Irish President Michael D Higgins supports our Listener Scheme

President Higgins at Cloverhill Prison, DublinThe President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, attended an event in Cloverhill Prison last Friday, 14 December, to join the Irish region in marking 10 years since the introduction of the Listener Scheme there.  The President met with Listeners from all of the Irish prisons, and volunteers from prison-supporting branches throughout the Region, along with members of prison management and staff.

The event was also attended by Stephen Hoddell, Chair of Samaritans, Pio Fenton, Regional Director Ireland, Suzanne Costello, Executive Director Samaritans Ireland, Maria Foster, Prison Support Officer, Samaritans Central Office and Orla McCaffrey, Functional Lead for Prison Support, along with the Director General of the Irish Prison Service, Michael Donnellan, senior IPS staff, and governors and staff from prisons throughout the country.

Pio greeted the President on his arrival, and accompanied him to the reception room (which is usually the prison gym, and which had undergone a remarkable transformation for the day), where he was welcomed by over 100 guests - Listeners, volunteers, prison staff and invited guests. Governor Ronan Maher spoke on behalf of the Irish Prison Service, and two of the Cloverhill Listeners - Michael and Jason, spoke on behalf of Listeners & Samaritans, with Jason reading a poem he had written for the occasion.  A presentation of a specially commissioned bog oak sculpture was made to President Higgins by Orla, on behalf of Samaritans and the IPS.  

The management and staff of Cloverhill, the Irish Regional Office and the Dublin prison support team, organised a very special event, demonstrating the excellent working relationships that branches have developed with the prisons they support. The impact of the event was strengthen by the attendance of the head of state, and as Pio said on the day “I am delighted that President Michael D Higgins has responded to our invitation to mark ten years of our Listener Scheme; in doing so, he is recognising the important work which our Listeners do.”

The Director General of the IPS, Michael Donnellan, added:  “The Listener Scheme has proven itself to be an effective and necessary infrastructure in a prison setting.  It is an example of prisoners taking responsibility for their own healthcare and the needs of those who may be vulnerable in their community. Prison Governors have observed the positive impact which it has on both the prisoner in emotional distress and the Listener and I would like to see a listener programme running in all prisons.”

The Listeners, the guests of honour on the day, all really enjoyed the afternoon, having the opportunity to meet not just the President, but volunteers from around the Region, as well as fellow Listeners from other schemes. Lots of effort and planning went in to the day, which was a great success.