It is always encouraging to see the GAA move away from the playing fields and board rooms to highlight social issues which they can positively effect change by creating awareness. Homelessness in Ireland is the latest epidemic to hit these shores in our fast-moving modern era.
Over two months ago an initial group of 20 gathered in Dublin to discuss what they could do to use the voice and platform that the GAA has given them so they can give back to their communities. It's estimated there are 8,500 homeless people in Ireland, and that we have the highest rate of child homelessness in Europe. Last weekend, over 400 hundred GAA players, past and present slept on the streets of various towns and cities in Ireland and the US in a remarkable show of solidarity to raise awareness for homelessness.
So far, the Gaelic Voices for Change campaign has raised over €180,000, which will be distributed among the Peter McVerry Trust, St Vincent de Paul, the Simon Community, Focus Ireland and the Capuchin Day Centre, Cope Galway, Thomond House, and Novas based in Limerick. The GAA, GPA and WPGA have to be commended for their initiative in highlighting this social scourge. “…homelessness is increasing year on year.
Between December 2014 and August 2017 there was a net increase in the number of people recorded as homeless of 5,412 people, an increase of 189%. This upward trend has existed for a number of years and the number of people becoming homeless is actually increasing” (www.pmvtrust.ie). The Peter McVerry Trust website details the shocking statistics of the homelessness in Ireland.
We have over 183,000 vacant dwellings in the State while people almost 5,500 people are living on our streets. Donegal has its homeless people too. Corinna McCallig who is a prominent housing campaigner here said on Highland Radio (13th November 2017) that “the discovery of three Romanian men sleeping rough in a shop doorway in Letterkenny last night is the first visible sign of a growing hidden problem in the county.” Officially there are 18 people living on Letterkenny’s streets but I’m assuming that this figure may be more at this time of year.
The GAA has shown that it a community in itself and has the capacity to highlight such social tragedies. The Gaelic Players Association states on its website “Under our comprehensive Social Responsibility Programme the Gaelic Players Association is committed to supporting a number of charities and social initiatives on an annual basis. We do this by harnessing the profile of county players as role models in society and promoting the benefits of active participation in sport both on and off the field. We believe strongly in the value of ‘giving back’ and encourage our members to be leaders of positive change within their communities, in Irish society and internationally.” They are heavily committed to mental health and have partnerships with Pieta House and Jigsaw (formerly Headstrong).
Because of my own past depression and detailing it in my autobiography last year, I receive many calls for help particularly from young people. As parents, we can easily be dismissive or not recognise that one of our teenagers is suffering silently from mental illness. The pressures of modern day expectations, especially at Christmas when we are bombarded with consumerism, emotional tensions heighten. Prior to the festive season last year, I had a call from a young teenager who wanted to talk to me. He said that he couldn’t control what was going on in his head. He didn’t want to burden his parents because he felt that they had enough going on in their own lives.
Fortunately, we managed to resolve the situation with professional help but what struck me was the lack of communication. The young lad was trying to deal with his illness through the virtual unreality of social media. The art of face to face verbal conversation has to restored in the family unit. When I was a youngster, I never heard of depression being associated with young people. I’m sure it existed but I do know that it is far more prevalent among our youth today. I have to applaud the Gaelic Players Association for identifying and especially recognising mental health. Their recent initiative to help the homeless also has to commended.
We are now in the season of goodwill when our hard edges soften and our temperaments mellow. I am a big fan of Christmas, hopefully for the right reasons. We all need a break at this time of year from the past year’s toils and travails. We are now on the turn when the days will get longer, extending slowly and languidly into the freshness of Spring.
We cannot forget about our new GAA season and new manager though. Donegal and Declan Bonner have an early start to the season when they begin their campaign against Queen’s University on Wednesday 3rd January followed by Monaghan and Fermanagh on January 7th and 10th respectively.
I wish Declan and the lads every success. I would especially like to wish readers of this alternative sports column a happy, holy and peaceful Christmas.
Keep the faith!