The new normal

It’s a beautiful day. The June bank holiday is upon us. The fourth bank holiday since the start of the first restrictions. We got through St Patricks Day, Easter Monday, and the May Bank holiday. We can get through this one. All we need to do is stay home and follow the guidelines.

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None of us knows what lies ahead. So far this has been a surreal year. But as we work through the stages to bring society back to normal, have we given any thought to what that normal should be. Do we really want to go back to the way we were?

Can we, as a nation, build a better society. One where home working is the norm, for those that want it. Where family is respected, where every child is cherished equally. A country where house prices are affordable for those who have the resources to buy and where rents are manageable for those who don’t. A country with good quality housing stock which every citizen can rent from the state, regardless of income, at a fair price, with security of tenure.

Imagine a country with a workable health service. One where waiting lists are short and everyone, regardless of income, is guaranteed treatment when they need it.

Imagine a society where our workers are valued. A society with full employment but on a living wage. Where the employer looks after their staff as well as their shareholders.

At the start of this pandemic, we proved, very quickly, that it is possible to live differently. The old normal has been thrown out. Can we make the new normal better?

The most important lesson for us all from this pandemic is that society cannot function without our nurses, cleaners, shop-workers, bin collectors, post persons, delivery drivers. The list is endless, but we all know who they are. We have been applauding them but now we need to value them.

It is well documented that Ireland has huge inequality in the distribution of wealth. Our so-called full employment (before this pandemic) is a joke. Jobs that don’t pay a living wage should not be classed as full-time employment. Jobs that require a subsidy from the government in the form of FIS or HAP or any other government assistance cannot seriously be regarded as proper employment.  And for any government employee to be eligible for income supplement from another government department is an absolute disgrace.

The most damming of all is the current argument about the Covid-19 payment of €350 per week. I would love to see some of its detractors give up their salary and expenses and try to live on that income level. The government were correct in bringing in the payment. It has saved many families from financial ruin, but they should be careful in how they phase it out. As a nation we bailed out our banks (and Europe’s), now it’s time to bail out our citizens.

As a nation, we should also consider some form of active protest or boycott of those businesses who do not value their staff. Companies making large profits but not paying their staff a living wage and even worse, making deductions from their minimum wage for food and uniforms. If an employer requires its employees to wear a uniform, then the employer should pay for it. Those at the top need to remember that they are kept in that position by the staff under them.

I am going to spend this weekend in my garden and in my friend’s garden, enjoying this beautiful weather. Whatever you do this weekend, stay safe, 2m apart and spare a thought for those who are grieving. 1,639 families in Ireland are missing their loved ones this weekend, 360,089 worldwide. Don’t become one of them. Stay Home, Stay Safe.

A Simple Act of Kindness

Acts of kindness towards ourselves, or those we care for, stick with us in our memories forever.

I was at a function last weekend, a surprise birthday party for a friend, and I saw a woman there who had no idea who I was.  But I remembered her.  I remembered how her simple act of kindness towards someone I cared for, made a huge difference to me, and the memory of her kindness so many years ago stayed with me to this day.

Many years ago, my uncle ended up in hospital, in a coma from which he would never recover.  The medical experts advised that we should talk to him, that he could hear what was going on around him.  It was difficult, extremely difficult for his family and friends, but everyone did their best.

He had been there, in that comatose state, for a few weeks, when I had to make a trip to the Hospital Emergency Dept to collect my other half.  Nothing major, a cut that needed stitching and a tetanus shot but he wasn’t ready when I arrived, so I decided to visit my uncle.  It was around 11pm at night and I slipped into the main hospital and upstairs to the side room off the main ward.   From the ward corridor, I could see through the glass door directly into where he lay.  I could see the nurse’s aid preparing him for the night.  She had finished washing him and was tucking the blankets in around him.  She brushed his hair, all the time talking to him with a tenderness that stopped me in my tracks.  She was gentle and kind and most of all respectful.  Her name was Bernie, (is Bernie and she still works there) and she treated him with such respect even though she didn’t know him, didn’t know anything about him and I was touched by her kindness.  That simple act of kindness turned what was, for me, a very sad time, into a memory which triggers a smile.  It is a memory that will live with me forever.

Maybe we should all try to perform just one little act of kindness every day towards our fellow human beings.  Imagine the difference it would make in all our lives.  Being on the receiving end of that little act of kindness is tremendous, imagine what it must be like to be on the giving side.  To have that kind nature, to give of yourself with no thought of reward.  Today and every day, let’s try and perform just one little act of kindness and leave someone with a lovely memory.

