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Peter McVerry’s righteous anger

Peter McVerry SJ made headline news this week with the letter below that he wrote to the Irish Times published on Tuesday

Sir, – I attended court with a young homeless boy who had been charged with theft of a bottle of orange, value €1.

Another homeless man was charged with theft of four bars of chocolate, value €3.

Another homeless man was charged with theft of two packets of Silk Cut cigarettes.

A TD, on his way to, or from, his full-time, very well paid job in Brussels, stops by at Dáil Éireann to sign in so that he can collect his full €51,600 expenses for his attendance in the Dáil. – Yours, etc,

Fr PETER McVERRY SJ,
Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice,
Gardiner Street,
Dublin 1.

The letter was taken up by social and traditional media outlets and referenced on radio and television and it provoked widespread discussion around the country. Reading out his letter again on The Tonight Show on Virgin 1 he spoke passionately about the lack of compassion in government policy the appalling treatment he witnesses being meted out to the most vulnerable in society.

Peter said he is angry at the double standards in Irish society, with homeless people regularly being taken to court on such petty charges whilst more serious issues go unaddressed.

Peter continued, saying he did not want to tar all Gardaí with the same brush, but he felt that some Gardaí were just happy to get the homeless off the streets on their beat. But he added that more often than not the judges exercised their common sense in dealing with such cases. He said the case of the young man and the €1 bottle of orange (he pleaded ‘not guilty’) was thrown out because the bottle was not produced in court. But he noted that was after six-months and the waste of a lot of tax-payers money. “We could have put him up in a hotel for the duration of the case with what it cost to take him to court.”

In an interview with RTE TV Peter, who has spent most of his Jesuit life working with the homeless, said he hates Christmas because he is always aware of how painful and lonely a time it is for people on the streets.  said it was a day when everything shuts down, and family and gift-giving becomes the main focus of attention. Yet the homeless are often separated from loved ones, and even those receiving gifts from family and friends feel the pain of not being able to return in kind.

Speaking as the Peter McVerry Trust celebrated the 40th anniversary of its under-18 residential service, Peter said: “I hate Christmas. It’s a huge pressure time for homeless people. There’s the financial pressure first of all. They want to buy new clothes because everybody else is buying new clothes… If they’re able to go home for the day or for a few hours, they want to have a little present for their brothers and sisters because they know they’re going to get a little present… There’s also a huge sense of loneliness at Christmas because it feels like everybody is at home with their families enjoying themselves and pulling crackers and eating plum pudding. That’s a false image in many cases, but that’s the image people have of Christmas. So homeless people feel their aloneness much more at Christmas… And if you’re actually on the streets Christmas day is the pits. There’s nothing open. You can’t go in anywhere for a cup of tea. There’s no public transport…The streets are deserted and you feel alone in a very, very intense way.”

Peter’s letter was published in the Irish Times under the heading ‘A tale of two cities’. His latest book A Dose of Reality will be launched by Fr Seán Cassin OFM in the Monastery of St Alphonsus, Iona Rd, Dublin 9, on 10 December at 11:00am.