The recent death of Mr Paddy Barry, following what gardai describe as a ‘violent attack on his home’, has led to much debate in newspapers and on radio about the vulnerability of elderly people in their own homes. Certainly, the manner of Mr Barry’s death must be an awful cross for his grieving family to bear because, whatever it was that happened on that fateful night, the inescapable fact of the matter is that the poor man would still be hale and hearty if his home hadn’t been broken into.

Because of his famous grandson, Keith, the attack on Mr Barry’s home and his subsequent death attracted immense national publicity and that was no harm because it highlighted the plight of older people everywhere. Very few like to admit it but the hard facts are that, apart at all from serious assaults and robberies, countless elderly people across the country are being bullied, harassed and tormented every day by young thugs who are making their lives a misery. There is no point criticising the gardai because they don’t have the resources to respond to every call from an old person who is being annoyed by vandals. The change of heart has to come from the youngsters themselves and from their parents.

Maybe not all the youngsters realise the seriousness of their actions. Perhaps they don’t know that when they have moved away, after having enjoyed a few laughs at the expense of a pensioner, that person remains in their home shaking with fear and jumping like at a startled rabbit at every sudden noise no matter how innocent. We had a very clear case of that kind of situation in my own estate recently.

Some parents exercise very little authority over their teenage children anyway but, if those that do made an effort to explain to their children why they need to be careful around the homes and gardens of elderly people, perhaps some good may come of it. Teachers and lecturers could also spend a few minutes talking to pupils and, who knows, the message might get through to some.

It must also be recognised that a lot of serious crimes are carried out by strung out drug addicts who would do almost anything to get enough money for the drug that will ease their bodies’ horrendous cravings. They might be the ones breaking and entering houses or mugging vulnerable pedestrians but the wealthy drug-lords are so responsible they might as well be pulling their strings.

The serious issue of sentencing by the courts has also been raised and there have been many calls for mandatory sentencing to be imposed on the courts for certain crimes, especially for burglary and even more so for burglary with violence. Certainly, most right thinking people would wish to see a greater deterrent in place that would make the criminals at least stop and think of what the consequences could be of their actions. As things stand, they don’t seem too worried about anything even the loss of their liberty. Many of these thugs will never stop out of the goodness of their hearts but they might pull their horns in if they were fearful of being caught.

But, for what it’s worth, I would be totally against mandatory sentencing and I would respectfully suggest that I speak from some experience. These days I am office bound but I spent over 20 years covering District, Circuit and High Courts. I sat through thousands of cases before dozens of judges and, even though I didn’t always agree with their comments and decisions, I would hate to see discretion taken away from judges. No two cases are the same. There are always variables and extenuating circumstances applying to defendants. The judges don’t always get it right but they do a lot of the time and if discretion in sentencing was to be taken out of their hands then, in my opinion, justice and the spirit of the law would suffer greatly.

Medical card blues

There has been quite a lot of talk across the South East recently about medical cards, or rather the lack of them, and there has been anecdotal evidence of people being wiped off the system even though their circumstances hadn’t changed.

It may well be true because, last week, official figures become available for County Meath which showed that, so far this year, 1,800 people in the Royal County had had their medical cards rescinded despite there being an increase in the number of unemployed.

When the figures were broken down, it turned out that over 1,400 people, who previously had full medical cards, were refused a renewal when they applied during the first five months of this year. A further 400 people with ‘GP Only’ medical cards were also refused when they reapplied during the same period.

A local TD, Deputy Thomas Byrne, accused the HSE of being too stringent in its criteria and said it should adopt a far more caring attitude.

However, a spokesperson for the HSE pointed out that many medical cards were withdrawn due to the absence of information from the client and it was important that people realised that all communications sought by the Executive should be returned correctly and in good time.

Meanwhile, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute, people who lose their medical cards reduce their visits to their doctors by between a half and one-third while those who attain a medical card increase their visits by one-quarter. In other words, people don’t attend their doctors in many instances because of the cost factor.

Incidentally, the ERSI has also pointed out that those people just above the income threshold for a medical card are in a particularly difficult position which is something we all knew anyway.

In love with each

other and hurling

I heard a lovely story last week about a young couple’s love for each other and for their local hurling club.

Grainne O’Connor and Anthony Wallace, both from Enniscorthy, were married in their local St Senan’s Parish Church on Saturday last in a ceremony that commenced at 2pm. However, it just happened that Anthony is centre-back on the Enniscorthy Shamrocks hurling team and, on the same day as his wedding, he was due to feature in the Intermediate County Semi-Final against Askamore at Wexford Park which is in Wexford town fifteen miles away.

The match had a 4.30 throw-in and efforts to have it played at a different time didn’t work out so, when the wedding ceremony was over, the new groom and most of the team rushed down the road to Wexford Park and togged out for action. Anthony had initially told Grainne he wouldn’t hurl on the day but she insisted that he take his place on the team. “Of course, I wouldn’t play if she didn’t want me to but she said I should play and, to be honest, after all the training I’d hate to miss the match”, he said. I think Grainne is a very wise young woman. But, Murphy’s Law being Murphy’s Law, the game ended in a draw with the replay this weekend. Somehow or other, I think the honeymoon will have to take precedence!

Mystery partners

Earlier this year, a certain airline introduced a promotion whereby they decided to offer businessmen and businesswomen free travel for partners who accompanied them on business trips. ‘Have some fun while doing business’ was the catch-cry.

The idea was a big success and the airline succeeded in taking a lot of business away from other carriers as executives queued up to avail of the ‘free partner’ offer.

Last month, the airline’s marketing division decided to write to all the partners of the businesspeople asking them how they had enjoyed flying with their company. It was a big, big mistake because the marketing division has since been inundated with letters from partners and spouses asking them what trips they are talking about. Someone had fun all right but it wasn’t them!