Postcards from the Edge: Willie Hanrahan – ‘We will value the company of neighbours and family in a new light’

Postcards from the Edge: Willie Hanrahan – ‘We will value the company of neighbours and family in a new light’

Postcards from the Edge: Willie Hanrahan – ‘We will value the company of others in a new light’

Social distancing and the closure of marts has been tough, and the drop in farm income is daunting, writes Doonbeg farmer Willie Hanrahan, but the pandemic has made us appreciate how fragile the humanity is and that we can survive without many of the excesses that had become normal

 

Since lockdown began, every morning starts the same. At 6:30 my son Liam (the farmer) leaves the house to start the morning milking. At 7 the rest of us make our appearance, and so the day begins. The major difference from other years is the fact that we have four of our five adult children back living with us. Two engineers and a Leaving Cert student. Makeshift offices with internet access have been installed.

In general the lockdown hasn’t affected our working day to any great extent – the work is the same, cows calving and calves to be fed and tended to, cows to be milked and grass to be managed. However, when we need supplies from the hardware and co-op shop we have to stand in line and socially distance, which is hard and strange as farming is a solitary life and we tend to embrace any bit of social interaction with enthusiasm.

The closure of the Mart has been one of the biggest losses to farmers as a means of selling animals and meeting likeminded people. This has been replaced with online bidding, but the social interaction is not the same. The bargaining and posturing are missing and the enjoyment of closing the deal is gone.

Online selling might be the future, but this lockdown has shown us that maybe we are not quite ready for that lack of human contact. Going to mass on Sunday morning made us stop for a while and put on the Sunday best – maybe not for the prayers but again to see a few familiar faces and catch up on the week’s gossip.

The drop in income in every sector is very concerning. Cattle and milk prices have taken a hammering and the uncertainty will have far-reaching consequences. There will be no on-farm investment this year which will have an effect on other businesses such as building and plant hire.

This lockdown has shown us that we can survive without a lot of the excesses that had become normal. Eating out, foreign holidays, leisure activities and running and racing to every cat-fight, wherever it was happening.

If there are positives in this it has to be that we will value the company of our neighbours and indeed family in a new light. Simple conversation and interaction on WhatsApp can be interesting. The Saturday night quiz has become the in thing at the moment.

The powers that be also thought the world would end if the M50 wasn’t jammed every morning and the sky wasn’t black with the congestion of planes in the sky. Everyone was looking for the soft target to blame for climate change, but now we hear the skies are clearer and the air is cleaner after just a couple of months of lockdown.

It’s time to stop blaming agriculture and the poor cow for all the problems of pollution. The whole aviation industry has to be looked at, and cleaner ways of transporting people and goods have to be found. Our whole mindset and ways of doing things have to be changed.

My chief concern for the future is not climate change, although that needs to be addressed in a common sense manner, but the realisation that we were so susceptible to a virus. Covid-19, although very serious, did not wipe out civilisation. If it were a virus like ebola or some even more serious illness, we would be in dire straights, especially if it was transmitted through the air we breathe. We as a human race are very fragile indeed.

On a lighter note it is time for a general election as Fine Gael is past its sell-by date. We have a Taoiseach who has lost touch with the people, doesn’t know where rural Ireland is or how it survives, and craves holding onto power to the extent that he would sell out rural Ireland and agriculture to keep himself in the limelight that he loves.

Willie Hanrahan is a former Chairman of Clare IFA. The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Clare PPN.

 

We’d like to hear from you! Back to normal or time for radical change? We’re asking people for their views (in less than 350 words) on how to move forward together in Clare in the wake of Covid-19. You can win a €50 restaurant/take-away voucher. Details of how to submit here: http://clareppn.ie/what-do-we-want/

Postcards from the Edge – Siobhain Landy: ‘Time to step back 2 metres from the world and reflect’

Postcards from the Edge – Siobhain Landy: ‘Time to step back 2 metres from the world and reflect’

Postcards from the Edge: ‘Time to step back 2 metres from the world and reflect’

In the first of our ‘Postcards from the Edge’ series, Siobhain Landy, an Aer Lingus cabin crew member at Shannon and co-owner of Sweet N Green cafe in Ennis, describes how the pandemic brought her world to a standstill but has also given her time to reflect and make new plans. She wonders if the coronavirus spells the end of over-tourism in cities and whether it’s time to promote less crowded places like Clare.

January 30th this year was an important day for me as it marked my 25th year working for Aer Lingus. I started the job with an 11th-month old boy. Twenty-five years on, I have two girls as well. A career in Shannon Airport has given me the capacity to live and work in Clare, a great career which has grown with me and my family.

