How Are You?

How are you?

No, really, how are you? Tell me, I’m interested. I wouldn’t ask otherwise.

Answering this simple question honestly will go a long way towards normalising mental health – good, bad and ‘meh’ – in Ireland. This was the message at a recent public meeting held by Amnesty International and addressed by the award-winning writer, Colm Tóibín and Dr Siobhán Barry of the College of Psychiatry, Ireland and Caroline McGuigan who set up SOS (Suicide or Survive). Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, chaired the discussion.

Can you imagine having the freedom – nay, the permission – to answer ‘How are you?’ honestly? Imagine if you weren’t expected to respond with ‘grand’, ‘not a bother’, ‘fine’, ‘great’ ,‘draggin’ the divil by the tail, thank God’ or some such positive response?

Imagine a world where it was okay to say ‘not great’, ‘I’m having a hard time,’ or ‘I’m not really coping’ ? Imagine yourself having a hard day – for whatever reason – and being asked by someone in the supermarket how you are. Now imagine yourself saying ‘If I hadn’t had to get the kids to school I don’t think I’d have bothered to get out of bed today’ or ‘Today’s hard.’  No, go on, close your eyes and imagine it. Would the earth shake and crumble? Probably not. Would you be struck dead on the spot? Probably not. Would the other person be embarrassed? Possibly. But so what? Whose problem is that – yours or theirs?

If we all did this – if we all engaged honestly with each other – can you imagine the change that would come about? People who weren’t sure they could cope with the answer wouldn’t ask ‘How are you?’ and people who really care wouldn’t take ‘fine’ for an answer. Unless they really believed it.

Try it. Just for today, answer ‘How are you?’ honestly every time you hear it. Notice how people react. Notice how you react. Then do it again tomorrow. I’d be interested to know how you get on.



Children’s Rights?

In 1992, Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. What that means is that Irish governments are bound by the Convention and must work towards its implementation.

What that, in turn, means is that we must look at our laws and ensure that none of them is in opposition to the spirit or letter of the articles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. More than that, we need to ensure that the rights of the child are enshrined in our laws.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, is a legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social. In 1989, world leaders realised that children need a dedicated convention because they often need special care and protection that adults don’t. They also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights too.

I’m not going to reproduce the entire document here, but let’s take a look at a few of the rights that are enshrined in the Convention and how well Ireland fares in ensuring that the one million children here have these rights respected.

Let’s look first at Article 19, which tells us that children must be protected from “… injury or abuse … including sexual abuse, while in the care of parents … or any other person….”

In Ireland, smacking a child is not outlawed. Parents are free to chastise their children physically if they so wish. Yet, if an adult chose to chastise another adult physically, that would legally be considered assault.

How parents treat their children is still treated as a ‘family matter’ in Ireland. Irish people don’t feel they ‘have the right’ to ‘interfere’. In 20 years’ time when the child against whom violence was used uses violence against others those same people will be clamouring for harsher punishment rather than looking at how violence can be eliminated from society.

Article 2 tells us that ‘all children must be treated without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of … race, colour, sex, language, religion … or other status’. And yet, 442 Traveller families live at the side of the road, without access to water or adequate sanitary facilities.   Still, in disadvantaged areas, one child in three leaves school with literacy problems.

Articles 21 & 22 declare that the State shall ‘ensure alternative care … [for] a child … deprived of his or her family environment … [according to] the best interests of the child ….’ Can the State explain to the Irish people, then why 703 children are currently in State care with no allocated social worker to support them? Can the State further explain to the Irish people why over 500 children have gone missing in the Republic of Ireland since 2000 – and why 90% of them are still missing?

Our children are our future. They are our most precious asset. Their health – mental, emotional and physical – should be of paramount importance to us. If the rights of children are important to you – and they really should be, whether or not you are a parent – then please make the Rights of the Child an election issue for you. Voice your concerns to canvassers who call to your door. Demand that Ireland, as a state, improves its record on children’s rights. Insist that Ireland honours its commitment to making Ireland a safe place for all children to live, play and be educated.

The Children’s Rights Alliance has produced a handy doorhanger with information and questions to ask of those who call to your door seeking your vote. To view, download and print it, go here.