President Higgins straddled past and present in delivering a powerful message

Joe Ó Muircheartaigh

LAST Monday week was a proud day for politics in Ireland, when you could say that the two houses of the Oireachtas went into special session to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first and historic sitting of Dáil Éireann that took place on 21 January, 1919.

That flame for the new Ireland was lit in the Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House — 100 years to the day, Clare’s five Oireachtas members, and by extension the current keepers of that flame, Dáil deputies Pat Breen (FG), Joe Carey (FG), Timmy Dooley (FF), Michael Harty (Ind) and Senator Martin Conway (FG) were present at the historic gathering to hear Clare’s President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins deliver the keynote address.

President Higgins’ panegyric was very important, because he straddled past and present in delivering a powerful message to Ireland and the world.

He said the First Dáil was an act of “extraordinary imagination and courage” and, in extolling the values and virtues of the Democratic Programme, which had been drafted by the fellow disciple of the Labour movement, Thomas Johnson, he put a microscope on the Ireland of 100 years on.

“In place of fear, the Democratic Programme offered hope,” he said. “In place of self-interest, it demanded duty. In place of injustice, it mandated equality. For our forebears were not merely opening a legislative assembly, they were founding a new nation, one capable of articulating and vindicating the rights and aspirations of the Irish people,” President Higgins added. 

It was President Higgins’ way of leading into the most important part of his text, in which he rightly questioned whether those Democratic Programme ideals have been delivered upon in the Ireland of 2019.

They haven’t — and everyone knows it.

“We struggle to meet the needs of all of our people,” noted President Higgins, “even as our Republic remains marred by inequalities in power, wealth, income and opportunity, mí-cothromaíocht. Poverty subsists amidst plenty, even as we fail to provide some of our citizens with the basic elements of a dignified existence within our Republic – housing, healthcare, education, support for those with particular needs.”

We see this every day, in Clare and everywhere, as inequality and injustice still prevail on many different levels within society and Government and the agents of government don’t do enough for those who find themselves marginalised and left behind.

Before Christmas, The Clare People reported on the food banks in operation in both Ennis and Kilrush, which are operated by the Mid-West branch of Simon, with the disquieting revelation that numbers accessing the service had jumped by 30 per cent over the course of 2018.

Without making specific reference to individual cases, this is exactly what President Higgins was talking about in his Mansion House address — about how “poverty subsists amidst plenty”, as within the much trumpeted recovery from deep recession, there were up to 1,500 people in County Clare who did not have the means to provide the food needed for their families. Another case is being highlighted by The Clare People this week — one that’s as shocking as it is unacceptable and is quite rightly the subject of a hue and cry among people championing the need for a proper health service. It’s the case of the late Tom Wynne, an Ennistymon man who, in 2018, spent his final 30 hours lying on a trolley in the Emergency Department of the University Hospital Limerick. The 64-year-old died in a cramped corridor, surrounded by dozens of other scared and sick people, all of whom were paying a price for the breakdown of what is supposed to be 21st-century healthcare service.It’s not.

“He begged me to take him home,” Mr Wynne’s wife, Marie, reveals in these pages. “I said, ‘I can’t take you home, Tom, you’re in the best place’. He said that if I didn’t take him home, he was going to get up and walk out of the place himself,” she adds.

He never got to make that walk, because he died on his trolley. 

The Democratic Programme of 1919 may have offered hope in place of fear, but this case and many others shows that the fear still remains.

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