AS I SEE IT
Where are we? Where are we going? Are we nearly there? When it comes to how we are progressing on our journey as a society, it seems to me that, in these days of fake news and 50 shades of views on social media, now more than ever we need journalists with a sure finger on the national pulse. Truthsayers, who also offer opinions like a whetstone on which to sharpen our own thoughts.
‘An Eye On Ireland’, a book of journalist Justine McCarthy’s selection of articles, starting from the 1990s, provides a compelling insight into that journey. The chosen pieces begin prophetically with the historic election of Mary Robinson as the first woman President of Ireland, a symbol of changed times as she extended the hand of friendship to those who elected her here and to both communities in North. The collection ends with the crisis at RTE provoked by the inflated payments made to Ryan Tubridy.
In between are stories which shone a light on issues crying out for change, heart-wrenching stories of tragedy and human triumph.
Reading them I had both a sense of how far we have travelled but often the feeling that we haven’t moved forward at all. Take the story of’ ‘Rosie’ who went on air to tell listeners that she had been condemned to death due to her seven month’s long wait for a colonoscopy. Her courage in speaking out resulted in a 24 bed Day Services Unit at St Luke’s Hospital.
Telling Justine her story in 2007, ‘Rosie’ said: “I feel sorry for the health service workers who are put under such strain to do a good job just because they are underfunded or there is a cock-up in how the service is organised.” Sixteen years later, given the current row over health service funding, this sounds horribly familiar.
There are clear-eyed views here, pointing up the hypocrisy involved in the cover-ups of clerical sex abuse and corrupt politicians and the contrasting treatment meted to women and their bodies.
Remember the X Case in 1992 where a 13-year-old girl became pregnant following a rape and where an injunction was taken to prevent her travelling to the UK for an abortion.
It was a time when the corrupt payments taken by top politicians were brought to light in the tribunals.
Justine McCarthy writes: “The decade when Haughey, Burke, Ahern, Flynn et al got their toe-hold in Ireland was when Eileen Flynn was sacked as a school teacher for living with a separated man: Joanne Hayes was viciously cross-examined at a State tribunal about her out-of-wedlock pregnancy: Anne Lovett died, aged 15 at a holy grotto in Granard with her new- born baby….. and tens of thousands of women and girls stole across the sea for abortions.”
Many of the stories Justine covered during 30 plus years concern landmark cases of women who found the courage to speak out They include interviews with Annie Murphy about her decision to go public about her affair with and her son Peter by Bishop Eamon Casey and the unbelievably shocking story of the Kilkenny incest victim abused by her father from the age of 10 until she became pregnant by him five years later.
There are articles that bring back joyful occasions: feting the green army of Irish football in Paris in 2016, success stories like the rise of Ryanair, but then the ongoing story of homelessness. There are is a prescient piece on the question of reunification of Ireland which still faces us, where in Justine’s words, ”No political party owns Ireland’s future. None has a monopoly on this State’s constitutional aspiration that Ireland be joined up again. The first imperative is getting to know each other after a century of being corralled in our binary boxes.”
Where are we now? Dithering over admission of yet more refugees when we can’t house our own people. Considering telling Ukrainian women and children to find homes after 90 days when there are no homes. Failing to facilitate these women’s ability to work with affordable child care and English language tuition and punitively cutting off all support the minute they do find work.
“This is not our final destination, as a pluralist democratic nation entering an era of cautious liberalism, there is much yet to be done,”writes Justine. A telling reflection.
* An Eye On Ireland: A Journey Through Social Change, by Justine McCarthy is published by Hachette Books Ireland, €20.99