that the payment would be backdated when it was paid, so that makes it all ok then.

So it will be 2010 before any payment is made. What about Christmas? He screamed, how would he get through Christmas, how will his family get through Christmas.

His son wants Santa to bring him a toy tractor; a bloody toy tractor is all he wants.
What will he get his wife? What will his wife get him? Nothing I’m afraid.

There can be no presents for his nieces and nephews, no presents for his parents or his wife’s parents; it’s just not possible. Friends will just have to be patient.

This is a real person with real human concerns. He is angry, angry at everything, but will refuse to give up. He will continue to fight to re-establish himself. He refuses to go back on social welfare. He prefers to work and give something back to his community

And yes his son will receive his tractor for Christmas. He will make damn sure of that, and he will make sure that it comes with a trailer and is the best tractor that he can afford.

To his friends at the social welfare office he can only ask that every time a claim comes across their desk that they think of the human aspects of each claim. They are not just pieces of paper, there are lives affected by your actions every day of the week.
Try and process one more claim each day, take five minutes less for your lunch break and process one more claim, come in five minutes early and process one more claim. Don’t go on strike and you can process lots more claims.

This recession will not beat this man and not beat his family. 2010 will be a better year full of the ups and downs that every year brings. Here’s hoping for more ups than downs.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Human Spirit

The Human Spirit

The floods that have destroyed areas of Athlone this week have been devastating for those concerned. To have your home violated by a flood is a truly distressing issue.

I have spoken at length with people who have lost their properties or businesses and the tales are truly harrowing, yet one thing that everyone is in agreement with is the superb effort from the general public of the town and the country as a whole.

I am involved in the flood relief support group and it seems that every community and voluntary group in the area is throwing their full support behind this venture.

People have been amazing offering their time, money and possessions to help those less fortunate than themselves. The feeling with the volunteers is “there but for the grace of god go I” We are the lucky ones.

Floods are a natural disaster, but they discriminate against those who live closest to the water, and once the water rises there is nothing you can do.

The community spirit is superb. I just hope that we can learn from this disaster and keep community support at a high level going forward.

I must commend the local representatives who have given up their time to fill sand bags and assist the families most affected. I am sure people will remember these gestures.

On the other hand the point must be made that last Tuesday when council workers refused to strike in other flood affected areas around the country, Athlone was not so lucky and the council workers stayed at home. This in itself was a major public relations gaff, and left the affected people feeling isolated.

I feel that sometimes we need a disaster of sorts to awaken those altruistic feeling within us. A flood relief centre has been opened in the Athlone Town Centre and volunteers are desperately needed to man the area from 9.00am – 9.00pm, so if you have a few spare hours get down to the town centre and show your support.

When the dust has settled on the floods in this area, I know that blame will have to be apportioned and difficult decisions will need to be taken.

Athlone is built on the beautiful river Shannon and it breathes life into the town on a daily basis, but occasionally it comes and bites us when we least expect it.

We need to respect the river and put an emergency plan in place so that when the floods return, because they most certainly will, that we are ready to support those most in need.

Our government need to take notice and assist the stricken communities both now and in the future. The community are doing their bit, now its up to the elected representatives to do theirs.

I must dash now, as I have to get into a boat and go and visit my in laws. The one road out from their house is flooded and can only be accessed by boat. I do hope the water has receded by Christmas. I don’t feel like carrying the turkey in a boat.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The French Connection

Day Light Robbery – The defeat of a small footballing nation.

It seemed that the only issue on peoples mind last week was the World Cup Play off match against France.
The whole country held their breath and then Thierry Henry extinguished our dreams with two sweeps of his hand.

Recessions are difficult to get through, many challenges are put in our way and there are few opportunities for the country to forget its worries and all focus on the one goal

The whole country stopped last Wednesday night and I should know because a meeting ran late and I did not get home until the game was half an hour old. The roads were empty, everyone either tucked up at home or enjoying a pint or two in the pub.

