In Dickens’ time, poverty was easy to identify. People in that category would, according to the writer, sidle up to you in the street and say ‘spare a tannah for a cuppa tea, guv. Bless ya.” These days it is not so easy to identify want in people.
Nowadays, for a variety of reasons, the people who truly experience poverty are not as recognisable to the untrained eye.
This is where the St Vincent de Paul society comes into its own. Through its network of volunteers and staff, it has mechanisms — a range of social antennae that allows it to identify truly where there is need on an ongoing basis.
The events of the past two weeks have created a sort of poverty for people who have been temporarily driven from their homes. But there is another level of society out there who are especially at this time of the year,in total anguish about how they will meet their bills and maintain their dignity in a period when the media, this included is telling them to spend, spend and spend again.
Over the past few days, across the city and county, members of the St Vincent de Paul have been busy distributing its funds for which they are most grateful. Their task has become increasingly difficult given the emergence of Galway's new poor — a strata of society which as I said a while ago, finds itself spiralling out of control in the Christmas maelstrom. As you read this, there are many people walking the streets with tears in their eyes and pain in their hearts, grieving because of an absence of money, opportunity, or companionship.
The feeling is only made worse by the thought that they are the only ones experiencing this. All the voices they hear are the ones of gaiety. The people they meet all seem to be carrying shopping bags. In essence, they feel that they alone are experiencing the feeling of financial loneliness. But do not despair, because this is widespread, but concealed. The wanton abandon with which we tend to spend at this time of year only makes that feeling even worse. And this year more families will know the pain of unemployment and redundancy than for many a year.
Next week’s budget will bring further hardship, but it, and the events of the past twelve months bring something else, a sense of hopelessness. Not for a decade will so many people feel so much despair this Christmas period.
Gone are the days when people were recklessly borrowing a few thousand to see them through the Christmas.
Everybody is cutting their cloth to suit their measure this year. Everyone expects less and for that reason it may be one of the most wholesome Christmasses we’ve ever had.
But for those of you who can donate, please remember the St V de P this winter. They played a remarkable role in easing the hardship of those in the flooding disaster, so funds will have been depleted as a result.
By the way, while you’re at it, you can help worthy charities in the coming week by going along to the Damien Dempsey concert for PREDA tonight at the Radisson; to the Croi Christmas Cabaret which supports several charities next week and by helping out GOAL and COPE with their forthcoming Christmas Day events, more details of which we’ll carry next week.