Anyone interested in any form of humanitarian issues – whether it’s looking after an older relative, working in a caring profession or campaigning for human rights – John Lonergan, a man who understand the values of a hug, a kindly word, and respect towards fellow man, is certainly worth looking up.
Rather than sitting back on his laurels, this is a man who has demonstrated the power of his human-centric philosophy through his career at Mountjoy. This isn’t glorified public speaking; John is interested in action and going against the norm, avoiding grand gestures and taking things to a smaller, everyday level, where we can all make a difference and a connection through basic human kindness.
Starting with the Celtic Tiger, John explained that he was never a fan of those times.
“Someone said Ireland during the Celtic Tiger is the envy of Europe and I said god help Europe – we got our priorities all wrong and we might have been the envy when it came to materialism but we’d forgotten the basics.”
Part of his approach included a strong belief in the power of the written word and arts.
“We produced several plays in Mountjoy and we played at least five of John B’s plays; they had a message and was all had a message. They were about people and culture and all the things we go through. We often forget how significant culture is; we ignore it and become unconscious of it’s significance, but it’s amazing; the power of culture.”
John spoke of the difference between his visits to schools in lower class and impoverished areas. When visiting a middle class area, any child with a parent in prison would be discussed delicately before John’s talk and he would come away oblivious of which child was highlighted; the child would simply blend and not bring the matter to attention.
In contrast, when visiting impoverished areas – such as one of the six tiny areas in Dublin which represent where 75% of the prisoners who got to Mountjoy were born – the children approach John and ask “Do you know me da?”, oblivious to any concept that this would be viewed by society in general as something to be ashamed of.
Also covering the topic of security and how it is severely mishandled, John stated;
“Security justifies everything in the world – it even prevents dads from holding their babies during prison visits.”
From the treatment of Saddam Hussein to the Queen’s visit to the parental instructions to teenagers – John has an amazing outlook towards being a role model and approaching positions of power which we should all certainly consider:
“It’s far more important to be merciful than be right…I’ve always tried to maintain a balance between security and humanity. And whenever there’s a conflict I would always side with humanity; because if you forget how to treat fellow man then you’re lost… Never humiliate another human being, in any situation whatsoever. That’s not strength, that’s abuse. ”
John also addressed the issues of homelessness, good customer service, misconception, perception, through an array of witty personal anecdotes, quotes and accounts of events encountered during his career. He also asked the audience to look at their own situation.
“There isn’t one person in this room who made it on their own; and if you did, stand up, let’s have a look at you. Imagine the term ‘self made man/woman’. If you have all the talent in the world – it’s pointless if you don’t get the opportunity to be recognised and grow. And you need to recognise and foster that talent in others.”
Despite the important and serious undertones, John’s talk was full of humour and insight. If you’re at all interested in humanitarian issues on any level, I’d certainly recommend you familiarise yourself with this man.