Another landmark moment came as I was asked to be part of the new brand launch of Aer Lingus. I was immensely proud to be part of this change and the optimism that surrounded our base, new uniforms, new aircraft and new routes to Barcelona and Paris. It felt like we were being refreshed ourselves and the anticipation of a thriving summer ahead with new exciting opportunities.

Then coronavirus brought our world to a standstill. Optimism and positivity gave way to fear and unknowing. The new uniform I had the pleasure of introducing to the world had now being introduced to hangers in my wardrobe. The travel and tourism industry is the first to bear brunt of this crisis as 16,000 passenger jets are grounded and the number flying is the lowest in 26 years.

Last year I went part-time in Aer Lingus, to help run our new cafe and be around more for my children. The first impact of the pandemic for me was that my part-time hours were reduced to half.

Then came the announcement of 900 redundancies; the uncertainty of when normal flying could resume; the difficulties of social distancing in airplanes on reduced capacity until a vaccine is found; the question of economic ability to travel; and fewer airlines with fewer flights.

In Shannon we managed to survive the impact of 9/11, the volcanic ash cloud, the removal of Heathrow slots to Belfast and the financial crisis of 2008. As a small base in the west of Ireland we always had to fight for survival. As a workforce we are strong and resilient, proving ourselves to be adaptable and flexible in the rollercoaster of aviation.

A way of life
For me and my devoted colleagues, Aer Lingus is not just a job, but a way of life – one that has opened many doors and broadened our horizons. We are not just colleagues but life-long friends.

April saw clear blue skies, no jet streams, no airplanes. Grounded and in lockdown, with a lingering uncertainty. Tough decisions to be made as we await our fate in unprecedented times. Even in recession people were still travelling. This time it will take longer to recover.

Maybe it’s the end of over-tourism in heavily populated areas and time to market Shannon and the western corridor as a more attractive, less populated area to visit? Post-pandemic, let’s look for the silver lining by using the advantage of being rural. The government needs to support Shannon Airport and the west of Ireland.

Almost 18 months ago my husband Frank and I opened ‘Sweet N Green’, our cafe in Ennis, along with Frank’s brother Martin and our fantastic team. Our ethos is creative, healthy menus with innovative choices in a warm, relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

We hit the ground running and the reaction was positive. Now not only responsible for our own family, we have a young vibrant team who look to us for guidance and security. Almost a year later we won an award from Ennis Chamber of Commerce – ‘Best Place to Eat in Clare’ – a fantastic achievement by the team.

Personal sacrifice
The first two years are crucial in business and we put our heart and soul into it while trying to raise a family. Nobody tells you about the countless hours and personal sacrifice in making a business a success. It’s still a work in progress, seven days a week, but we were determined as it was Frank’s lifelong dream to own his own cafe.

Then the virus became a reality. Our first responsibility was the health and wellbeing of our staff and customers so, with a heavy heart, we closed the doors on March 16th.

Life hasn’t stopped, it’s just paused. We had to adjust, to slow down, to reset. When things are out of control, all you can do is control how you react. We had more time to reconnect as a family, making memories. One thing I’ve realised with an older son is how quickly they grow up.

In business it’s hard to see the changes you need to make until you step back. This has given us time to reflect and redirect and lead through change positively, to get online and adapt our business while it’s still in its infancy.

Challenges
Post-Covid-19, the challenges for small business are reduced capacity through social distancing; static overheads on already tight margins; high unemployment with less disposable income for ‘luxuries’ such as dining out; and new health and safety guidelines.

On the flip-side, as an employer, with your employees’ destiny in your hands, I understand the financial constraints and mental anguish as they await and I await – tough decisions to be made.

As an employee of a large company and a small business employer facing an uncertain future, we need continued support from the government with wage subsidies, grants, VAT reductions and abolished rates until further notice.

We need to support each other, our local businesses, food growers and small shop owners. We need to step back two metres from the world and get ready to come back and embrace it when we can – and we will.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of all of the Clare PPN.

Back to ‘normal’ or time for radical change? Send us your views and win a prize

Back to ‘normal’ or time for radical change? Send us your views and win a prize

Back to ‘normal’ or time for radical change? Send us your views and win a prize

What would you say to the parties forming the next government?

New deadline of Friday, May 29th at 5pm – see below

 

By William Hederman

As politicians from three parties sit down in a room in Dublin this week – socially distanced – to thrash out a programme for government, it’s likely there will be a big focus on getting things ‘back to normal’ as quickly as public health considerations will allow. But is a return to the old normal what we need? Or is this a once-in-a-generation opportunity to find new ways of organising our society and economy?