Smile and the world smiles with you

This is week eight of my Year of Possibilities and things are looking up.  The days are starting to get longer although it remains very cold.  I think we can all cope with the cold winter days, provided it’s bright and frosty like this week.  My problem is when it’s wet and cold and miserable.  You know those grey days when the rain never clears, and the sky remains grey from morning to night.  In Ireland, the first two months of the year tend to be over populated by those grey days.  Our homes feel dark and grey after the twinkling lights of Christmas have been taken down and put away for another year.  The limited daylight and the wet cold weather prohibits outdoor activity and we miss the fresh air.  It can be hard to find any joy in these dark days.  Which is why it’s so important to look for any reason to smile, to laugh, to find joy in the everyday.

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A simple trick is to smile.  When you smile, that smile is invariably returned and lifts the heart.  I don’t mean grinning like an idiot at every passer-by in the supermarket.  You could get locked up for that.  But if you greet each person you interact with, with your friendliest smile, be it your butcher, your co-worker or your nearest and dearest, your smile will be appreciated and returned.  That interaction will make you feel better and will lighten the hearts of those around you.  The simple act of smiling is proven to raise your endorphins, making you feel better, lowering your blood pressure, relieving stress and boosting your immune system.  Simple isn’t it?  And smiles are catching.  You smile, your smile is returned to you and that person smiles at the next person they interact with and so the ripples extend outward touching more lives than you could ever imagine.  I think I might make it my mission in life to smile more, to spread joy, even if only in my limited circle, for who knows how far that circle could possibly extend to.

‘Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.’Vector illustration of cool glossy Single Emoticon

Clueless about profiteering from the homeless

It has been quite a week for revelations about profits to be made from the homeless crises.  Early in the week, we learnt that a company named R&G Administration which manages homeless accommodation for Dublin City Council made a profit of almost €3 million in 2016.  Yes, you read it right, €2,929,045 to be exact.  Jaw-dropping, isn’t it?  TheJournal.ie reported that R&G Administration has a contract with DCC for the upkeep and management of approx. 80 rooms for homeless families in The Bonnington Hotel.  R&G Administration does not own the hotel, it simply maintains these rooms which are separate from the main hotel.  It also operates emergency accommodation on the North Circular Road, again for Dublin City Council.

When did private companies become involved in managing the homeless?  Am I the only one who finds it immoral that anyone could profit from the misery of others.  When did the HSE and the various Councils abdicate their responsibility to look after the homeless?  Who made this decision?  Who in Dublin City Council decided that instead of taking responsibility for the homeless, they would farm that responsibility out to private companies?  What facilities would that €3 million have provided for the homeless?  How many homeless families could they have housed with that €3 million?  And that is pure profit, after-tax profit.  What salaries were paid, what expenses were paid, what allowances put aside for contingencies before the after-tax profit?  Was this decision taken by one person or by committee?

And later in the week, more revelations.  It gets better!  A new hub is due to open next week.  The people that own R&G Administration also own Graray Ltd and Graray Hotels Ltd, both set up in November 2016.   In November 2016 NAMA sold Lynam’s hotel for a reported €6 million.  The Companies Office shows Graray Hotels Ltd are involved in ‘Hotels & Similar Accommodation’ and that Graray Ltd is involved in ‘Buying and selling of own real estate’.  It was reported that in April 2017 Dublin City Council Dublin took out a five-year lease on Lynam’s hotel and undertook the cost of refurbishing it to be used a hub for homeless families.  The hub is due to open next week to house 38 families.  Graray Ltd has been given the contract to run the hub.

There are 15 hubs so far, all managed and run by various well-respected charities with four exceptions.  It has been reported that the exceptions are, Lynam’s, The Bram Stoker Hotel in Clontarf, The Townhouse on Gardiner Street and the Viking Lodge on Francis Street which are run by private companies.  Dublin City Council had already stated that Lynam’s will be run by Graray Ltd.  Who runs the others?  When was the decision taken to award contracts to private companies to manage the hubs for the homeless?  Who made that decision?  How were those contracts awarded?  Was there an open tender process?  Maybe it’s just me, but who in their right minds could possibly think that it is right, just or moral to facilitate anyone making lucrative profits from those less fortunate in our society.

