In a time of great economic uncertainty, our younger generation more than ever before need positive role models and motivational leadership to inspire them to work towards creating a better tomorrow for themselves and for society.
Therese Carroll leading a merry band on a community clean-up in Ballinfoile Park
Thankfully there are in Galway, as elsewhere across Ireland, legions of citizens who do serve as iconic heroes to our teenagers. Every week, ordinary people living amongst us give their time and energies ‘free gratis’ to work for others in sporting clubs, neighbourhood associations, arts organisations and community support groups. From the volunteers who can be seen training children on the playing pitch in all types of weather; to the providers of food and solace for our older people living alone, through to the members of An Taisce defending our heritage from the uncaring bulldozer. There are, too, the front-line state workers in schools, hospitals, police/fire stations and local authorities who take the term ‘public servant’ at face value. Let us also not forget that our city was a shining example to the world of community volunteerism in action during the Volvo Ocean Race.
Gort's Quadrilha Festival that was organised by local Brazilan volunteers
Sadly the demise of the Celtic Tiger has exposed the unpalatable truth that there are too many villains in high office who seemed to have viewed public service as an opportunity for personal gain rather than for serving the common good. Recent revelations have robbed us of sufficient examples of selfless heroism where one would expect to find it in abundance, namely in the higher echelons of state institutions whose raison d’etre after all is ‘to serve the people’.
Sharon McHugh with community volunteers at the first 'Glan Suas Gaillimh' clean-up
Yet the forthcoming budget presents a golden opportunity for TDs of all political parties to start the process of winning back public confidence by leading by example. Politicians must first tighten their own belts before asking the citizenry to make sacrifices in the national interest.
The success of the GAA in sport & culture is due to its army of parish-based volunteers
Over the last year this has not happened as it seems that too many of those that caused our recession are being protected by an ‘old boys network’. For how else can one explain why top civil servants, bankers and directors of state agencies, who resign after being found out to be incompetent, walk away with huge taxpayer-funded ‘golden handshakes’ and life-long pensions? Or why most members of the boards of discredited banks still hold office? Or why senators from a largely meaningless institution (Seanad) still manage to earn on average €47,000 annually in expenses alone? Or why former government ministers from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour can sit as public nominees on the boards of financial institutions earning up to €100,000 in yearly fees while failing to protect the common interest? Or why An Taoiseach is one of the world’s highest paid political leaders? Or why serving TDs refuse to give up ministerial pensions that can be up to €40,000 per annum? Or why top managers of public organisations are allowed to benefit from an annual lucrative financial bonus system for doing nothing out of the ordinary?
Thousands give their time every week to help bring some sunshine into the lives of asylum-seekers
The trojan efforts of community organisations are now threatened by government cutbacks
Of course, there are conscientious politicians locally and nationally from all political parties (and none) who work tirelessly for their constituents and who energetically investigate questionable practices and expenditures.
Environmental campaigners such as 'Friends of the Forest' have campaigned for years against built development that destroys green spaces & wildlife habitats
But they need to unite and demand a full root ‘n’ branch reform of our political system in order to secure proper democratic accountability and regain the public’s trust.
Our young people need patriots to emulate amongst our present political leadership rather than only amongst the men and women of dead generations who sacrificed so much to give us a democratic republic.
Learning about our seashore and its wildlife during the annual BeachWatch
Ironically it is the heroes of local communities who have worked so hard for so little pay who now face the axe as a result of the actions of property speculators, bankers and their bedfellows that have left us with national bankruptcy and a blighted urban landscape. Ireland's National Aquarium organises a series of annual public aquatic awareness events
Hopefully our TDs will ensure that the recommended An Bord Snip’s cuts aimed at young people will not be included in the forthcoming budget. For we must not deprive our children of a future by curtailing investment in schools when it is needed to provide the foundations for the much needed ‘knowledge-based’ economy that could make us world leaders in green and high technology industries. Nor should we slash the community-support schemes in deprived neighbourhoods that are the legacy of irresponsible development and planning.
St. Patrick's Day Parade, Galway city
Likewise government must give back to our unemployed people a sense of dignity by looking at productive alternatives to the ‘soul-destroying’ dole system such as creating worthwhile Roosevelt-era ‘New Deal’ public work schemes.
August Rural Village Fair in Monivea Co. Galway