We all have a right to feel safe and happy at work

According to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’.

Put simply, this means we all have a right to feel safe and valued in society. However, given the contents of a reader’s heartbreaking letter urging me to ‘consider writing about bullying in the workplace’, and the results of NUI Galway’s study which shows workplace bullying is costing the economy ‘€239 million per year’ it’s clear there’s a culture of intimidating behaviours occurring across all sectors of our society.

As someone who has dealt with a bully (not mine – someone I love was being bullied), I can tell you there’s nothing quite like that soul-destroying, gut-wrenching feeling of fear and foreboding that creeps in every Sunday night in direct response to returning to a toxic workplace environment the following morning.

Therefore, on foot of this reader’s request, and as we all readapt and realign ourselves back into our workplace situations following the pandemic, I hope you’ll indulge me while I address what I believe to be the profound psychological torture visited upon those facing a tormentor every single day.

Before I go on, let me stress that objective commentary and evaluation or monitoring an employee’s/colleague’s performance in a polite, respectful and helpful manner shouldn’t be considered bullying behaviour. However, if there’s a pattern of subtly distributed, slow, insidious, health-harming mistreatment being delivered by one or more colleagues/bosses, whether it’s verbal or non-verbal (for example sabotaging another’s work), which prevents those on the receiving end from doing their job, then that’s bullying.

I’m no behavioural expert, but it’s my belief that bullies possess not just a controlling nature, they also possess what I call people-reading skills, which they use to gain and maintain power and control over their victim, often tormenting them for years via a series of psychological and physical behaviours. A bully possesses no empathy, none; they’re narcissists who fail to consider the pain they’re inflicting upon the sensitive, caring, highly confused and stressed-out soul on the receiving end of their ill-treatment.

In fact, it’s my belief the victim’s confusion becomes so strong (as was typical of the scenario in my loved-one’s situation), it can actually choke the victim’s confidence, preventing them from reporting the abuse, hoping and praying it will somehow magically go away. It won’t… not unless the victim or someone close to them does something about it.

With that in mind, I’d like to implore those of you who are being bullied at work to please find the courage to take action today. This could be talking to a family member or a friend, taking another colleague into your confidence, going to your company’s HR Officer, or, if you’re a member of a union, speaking with your rep.

Remember, employers are required by law to prevent bullying/harassment in the workplace. That means being deliberately intimidated and targeted – whether physically, psychologically or sexually, etc. – by an aggressive individual at work is deemed to be illegal behaviour. Not only that, it is also illegal for the bully to punish you for reporting them… it’s called victimisation, the details of which should be highlighted in your workplace’s employee safety handbook.

To those who witness a colleague being bullied at work, please display some backbone, step up and offer your help. To remain silent and do nothing makes you not just an enabler or accomplice, it also makes you as guilty as the creepy egomaniac perpetrator.

Bullying is so traumatising, it can have serious and lasting negative mental health effects for those on the receiving end. Therefore it is crucial we all have the information and the resources to help those worn down by it.

I sincerely hope my ‘musings’ this week have gone some way towards helping the reader who wrote to me. However, as they wish to remain anonymous (and I fully respect that), it’s difficult to reach out to them further.

If any reader who, upon making a complaint through their employer’s procedural informal or formal practice regarding bullying behaviour, feels their situation remains unresolved, perhaps the time has come to make contact with the Work Relations Commission (WRC) on workplacerelations.ie or 0818 80 80 90. Alternatively, if you believe your safety is under threat, please contact your local garda station.


Free contraception is a basic element in Irish women’s essential healthcare

I’m old enough to remember the highly controversial vote back in February 1985 when our then-government dragged us out of the dark ages by approving the sale of contraceptives.

During that time, as a very young mother of one, I remember how difficult it was for myself and my then husband to employ, er, creative and so-called ‘natural’ methods of birth control in a desperate effort to prevent me from becoming a very young mother of two.

As someone who believes it’s nobody’s business what I do or how I utilise my uterus (before my hysterectomy), I found the power, the oppression and the ‘don’t do the deed ‘till you’re married’ (and when you are, ‘don’t use contraception’) approach of the Catholic Church to be brutal. Therefore, the availability of the contraceptive pill, with restrictions, marked a major turning point in my life.

Indeed, given the fact that this coming August, (a disgraceful thirty-seven years later), free contraception for young women between the ages of 17-25 years will be made available, it’s farcical to remember our leaders once prided themselves on placing severe restrictions on the sexual and reproductive rights of women across this land.

In those dark days, when I insisted on planning my parenthood – as in, I wanted to wait a while before having another baby (I waited eleven years) – a doctor told me I was not being ‘sensible’. Rather, what I was doing was promoting ‘moral decay’.

When I’d stopped falling about his surgery laughing at this misogynistic dinosaur, I hopped into my battered old Renault 4 and drove straight to the Irish Family Planning Centre, located in Dublin’s Cathal Brugha Street.

There I was met by a diverse posse of rosary bead-carrying, prayer book-waving devout Catholics, who threw holy water at me and accused me, and young women like me, of ‘spreading venereal disease’.

That was then, this is now… thankfully. As a mother of two young women and a grandmother of two girls, I believe our government’s decision to make contraception freely available is not just a game-changer – it’s actually a basic element in our essential healthcare. C’mon da sisterhood!

Therefore ladies, come August, regardless of our race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or our  sexual orientation, etc, we and we alone (not me, a hysterectomy and menopause have solved my reproductive issues) will have the power to decide if, when, and under what circumstances we will become parents. It’s about flippin’ time!


Since when are we British, Mr BBC Director-General Tim Davie?

As someone who believes our nation still carries the after-effects of the hangover left by British colonialism, I have to say every time an Irish news programme carried a report relating to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, I flicked channels.

However, two items did manage to catch my attention for the simple reason I found them both to be highly offensive. The first relates to the BBC’s guest commentator, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, describing the Irish Guards as “the Micks”. If that wasn’t inflammatory enough readers, whilst adding further commentary to the pomp and pageantry that is the Trooping of the Colour, this ill-mannered oaf described the performance as “a great Mick cocktail”.

The second erroneous fizz-up (again involving the BBC) occurred when the broadcaster displayed our tricolour – yes, our Republic of Ireland flag – during a ‘proud to be British’ montage! Deliberately provocative or just unintentionally thick? You decide. But for anyone in need of a ceacht staire (that means history lesson, Mr Director General of the BBC Tim Davie), we officially divorced, nay, severed all ties with the Brits in January 1919 when Dáil Éireann declared Ireland independent. The formal creation of the Irish Free State didn’t come until December 1922, and at midnight on Easter Sunday, April 17th 1949, the Republic of Ireland Act ended our status as a British dominion forever and for all eternity. So cease and desist from using our tricolour!

Mind you, bad as those blunders were, they pale in comparison to Boris Johnson allegedly asking why former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ‘isn’t called Murphy like the rest of them’. Hilarious…who knew the profoundly insensitive and boorish prig (don’t panic readers, I said prig) that is the British Prime Minister was such a hoot?