August 25, 2020
My Letter in Today's Irish Times
Roadmaps, pods and bubbles. Lead Worker Representative (LWR), Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), frameworks, protocols and toolkits. These are the new acronyms and jargon being publicly debated for a safe return to school in Ireland in less than a week’s time.
As a recently-retired principal of a DEIS primary school (‘disadvantaged’), my question is where is the mention of our children and our school staff? Pods and bubbles are actually no more than groups of children and classes of children. The fact that we are naming them as a pod or a bubble does not magically bestow on them some new protective superpower. The LWR is a staff member, either a teacher or an SNA (Special Needs Assistant) who has taken on extra responsibility at this time. The media needs to desist from commodifying and de-humanising our schools.
Parents, teachers, principals, SNAs, school secretaries, caretakers and volunteers on Boards of Management all over the country are all doing their utmost to ensure a safe return for our children and, more importantly, to ensure that our schools will remain open. Our teachers, principals and SNAs, who are among the best in the world, will continue to keep our schools child-centred. They will stay focused on their mission to realise the wonderful potential and creativity that exists in each child in front of them.
But schools need society’s help. Who exactly will ensure that some of our vulnerable children who are born into systemic and inter-generational poverty and neglect will arrive at school in a freshly-laundered uniform with a perfectly santitised lunchbox at a suitably staggered opening time to join a little pod?
The school’s responsibility begins at the school door and I have no doubt that schools will rise to the challenge. But the challenges to society are far greater. Let’s focus on our children and let’s do better.
August 4, 2020
The Abbey Theatre recently asked their audience to write a letter. To start it 'Dear Ireland' and to talk to the nation about what it should be discussing.
Below is my letter expressing some of my hopes for our country, and particularly for the women in our country, in these challenging times.
We’ve been through a lot together. I’ve known you my whole life. I left you for a short while, but I missed you too much and love brought me home. But we have both arrived at a crossroads. Are you for turning?
Before I knew you, there were comely maidens dancing at those same crossroads. When they finished dancing, they returned home and reared their children and then they bore more children. Indeed, they accepted every child that God and their husbands deigned to send. They kept their houses clean, their families fed and and their husbands happy. If they didn’t have husbands and were gifted a child, they were sent by men and women of the cloth to hide away in Magdalene laundries, to scrub themselves clean.
Since then, some of us have chosen to have careers. I chose to teach and I hope I taught my charges self-love, love of others, love of country, love of the Earth. Some of us have been elected to govern, some of us have chosen to marry partners of the same fair sex. And all of us have been given some choice over our bodies. But it’s not enough.
Mná na hÉireann want you not just to listen, but to act. We want our voices to be heard equally from the Abbey stage and from every other stage. We want no more ‘Me Too’ because the men who act in this way should be offered no protection, no sanction. Instead we want ‘Women Too,’ a new era of equal pay, equal opportunity, equal representation, equal outcomes. We want this new reality for women who are black, white, blonde, grey, pink, traveller and settled. We want it for every woman of every shade, hue, age, disposition, ability and disability.
We no longer want to be patronised, mollified, nullified, victimised. Like our country post-Covid, we want to be unlocked and to have our restrictions not just eased, but entirely lifted. We want the pandemic of inequality to be crushed forever. So that all of our voices will be heard equally.
Let’s flatten the curve of the old boys’ network.
Yes, this time we are asking for it. We are demanding it.
And the ‘it’ is our birth right.
I was born in Ireland. Let me leave it as a better place when I depart.
Le meas agus dóchas,