Even those of you who are not huge football fans could see the importance of this match. It was a great chance to forget out worries for a few hours, yet now we are left signing petitions in a bid to have the game replayed.

I am sure that Messrs Cowen and Lenihan were hoping for a favourable result in Paris. Possibly in the hope that a nasty budget could be slipped through on the back of national euphoria.

It is plain to see that FIFA the governing body of football want to see the major footballing nations qualify for the world cup finals in South Africa.
This became apparent when FIFA moved the goalposts following the qualification campaign and seeded the larger nations against the smaller nations.
This change of the rules all but guaranteed the progress of large nations like France and Portugal

I feel that if we had been serious about the injustices done to us we should have refused to contest the qualifiers unless an open draw was in place

I fully understand the financial implications that this decision could bring with it, but at least we would be standing up for the rights of both our players and our fans
Qualification for major championships is difficult enough without FIFA continuously putting new obstacles in the way of the smaller nations.

I am sure that I can speak for everyone when I say the Irish players and fans did us proud last week, and I am saddened that I was not in Paris myself.

We can now forget the trip to South Africa, Cape town and the African safari’s will have to do without the Irish supporters. Come next summer many of us will be looking on with envy and I am sure we will take more than a passing interest in the progress of the French team

As Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses would say “ Mange Tout Rodney, Mange Tout.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Charity "Bag Pack"

Last weekend I was involved in organising and participating in a charity “Bag Pack” event at Tesco in Golden Island. You know the type of thing; somebody stands at the far side of the till and helps you pack your shopping

I had never done one before and to be honest with you I felt a little nervous, and my fragile state was not helped by having to wear a luminous yellow jacket.

Before I started I thought that it is very important not to upset the general public. I was a little worried that people would be standoffish and wary of who we were

This could not have been further from the truth. The general public of Athlone proved to be extremely generous and were full of wise cracks and banter.
I was concerned that the sight of people collecting for charity might annoy some especially during these financially turbulent times but I was wrong.

People dug deep into their pockets and were happy to toss a few coins into our little white buckets.
When I say buckets I really mean recycled mayonnaise containers.

What’s more they took an interest in what we were collecting for and we were happy to answer any questions
I really enjoyed the different personalities and conversations that I had and it was also a thrill to help people with what many see as a chore.

It reminded me that when I was unemployed I felt isolated and did not get out and about as much as I should, once your confidence takes a battering it can be hard to get it back.

I met more people at Tescos in a two-hour period than I would have done in a week when I was on the dole.

I really hope never to find myself unemployed again but if I do I will make sure to help out with things like this.

For the many of you out there who may find yourselves at a loose end I propose you pick up the phone and find out how you can help your community. It will feel like watching the “Secret Millionaire” Television programme, you just won’t be handing over huge amounts of cash a the end of it

I would never have believed that packing bags for two hours could make you feel invigorated, but it does.
It made me feel useful and that I was making a difference

You see the best in people and believe you me; when it comes to giving to deserving causes Athlone does have the best of people.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Letter to Mr. Cowan

Open Letter to An Taoiseach - Brian Cowan

Dear Brian,

It must be tough for you at the moment? The country is in a terrible state and everyone is blaming you. I certainly don’t envy you.
But there are positives out there Brian. Every cloud has a silver lining and it is up to you to find one.

The nation awaits your verdict. You have an opportunity to change the face of economic Ireland forever if you are brave enough to take up the challenge.

You don’t need me telling you what needs to be done, you know that already.

As a low paid worker I am willing to take a hit if it helps in the regeneration of our economy and so should everyone else, so just get on and do it.

Don’t be afraid of the difficult decisions. Do not bow down to the public servants or other vested interests. You know that there are huge savings to be made in this area and if you have the will you can find the way. The country voted you into power to make the difficult decisions so make them.

