Thursday, July 28, 2011

Is It Time To Get Tough With Charities?

I am stunned by the current ongoing controversy concerning UNICEF and the ‘sacking’ of its Chief Executive, Melanie Verwoerd. I have no idea as to what the real story is behind the headlines, although I am sorry that she has said it was a result of her relationship with Gerry Ryan and the publicity surrounding his death. There is clearly far more to this story than that.

However what concerns me is UNICEF’s use of their funds.

On their website front page there is a large “Emergency Appeal” for donations for East Africa where they tell us “nearly two million children under the age of 5 are in dire need of help”. On a side bar, the organisation tells us that €30 will provide life saving anti malaria drugs for 40 children. UNICEF is committed to saving children’s lives all over the world. They appeal to us for help – in making donations, in volunteering etc.

So could someone please explain to me how they can justify handing over €200,000 to a ‘sacked’ Chief Executive? They are also rumoured to have retained the services of a professional PR agency to assist them in dealing with negative publicity surrounding this current controversy. Such ‘professional assistance’ could be costing as much as €2,000 per day. How many children’s lives did they say could be saved for just €30?

I am horrified by this seemingly cavalier attitude to spending their money on ‘administration’ and salaries. And I doubt that as a charity they are alone, in the organisation of their priorities.

I know that charities need to employ staff in order to get their work done. In a past life I spent 10 years working for a National Charity myself. But I do think it is about time that charities were forced to publish on their websites just how much of our donations is going on ‘administration’ and how much will actually to the cause we think we are supporting.

I for one do not want to feel that my hard earned €10 is actually going to help pay for the CEO’s company car or towards the fees of a high end PR agency. There is something morally very wrong here. €2,000 a day to deal with negative publicity of UNICEF’s own making? Once again – how many children’s lives could that save?

Most charities are facilitated in their work by an army of well motivated people who volunteer to raise money and undertake other various tasks. Overseas charities also rely on their field workers who seem to have a vocation to help the world’s poor. I admit I don’t know but I doubt if these workers are paid high salaries. But what about those at the top of these charities? Are salaries of €100,000 such as Melanie Verwoerd was reportedly earning, commonplace? If so, is this morally right? I know that high profile people such as Verwoerd can raise a lot of both money and profile for the charity. but that said.. are you comfortable with your donation going towards funding these huge salaries? Surely extra money she might raise should go towards those that UNICEF purports to help rather than her salary?

I think it is time we asked all large charities in this country some hard questions. How much of their revenue goes on salaries and how much of our donation will actually go towards the cause itself?

Am I naive?


What will we call him?

The girls chirruped happily in the back of the car.

“Meooowww” said the little ginger bundle in the cat carrier.



Negotiating the slip road onto the motorway,

I indicated into the traffic.

“ His name is Hector” I announced

"He has the same colour hair and he will be great craic."

Hector it was.

That was Friday afternoon.

He fitted right in.

He felt part of the family.

I could see trouble ahead.

How will we ever let him go?

“We are not having 5 cats” I announced,

"He goes back to the DSPCA in 3 weeks and on to his forever home.

Let’s just give him a great start."

So began ‘Hector’ weekend.

We all wasted hours with this feline joy machine.

He played – a bit,

He ate – a bit,

He loved – a lot.

On Sunday evening he was sick.

He was not very interested in eating.

But he still liked to wander about

Greeting and trying to make friends with the other felines

I could hear the faint ringing of alarm bells rang in my head.

On Monday he was up and down.

But he didn’t eat.

Not one scrap.

I found him once or twice just sitting on the sofa,

He looked so sad.

Monday night I spend the entire evening watching rubbish on the TV

Hector slept on my chest,


He purred.

Every so often he stretched out his paw,

And looked up into my eyes

We connected.

I willed him well

I said goodnight.

Tuesday morning, Hector was still very sad.

I phoned the DSPCA

Bring him they said,

The vet will have a look at him

This time it was just me and him on the motorway

The car was very quiet.

His temperature is low the vet said

We will keep him in and see how he gets on.

We will phone you tomorrow.

I never said goodbye.

I went home,

Cleaned his litter tray and food dishes

Ready for his return.

I got no call.

My husband phoned – ‘any news of Hector?’

I phoned at lunchtime.

I phoned again.

At 5pm the nurse phoned me back.

Hector didn’t make it.

He had some deadly kitten virus,

There was nothing they could do.

I held my girls as we all cried.

Hector was one of those special creatures,

Somehow he touched all our hearts.

We only knew him for four days

But everyone knows it only takes a moment to fall in love

Hector - we are so sad your life was so short

But we feel so lucky to have been your family just for that time.

It was a privilege to share your last weekend.

Who knew your forever home would be beyond this world.

