>A Preventable Death; An Absurdity

by Brendan Strong

>Reading this (TheJournal.ie), this (IrishExaminer Online) and this (Antiroom.com), but not any (RTE) of (Indo) these (Times); I am moved to write something about Rachel Peavoy, the 30 year old mother of 2, who died cold and alone in her flat. EDIT: You should also read this account (Political World Blog), from someone who lives in the area.
In the tradition of Irish misery, she died of the cold.  No other systemic issues were found by the coroner. She died of hypothermia in her apartment; neither the council nor her TD, who had been contacted, helped her. I don’t know what had to be done to fix her heating, but anyone who can recall as far back as January will recall it to have been bitterly cold. What cost-benefit-analysis methodology decided that it was not worth their while fixing it, because some other apartments nearby were having some building work done?
 Perhaps it is because I am a father of 2 girls; perhaps because it has thrown into sharp relief my own problems (and cast them as comic asides in a veil of tears); perhaps it’s because she was 30 years old. It would be sad, should she have been 70, but at 30, the story stops me dead in my tracks. Perhaps it is because I’ve had enough; and this is my yawp, my scream out the window: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not taking this anymore!”
I am angry for several reasons, but I’ll stick to these: 1 – the lack of reportage, 2 – the political/social situation in which something like this can happen, 3 – despite, or because, of points 1 and 2, Rachel Peavoy and what happened to her will be forgotten (or overlooked) by all but her immediate family and friends.
So, why would one be angry at the lack of reportage? Having had to hide from the news during the weeks after Michaela McAreavey’s death; from the bizarre voyeurism, which included ‘live coverage’ of her funeral; I am astounded to find there is no coverage of the Peavoy case. Granted, Michaela McAreavey was the daughter of a well known GAA manager. Also, she died abroad, on her honeymoon; which is all the more tragic. But that is the extent to which it is of public interest.
Isn’t it in the public interest, that in 2011, someone could actually die of hypothermia in an apartment? That the reason why this happened was because the person’s heating wouldn’t be fixed?  She seems pretty enough to be splashed on the papers every day for a week. Why isn’t she? Is it because she appears to have been living in a council-owned apartment? Perhaps that’s a bad dollar.

Jimmy! Get in here!

What is it chief? Is it the story?

Yes, it’s the damn story! What am I supposed to do with the panel opposite?

What?

The panel opposite! What are we going to sell there? Nothing! Get me a murder, something that could sell shampoo or diet pills. Or a weekend getaway.

We don’t have any more murders, chief…

No more murders? Well, get something from one of the political parties. Perhaps we can sell some insurance or a loan or something….

There is something very sinister about the lack of reporting into Rachel Peavoy’s death. Not only in the case of newspapers, but also on TV and radio. I must have read the story at about 9am on Sunday morning and heard at least 3 full radio news bulletins during the day; and I heard nothing about Rachel Peavoy. I actually started to believe I had imagined it. But on Twitter, a number of other people mentioned it. 30 years old (this is younger than I). A mother of 2 (I also have 2 children). Dead. From the cold. After years of economic development. After all this talk of closing the poverty gap. After all the money spent on who-knows-what-services. How, in 21st Century Ireland, could a woman have her heating break down and nobody fix it? In the middle of the coldest winter we’ve had in years.
What political/social situation allowed this to happen? Everybody has it tough right now with the economy. People are cutting their own spending; the government will have to claw back more of what they spend and cut down on some of their projects and plans. One politician’s greatest regret is that he didn’t get his sports stadium built. Yet a 30 year old woman called Rachel Peavoy dies of hypothermia in an apartment.
Someone quite rightly pointed out that the problem is not just that Rachel Peavoy had even contacted her  TD (Noel Ahearn, one time housing minister) about getting her heating fixed – it was that the system is such that this was the only conceivable way of getting the heating fixed, after the council refused to do anything because there was building work going on in adjacent flats. This is absurd. It’s beyond a tragedy, because there should have been no helplessness in the face of fate here. I’m sure the council are well able to fix a heating system. We claim, as a country, and a society, to care for the most vulnerable in society.  Wherever Rachel Peavoy might have been positioned on a scale of vulnerability doesn’t really matter. If we claim to care for the most vulnerable, then we must care for those from that point on the scale to the other point on the scale. The least vulnerable, for example, who can claim €17,000 because they have a lack of ethical responsibility, but a keen sense of legal entitlement. All the while, at the time, we were bound up in Michaela McAreavey and whether Cowen would jump or be pushed.
I credit most of the people I know with caring more than this. However, I also think it’s time that we had a better feedback route to the media. The Internet and social media platforms were allegedly going to do this for us; but evidently they didn’t. We binge on news now. Rather than reading broadly and becoming well informed, we read deeply into stories that disappear in days or weeks. It is a single minded, over-wrought form of (to borrow a term from Julian Gough in Prospect) “wangst”. This is the fault both of the reader and the media outlets. It’s a vicious circle, the kind of which we see in local pubs across the country. Customers want a beer. Publicans want to sell beer. Everyone is quite happy with this arrangement. Problems arise where more beer is wanted than the publican feels it is safe to give (he is ‘nannying’), or if the publican refuses to sell anything but beer (when a customer wants a whiskey or a wine). Or, as is often the case in this green land, both publican and customer keep at the beer until one has fallen off his chair and the other is mopping up the eructations of over consumption. It is a strange form of willed ignorance; a blinkering that allows us all to become economic dilettantes, but to know nothing of Rachel Peavoy, who at the age of 30, having had 2 children, dies of hypothermia in her flat because neither the council, nor her local TD would intervene to fix her heating.
I recall an interview with Tom Waits on the launch of his album Mule Variations (I cannot find this interview right now, but will add link when I do). He was talking about the song Georgia Lee; about how he came to write it. He had heard of a girl that had been found in a bush on the side of the road, dead.  There was little about it for a range of reasons – where were her neighbours, her preacher, her community etc. Indeed, the chorus has the stark lines “Why wasn’t God watching, Why wasn’t God there? Why wasn’t God watching, For poor Georgia Lee). When they came to line up songs for the album, they had way too many.  They had to decide what to cut, and Georgia Lee was on the block. Except one of his children thought it was awful; that no one would remember this girl, she would forgotten completely. I remember vividly Waits’ summation, saying he wouldn’t want to be a part of that.

Indeed, neither do I with respect to 30 year old Rachel Peavoy, mother of 2, who died of hypothermia in a country that a few years ago was considered one of the richest and to have one of the best standards of living in the world.

(Georgia Lee, by Tom Waits.
Video by TraeCH on YouTube)
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