Accepting the Tipperary Person of the Year Award at the Annual Dinner of the Tipperary Association in Dublin tonight Friday, April 23, 2004 ALICE LEAHY, the Co-Founder and Director of TRUST – the social and health service for people who are homeless – used the occasion to highlight the dangers in relying on private companies to provide services to people who are homeless as shown by the lonely and tragic death in a hostel in Westminster in London recently where a man remained undiscovered for over twenty four hours.
Alice, originally from Fethard, Co. Tipperary is only the third woman and first person working in the social and health area to win the award which is sponsored annually by Tipperary Natural Mineral Water. The Hall of Fame Award was presented to legendary Tipperary Hurler Jimmy Doyle for his considerable contribution to the sport in Tipperary over many years.
ALICE LEAHY said accepting her award: “The tragic death of thirty four year old Sam Keenan, highlighted by the London Simon Community, is a warning of the kind of dangers we risk as a society if we allow the provision of critical social and health services to be decided by market forces. I am not being ideological about this. Privatisation may be well and good in certain business sectors but when the profits of a private company maybe the deciding factor in the quality of the service that will be provided to society’s most vulnerable we must cry stop,” ALICE LEAHY said.
Warning that it is reported that a similar type of company that runs the facility in London is about to be commissioned to run a large hostel in Waterford, Alice Leahy also pointed out that the privatisation of accommodation for the most vulnerable is already well underway in Dublin. “This trend represents a fundamental betrayal of any notion that we seek to be a caring and inclusive community because the quality of accommodation is being determined by the profit margin required to sustain private sector involvement” she said.
JARLATH DALY, the President of the Tipperary Association Dublin presented ALICE LEAHY with a specially commissioned sculpture featuring two hands around an eternal flame symbolising the two aspects of Alice’s work with TRUST – One hand representing efforts to help people recover their dignity and the other restoring their health.
A sculptor by profession Jarlath Daly who also created that piece and said: “From a rural background Alice has become almost a legend amongst the most excluded of Dublin’s homeless. For over thirty years she has worked in the front line providing medical and social services to the most marginalised since she founded TRUST in the mid seventies. Her efforts through the TRUST education and awareness initiatives have also allowed more people in all parts of Ireland to understand what it means to be excluded which hopefully augurs well for a better more caring Ireland in future.”
ALICE LEAHY claimed we must decide the kind of Ireland we want and not simply allow ourselves be taken over by notions that private companies running key social and health services is the best way to go.
Alice Leahy continued:
“We are at a very fundamental cross road in Ireland in the way we treat the most vulnerable. Are we going to go down the road of allowing the level of profit involved decide the quality of care we offer the most disadvantaged? Have years of unparallel prosperity made us so insensitive to the needs of the outsiders in our midst that we will turn our backs and pretend we do not see the real dangers inherent in the way public policy appears to be drifting?”
“The fundamental issue is the way the managers of this state’s social services treat the people they are meant to serve. The street homeless or “rough sleepers” as they are sometimes described, are not seen as people but statistics that must be made to conform with the specifications of the latest strategy document. The growth in the use of “performance indicators” for example has meant that only homeless people capable of fitting in and apparently capable of being successful have any hope in this system. Many of the people we meet everyday are outsiders who are often so intimated and alienated by the pressures of modern living – with an aversion to form filling – that they do now even appear in the official statistics.”
“We can change things. There is hope for the future. But only if we start treating people as people and not resorting to private companies but instead reforming the unfriendly nature of the management structures running our social and health services. Front line care workers for example are not being listened to. The managers and those responsible can find out what is really going on if they listen to their own people. We do not need privatisation but a people centred management philosophy in our social and health services which then would be capable of treating the people it is meant to serve as people and not mere statistics to be moulded to suit the next strategy statement especially in the homeless area where I work. More privatisation will make an already insensitive and intolerant bureaucracy even more hostile in the eyes of many of most vulnerable it is meant to serve.”
“For many years voluntary and private charities have filled the void where the State failed to live up to its responsibilities. In many cases these organisations became prophetic voices in showing the way and campaigning for a more inclusive society. However, with the growing commercialisation of the social services these voices are being silenced as they become even more dependent on state support as the Government seeks to increase rather than decrease the load of the voluntary sector. However, if we allow ourselves to become a party to this culture of privatisation through the funding mechanisms that are in place we are only ensuring that those who are outsiders today will be even worse off in the years to come.”