Fr Tony O’Riordan gets ready to say goodbye to Moyross

The outspoken Jesuit priest reflects on his time in the embattled Limerick parish

Fr Tony O’Riordan has said the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, is ‘not fit for purpose’. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

Fr Tony O’Riordan has said the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, is ‘not fit for purpose’. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

 

Fr Tony O’Riordan steps down as parish priest of Moyross in Limerick on Friday, following six years during which he dealt with the damage left by poverty, drugs and crime on a daily basis.

Following such duty, most people would opt for a rest. Indeed, they would probably feel entitled to one.

Instead, Fr O’Riordan has sought transfer to Aleppo in Syria or to refugee camps in Syria or Lebanon.

“We have a Jesuit presence in Aleppo and a presence in the camps in Lebanon and Syria, so I would love that if I can be of help to go there,” he told The Irish Times.

“I see in the midst of Syria, just as I see in the midst of Moyross, an image in our heads of what these areas are like.

“In the midst of that, the vast majority of people are just trying to get on with their lives, raise their families, find a way of living, live their dreams.”

The Jesuits met recently in Rome to elect a new superior general.

“One of the things that kept popping up was that we should show solidarity with the Jesuits living and working in war-torn countries,” says the often-outspoken Cork-born priest.

“I just feel very drawn to the Syrian situation; I’m not sure there is something that I can do there, but maybe there is something I can do.”

However, he is no thrill-seeker: “There are people on the ground and you’d be led by their advice.

“There are aid workers there, so obviously I would listen to what those people would tell me. But I certainly don’t try to live my life on the basis that I won’t do certain things because there’s a risk.”

Regeneration

Ballymun

Getting ready to leave Moyross behind, he looks out on to a community that is beginning to change significantly on the back of the Government-backed regeneration programme.

Even though the community is moving to a brighter future, he believes that many there feel “fragile”.

“Over half of its population has been displaced. That has had a huge haemorrhaging effect,” he says.

Even by the standards of Moyross’s troubled existence, Fr O’Riordan arrived into the parish after the worst of times: multiple gun killings and the injuries to local children Gavin and Millie Murray (4 and 6) who were burned in a petrol bomb attack in 2006.

Despite all of the trauma witnessed, his message remains positive: “I go away from here at peace. I just feel I’m a better person for being here and what more can a community give.

“That’s the irony of a place like Moyross, or all of the other communities that I’ve been in and that are deemed poor: they are actually very, very rich in how they can make people better human beings, that other communities that are deemed rich can make people worse human beings.”

Vulnerable children

Family Agency

Vulnerable children are being failed, he says. “That’s what has been a real confirmation of my six years here in Moyross: seeing how that agency doesn’t have the capacity, or, at times, the willingness to respond.

“I think we are heading down another two decades of failing children, and that we will look back one day and say, ‘how did we allow that to happen?’.

“If you are a vulnerable child in Ireland, it is a scandal to have to rely on the service that [Tusla] provides.”

Sometimes, though, the fault lies with a lack of resources.

“But partly there is a culture within [Tusla] that I think is a culture that leads to failure.

“I don’t think there are enough voices in the country highlighting this,” he says, adding that Tusla sets “ridiculously high” thresholds before intervening in cases where children may be victims of neglect.

Social workers

“In some cases there are not enough social workers. In some cases, the social workers don’t have the avenues open to them to help,” Fr O’Riordan says.

“There is a very shameful and worrying thing [happening], I think, of a lack of responsiveness to the situation of children, and a kind of normalising of [neglect], and saying, ‘that’s okay’.

“To me it is not okay for any child to be feeling unsafe, feeling unwell, not feeling secure. Let me be clear: the response to that is not always to put that child into care.

“But it is to support the family to make sure those children are getting all the developmental opportunities that every child should get, and that should be the role of the Child and Family Agency.”

Looking back on his time in Moyross, Fr O’Riordan remembers someone telling him in his early days there that “kids in Moyross are interested in three things: drugs, guns and horses”.

In the years since, he has worked to offer local youths work experience with trainer Jim Bolger and others in the racing industry, which saw a group work in Leopardstown for the Christmas meeting.

“Well, you can’t work with drugs or guns, but you can work with their interest in horses,” he says.

Now a horse academy is due to be opened in Moyross later this year. If so, it will be one of his lasting legacies.