The DSPCA do wonderful work for unloved and abandoned animals. They always need help. If you can foster an animal or adopt one check out their website. They also need your donations.

Sharing your life with a four legged can bring tears, can be hard work but despite all that, for many of us it is one of the greatest joys of life.

Monday, July 25, 2011


As I listened to Enda Kenny’s speech last week, I could feel the hair stand on the back of my neck. Not because Enda is a powerful orator – because he is not – but because I was aware that I was listening to history being made. I was listening to Ireland moving out of the shadow of the Catholic Church and into the light of a new dawn.

I have long struggled with my relationship with the Catholic Church. It was easy to turn my back on it completely when I was a teenager, only visiting at Christmas. The ostentatious wealth of the church with its hierarchy of celibate men living in luxury at parish level and in the splendour of palaces as Bishops, galled me and seemed very far from the life of Jesus. But as I got older I became aware of a deep need for spiritual element to my life... there was a void where the church used to be. I really deeply wanted to feel a connection with ‘my higher self’, my soul, my connection to the divine, or all that is.

Then my brother died, very suddenly and I was lost. So was my family. A local priest visited us and helped us prepare for the Catholic ceremonies of death – the removal and funeral. That priest was wonderful. He spent hours with us – learning about my brother so that on the day he delivered a homily that was so ‘right’ and so personal about my brother, it was almost impossible to believe he had never met him. To this day, I think the very best ritual of Catholic Church is the funeral Mass.

After that I thought that maybe I should stay with the church – try to affect change from within? But when my second daughter was born, almost 13 years ago I had something of a spiritual awakening. Deep in my bones I suddenly became aware in a very raw way that the Catholic Church’s attitude to women was not only wrong but deeply offending to me and indeed to God. Who was this Father God? Having just given birth I knew that God has a feminine face. I wondered should I become a Wiccan.

As my children (all daughters) got older they attended the local National School and so were ‘streamed’ for Communion and later Confirmation. As they began preparations I told them it was entirely up to them as to whether they wished to make either sacrament. I did this only to appease my conscience – not because I thought they would opt out – think of the money they would not make! But that’s another blog post. So we embarked together on the preparations with me constantly reminding them that most of what the church teaches especially around sexuality is completely wrong. “Confession is also nonsense”, I told them. It was far from ideal in my mind – a typical Irish solution to an Irish problem.

So we are now (more or less) all official Catholics in name only. We don’t go to Mass. I have tried to teach them the comfort and power of praying. I have tried to help them to imagine a different God to the Father God of the Catholic Church. I have stressed the importance of personal responsibility and of helping each other. I have told them that Jesus asked us to “love one another”. Everything else is baloney.

Had the so called ‘Princes of the Christ’ remembered this simple command, perhaps they would have handled the “rape and torture of children” and the paedophile priests who committed such horrible crimes, differently. Perhaps they would have done the right thing.

I know I am someone who has stood with one foot still inside the church door for the last 13 years. I have kept it there hoping that the Church would change. I was afraid of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And so I held on – on the edges.

But it’s very unsatisfactory to live like this, especially when I have a deep need for a spiritual dimension that is rooted in community. I can plough a lone furrow with my own brand of spiritual code, but I miss walking into my church at Christmas greeting my friends and neighbours. I know that the next time I have to face a close death, I will be looking to the only place I know in order to help me make sense of death and to facilitate a fitting send off for my loved one!

I have not entirely resolved any of this dilemma. But I no longer feel alone. Enda Kenny’s speech in the Dail last week, was powerful because he articulated the feelings of the majority of people on this island. He said what I am thinking. I was relieved to hear his anger and outrage. I was also relieved to know that our Government, unlike all those that preceded it, will no longer allow the Catholic Church to place itself above the law and beyond reproach.

I would love to think that the Catholic Church might reinvent itself completely from the top down, divesting itself of its wealth and pompous attitude, allowing women to take an equal role and proclaiming that sex is a wonderful gift from God. I wish it would because I will still miss the way Christmas hymns sound in a sacred space, the feeling of community that belonging to a church brings, and the rituals to mark life’s milestones.

I know they have no churches but I wonder do Wiccans have nice hymns.

Image of the Triple Goddess - honouring women in the three phases - Maiden, Mother and Crone (moon in her waxing, full and waning phases). By ecowitch on photobucket

Monday, July 11, 2011


I have a confession to make. I read the Daily Mail – often. I don’t buy it. (Does that make it better?). But I do read it online. When I am writing at ‘My Kitchen Table’ my coffee break is usually accompanied by a log onto Here I can be entertained without being too bothered by recession, economics or politics. I can’t take the Daily Mail very seriously with its endless stories of WAGs and Soap actresses – that’s why it’s perfect coffee break material. But I do get a bit agitated about how obsessed the paper gets about women and their weight. This week however they have been concentrating their particular brand of stupidity on our own Sinead O Connor.

