Every day, as I sift through hundreds of emails, I marvel at the variety of events happening in Cork every week. The doom and gloom of the recession has convinced many of us that the country is dead; that there is no money; nothing happening; and that everyone is miserable. This gloom isn't exclusive to Ireland. Twenty-three workers at France Telecom have taken their own lives since the beginning of 2008; the trend is blamed on cost-cutting at the company.
In America, just 39 per cent of workers professed loyalty to their employers in December 2008, compared with 95 per cent in June 2007. And the number who trusted their employers fell from 79 per cent to 22 per cent over the same period.
It looks like the cynicism currently being directed at Irish politicians is not an Irish phenomenon, or even a political phenomenon. Right now, the entire Western world is experiencing a comparable mood swing. John O'Donoghue's resignation comes just months after the Speaker of the English Parliament was forced to resign. Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi is probably facing fraud charges. However, we seem to be forgetting something pretty important. To go back to my emails, there are hundreds of them a day. Many of them are from PR companies, pushing products and services. More are from politicians, trying to highlight issues (or get their names in the paper). But the vast majority are related to charities, community groups, choirs, sports clubs, retired groups, and the like.
The 'third sector', which is made up of community, development and voluntary groups, has long been and remains absolutely essential in Irish life. From the early days of the GAA as the nineteenth century faded, to the Special Olympics in the infancy of the twenty-first, we have always excelled at giving up our time and effort, and giving 100 per cent, to help someone, somewhere. This week alone there are so many voluntary events – maybe not earth-shattering, but important to somebody – on in Cork that it is hard to even record all of them and notify a depressed public that there is life, Jim, but maybe not as we know it.
This life is not centred around flash cars and penthouse apartments, but ordinary people and their extraordinary contributions to others. Here are a few examples: - This week is Positive Ageing week, run by Age Action, a charity that provides help, support and advice to older people. See our piece on p12.
- The Irish Red Cross – a voluntary organisation – is teaching people in Cork to become first aid instructors. They will save lives. See our piece on p18. - Cork Simon Community volunteers will collect money for the homeless at church gates this weekend. See our piece on p15.
- A fundraising event will take place in aid of Enable Ireland and the Cloghroe Aspergers Support Group this evening. See our piece on p15. This is just a tiny sample of events around Cork City and County this week. But they are enough to remind us of what makes Irish society. Cork can get through the recession; some will lose hope, many will lose jobs, but all of us have something to gain from giving. There is some gold amid the gloom, just not the kind we're used to.