Part 1: Father Brian D’Arcy on why we must speak up

“If we allow ourselves to be ignored, we will be,” warns Father Brian D’Arcy who fears Fermanagh is “being forgotten” when it comes to infrastructure, poverty and health.

“People in Fermanagh are great people, they are kind people, but they do themselves no favours because they are easy to ignore,” he said.

In an interview lasting almost two hours, Fr. Brian discussed a wide-range of social issues affecting this area, including the lack of investment in the county, the despair he witnesses and how life has changed utterly since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 78-year-old priest is more than aware of the issues faced by people. He sees it every day.

“We are at a stage where we need to speak up for ourselves, the perfect example was the papers had a plan what was called a All-Ireland railway system, it applied to 31 counties, Fermanagh was the only county in the 32 where there was no railway and that there plan for us and what does that say about us.

“The road stops at Ballygawley and look at the fight we had to get it to Ballygawley and anyone with a bit of sense would build the road to here and bypass Enniskillen and make Enniskillen the stop on the way to the West.”

He admitted to being concerned about the scale and impact of poverty in Fermanagh.

“It’s a quiet issue in Fermanagh and it's not just with the obvious poor to put it that way, you know, it's people struggling with mortgages, struggling with back to school [preparations], struggling with the standard of living they are used to and two wages are not enough. That's a big struggle for people.

Looking at some of the wider health issues faced by people, Fr. Brian said: “There are people that are suffering from the loneliness or depression of mental illness. Which is prominent here. People would come in here for talks and blessings, and so forth, but you're only listen to the ten minutes, you realise that there's a mental health thing here that I can’t work on.”

Referencing the ongoing issues at South West Acute Hospital, Fr Brian said: “We have the best hospital in the country, and I’m in most hospitals. Fermanagh people shouted loud enough, and we are quietly being left in a precarious situation. The logic is if you haven’t emergency surgery there, if you haven’t general surgery there, everything else disappears.”

He also spoke about the ongoing ‘brain drain’ present in the county and throughout the island of Ireland, “My biggest thing is that young doctors are not coming back here. Young educated people are heading elsewhere. They're settling in Belfast rather than a here, because there's no future here that they can see.

“Both the nationalist and Unionist communities, the younger people, too many of them are going to universities and other cities in Britain but how many are coming back to settle here. I mean, if our if our people can’t settle here, how can we ask anybody else to settle here?”

When asked if these social issues concern him, Fr. Brian spoke about the culture of silence and how a culture of silence can demean people he said: “Don’t forget, not just talking about my own church, it happened to every institution, all the churches, BBC, sports everywhere else, the Scouts, everyone kept quiet about sexual abuse, and I was shouting here 30 years ago about abuse.

“Problems that demean people, like poverty or sexual abuse or lack of education or lack of opportunity, they demean the ability of people.”

VJ: Can I ask you about the clear despair that many people are facing in Fermanagh?

BD: “This isn't clear despair; this is silent despair. That needs to be looked at. There's very happy times and I'm not saying everybody's like that. But there is an undercurrent, that's really what I want to say of people who can't see where the future is going to lie and can't see that they have a voice to make that heard, that what I’m afraid of.

VJ: What can society do to help those people?

BJ: “We have to be honest about things in a way to change and make it easier for people. And I suspect that’s what papers should be doing and certainly what politics should be doing, and it should be what churches are doing but we're not doing that in the way we should.”

Part 2 next week

Father Brian D’Arcy joins The Impartial Reporter

Father Brian D’Arcy is joining The Impartial Reporter as one of our new columnists.

The respected priest, broadcaster and journalist will write occasionally for this newspaper on topics that are important to him, including social issues, faith and football.

Editor of The Impartial Reporter Rodney Edwards said: “I am thrilled Father Brian has agreed to join us as a regular contributor. Brian is empathetic and thoughtful. He cares about this place and the people in it. I can’t wait for him to get started from next month.

Father Brian will feature alongside Denzil McDaniel in our new-look Opinion section and more new columnists will be announced in the coming weeks.