Past year has given us cause to thank many for their efforts -- and volunteers deserve it most

John Shirley

This is the season of goodwill to all humankind. Christmas is a time when we should suppress our prejudices, bury old bitterness and grudges and move on.

Yet when I look back at the past year and forward to 2012, I find that my seasonal goodwill flows easier to some more than to others. This is more so at national level rather than locally. Domestic goodwill and harmony is a given, thankfully.

As ever, sport provided a lot of this year's highs which will live on in the memory. Stephen Cluxton's stoppage time winning point in the All-Ireland Football final drew the admiration of the neutrals and ecstasy from the Dubs. Even Kerry supporters would acknowledge Cluxton's merit.

This man could have earned millions as a soccer goalkeeper in the English Premier League. But he chose to dedicate his skills to the GAA family for free, bringing enormous pleasure to his own community.

Munster's Ronan O'Gara is a professional sportsman but when he lined up to take those drop goals against Northampton and Castres, he wasn't thinking of money. Rather, he was driven by the passions of those fantastic Munster supporters and their need for Heineken Cup success. When the US Seals were trying to catch Osama Bin Laden, and life or death depended on getting one split-second accurate shot at the terrorist, they could have done worse than bringing ROG along!

Poverty and homelessness is especially horrific at Christmas time but it is some consolation to consider the work in this area of two wonderful Irish people, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, who started Focus Ireland, and Fr Peter McVerry, who set up the Peter McVerry Trust.

Both of these organisations have a hands-on approach to homelessness and are also addressing the causes of this affliction. If you have any few euros to spare, both Sr Kennedy and Fr McVerry will use it efficiently. They are worthy of financial support as well as our goodwill.

A lady who generated much goodwill in Ireland was Queen Elizabeth. While she has not got the touchy-feelyness of our former president, Mary McAleese (another good lady, albeit overpaid in the Irish circumstances), Queen Elizabeth did not make a wrong move during her Irish visit last May. She stands for traditional virtues and has done her bit for Irish tourism and Irish horse racing.

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Another lady who has always won the goodwill of Irish farmers and the public alike is Anna May McHugh, the CEO of the National Ploughing Association. This year saw the 80th anniversary of the National Ploughing Championships. The event attracted a record 180,000 visitors. Anna May picked up another national award, this time from Ernst and Young. Latest accounts show the Ploughing Association is resisting the recession as it made a €1m profit. For her endeavours, Anna May's income was €126,000.

Not a cent of Anna May's salary came from the public purse. So good for her, and goodwill towards her continues undiminished.

Others in the agri sector deserving of goodwill and success include Mike Magan and his team in Animal Health Ireland, which strives to rid the country of the BVD virus. Fair dues also go to Connacht Gold's CEO Aaron Forde and chairman Padraig Gibbons for acquiring the milk and store business from Donegal Creameries. Though working on thin margins, Connacht Gold is delivering on its co-op ideals for the community in the west.

There is a real challenge, though, in generating even seasonal goodwill for a lot of the people who made headlines for the wrong reason in recent times. After the collapse of the Irish economy, I will not be sending Christmas cards to former Anglo Irish bosses Sean Fitzpatrick and David Drumm. Former financial regulator Patrick Neary and Central Bank governor John Hurley are also off the list for now.

In contrast, there is still much goodwill towards Sean Quinn by people who take a longer view of his career and who have seen how he transformed west Cavan/south Fermanagh.

A government which started this year with a lot of goodwill is now coming under attack from many sides. More and more, they are a mirror image of the crowd who were booted out. In Europe, the Irish Government has lost goodwill by pushing the controversial Kevin Cardiff for the Court of Auditors. At home, we have had the issue of the ministerial special advisers breaking the pay guidelines. This was on the basis of having to attract them from the private sector, whereas in reality they came from the political parties. Why do ministers need to hire these costly advisers? What are the highly paid civil servants doing, if not advising the ministers? I see the special advisers as spin merchants for their political masters.

But enough of this negativity. This is Christmas time. Let's dwell on the positives in our society. Think of the wonderful volunteers in our sports clubs, our schools, our parishes and, above all, in the charity fundraisers. At meetings, I note that there are some people who talk a lot, mean well, but can be short on action. Then there are the quiet ones who say little but observe everything, identify the area of greatest need and deliver. Our society would not function with the efforts of these good people who are the most deserving of our goodwill.

I wish you a good and safe Christmas.

Indo Farming

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