Today’s Daily Mail (online version anyway) has an article entitled Sinead’s sad slide from being pop’s most ethereal beauty”. Sad slide? What on earth are they on about? They describe her recent appearance in Manchester as being “overweight and dressed in a drab trouser suit”. They have also described her as ‘mumsy

Sinead has aged. Like real women do. She is a mother to four children. She is in her mid 40s. She looks like a woman who has other things in her life besides an endless quest to retain her youth. She is wearing her life experience in true Shirley Valentine fashion and more importantly she says she is very happy to be called Mumsy. According to the Irish Independent at the weekend she say "I love when I'm called mumsy. As I am in my 'mumsy' department. I've already gone forth and multiplied four times. So I don't need to be beautiful. Hence one can see how cool it is to be called 'mumsy.'”

Hurray for Sinead O’Connor. As she herself said – she is not paid to look good. She is not a model. She is a musician and artist. And it is in that department that her latest album has been getting great reviews.

So I say ‘go Sinead’ – there are lots of us mums who while not exactly having given up on looking good but who are happy enough to look our age – and we are cheering you on! As for the Daily Mail – its great craic… as long as you don’t take most of it too seriously!

Note to self : check out Sinead’s new album. Her voice is so beautiful.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


In today’s Irish Independent there is an article by Celine Naughton entitled “Why women shouldn’t think of abortion as a ‘dirty little secret”. The article is about a new website which has been set up by two women Lynn Coles and Bernadette Goulding and which aims to provide support to women who are struggling after having had an abortion.

Bernadette Goulding is quoted as saying “we can’t change the past, but we can spare people years of suffering and help them move forward to a brighter future.” A good idea surely. Not according to the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

The article quotes Susan McKay, director of the NWCI as saying “the NWCI supports a woman’s right to choose. Abortion is a serious undertaking and women don’t go into it lightly but for many it is the right decision. And while there may be sorrow, there is no need for remorse or regret.”

This position of the NWCI underlines beautifully one of the fundamental problems with the feminist movement in Ireland. It does not embrace all women. Just like the constant campaigning for better child care and shared parenting, we hear little about supporting women who choose to take a break from the world of work to stay at home and look after their children. It seems to be assumed that all women want the same thing. That we all define ‘success’ in the same way – and we don’t.

Now it seems that our reaction to abortion should be the same – no remorse, no regret. Women (like men) are not a homogenous group. We are not all the same. I am not at all surprised that some women feel deep hurt and regret after an abortion. Why are these emotions not considered a valid response to a huge event in a woman’s life?

I support a woman’s right to choose – in every sense. In her choice of work, in her choice of childcare and I certainly would wish to see women who are hurt by abortion being supported in their journey back to wellness.

As I have written before, march on sisters but remember many of us are hearing a very different drum.

Monday, July 4, 2011


Every Monday morning I head out to East Coast Radio in Bray to take part in a panel discussion on events in the news. Regular readers will know that I love radio – and would love to do more.I generally tend to steer clear of heavy political or economics topics as I have no expertise in either. But sometimes something comes to my attention that causes me to lose it – or become a “bit shouty” as producer of East Coast FM’s Morning Show, Claire Darmody would say!

Yesterday’s Sunday Independent published an article entitled ‘TDs and Senators hand us a bill of €14m for their golden handshakes’ by Daniel McConnell. This article listed in detail the kind of payments our elected representatives are being paid as they retired from public office. And yes many of them are the very ones who sat watch over the financial meltdown of this country.

The actual amounts beggar belief. 40 TD will receive over €200,000 with Batt O Keeffe topping this particular poll with a total payout of €266,228. THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE HIS ANNUAL PENSION.

This is not just insane in any economic climate, but with the country on its knees financially, it is also absolutely amoral. It is proof that our politicians have no principles and are an unscrupulous lot who clearly are in politics for personal political gain. And weren’t they dead right.

So while Leo Varadker might shout up and down (correctly) about the bonus the DAA tried to award to Declan Collier but what is he and his Government doing about puitting an end immediately to this national disgrace.

I challenge any of these TDs but particularly those who have received over €200,000 to lead by example and return these ridiculous payouts. We have a health service on its knees, children with special needs being denied their special needs assistants, and ordinary working people who have taken huge hits financially. How many SNA’s could be employed for the cost of Mary Harney’s lump sum of €158,730 (and remember this is just her lump sum).

I just hope that these ‘retired’ politicians can sleep easy at night. They are a national disgrace. And boy do they illustrate more than the vast majority of people in this country the greed of the Celtic Tiger era. May history record as much.