2023: A Light at the end of the Tunnel


December falls like a prodigal returnee in our lives, the calendar’s circle complete; another year limping to its conclusion. Another year donated to history’s haul. More oxygen drained from our mortal tank; with fewer minutes remaining on life’s clock, as the pilgrimage between birth and death shortens, this time of year once again encourages reviews and reflections. By any account, through whatever prism, 2023 has been an annus horribilis.

From Darkness… 

Two cataclysmic wars dominated the headlines in 2023, accompanied by news reports and images of the suffering of the innocents, the deaths and displacements of tens of thousands, towns razed, childhoods ended or maimed, families broken apart…

Climatic catastrophes competed for newspaper print and tv space with many Neros fiddling as the earth burns. COP28 will host the usual flexing of muscles of oil producing states and the responses of climate activists; 

Galloping inflation, with the cost of living in the stratosphere, added further layers to the impoverishment and marginalisation of sectors of populations, with many families having to make the choice: heat or eat; 

The Pandemic might have called a nervous truce, but there are worrying signs that it is starting to spread again by stealth;

We have witnessed the rise of the right wing, globally, and, close to home, worryingly in Europe. Just as we welcome Poland back to the European family the Netherlands threatens to storm out like a disaffected teenager;

The spread of populism – linked to above- is fuelling anti-immigrant hatred, provoking riots and looting in our capitals and cities. Dublin, my home city, is the latest member of this ignoble club;

Tens of thousands of hopeless and hopeful immigrants continue to cross deserts and oceans to a Europe that is increasingly refusing them entry, or making their stay perilous and pitiful;

Coups, frozen and intractable conflicts continue to litter the map of the world;

Widening societal inequalities show no signs of reversing.


…Into Light 

Globally, the number of undernourished people is down from 20% to 10% in last ten years;

Fewer women now die in childbirth;

Fewer children than ever die in childhood;

Mortality rates for under-fives has been cut by 50%;

Life expectancy; for men 71; for woman 76. 1000 years ago the average was 20;

Poverty rates continue to decrease: in 1990, 36%; 2010, 16%; 2015, 10%; 2021, 9.2%.

These are the statistics that don’t kidnap news headlines or figure in social media exchanges on Facebook or whatever is currently trending. There are few Instagram photos to illustrate the positive trends above. These are not the subjects of animated pub or café exchanges. But these are the statistics and trends that can offer beacons of light and hope through the despair that can descend when faced with some of the headlined horrors above. The canvass may appear totally grey, but there are splashes of colour.  

Added to the above encouraging data there is also the engagement and empathy of youth that keeps humanity’s heart beating. I don’t know how many ngo/cso workers there are in the world – conservative estimates reckon about 10 million selfless souls who contribute their time and energy to the greater cause. That offers some solace and optimism when more threatening clouds obscure the light.

A fellow Irishman, an activist/comedian, Colm O’Regan wrote the below:

‘The one thing that gives me hope is that there are a lot more people quietly giving a sh** and doing a bit to help. Away from the sponsored electric 4x4s and performative tree-planting, there are millions who do work for which they will never be thanked: ecologists, corncrake minders, freedom of information petitioners, experts in regulation, public transport drivers, people within insurance companies lobbying against insuring rigs, cyclists blockading private jets (being chased by police on bicycles), farmers making hedges and planting clover, people making ponds on their tiny lawns. The sheer number is growing. If we’re going down, it’s not without a fight.’  

On what better note can I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.

Tom McGrath


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