Monday 20 November 2017

'I'm going to be a minister so people should know the full story of my suicide attempt and battle to read'

'Boxer' Moran reveals suicide attempt and battle to read

Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran at Coosan Point in Athlone. Photo: Tony Gavin
Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran at Coosan Point in Athlone. Photo: Tony Gavin
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Kevin 'Boxer' Moran was driving back to Athlone after a day's work in Leinster House recently when he heard something on the radio that made his blood boil.

There was a discussion about how the minority Government wasn't working, which is standard fare, but then one of the contributors sniped that things have gotten so bad the country has an incoming minister that hasn't even got a Junior Cert.

The first-time TD is widely recognised around Leinster House as a politician who's never in a bad mood, yet that one barb hit him hard.

Next Friday, as part of a deal between Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance, he will take over from Seán Canney as the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief Minister.

And before he does, he has decided it's time to "let the public have a real image of what 'Boxer' Moran is like".

"There's no point in me telling half the story. I know there are plenty of people that are going to criticise me for what I'm going to say to you. I'll take that criticism.

"But I would say nobody is perfect in Dáil Éireann," he told the Irish Independent.

'Boxer' (54), as he likes to be called, has two secrets that have weighed heavy on him for decades.

The first is the battle with dyslexia that saw him quit school at 12. The second is how close he came to killing himself in his early 20s.

"It's something that I never spoke about or told anybody about. I kept it inside of me. I'm not proud of it," he said of the latter.

Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran works a pump during the flooding at The Strand in Athlone in December 2015. Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran works a pump during the flooding at The Strand in Athlone in December 2015. Photo: Frank McGrath

Financial problems in his taxi firm had stacked up on top of what he now believes was depression. He suffered panic attacks and didn't know where to turn for help.

"This particular Sunday, I was out with the lads at a clay pigeon shoot. Normally I'd drop the lads at the pub and I'd go home. But this day I didn't go home. I went up a back road," he said.

In an almost confessional tone, he bluntly stated: "What came over me that day for six or seven minutes, I don't know. It was a complete blackout. I did have a bad time in my life. I did load a gun and I did pull the trigger… But I pulled away the gun at the last second. What made me do that, I can't tell you."

The Longford/Westmeath TD went through several "horrible" months trying to recover from the shock and getting to grips with his mental health problems.

Luckily, he had a small network of friends that he opened up to, including his wife Michelle.

"What I experienced that day is within me still and I carry it. What I have done is used it to help others," he said, adding on several occasions that he isn't looking for sympathy.

By the time Fianna Fáil councillor Cieran Temple knocked on his door in the mid-1990s, 'Boxer' was back on form. Mr Temple wanted 'Boxer' to run for his seat on Westmeath County Council and Athlone Town Council. It was a welcome approach but it brought his other secret back to the surface.

"I hadn't the courage to tell Cieran that I couldn't read or write. I kept putting him off. The third time he called, my wife was there and Michelle said 'if you want to run, I'll help you'," he said.

At the selection convention he was handed a piece of paper with a list of people to thank for helping get his name on the ticket.

"I was absolutely mortified that I was expected to get up and read this thing out. I took the mic and said 'thanks very much to ye all for voting for me and I hope to see ye back here when I'm elected' and I sat down," he recalled.

Staff in the council quickly spotted there was an issue and the town clerk made staff available to help. They worded his motions and assisted in breaking down the paperwork.

"I became Mayor of Athlone and that created another problem. Everybody knows the mayor has to speak at a lot of functions. I had no problem speaking off the cuff but I couldn't do a script," he said.

Prior to events, he used to hold secret meetings with a fellow councillor in the basement of Athlone Castle where he could practise his speeches.

He contested Fianna Fáil's nomination to stand at the 2007 General Election but was narrowly defeated at convention by Mary O'Rourke.

After splitting from Fianna Fáil, he ran in the 2011 election and the 2014 by-election.

"I still never told anybody my story. Four years ago, my wife and I sat down. I failed in two attempts to get elected to the Dáil and we knew we had to do something about my education. We started doing scripts at home," he explained.

Then TDs Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice came calling in the hope 'Boxer' would join the Independent Alliance.

"I had to explain to the lads the problems that I had. Shane said 'don't worry, we'll help you all the way'," he said.

It was a big step towards finally dealing with something that he had hidden since he was a child.

"In school, I knew there was a problem and I could avoid it by creating a problem in class. I spent more time in the principal's office than I did in the classroom because I had to hide from the difficulties that I had."

He lasted only a couple of weeks in Athlone's Marist College before taking a job on a building site. It wasn't until he was 16 or 17 that he was diagnosed with dyslexia.

Now on the verge of holding national office, he has told colleagues like Denis Naughten and Katherine Zappone about his struggles with literacy.

"For me now going in as minister would I write an essay, no I wouldn't. Can I read? Yes I can," he said.

"I'm not telling this story for somebody to take pity on me. I'm telling it for people like me so that they don't hold the problem within themselves.

"I believe that within myself I'm still not the polished article but I am working very hard to make that happen. I got where I am today through myself and the help of my wife and other people and I'll continue that road."

Put to him that once he told his story there was no going back, he replied that there were thousands like him who struggled with mental health and dyslexia.

"I want those people to be inspired by me coming out. I don't want them to go down the road that I did for years, holding myself back, afraid to say exactly where the problem was," he said.

Boxer knows he will be "hounded" in the Dáil chamber but intends to spend "longer hours" preparing for his contributions than other ministers.

"I'll give it my best shot. As long as I don't make a mistake that might hurt the country, I don't mind. If I make a mistake reading the script so be it," he said.

If you have been affected by issues raised in this article please contact the Samaritans in confidence on 116 123 or Pieta House on 1800 247 247 - or text HELP to 51444.

Irish Independent

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