Brian , Do you have the will? Do you really want to get your hands dirty or are you going to gloss over the issues in the hope that you can put a positive spin on things in time for the next election.
This budget is not about saving your own skin, its about saving the country.

Please never forget that you are a public servant, elected by the people for the people. You are there to do OUR work, not the work of your own political party.

Brian, do you know that politicians are hated out here in the real world?

We have been disgusted by scandal after scandal, disaster after disaster, yet you are still in power, still our county’s leader so get on with it.

I am giving you one more opportunity to get things right. I am sure I will not agree with everything you produce in the upcoming budget, but I like every other sensible citizen will be able to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to digesting the budgets findings.

If you fail to make the difficult decisions and pander to your cronies in certain circles, I will stand up and take you on head first. I will march. I will agitate and I will call for a change of government.

You know the old saying Brian “Cometh the hour cometh the man “

So Come on Brian.

Yours Hopefully

Joe Public

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Poverty In Ireland

Poverty In Ireland

I have done the research, and according to the latest Central Statistics Office findings contained in the 2007 EU survey of income and living conditions, I am “At Risk Of Poverty”

Do I feel impoverished? Not at all.

I don’t have any spare money; we can’t pay our bills fully. We can’t afford new clothes; we can’t afford to mend the car. We cannot afford to go out at weekends. But we are not poor. Well not in my mind anyway.

According to the Combat Poverty Agency 16.5% of the Irish population are at risk of Poverty and 5% actually experience consistent poverty, now these figures were released in 2007, and as we all know this was before the credit crunch kicked in, before the banks crashed and before the developers saw the light and ceased building.

Our nation is suffering poverty and not just in a purely financial sense. Yes the money seems to be gone, the good times are behind us for a period of time, but we have also lost our sense of justice as a nation, our sense of community our sense of togetherness

When I think of real poverty I think back to my recent visit
to the graveyard beside the old Christian Brothers Industrial School in Letterfrack, in beautiful Connemara. Now if you want to experience a real sense of poverty then make an effort to visit this place. Set amidst some of the most stunning scenery that our country has to offer is an example to us all.

As our country grew over the last century or so, we allowed far too many of our citizens to fall by the wayside. Humans are selfish by nature, but as a nation we have spent millions of pounds promoting our Irishness to the rest of the world. We want to welcome you to our country, we are great people. We will take care of you when you visit

Alas this is an empty promise. We were never able to take care of the most vulnerable in our society so how then can we take care of our guests.

I had been to Letterfrack on many occasions before. It is a quiet west Galway village at the base of the Connemara National Park.

One sunny afternoon, which was strange for this past summer my wife and son accompanied me on a search for a playground in the National Park.

Two year olds have so much energy and swings and slides are a great way to tire them out

As we walked up a slight incline past the church I noticed a small black wrought iron gate and a sign that said “graveyard”
I have always found graveyards very relaxing places, the history of them makes me want to recall past times so we decided to investigate. The path through the gate took us to a serene wooded area and up the hill again.

At the top a marble plaque was placed on the wall with this haunting script

What they suffered they told but few
They did not deserve what they went through
Tired and weary
They made no fuss
They tried so hard
To stay with us

I opened another small gate and we entered the graveyard and my heart sank. I actually felt sick to my stomach. I felt a tremendous amount of anger.

There laid out in front of me were row upon row of small black heart shaped gravestones 77 in total to represent 99 boys who died in the care of the Christian Brothers from the 1890’s to the 1970’s when the school was finally closed school

This is the final burial place of some of the unwanted souls of Ireland’s shameful past.

I just looked a the ages of the dead children, 10 years old, 3 years old, six years old, age unknown.

The uniformity of the gravestones reminded me of the final resting place of the soldiers from the two world wars. But these were not soldiers who died in war; these were children who died in utter poverty and confusion.

Records show that these children were beaten, abused and shown none of the respect that we should afford our youth.

