Newry priest honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award

June 10, 2014

By Christine Keighery

Newry-born priest Fr Peter McVerry has received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Pride of Ireland Awards in recognition of his tireless work with the homeless in Dublin. Taioseach Enda Kenny gave the final award of the night to the champion of the homeless at a glittering awards ceremony last Tuesday night to celebrate Ireland’s everyday heroes.

Fr McVerry has become the voice of society’s weakest, poor and hopeless after devoting his life to working with vulnerable young people in Dublin for the last 40 years, helping to establish 12 hostels and 4 drug treatment centres in the Irish capital during that time.

The Jesuit priest grew up in Newry and was educated at the Abbey Christian Brothers’ Grammar School in Newry and at the Jesuit school at Clongowes Wood College in Co. Kildare.

Ordained in the Jesuit order in 1975, Peter spent the following years striving to improve the lives of young homeless people sleeping on the streets, opening a hostel for homeless boys in 1979 and subsequently making the plight of the homeless his life’s work.  The tireless campaigner for the rights of the homeless then set about providing services and accommodation for older youths and in 1983 he founded the Peter McVerry Trust, a charity to tackle homelessness.  The Trust is today responsible for 11 homeless hostels, over 100 apartments, a residential drug detox centre and two drug stabilisation services.  In 2013 the charity worked with almost 3,600 vulnerable youths.

Amid the glamorous surroundings of the beautiful Round Room at the Mansion House in Dublin, the 70 year old humbly accepted his award, dedicating it to “all the people who help me help others, the people who work tirelessly and without glory or thanks, without awards or ceremonies.”

“I also accept the award for all those people we help, the people the Government have not helped and refuse so often to see,” he said,

“The homeless in Ireland are not a problem, they are simply people who have come upon difficult times and circumstances.

“But homelessness in Ireland is a problem and it’s a political problem that can be sorted if the will is there.

“While we have homelessness in Ireland the political will is not there to solve the problem and we must keep pushing forward until we are heard by those who can make the right decisions to help.

“This Pride of Ireland Award means I can speak again about the plight of our most vulnerable, people who deserve better chances and opportunities than they have right now.

“And I will keep talking and keep rubbing people up the wrong way until they do something about it. I don’t mind being an inconvenience.

“So I am deeply indebted to the judges who saw fit to give me this award and I accept it on behalf of everyone who needs it.”

The passionate campaigner said he hoped politicians would “open their eyes” to the problems of the homeless and pledged never to give up the fight to improve the lives of society’s most vulnerable “while I have breath in my body.”

He said: “Homelessness is a political problem this country has the ability to bring to an end, and until that happens, I’ll do all I can.”