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Connacht Tribune

Negotiating shared spaces in the midst of a pandemic

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TESS FINCH-LEES

It’s been a difficult week for journalist TESS FINCH-LEES, with the loss of a friend to Covid-19 – underlining again the need for everyone to be conscious of observing social protocols in extraordinary times.

I lost a friend to Coronavirus this week. That’s a sentence I wasn’t planning to write and one I hope you never have to say.

My deceased friend is survived by his partner, who is also my friend. They only had each other and now her soul mate is gone. No doubt a walk on the beach would do her good but she has to settle for a backyard the size of a postage stamp, the walls of which close in with each passing day, in lockdown. In agonising grief.

Another friend is a medic living in a flat with no garden and is going stir crazy. She’s afraid to use the park 50 yards away because of unleashed dogs approaching her dog and toddler. Once, after seven days of twelve-hour shifts, she broke down in tears pleading with someone to put their dog on a lead.

I told a mutual friend that I was worried about both of the above women being isolated and vulnerable, but he was more concerned about his own mental health.

He lives in a house with a garden in the countryside. Yet, he is ‘compelled’ to drive beyond 2km to take his dog ‘for a run off the lead’, on a beach where unleashed dogs are not allowed. Ever.

As empathetically as I could muster, I pressed him to reflect on his behaviour. What about dog owners and parents with children in high rise flats in cities? Is your mental health more important than theirs”? “If everyone behaved like you the roads and beaches would be full…”

Realising that he wasn’t responding to the intravenous dose of compassionate truth I had administered, I pulled the plug on our friendship.

This isn’t dog owner versus non dog owner. It’s irresponsible dog owners versus everyone else. The above (former) friend’s justification for not using a dog lead was “there’s no evidence that dogs can infect humans”.

There are far more unknowns than knowns with regard to Covid-19 but we’ve always known that this is a highly contagious, deadly disease for which there is no vaccine or cure. This should have triggered what scientists call the precautionary principle, which means erring on the side of caution to prevent widespread infection and preserve life.

Instead, our politicians unleashed three words which I believe, served to fuel the deadly pandemic: “There’s no evidence.”

At various times, these words have been used in relation to the following, all of which have since proved gravely mistaken: the apparent lack of community contagion, there being no need to restrict nursing home visitors, racegoers returning from Cheltenham not being advised to self-isolate unless they show symptoms despite warnings that people can be asymptomatic and contagious for 14 days. I could go on.

The absence of evidence should not be confused with evidence of absence. It just means the testing isn’t happening and/or data isn’t available.

With residents of nursing and care homes representing almost 60% of all Coronavirus related deaths, this is surely evidence that the precautionary principle should have been invoked sooner by Tony Holohan.

The World Organisation for Animal Health warns: “Now that COVID-19 virus infections are widely distributed in the human population, there is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans. Studies are under way to better understand the susceptibility of different animal species to the COVID-19 virus and to assess infection dynamics in susceptible animal species”.

A number of vets have cautioned that dogs’ coats, like any other surface, can carry viruses to humans and the ISPCA, the Dog Trust, Veterinary Ireland and Galway County Council are all stipulating that dog owners keep their dogs on leads at all times in public spaces.

In the same way that social distancing and unnecessary travel is obligatory (not discretionary), so too is keeping dogs on leads in public places during this pandemic.

Not all laws and rules can be policed. For society to function, it requires shared social norms, collective responsibility and community compassion.

Never before has our behaviour in shared spaces had a more profound impact on the lives and wellbeing of others.

At a time when space is so limited and freedom of movement so restricted, encroaching on that of others is no longer just selfish, it’s reckless and anti-social.

Either lockdown applies to everyone or no-one. The choices we make today will determine the extent to which lives and friendships will be lost to this pandemic tomorrow.

This article is dedicated to the people worldwide, my friend included, whose lives have been claimed by Covid-19. Suaimhneas síoraí dóibh uile.

■ Tess Finch-Lees is an international human rights journalist, who writes for the Guardian and other outlets. She is also a therapist and lecturer in ethics and discrimination. Having spent her childhood between Dublin, Galway and Mayo, she recently returned home to live in her mother’s native Galway.

Connacht Tribune

Football’s a funny old game – and you can quote me on that

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Dave O'Connell

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

If someone actually made it a requirement of your commitment to your job that you run through a brick wall for them, surely the people from health and safety would have to intervene?

And yet this the ultimate tribute a manager pays to their star player, as a way of suggesting he or she would always go the extra yard.

Never mind that the world now measures in metres, but whatever the currency, what would be the point of going a yard or metre further than was required?

Because going the extra yard would mean you’ve gone too far, which sort of defeats the whole plan in the first place.

And yet you hear it all the time, because sports stars have a way of giving an interview which revolves around half a dozen stock answers – all of which leave you none the wiser when it’s over.

