A group of current and former inter-county football, hurling and camogie players who are passionate about making a difference have united under the umbrella of ‘Gaelic Voices for Change’. The new player-led social movement is made up of volunteers from the four provinces who have been meeting weekly for the past two months.
Members include Tipperary hurlers Brendan Maher and Patrick Bonner Maher, Waterford hurler Noel Connors, Cork footballer Valerie Mulcahy, former Wexford hurling captain Diarmuid Lyng, Dublin footballers Eamon Fennell, Michael Darragh McAuley and Sinead Finnegan, Tyrone footballer Gemma Begley, and Cavan footballer Alan O’Mara, among others.
The group is supported by the GPA and WGPA, have identified the housing and homeless crisis as a priority area to focus on but are also keen to look at areas such as mental health, gambling and racism.
During research ahead of unveiling their initial plans the group met with leading experts in the area of homelessness. The ISPCC reports that Ireland now has the highest child homelessness rate in Europe and that, according to Focus Ireland, there has been a 24% increase in homelessness in the past year.
These are shocking numbers and if sporting stars can use their own popularity and respect to open one more pair of eyes to what needs to be done then it will have been worthwhile.
The group will undertake an all-Ireland solidarity sleep-out from 6 pm to 6 am on Saturday, December 16th that is designed to draw attention to the homelessness crisis, raise funds, and call for action.
Sleep-outs will take place in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, Portlaoise, Waterford, Wexford and Carlow.
New Dublin hurling manager Pat Gilroy will also join his squad for the sleep-out.
“We engage most effectively through community,” said Diarmuid Lyng.
“Not just a geographical community but by anything that brings people together. Hurling, football and camogie bring us together. If we can do our small bit and engage as many of those people as possible, we are contributing to a fairer and a more compassionate society.”
“This isn’t just the role of Gaelic Voices For Change, this is a role we all share.”
“I am involved because I can be. I have benefited from my education, from travel, from sport, from spirituality. I have the opportunity to use those privileges to help others.”
“Homelessness is an issue because there are people dying on the street sleeping when there are the means, but not the desire, to house them. Not having a desire to house them is a reflection on all of us, not just our politicians.”
“This is being branded and rebranded as acceptable and even normal by those in charge. We no longer can accept this level of inequality and injustice. I am proud that other GAA players are standing up too. We need support. And it is coming.”
The group are also appealing for help with tea and coffee, food, sleeping bags, music and entertainment, and fundraising in each of the sleep-out locations. People can also support by donating online at www.gaelicvoicesforchange.com using a fundraising platform operated by Sport for Business member EverydayHero.com
All funds raised will go to homeless charities including the Peter McVerry Trust, the Simon Communities, Focus Ireland and the Capuchin Day Centre.
The group are on Twitter and Instagram @GaelicVoices4Ch and on Facebook at ‘Gaelic Voices For Change’.
You can donate to Dublin All Ireland Winner Sinead Finnegan’s individual fundraising page here.