The Covid-19 crisis has been traumatic, bringing tragedy and distress to many people. But the crisis and the lockdown have also brought changes that may be worth holding on to. As Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party try to plan our collective futures, Clare PPN would like to hear your views on what they or any other grouping that emerges should be prioritising. We will publish submissions and there will be prizes of €50 vouchers for meals from local restaurants. Read on to find out more.

Covid-19 has transformed Ireland and Clare like nothing in living memory. The tourism and hospitality sectors, and much of retail, have shut down. Huge numbers of people in Clare have lost their jobs. This is a very stressful and difficult time for many, especially those who have lost loved ones, those who have lost their jobs or businesses and people living in isolation or in direct provision. There is huge uncertainty about what the future holds – for tourism, live music, sport. Some businesses may not reopen. Many of us will have to retrain.

Are there silver linings?
However, without in any way minimising the huge stresses, fears and grief this crisis has caused, there have been some silver linings around the dark cloud of Covid-19. The crisis has brought us together and has revealed the great strength in community. People are learning new technologies and finding new ways to do things. Many more people are growing their own food – organisations such as Irish Seed Savers in Scariff have been overwhelmed with orders.

The pandemic has also forced society to recognise the huge value of the work done by those in the health sector, carers, shop workers and others. It has also revealed that things we were told were impossible are possible after all – the use of private hospitals for public healthcare being just one example.

The global lockdown has also had huge environmental benefits. Cleaner air resulted in some 11,000 fewer deaths from pollution in Europe in April. Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen dramatically and wildlife is returning to areas they had fled long ago. The Government’s decisive response to Covid-19 has been contrasted to its years of foot-dragging on climate action. It turns out we can follow scientific warnings and take radical action to save lives, even if that means less economic output.

What the parties have proposed
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s joint document published in mid-April commits to working “towards a consensus on a united island”; plans for affordable housing and a new deal for renters; expanded universal healthcare; no rises in income tax or USC and no cuts to core social welfare rates.

Among the Green Party’s ‘red lines’ for entering government talks is a yearly reduction of 7% in greenhouse gas emissions, which climate scientists have warned is needed to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown. The party has also demanded the scrapping of the Shannon LNG fracked gas terminal on the Shannon Estuary.

Sinn Féin’s general election manifesto proposed abolishing Universal Social Charge on the first €30,000 earned; building 100,000 council homes over five years; opening 1,500 hospital beds and providing free GP care; giving people the right to retire at 65; and cutting the cost of childcare.

Solidary-People Before Profit pledged to hold a referendum to make housing a constitutional right, to build 100,000 homes over five years and a rent freeze; to push for a health service that is free at the point of use; free public transport for all and to shift the carbon tax towards big polluters.

Labour’s manifesto proposed building 80,000 homes over five years, a rent cap and rent freeze; the roll-out of Sláintecare and free GP care for under-18s; introducing more protections for casual workers and converting the minimum wage to a living wage.

Sláintecare was also central to the Social Democrats’ manifesto, as well abolishing home care waiting lists; building 100,000 homes over five years; trialling a four-day working week; ending the State subsidy for fee-paying schools; and encouraging community energy schemes.

What would you do?
So, if you could sit down – socially distanced – with the negotiators from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, or the other parties if they end up around the table what would you say to them? What new measures would you like to see in response to the crisis? Should they be striving to return things as close to the old ‘normal’ as possible or is this the time for a major rethink? What are the positive aspects of the lockdown and of the response to the crisis you’d like to see maintained?

Hundreds of thousands of people have switched to remote working – should this be continued? Could a four-day week become the new normal? Should Shannon Airport be bailed out and supported or should Clare be preparing for a post-air travel world by diversifying into new industries? Is it time for a universal basic income? Should we get rid of the Leaving Cert for good?

Even before coronavirus, sectors such as farming were already in crisis. Can a new approach to agriculture give farmers a decent living, protect the environment and make Ireland more food secure?

What about Clare’s musicians and arts sector? They have already been organising events, exhibitions and workshops online – what does the future look like for them? Any ideas?

Please send us your views on what Clare – and Ireland – needs now. Tell us what you would like to say to the parties forming a government or what you think is worth keeping from our experiences during this crisis.

Please keep your submissions to less than 350 words. Alternatively, you can submit a video of no more than 2 minutes. We’ve extended the deadline – email us by 5pm on Friday, May 29th, at newsletter@clareppn.ie

We will publish submissions on our website and social media and they will go into a draw for prizes. For Clare PPN meetings, we usually pay for refreshments or room hire and we get to hear what people think of whats happening in the world. We‘re really missing those interactions and so on this occasion, for each of the four people drawn out of a hat, we’ll buy a €50 voucher at a local restaurant or takeaway of your choice – helping to support local business.

We look forward to hearing from you!