Plywood creates a new hallway on my walk home. The modest shelter of this doorway had been home to a woman for what must have been the last year or so. Who knows where she has moved but this latest renovation makes its intention clear.
Just around the corner, in the shadow of Galway cathedral, there is regular evidence of persons sleeping rough beside the local FÁS office.
Last December as I waited for a bus in Eyre Square, Chris Rea was booming out of the Christmas market. Yards away, a dozen people lay in doorways with no home to drive home to. Your head naturally fills with all the sentimental visions of roaring fireplaces and crammed dinner tables surrounded by those who care for you. It is impossible to understand how people must feel.
Over 10,000 are on the housing list while the council spends €16,000 a month on emergency accommodation. Last summer, certain hotels were eager to kick families out the minute tourist season arrived. A dominant feature of the same market forces policy makers entrust with the solution.
Directly across the road from our new plywood hallway is Galway Hospital. In what must feel like a small step up from destitution, the elderly, infirm and misfortunate wait, wait and wait on trolleys. Everyone else is waiting years for an appointment.
Across town, the Blackrock Clinic have offered to pay landscaping costs on a roundabout opposite its entrance. Just before Christmas, a man drove straight into the middle and, after four days missing, was only discovered when a passenger on a doubledecker bus spotted his car crashed among overgrown bushes. The great recovery had not yet reached local authority maintenance of this, the main entrance to Galway city, so Blackrock Clinic have graciously offered share part of their 11% rise in healthcare profit toward a modicum a public service.
Back at our public hospital staff are under enormous pressure and despite their efforts, the bad news rolls in by the week. Overcrowding, labour shortage, spiralling costs, cancelled surgeries and all the headlines you will be familiar with at your own local centre of excellence. During this past government term Galway merits special distinction for making headlines around the world after Savita Halappanavar, a local dentist, too had to wait and wait before death. When the news broke that November morning I brought coffee to a solitary protester who made a dignified and defiant stand at the entrance throughout the day. We exchanged few words having few of comprehension but understood well enough. We will never forget Savita in Galway.
Another woman was buried just this week, having been found in Merlin Woods after a seven day search. She follows a young woman two weeks ago who was recovered from the docks having met the river the night before. The sound of the RNLI helicopter has become grimly familiar to everyone. Its drone heard all hours of the night and day.
“Tragic circumstances” have become so routine as to soften traditionally austere hearts. We have reached the point when burly pub security men sincerely bid you “safe home” as you pass their door into the night. They are very often the last ones to see people alive. The back of a bouncer’s head now a regular cameo on desperate grainy CCTV footage.
The decent generosity and cooperation of community in these agonising moments is unrecognisable from a world that leaves people feeling so isolated to begin with. It is difficult for me to reconcile the two.
Galway has always been a town of blow-ins and transients but behind the statistics we are familiar with, it is frightening to see how the place has been hollowed out. Publicans tell me how regular faces once lining the bar have vanished. Those who can leave are always making plans. Years have slipped by unnoticed and now many of your friends have become London people or Perth people. How did that happen?
That other great indicator of prosperity, heroin, while nothing new is making alarming in-roads in a way I cannot recall in my life time. Associated petty crime makes most of the headlines but you get the sense we are approaching a tipping point. We lost one friend this time last year.
Last week, a group of nine families from the Travelling community occupied the grounds of City Hall in protest. They had been moved from pillar to post over the last few months after their halting site, their home, became too much to bear next to a hazardous landfill on the city’s outskirts.
At a march last December, two African women spoke candidly of treatment that would make your skin crawl. They cannot so much walk down the street without being propositioned or abused from passing cars. Gender and race marks them as an easy target for men who I’m sure are explanatory friends, family and husbands.
Since the Paris attacks last year, the South Asian gentleman behind the counter in my corner shop started wearing an IRFU hat. I have no idea what religion he follows if any, but assume the shamrock crest on his head is an effort to make him that little less Other in the eyes of the ignorant.
Earlier in the year I listened to a woman from Nigeria speak about the “parallel life” her family endures in Direct Provision. The company profiting from this quiet barbarism are taking home six figures annually.
All politics is local or at least this is what we are told. Depending on the audience, politicians are busy making promises about the local or national interest. Local is very different things to each of us. A short walk around town is enough to see nothing but parallel lives and contradictions.
Welcome to the new Oireachtas Retort new site. A gloomy start perhaps but we might find something to cheer about soon. Firstly, I want to thank everyone for their support and encouragement. It has been genuinely overwhelming and a huge boost for me personally.
Posts from myself and others will be coming regularly now and we hope to make a small contribution in peeking under the nation’s bonnet. Keep up to date on twitter and I’ve reopened the dormant facebook page here if that’s your thing. Anyone wishing to contribute to the kitty can follow the link below here. Thank you very much.