Have a look at the HSE website where it states, ‘The HSE Homeless Services oversee and manage a range of services and supports.  There are provided through outreach specialist services and specialised teams and individuals.  They are contracted through the voluntary sector, to deliver services on behalf of the HSE to service users from diverse groups.’ (http://www.hse.ie/eng/about/Who/primarycare/socialinclusion/homelessness-and-addiction/homelessness/)

The DRHE website states ‘We work in partnership with a range of voluntary and statutory agencies to implement the Homeless Action Plan Framework for Dublin 2014-2014.  (http://www.homelessdublin.ie/what-we-do).

No mention of private companies on either site.

I have emailed our housing minister Eoghan Murphy and DCC/DRHE amongst others and will let you know what reply I get if any.

Week 2 of the Year of Possibilities

Be a flu fighter

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The dreaded flu has invaded the country.  The media had been talking about the Australian flu rearing its head in Ireland for the last few weeks and it appears that they were correct.  Not just one strain of flu but two strains are winging their way around the country.  Himself has been suffering from the week before Christmas.  He dosed himself with across the counter medications and declared he was feeling better.  Unfortunately, as soon as he decided he was feeling even slightly better he tried to prove it to himself by venturing out for a cycle across the Curragh Plains.  He arrived back two hours later and spent the next three days coughing and spluttering, sprawled on the couch with no energy to even switch the channels on the TV.  Various members of the extended family are laid up.  One sister and her two teenage girls and adult son, one sister and her husband, and the list is growing.

No matter what the strain of flu doing the rounds, the advice remains the same.  Go to bed, rest, take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help alleviate the symptoms, drink plenty of liquids and let it run its course.  Most of us will bounce back from the flu a week or so later with no ill effects but there are those of us with weakened immune systems for whom the flu can be dangerous, the over 65’s, those with long-term health problems, cancer patients, the very young.  The advice there has been to avail of the flu jab.  A simple shot that will provide you with protection against certain strains of the flu.  Influenza has been around for centuries and no doubt will be around for many more.  We know that the flu infects our citizens every year so why are we always so unprepared.  The HSE Assistant National Director for Health Protection (what a title) Dr Kevin Kelleher has stated that “Flu is responsible for between 200 and 500 deaths each year in Ireland and in a severe season it can cause up to 1,000 deaths.”  Yet, only around 38% of healthcare professionals avail of the flu jab. (up from 30% last year)  Why?

Surely all front-line staff should have the flu jab, free of charge, every year.  End of.  Not open for debate, not negotiable.  Early last year The Health Minister Simon Harris proposed making the flu vaccine compulsory for all healthcare professionals and was met with opposition by the unions.  Why?  What possible reason would the unions have to object to the HSE insisting on compulsory flu vaccination especially considering they recommend to their members that they avail of the vaccine which is provided to them free of charge on a voluntary basis?  They should be campaigning for the flu vaccine to become compulsory not objecting.  Maybe that is just one tiny example of some of the problems with our health service.  Too many factions within the health service with tunnel vision, unable and unwilling to look at the greater picture, the greater good.  Having said that the simple fact that we need at least another 5000 hospital beds in the system to bring us up to international standards is the bigger problem, the shortage of professional staff is another part of the equation.  But the crisis in the health service is a vast subject we will get to another time.  Rant over.

It should be remembered that this year is the 100th anniversary of the “the Spanish Flu”.  A flu pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, that’s more deaths than the 16 million who lost their lives in World War 1.  It emerged in the spring of 1918 when our world was still at war and spread throughout Europe and parts of Africa and Asia.  Over 20% of the world’s population contracted the Spanish flu including Ireland and in this country, an estimated 23,000 people died.  It was a different strain of flu in that it killed mainly the young and healthy.  Nothing like it has been seen since and hopefully we never will again.  But yet every year the flu stills kills hundreds of thousands worldwide.

Science has taught us so much in the last 100 years.  In 1918 we didn’t even know that the flu was a virus.  We now have a vaccine which may not eliminate the flu entirely, but it will go a long way in protecting the most vulnerable.  We now have the knowledge to prepare for the annual flu season.  Flu is a common disease.  It is not a preventable disease, it changes, it spreads too quickly, too easily but we can minimise its effects.  We can minimise deaths.  We can minimise the number of hours lost to illness.  Flu does not have to be a killer.

For all of you suffering from the latest round of the flu, wrap up warm, stay in bed, drink lots of liquids, (my brother in law swears by hot whiskey sweetened with honey, recommended if you haven’t signed up for dry January), be good to yourself until you recover and spare a thought for those who struggle to recover and end up needing hospital care.  In this household, we have decided that we will take up the flu vaccine next year.   Maybe we all should.