So the next time that you think you are poor. The next time you moan about not having this and not being able to afford that. Stop and think a second. Think about the pain and suffering that these children suffered, and what’s more all done in the name of god

Most graveyards that adjoin a church can be seen from the church, but not this one. This final burial place of scores of children is hidden in a wooded area away from the church. You would not find it unless you were looking for it

The church abused and tortured these children and even in death the church still feels the need to shame them by hiding them away.

These beautiful black marble gravestones were not placed there by the church, they were not placed their by the families of the deceased, they were actually placed there as recently as 2002 by the Joseph Pike Research Group, in a bid to remember these young boys.

These children suffered real poverty. Poverty in its purist form.

I do hope that during this current recession we can spend a little time to look out for a neighbour or a friend. Never be afraid to ask the question “Are you Ok?” Can I help in anyway?

Many of us are really lucky. We have our families and friends and support networks to help us through.
Having visited the graveyard in Letter rack I am trying to put my own advice into action

I hope that you will try it too, and when someone does ask you for help, hold out your hand and your heart and remember that it was not too long ago that we as a nation just turned our backs on the most needy in our society.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Last week I had to go to Dublin Airport to collect my family, as seems the norm these days the flight was slightly late and I was slightly early, which gave me plenty of time to stand around “people watching”

The arrivals hall at the airport seemed to contain every conceivable emotion in just the one hour that I was there

There was passion from when the twenty-year-old student holding a bunch of flowers purchased from the petrol station as he kissed his newly arrived girlfriend. It turned out that he really didn’t need the flowers

The middle-aged couple welcoming their daughter who has lived in America for the last twenty years. They were exited to welcome her I could hear it in their voices but you could see the fear in the mother’s face that in no time at all she would be upstairs again waving her daughter goodbye. Would she ever move home?

There is the apprehension of the first time arrival in Dublin, head moving quickly from side to side knowing that there is no one there to meet them but somehow hoping against all hope that somebody will call their name

The other first time arrivals were also there, the ones who strode purposely through the opaque doors hoping to catch a glimpse of the person holding the sign with their name on it. They are on business and business people are all business like, everything has to be done in a hurry, no time to spare. No time to feel the emotion that was clearly present.

A group of doting parents stood together waiting for their teenage daughters to return from the mid term school tour to Kenya. The trip was all about teaching the children that there was another world less fortunate out there, but as they entered the arrivals hall half of them were already back talking on their mobile homes.
Yes they wore flip flops, kaftan styled dresses and tie dyed t shirts but their two world experiences met right there on the concourse and I knew which world would win out. It would not be long before the plight of Africa was a distant memory. Maybe it’s too much to ask for a teenager to fully explore?

A slightly red eyed forty something lady, dressed for the cold spell stood motionless as close to the opening arrivals door as possible what seemed like her sister stood staunchly beside her, hands held ever so tightly. She had a mission, and that was to make sure that when the doors opened the first face that her arrival would see would be hers.

I guessed that there had been a death in the family and they were there to welcome somebody home
The doors opened and the embrace seemed everlasting. No words were required between the two ladies and the clearly emotional young man

The television news blared above my head, the security notices played every few minutes. The terminal is a noisy place but I heard little. I just watched the waiting people and imagined who would walk through the doors to meet them.

Then suddenly before I had the chance to react my own son ran towards me with a loud “Daaaadddddy” ringing in my ears. I wrapped him in my arms kissed my wife and we were on our way.

I felt a little guilty that my family had only come from Leeds / Bradford after a weekend spent with friends.

The next time I need to see human emotion in all it’s glory I may just take a trip back up to the airport. Maybe we should all try it sometime?
Unemployment – The loss of my sporting passion.

The great Irish Summer offered so much to the sports fan whether on the television or attending in person.

When I became unemployed earlier this year I was advised by many people to make sure that I kept up with my sporting hobbies. Playing golf and watching League Of Ireland Football.
Your hobbies give you an outlet, time away from the pressures of searching for that job, if even for a few hours.
But as I have found like everything else hobbies cost money.

