Fr Peter McVerry given Spirit of Mother Jones Award

Campaigner honoured in Cork for ‘fearless’ refusal to keep homeless issue ‘out of sight’

Campaigner for the homeless, Fr Peter McVerry was on Thursday honoured with the Spirit of Mother Jones Award in Cork and said he saw it as an acknowledgement that homelessness remains a hugely important issue in Irish society.

“I get embarrassed with awards because the work that we do is done by 200 staff and a management team and whatever we may achieve for homeless people, they are the ones that do the work and the ones who should get the award,” said Fr McVerry.

“I feel a bit of a fraud getting an award for the work that others have been doing so I feel a bit ambiguous about awards but I appreciate them offering it to me as it does highlight that homelessness in an important issue in society even if it isn’t that important to politicians.”

According to Jim Nolan of the Spirit of Mother Jones Committee, the award named after Cork-born US labour and union organiser, Mary Harris Jones, aka Mother Jones, is given to those who campaign and fight for social justice.


Unanimous choice

Fr McVerry was the unanimous choice of the committee and a worthy recipient of the award which has previously been given to Margaret Aspinall of the Hillsborough Family Support group and campaigning solicitor, Gareth Peirce, said Mr Nolan.

“Fr Peter receives the award in recognition of his unstinting efforts to provide a voice for those without a voice or power in society and for the way he openly challenges the political establishment to find a permanent political solution to this growing problem.

"He receives it due to his fearlessness in pursuit of a political solution and for how he does not accept the cosy consensus which tries to keep the homeless issue out of sight here in Ireland.

“And he receives it for his ability to raise the inconvenient truth that Irish society can end this problem by making a political decision, to do so upsets a lot of people in high places, and for his refusal to shut up and go away.”

Mr Nolan pointed out that Fr McVerry had spent virtually all his adult life providing for the homeless and providing drug treatment and drug-prevention services to thousands of people who fall through the cracks in society.

And he recalled that Fr McVerry had opened his first hostel in Dublin as far back as 1979 and founded the Peter McVerry Trust in 1983 which plays a huge role today in providing services for many homeless people.

“The Peter McVerry Trust under the inspiration and dedication of Fr Peter has worked in the very front lines of finding solutions for homelessness for over three decades and we believe that he is a very worthy recipient of the Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2015.

“We are satisfied that Mother Jones, if she was alive today, would have been very proud of Fr Peter for his ability to highlight the social injustice of homelessness and would support his efforts to put forward solutions.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times