Managers learn how to expand on these stock replies to incorporate a whole new range of clichés that fill airtime but answer nothing.

More to the point, they often mean nothing too.

Because where else in life would 100 per cent commitment to the particular cause never be quite enough – given that everyone else was giving 110 per cent?

And yet that too is among those most common clichés expressed in post-match set-piece interviews; packed to the wall with observations that actually mean precisely nothing.

Those post-game interviews were in the news for more serious reasons in recent weeks, after one of the biggest stars of the world of tennis, Naomi Osaka, declined to do them during the French Open because she said that negative questions on her performance were impacting on her mental health.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Sporting organisations letting us down by rolling over to NPHET

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Galway players Niamh McGrath and Siobhan Gardiner show their disappointment after falling to Kilkenny in Sunday's National Camogie League final at Croke Park. Photo: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Inside Track with John McIntyre

IRELAND’S various big sporting organisations continue to embarrass themselves in relation to how they are handling the Covid pandemic. Being slaves to public health guidelines is one thing, but these bodies have introduced some rules of their own which are only further alienating their support base.

The GAA, IRFU, the FAI and Horse Racing Ireland may be currently dependent on public finances to keep their respective shows on the road, but that can’t excuse their lack of independent thinking or the fact they are making a deeply frustrating situation worse by adding in their own Covid-19 regulations

In effect, these sporting bodies are trying too hard to please NPHET and it doesn’t seem to matter how much they inconvenience or antagonise their grassroots in the process. Take the GAA, for instance. At club level dressing rooms remain closed and that causes significant irritation, especially on wet days.

Horse Racing Ireland is no better. Two owners per runner have been allowed back at race meetings and while that number is about to increase to four, there has been little enthusiasm among the cohort of people who pay the bills to return. And why would they? – no catering, no bookies and no atmosphere. And the most absurd thing of all is that the racing authorities are still enforcing the mask-wearing regulation.

Imagine still having to use a face covering in what amounts to big open fields. Is Horse Racing Ireland clueless as to how foolish jockeys, trainers, the few owners and media people present are being made to look, especially when the risk of contracting Covid is negligible in such an environment? All the while, beaches, public parks and walkways are milling with people.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

The thrill of learning

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Embracing education: Anna Keane who will begin a BA in September; Anne Marie Ward who is doing a part-time degree in Youth, Community and Family Studies; Owen Ward who has a Master’s in Education and works at NUIG; and Jason Sherlock who will embark on a Master’s in International Finance in September. All entered NUIG via its Access Programme.

Lifestyle – Most members of the Travelling community are unlikely to finish secondary education and only a tiny proportion go to university. But for people who want an academic education, NUIG is leading the way. Four keen learners share their stories with JUDY MURPHY, among them post-graduate Owen Ward who works in NUIG’s Access Office, assisting people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Starting third-level education can be daunting for even the most confident teenager. Entering a massive campus, meeting so many new people, trying to figure out timetables, deciding what societies to join and just finding your feet – those early weeks can be a challenge.

That’s how Jason Sherlock felt when the young city man began his degree at NUIG in 2018. A member of the Travelling community, Jason had more reason than most to feel daunted in this educational establishment. According to the 2016 Census, only one percent of Travellers go on to third level – although that has increased slightly since then, thanks to people like Jason and his mentor, Owen Ward, a Programme Coordinator in the university’s Access Office.

Jason, who entered university though the Access Programme, which supports students from ‘non-traditional backgrounds’, will begin studying for a Master’s in International Finance in September, having completed a degree in Economics, Sociology and Political Science.

As we meet on the campus at NUIG on a sunny Friday, he recalls having his photo taken by the Tribune 11 years ago, on his final day at Scoil Bhríde National School in Shantalla, where he had never missed a day.

But university was different. Initially, Jason felt it wasn’t for him and almost dropped out of his course. That’s where Owen Ward appeared. Owen who graduated from NUIG in 2014, having also entered via the Access Programme, was back doing a Master’s in Education.  He heard Jason was on campus and went looking for him among the 18,000 students.

“I didn’t know Jason at the time but I knew his father. And I tracked him down,” he recalls with a laugh. Having done that, he was able to support the younger man in those difficult early days. Jason found his feet and with Owen went on to set up Mincéirs Whiden, a new society at NUIG. The first of its kind in any third-level institution, Mincéirs Whiden is for Traveller students but is open to all. Members include students from the settled community, Irish and international.

Anne Marie Ward, who is beginning her third year of a part-time degree in Youth, Community and Family Studies, is the incoming chair of Mincéirs Whiden.

She’s also the new Ethnic Minorities Officer for the NUIG Students’ Union, the first member of the Travelling Community to be elected to a position in the student body.  She is Owen’s sister.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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