An average game of golf costs 30.00 euros; this is 1/3 of our electricity bill or ¼ of our weekly shop.
How can I justify spending that amount of money on a whim?

Although still reasonable a trip to watch a league of Ireland game will cost me at least 30.00 including match ticket, petrol, a packet of Alex Ferguson chewing gum and the cup of much maligned oxtail soup.
When I was working I would not have thought twice about spending this, but now that I am unemployed it cannot be justified.

Earlier in the summer when Kerry gave my beloved dubs a step-by-step lesson in how to win a Gaelic football match. I was obviously devastated by the performance and the result, but a small little piece of me was happy that I would not have to find a way to pay for a ticket for the semi final or god forbid even the final
So thank you Kerry football for taking my dilemma away. I will eternally be in your debt.

The golf clubs are now in the shed gathering dust, and every time I enter they seem to look back at me with utter distain.
Friday nights pass without me going to a match and I can wait until next spring at least before I have to worry about the Dubs.

I am now left with only one avenue to my sporting passion and that’s my satellite dish, my beloved sports channels. Now if this were taken away I would be truly lost. I would be half the man I am now.

In our current precarious financial state the dish should really be removed from the side of the house but I just can’t bring myself to disconnect it.

It would be like a priest arranging an exorcism, exorcising the sporting demons from inside of me. The dish would be removed and with that a little piece of me would die, to be replaced by a deep open void of nothingness

This really is my last view to the sporting world outside
My wife says is it really important who wins the third round of the Carling Cup? Why are you watching women playing golf at the Solheim Cup? Nascar racing is so boring dear; can we switch over to “Eastenders”?

Darling it’s very important that I have this information and by the way the crown green bowls from Perth Australia is up next.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The dreaded budget is now only a matter of weeks away. For those of us unemployed or on low incomes it is an increasingly worrying time.

It seems that there will be cuts across the board, children’s allowance may be means tested? Unemployment assistance may be reduced? The public sector wage bill will need to be trimmed?
We all know that there is a huge deficit in the annual national accounts and some and maybe all of us will have to pay.
We may feel that these problems were not caused by the likes of you and me but unfortunately it will be up to us to foot the bill.

For me this time of year is all about survival. If I tightened my belt anymore I would suffocate, so a proposed cut in children’s allowance would be a disaster.

I know some wealthy people who use their children’s allowance payment to get their hair done.
We use ours to pay the electricity bill. I should be putting it away for my son’s future, but the here and the now is just more important.

As a family we will find it impossible to accept any further cuts to either wages or benefits

These difficult times may just allow us to think about what is really important in our lives. For too long we as a nation have been far too concerned with chasing the money, driving the brand new car, living in the large house, buying the biggest television and going on the most expensive holidays, but did this lifestyle really make us any happier?

Maybe now is the time to reassess and start chasing the truly important things in life like health, happiness, strong family and communities and friendship.
There have been times in our history when money was not all that important for most of us, and that was not that long ago either.

The budget will be released just before Christmas and I am sure that a wave of anger will consume the country at this time. Everyone will be looking at how the budget affects him or her personally. This is only a natural reaction, but I would ask that people try to look out for each other at this time. Check that friends and neighbours are ok. Speak to your families. The love and support they can give us during these difficult times can be priceless.
Lets support our communities and take extra care of the vulnerable.

The Celtic Tiger may be long gone, but the Irish spirit of care and community is still there. It may have been somewhat dormant during the boom times, but it is now up to each and every one of us to rise to the occasion.

We cannot allow the budget and all that it brings with it to destroy our enjoyment of Christmas. I may need to reduce my spending even further. Go out less. Buy cheaper presents? But it is still an occasion that I welcome and enjoy

Christmas is the “Season of Giving” Will you be giving this Festive Season?
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