49-50 O'Connell Street, Waterford, Ireland
Marking its 25th anniversary, Men’s Development Network formally opened its refurbished headquarters at 49-50 O’Connell Street, Waterford City, on Friday, 9th September 2022.
The building – named ‘Equality House’ – was opened by the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Mary Butler TD, who described it as a great name. The property was purchased in 2020 and extensively renovated to provide ample space for programme staff and privacy for clinical services.
Those who attended the midday unveiling included local dignitaries, funders, partners, works contractors, and representatives of other charitable organisations and service providers from around the region and nationally.
Reflecting the origins and growth of the organisation, the occasion so too served to acknowledge notable contributions to MDN’s 25 years of transformative work with men, boys, and families.
Also publishing the Network’s 2021 annual report – see below – CEO Seán Cooke said it was a special day for the NGO, which started as the South East Men’s Network in 1997, changing to its current name two years later.
The report highlights another year of positive change, adaptation, and further recalibration within MDN across its varied Health & Development and Client Support Programmes and extensive Advocacy work. The latter includes its lead-agent role in the White Ribbon Ireland campaign which engages men and boys to end Gender-Based Violence.
The Network runs centrally funded projects such as the MEND Domestic Violence Intervention Programme, the national Male Advice Line for men experiencing domestic abuse, MDN Counselling, and a range of Health and Wellbeing-oriented partnerships and projects, plus ‘The Good Enough Parent’ Support Programme. It is also a lead partner in Engage National Men’s Health Training. (Detailed information about these and other projects are available on the website mensnetwork.ie.)
With a quarter-century of practice experience, MDN, through strategic inputs and submissions, continues to be an influential voice in shaping national policy that affects men. The concept of transforming masculinities is integral to its work, as reflected in the recent ‘New Conversations’ symposium which explored how men and boys can become their true and best selves, as well as allies of women in achieving gender equality and ending Gender-Based Violence. Its MAN (Men’s Attitudes Now) Survey findings will be published ahead of International Men’s Day in November.
A number of LEAF (Leadership, Equality, Advocacy and Friendship) Awards were presented in advance of the opening ceremony, with the recipients’ names added to a ceremonial ‘Tribute Tree,’ symbolising growth and connection.
The LEAF honourees were, CEO Seán Cooke said, “representative of the many men and women who have come through our doors.” Founding member Liam Bolger was recognised for his passionate commitment to helping the most disadvantaged in our communities and across 23 Annual Men’s Summer Schools.
Sé Franklin (above, beside Minister Butler), another ex-employee who brought a wealth of knowledge and talent to his role and as a leading representative of the MenEngage Europe alliance, was commended for his empathetic ‘work in circles’ with men over many years.
MDN chair Noel Synnott hung a leaf on behalf of benefactor Chantal McCabe, whose support gave the organisation the leverage to buy and refurbish its own building and secure key appointments.
Michael Delaney Hennessy, whose association with the Network goes back 25 years, deputised for HSE social worker Fran O’Grady, the Wexford woman who had a significant involvement in the development and rollout of the MEND domestic violence intervention programme.
Founder member and former CEO Alan O’Neill (pictured) was described by his successor as “a visionary and motivator extraordinaire” who “saw the gap and opportunity to provide support to men as a critical part of advancing gender equality through a non-adversarial, collaborative approach, which we still adopt.”
John O’Rourke, an ex-chairman of MDN, was represented by his widow Maire-Therese and their daughter. From Carlow, John personified the “’target man’ for our work; an open caring individual who took the opportunity to embrace and become his most authentic self,” Seán Cooke said.
Finally, former MDN Board member, the late Noel Whelan – barrister, political analyst, author, and social justice advocate, who was one of the key architects of the Yes Equality Campaign – was represented by his wife Sinead and son Seamus, who placed his tribute leaf on the tree.
The CEO acknowledged Noel’s “steady hand and governance expertise” as a director during a period of transition before his passing in 2019. “His guidance had a significant impact on the future of the organisation … creating the conditions for the significant growth we have achieved today.”