Michael O'Doherty: President's catering budget for a week would give homeless artist Kevin Sharkey a home for a year
Published 11/07/2016 | 09:10
It costs the taxpayer over €16,500 to feed President Michael D Higgins, his wife, and the guests that he welcomes to his Phoenix Park Residence, Aras an Uachtarain.
On top of his salary, and the cost of his various travel and security requirements, which cost millions every year, you may think this isn't a big deal. Until you realise that this is not the yearly figure - it's €16,500-a-week.
Such obscene extravagance is surely a source of disquiet to most reasonable people, but especially so to Ireland's growing homeless population, to which this week we have added one, rather notable figure. Because according to yesterday's newspapers, artist Kevin Sharkey is of no fixed address, living in sheltered accommodation, as he awaits a house from Dublin City Council.
Back in 2003, Kevin featured in VIP, with his then partner Ade, as part of the first openly gay couple to ever appear in an Irish magazine photoshoot. At the time, he was living in an apartment in Port Na Blath, on the north coast of Donegal, to where he have moved after 18 years in the UK.
Born in Ireland, Kevin was adopted by a family from Killybegs in the 1960s, and went on to become the first ever black presenter on RTE, fronting Megamix in the 1980s.
At the time VIP met him, he seemed to have a bright future ahead.
Joking about how he would like to be remembered, Kevin answered: "Talented, spirited, handsome and slim! But I will probably be remembered as that angry, stocky little black man who lived in the hills of Donegal, and changed the face of Irish art forever!"
Sadly, that is probably not going to be Kevin's legacy, as he now stands as the most high-profile Irish man to have found himself homeless.
A victim of the economic collapse, Kevin's livelihood from selling his art almost disappeared overnight.
"People just stopped buying paintings, businesses couldn't be seen to be buying them. Everything froze," he said.
Having failed to invest in a permanent home during the good times, Sharkey found himself unable to afford rent, and went to live with relatives, and in a caravan park, before ultimately putting himself in the hands of Crosscare, an agency that helps the homeless. Luxury these days, admits Kevin, is "a bed with clean sheets and towels, and somewhere I can make a cup of tea".
It is impossible not to feel sympathy for the plight that Kevin finds himself in, or his brutal honesty in the way he has confronted his problems.
"It took me a long time to actually seek help," he admitted. "For a man, it is seen as a failure. It is the hardest thing in the world to ask for help, it takes balls."
Kevin is currently displaying his art on Merrion Square each Sunday, and is holding an exhibition on Lombard Street in September.
If Michael D Higgins was so disposed, he might send one of his minions down to purchase a painting off Kevin, and hang it in one of the dozens of rooms in his Phoenix Park mansion.
Just to put it into perspective, the President's catering budget for a week would give Kevin a roof over his head for a year.