A Soft Heart but An Iron Will

Joan Freeman has a soft heart but an iron will for a caring Ireland

Freeman’s heart may be soft but her steely determination would help forge a more caring nation Irish Independent 6 Oct 2018 Billy Keane

LET’S talk about our President, Michael D, before we get to the Joan Freeman story. Phil has being working in John B’s for so long none of us is rightly sure when she started. My brother John is always calling up the pub pretending he is some film star.

He gets Phil to rush off looking for yours truly, who is often on the missing list. “It’s Bono. I need to speak to Billy urgently about my gig in the pub.” But it’s really John. Phil, who could be up to her eyes, is fit to do away with my beloved brother. On another day, it was the Bob bit that swung it. If John had said he was Robert De Niro, Phil wouldn’t have believed him at all.

Our pub was 60 years in the family just four years ago when my mom was very much to the good. The President of Ireland called up to wish us well. “Can I speak to Mary and Billy?” asked Michael D.

Phil was trying to serve three people at the one time and she let rip. To be fair to her, Phil hardly ever uses bad language, but she told Michael D where to go. She thought it was John again.

Michael D loved it. Mom and myself were so proud the President called to wish us well. But we go back a while. We get on very well and I thought he did a great job as president.

Mary Robinson was the president for the diaspora at a time when emigration stole away yet another generation. Mary McAleese was the president for peace during the peace process. Michael D was the president for the recession.

And Joan Freeman, who is running this time, will be an excellent president for mental health. For what it’s worth, I’m voting for Joan. It’s not that I’m against Michael D. Far from it. I’m just for Joan.

We have been friends for a long time and she is one of the finest people I have ever known. Joan lost a loved one to suicide many years ago. She suffered her share. Joan was in pain and she felt she had to do something about the high rate of suicide and self-harm in this country.

Joan went back to education later on in life and she became a clinical psychologist. Pieta House was founded by Joan. Pieta is nationwide now and has saved many lives. She ensured Pieta offered free counselling and above all there was no judging of anyone. It was all about love and compassion. Yet the model was based on research and a professional approach to counselling. Joan Freeman gave up most of her life to the care of those who were most vulnerable.

Joan created Pieta House but she needed a new challenge. She spent a few years in New York trying to better the lot of the undocumented and the lonely-for-home. Joan is all about heart and hope. Love and justice go hand in hand. She fought on her back for better mental health services in Ireland and for the Irish abroad. Yes, she has the bit of fire and there’s temper in her too when needs be.

The president is above politics. We are not voting for a finance minister here.

There are important constitutional duties but the presidency is also about making sure all of our people are cared for by someone who really cares. Joan isn’t a politician. She is independent in every sense of the word, with years of practical patriotism on her CV.

It is a measure of her worth that Micheál Martin had Joan appointed to the senate as an advocate for mental health. Micheál was under pressure to appoint a Fianna Fáil wannabe TD. He knew Joan and what she had achieved.

Some say Joan is a one-issue candidate. She is anything but. The truth is that a president who promotes wellness is a president for all of us. Our mental health has an impact on every aspect of our decision-making. How well we feel, or how badly we feel, has an impact on our lives from the minute we wake up in the morning until we go to bed at night.

I would go so far as to say that a vote for Joan is a vote for the well-being of the nation. There is a universal template for the betterment of our people. This new practical patriotism makes every one of us feel worthwhile. We need a president who is a noticer. Here’s what Joan said a long time ago: “When I hear of a young person who has taken their life, I get quite distressed. I wonder if only someone had spotted something – not necessarily their family, but if someone is working with you seven hours a day, it’s not difficult to tell if they’re in good form or bad form. To me, we’re not educating the public enough to see and spot these warning signs.”

Our friends Cora and Martin O’Brien lost their boy David to suicide. David was only 16. Cora came up with the idea of breaking the world record for the most people dressed up as nuns. We had some laughs and raised thousands for Pieta.

Darkness into Light was also Joan’s idea. Cora formed a committee in Listowel and we all walked together as one for those we loved and lost. Nathan’s Darkness Into Light walk in Killarney brought thousands together to raise awareness about suicide. Darkness into Light is the march of a nation towards an openness about how we feel and why we feel the way we do. Joan’s walk echoed Parnell’s words for the Ireland of his time when he said: “No man has the right to fix a boundary to the march of a nation.” Joan could add on the words, “or its mental health”.

By the way, I am writing here in a personal capacity. Pieta House has to stay out of the election, and rightly so.

We asked and Joan promised us she would open a Pieta House in Kerry. Joan kept her word. I lost a loved one a good few years ago and I felt I could have done more to save that person. The opening of a Pieta so near home in Tralee has saved lives and those who would have been bereaved are spared so much suffering. Looking back on the me I was then, I just didn’t notice. That was the way we were. Then Joan came along and opened up the conversation on mental health in this country. If Joan is voted in as president of Ireland, her role will ensure we will grow into a more caring nation of noticers.

Joan does not judge. Joan is not hard on people. Joan Freeman will be a president with a soft heart but with the iron will needed to forge a caring Ireland.

A president who promotes wellness is a president for all of us. Our mental health has an impact on our decision-making from when we wake up until we go to bed

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