Is it a strange funeral story? Is it amusing? Or it is
unpleasant? You decide. In Ireland, two brothers have been criticized for
attending the funerals of people they don’t know. They’re politicians called
Danny and Michael Healy-Rae, who sit in the Irish parliament as Independent TDs
for the county of Kerry (a TD, or Teachta Dála, is the Irish equivalent of an MP).
Sometimes their nephew Johnny goes to the funerals with them. He’s a local
councillor in Kerry, where all this funeral attendance is going on.
And there’s more: the Healy-Rae brothers have also been
sending out “bereavement packs” to people they don’t know. Apparently they
watch the news and when they see that someone has died, they send a pack to the
partner of the deceased. It contains a poem, a Mass card (a card saying that
prayers will be said for the deceased at mass) and details of how to apply for
funeral grants and make other financial arrangements after someone passes away.
Some people have reacted badly to this behaviour. They don’t
think it’s right for politicians to turn up to a stranger’s funeral or send
poems to the bereaved relatives. And sometimes the Healy-Raes – Danny, Michael
and Johnny – have attended several funerals in a single day. They apparently split
up to cover more ground, but it’s not unknown for all three of them to appear
at the same funeral. That must be interesting for the mourners.
This story might sound like something out of the comedy Father
Ted and in fact the Irish media might expect their audience to think of it
as amusing. Kerry is sometimes seen in the rest of Ireland as a rural and
old-fashioned place. But it’s easy to understand why people are upset. They
think that the Healy-Raes are trying to gain political advantage by exploiting private
bereavement and grief.
The Healy-Raes are trying to show that they care about the
people they represent. But they’re going too far. A funeral is a private event
and if you have no connection with the deceased person, there’s no good reason
for you to be there. Of course, we should show respect for bereavement, but
unless the deceased person is famous, strangers don’t usually appear at the
funeral. What the Healy-Raes have been doing is rather like a funeral business
trying to publicize itself by intruding on a funeral overseen by another
Of course, the Healy-Raes would point out that they aren’t
trying to make money by what they are doing. When they send out “bereavement
packs”, they aren’t selling a product or plugging a funeral directorship. They
would say that they are simply trying to help people. But they’re doing this in
an intrusive and insensitive way. They’re trying to make themselves popular and
talked about, because they want votes at the next election.
It’s natural enough for politicians to do this, but many
people in Kerry think the Healy-Raes have gone too far. When politicians turns
up at a music festival or cattle show in their constituency, that’s acceptable
and even expected. Politicians need publicity and many of them enjoy being in
the limelight. But turning up at funerals is taking the hunt for popularity and
publicity to an extreme.