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2015/16 Essays

Students, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to welcome you all to the UL campus for the 5th National Secondary School Writing Competition awards ceremony, organised by the Regional Writing Centre in conjunction with the Centre for Teaching & Learning.

I am particularly delighted to invite all of the winners here today – From the Transition Year category: Aoife Deignan of St.Nathy’s College in Co. Roscommon; Tara Gilsenan from Coláiste Oiriall in Co.Monaghan; and  Muireann Tuffrey from Mean Scoil Nua an Leith Triuigh in Co.Kerry.

From the 5th Year category: Róisín Howard from Laurel Hill Coláiste in Limerick; Alan McLoughlin from St. Mary’s CBS in Co. Kerry; and Isabelle Tierney from  Mount Anville Secondary School in Dublin.

From the 6th Year category: Joseph Chaplin from Ardscoil Rís in Limerick; Gareth Jones from St. Peter’s College in Co. Wexford; and Michael Smollen from Virginia College in Co. Cavan.

This very successful competition is now in its fifth year, and this is the third year in which it has been extended to include all post-primary schools in the Republic of Ireland. Students in Transition, 5th and 6th year were invited to take a decisive stance on a statement made by Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, founder and president of Focus Ireland:

 

“Government policies are causing people to be homeless. On one hand, they’re talking about finding housing to house them and on the other hand by not increasing the rent supplement they’re driving people into homelessness.”

The Writing Centre was delighted to receive over 200 essays from around the country. Each submitted essay was coded before undergoing an anonymous adjudication process, in which judgements were based on a series of Regional Writing Centre criteria.

The nine essays selected for awards today stood out in terms of the novelty of the writer’s position, the rigour with which they make a balanced, but compelling case, the logical arrangement of their ideas, and the concision, cogency and coherence that leaves the reader captivated by the writer’s obvious linguistic, grammatical and mechanical adroitness. It should be noted that identifying overall winners was not an easy process. The voting was close. There was not unanimity in the selection of the overall winners; rather the consensus was the result of a majority opinion. Clearly, all here today are winners.

Responses to the prompt varied. The majority of respondents—Tara, Muireann, Aoife and Michael—took the position that solving the homelessness crisis was the responsibility of the government. Two—Isabelle and Gareth—took the position that the crisis was the responsibility of charities. Alan and Joseph defended the idea that both government and charities have some culpability for exacerbating the situation and that both should come together to rectify the situation. Roisin, uniquely, sees homelessness as everyone’s problem appeals for every person to contribute to its resolution.

Tara’s essay was unique because, though she argues from the perspective of her experience of the homelessness she witnesses in a more urban setting, she remains ever conscious of whether solutions for more urban areas impact equally on more rural areas. Her essay is also a unique defence of charities that, unlike government, she reminds us, cannot legislate policy, and it is policy, she argues, that has not only been ineffectual in alleviating homelessness, but in fact instrumental in further aggravating the crisis. Muireann agrees with this position, claiming that the government’s knee-jerk reactions to the ongoing crisis have actually cost the state more than had they taken the very measures continually discounted as being too costly, measures such as providing better access to information, advice and upskilling, freezing rents, increasing rent supplements and reducing the amount of capital gains paid by landlords.

Also very much like Tara, Aoife lists a number of government policies that have contributed to homelessness. Aoife’s defends her claim that homelessness is the prevue of government on the basis of her understanding of government’s role in society: “Our Government is given the responsibility to ensure that law and order are maintained, that the needs of the people are addressed, and that any dangers that pose a threat to the interests of the public are avoided.” Her essay does well to demonstrate how policy has not accomplished any of those responsibilities, and until the government assumes those responsibilities, Aoife appeals for contributions to the charities.

Michael’s response was unique in that his economic recommendations for the alleviation of homelessness were equally arguments against neo-liberal policy. He was disconcerted by Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy’s suggestion that the government raise rent allowances, as doing so ultimately leads to an ever-upwardly spiralling rise in rents and, consequently, rent allowances. His plan is to address policies that leave contractors reluctant or unable to afford to build and consumers reluctant or unable to afford to buy. “Levelling the playing field for all of our people, this country can restore the dignity of countless citizens in the medium term and avoid collapsing into the gully of vast inequality which awaits if we fail to slow, and ultimately reverse, growing wealth imbalance.”

Isabelle and Gareth both place the responsibility for resolving the homelessness crisis on charities. Gareth argues that the more the government tries to resolve the problem, the worse it gets. Leave it to the charitable organisations, he argues. If it is a problem that individuals feel requires their sacrifice, they will either make that sacrifice by contributing or they will be left to confront their own moral compass. Isabelle, on the other hand, argues that, though it is the government’s responsibility to contend with the wider issues that lead to deprivation, poverty and homelessness, charities are better equipped to help individuals to become self-reliant. She believes that charities are closer to, and can better assess, an individual’s problems and can better provide the level of care needed to bring those individuals nearer to self-reliance.

Roisin’s essay stood out because she begins with her personal experience of working in a St. Vincent de Paul drop-in centre, making an abstraction like homelessness more tangible. Her essay champions human ingenuity and ends, much as Alan’s and Joseph’s essays do, celebrating the power of community and collaboration and teamwork. Alan speaks of his frustration with the blame game and encourages them to coordinate their efforts to more effectively and efficiently resolve the crisis. Joseph too champions teamwork as the solution to the crisis. Teamwork, he declares, is “the foundation of a functioning society”. He too calls for a more concerted effort to alleviate the suffering.

I would like to commend all of our winners for the hard work that they have put in in preparing for this competition. I would also like to thank their teachers and parents who supported them in this endeavour. We hope that you will all continue to cultivate your love of writing and that you will consider joining us at the University of Limerick in the coming years.

I would also like to thank the Regional Writing Centre staff who worked hard to organise this event, particularly Nicole Campbell, who performed Herculean tasks in order to put this ceremony together, but unfortunately could not be here today, the Writing Centre’s Co-Directors, Lawrence Cleary and Íde O’Sullivan, Lorna Horgan and Huan yu Ren, who have been so instrumental in making sure that everything went smoothly today. Lorna is a Regional Writing Centre peer tutor in writing. Huanyu is an International Student from China who is inspired by the President’s Volunteer Programme. She has graciously volunteered her time to help the Writing Centre on this wonderful occasion. We are also indebted to the many other peer-tutors in the Writing Centre for the long hours they dedicated to the adjudication process.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Speech read by Dr Michael Griffin at the National Secondary School Essay-writing Competition Awards Ceremony, Tuesday 26th April 2016, University of Limerick