Fr. Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist papers.
This column appeared in the edition published 22 June 2010.
I find myself, more and more frustrated by the profound inequality and injustice, as this recession inflicts grave wounds on the most disadvantaged in our society. Young children already vulnerable and in need of special needs assistance in primary school, are victims of what appears to me to be a system that punishes, firstly the most defenceless. I think of a young girl in a local primary school, hugely in need of extra support in order to have some start in life, unfortunately her Special Needs Assistants’ hours have been cut in half. For me, this is a sinful action, by a government who is punishing those who had nothing to do with the bust of our economy. This week the state owned Anglo Irish Bank now estimates that closing the bank over the course of a year would cost 42billion euro. I think of the enormous waste, of billions of euro, that is now being deprived in basic education, health care, job creation and investment.
Fr Peter McVerry (perhaps a prophet of our time) last week laid the brunt of the blame for Daniel McAnaspie’s tragic death at the state’s door. Daniel McAnaspie’s life was indeed a tragic story of abandonment, harshness and extreme vulnerability. There are perhaps thousands of “Daniel’s” in our country. The number of young people who have died whilst in the care of the HSE is now expected to reach hundreds.
Fr Peter McVerry doesn’t mince words. At the funeral of Daniel McAnaspie, a 17-year-old who died tragically in the care of the HSE, said: “We can’t ignore this morning the fact that a major contributing factor to Daniel’s death was the neglect of the state.”
For more than 30 years Fr Peter McVerry has been working with homeless and neglected young people, and he has regularly made pronouncements like this. The trust that bears his name (The Peter McVerry Trust) oversees homeless hostels, drug treatment services and a drop-in centre.
In a recent interview Fr Peter McVerry articulated his disappointment how wealth was squandered during the boom years. “We should have been spending our surplus, making public services in Ireland the best in the world,” he says. “We should have had a first class education service, a first class health service, a first class housing service, a first class childcare service. Instead we went for tax cuts. The number of homeless people during the Celtic Tiger years actually doubled. In 1996 we had 2,500 homeless people. In 2008 we had 5,000.”
In a time when leadership is in crisis the challenge, is to create despite lesser resources, a more equitable and fairer society. This is the challenge of our Gospel. The Christian perspective, speaks firstly for the most disadvantaged. Discipleship must have a firm association with those who have not. For this reason Fr Peter McVerry is a disciple of hope in the Irish Church at this time. How is our Church responding to the dole queues and to the sixty thousand young people emigrating this year? For our Church to make the Gospel relevant, perhaps its time to have courage to challenge the prevailing culture.