I hope you had a lovely Easter and that you and your family and friends had some time together.
We had a lovely time too. Feargal and Maeve and the children were down from Dublin, and of course that always makes for good times together, particularly with the children and also with us as adults talking things over, so we had political talk and young people’s talk, and nice meals out together. All in all, a very happy time.
Last week we had the leader of the House of Representatives in America, the Democrat Nancy Pelosi, here in Ireland for a very welcome visit. The Taoiseach kindly invited the past TDs and Senators to her speech and then to lunch afterwards. Unfortunately because of an earlier appointment I could not go and I was so sorry to miss it. I had met her once many years ago when she was a Congresswoman but not the Leader of the House. I thought she gave a wonderful speech. I taped it and watched it that night, and I thought it was very good, as she was later the next day when she went to Derry and then to Belfast. RTÉ’s Tommie Gorman drew a contrast between the lively, vibrant Dáil chamber where her speech was received so well, and the empty chambers and halls of the Stormont building where there was no Government to meet her, nobody in charge, except of course for the dutiful civil servants.
I think that, more than anything, would have brought her face to face with the terrible situation of no government in the North. Yes, peace has returned, but there is no working parliament where the daily concerns of the people of Northern Ireland can be discussed, worked through, and decisions taken. What a great, great shame, and how tellingly that picture was drawn by Tommie Gorman on TV.
Indeed it was lucky she came; she filled in those days before Easter when there seemed to be so very little of what is newsworthy, and so the commentators, north and south, had plenty to write about and various details on which to comment.
While we are on the North, it was just marvellous to learn at the end of last week that Bertie Ahern had been awarded an honorary professorship by Queens University, Belfast. It has been awarded in peace studies at the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice. They said in their statement that in his role he will take part in workshops and master classes with students and will participate in events at the university. He will deliver his first lecture, the Harri Holkeri lecture, on May 21, when he will speak about ‘Peace Process – in Light of Brexit Issues’.
This annual lecture recognises the achievements of former Finnish Prime Minister, the late Harri Holkeri, who also was involved in talks and decommissioning work during the peace process.
Professor Hastings Donnan, director of the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute, said Mr Ahern’s political experience will be an asset to both teaching and research at the college. Bertie Ahern said in reply that he was honoured to accept the honorary professorship.
I am delighted that Queens has seen fit to do this. Quite apart from all the work that he, Tony Blair, John Hume and others did in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement, Bertie Ahern has been very busy since the whole Brexit affair blew up. He never turns down an invitation to go to London, Belfast or Dublin on any TV or radio programme, anywhere he can give of his advice and expertise to help bring about recognition of how important the whole matter is to Ireland and to the peace process. He deserves recognition for that work he has done and continues to do. I have written to him in that vein and I know he will gain great pleasure from receiving the award in Queens.
An event has happened in the last few weeks which I didn’t write about and I meant to, so I’m taking the opportunity now. I think it is a fine initiative, that An Post now gives homeless people a personal address to access services. Let me explain: An Post has launched its free personal address and mail collection service for people who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation. Address Point allows those without a permanent residence to use their local post office as an address so they can open a bank account, apply for a job, or access healthcare appointments. The service, which is organised in conjunction with homeless charities, generates a personal address for each individual based on where their local post office is, which then becomes their main collection point.
A Dublin man called Derek McGuire, who has just moved into temporary accommodation after living on the streets, said having no postal address affected the homeless in numerous ways. He said people take having an address for granted; it is only when you’re on the streets and need to access basic things like social welfare payments or applying for a job that you realise how necessary it is. But of course he added that, whilst this is welcome, at the end of the day it’s not a house, it’s an address. This is a step, however, in the right direction.
While are talking about post offices, I was delighted to note that An Post has turned the economic corner and last year was a good year for them – that is, good in comparison with previous years when they seemed to be on the downturn. I am delighted because I had occasion twice within the last couple of weeks to get books in the post, and each time a very cheerful man arrived in a DPD van with the parcel of books for me. I believe that service is doing very well in An Post and I’m so glad to know of it.
However, I am one of the people who still writes letters and cards all the time. Every so often I go to the post office and get a book of stamps, which is €10, and of course they are expensive, but to me there is nothing quite like the ping of the letter box and the drop of a personally written letter on the mat. I hope more and more people will continue to use the post office and the great services it now provides.
So, sunshine all around, honorary professorships, family gatherings, canvassers at the door, and good rugby – all in all, a really fine Easter.
That’s my lot for now. Hope to talk with you all next week.
In the meantime go safely.
Slán go fóill.