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The Funeral Brothers

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 business.

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.