As for many others, news of Fergus’s death brought to mind his groundbreaking
work and its ongoing implications for the people of the North Inner City of Dublin
and far beyond, as well as his national contributions and solidarity with other
Fergus was on e of the group which came together in the early
1980s to found what became the Community Workers Cooperative, now Community
Work Ireland. They established firmly
the commitment to change to achieve social justice and an end to poverty as an
essential starting point for all undertaking community work, a commitment which
continues to serve well in these challenging and changing times.
My own commitment around that time, to coming home from London to
work in Ireland, was reinforced by reports of the work of Fergus and
friends. The connections they made between
local poverty and intergenerational unemployment and exclusion, the responsibility
of the state and local authority to address these inequalities, and their own
responsibility to organise with people and campaign for change – were inspiring.
They pointed then to community work which needed to go well beyond
contained and controlled self-help which inferred that the problem and all
answers to it lay with the people experiencing it, to a practice with a real
potential for change. Although perhaps
remembered most for the Gregory Deal, the principles established in effect of
community rights, have informed many struggles since.
Fergus was generous in his support of Pavee Point and of the
rights of Travellers from the early days, and its partnership with the groups
he was part of, continues today. These
are particularly valued for ongoing work and collaboration on drugs
issues. Earlier when Pavee Point was yet
again without a home, Fergus and NCCCAP friends offered a floor of the building
they were renting in Beresford Place.
Later on, the same friends and organisations generously supported the
move to the current ‘Free Church’ building, giving clear and ongoing community support
to an initiative in a marginalised area, for another marginalised community.
Fergus gave generously of his time to the students from the
Community and Youth Work Programmes at the Department of Applied Social
Studies, Maynooth University, who were sent on placement to him at the
Neighbourhood Youth Project in Summerhill.
This nationally innovative project, which focused on restoration and
rights for marginalised young people, blazed a trail that was continued and
reinforced for communities also by the Inner City Organisations Network,
Citywide and other drugs initiatives in which Fergus played instrumental roles.
His work locally and nationally was as principled as it was groundbreaking. Having been part of the setting up of the
National Drugs Task Force and their local partnership counterparts, he resigned
from the National Drugs Strategy team in 2009 because of his concerns with
bureaucracy, lack of sufficient unfettered state support and of real
partnership with community groups. He
continued his work on the drugs crisis in other ways.
Our sympathies today are first and foremost with Helen and Fergus
family, Ella, Kathy and Eoin, who bear the biggest burden of loss at a time when
the farewell they might have wished for is not possible. May they be supported in their loss by the
knowledge that his life and traversing of the ‘road less travelled’ made a
difference not fully known.