In 1997, the modern Ireland of today was starting to emerge. The Celtic Tiger economy was about to boom and Ireland, the country bearing the scars of the recessionary, repressive eighties, was gradually giving way to a more affluent and tolerant society, albeit one with as many challenges as opportunities.
For all the progress since, that largely remains the case. Reaching new horizons hasn’t been plain sailing. Cultural shifts signalled during that period of transformative politics have sometimes been slow to gain a foothold in the intervening years.
A quarter-century ago, the ‘Girl Power’ phenomenon was very much en vogue thanks to the popular influence of the Spice Girls. However, in a weightier gain for gender equality, another woman was elevated to the Presidency of Ireland — a historic happening in that it was the first time anywhere in the world that one had succeeded another as elected head of state.
Mary Robinson, who had historically become Ireland’s first female President at the dawn of the decade, had resigned close to the end of her tenure to take up the position of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She was succeeded by Mary McAleese.
The new Úachtarán na Éireann was inaugurated on 11 November, the very week the Southeast-based organisation that later became the national Men’s Development Network was officially founded.
Ireland also welcomed its first female Tánaiste when, after three years of the so-called Rainbow Government, the Progressive Democrats, led by Mary Harney, formed a coalition with Fianna Fáil under Bertie Ahern — billboarded as “A Young Taoiseach for a Young Country” — at a time when sectarian tensions in the North of Ireland, in the absence of a lasting ceasefire, were still very much live.
In the early part of the year, more social reform came about when, on 27 February, the law providing for divorce came into effect.
In media and cultural matters, on St Patrick’s Day, the new national independent station, Radio Ireland, went on the air, while author Frank McCourt was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book Angela’s Ashes.
Irish-directed films The Butcher Boy (Neil Jordan) and The Boxer (Jim Sheridan) were released in cinemas, while not far from our home base, film makers arrived for two months of shooting at Curracloe, County Wexford to re-create the D-Day Normandy invasion scenes for Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Another ocean-based epic, the eponymous Titanic, dominated the silver screens.
In May, Ireland staged the Eurovision Song Contest, hosted by Ronan Keating and Waterford actress and singer, Carrie Crowley.
On 31 August, the world mourned the tragic death of Princess Diana who was seen as a universal symbol of kindness. Thousands queued at the British Embassy in Dublin to sign a book of condolence and to express their personal sadness at her untimely death. All Flags on State Buildings in Ireland flew at half-mast as a mark of respect on the day of her funeral.
In the sporting sphere, Clare (hurling) and Kerry (football) were crowned All-Ireland champions, as Ken Doherty claimed the world snooker championship.
Indicating that the more things change, the more they stay the same, one in 20 Irish people tried to get tickets to see Garth Brooks play Croke Park.
Diversity-wise, it was the year Ireland started to consider itself as no longer a nation of emigrants as a host of asylum-seekers began flocking to our shores. Applications multiplied from fewer than 40 to almost 4,000 in the space of five years.
Looking at the Health headlines, the letter ‘C’ dominated, namely the C Case involving a young rape victim seeking the right to an abortion in the UK, and the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Act, 1997, took effect to deal with the fall-out from the Blood Transfusion Service scandal.
The man who set up the first Irish national blood transfusion service was one of the year’s notable departures. In May, the death occurred of pioneering and often controversial former health minister, Waterford-born Noel Browne, who had introduced the ground-breaking Mother and Baby Scheme in the 1950s.
The Men’s Development Network was founded in 1997 when men working in the social care field, probation, youth work, addictions, academia and health came together to discuss what was rapidly becoming a crisis.
They realised that there were no initiatives to work with men on their development where they lived.
This was not only having a negative impact on men, women and children but also on the communities we live in, on society, and also across many broad professional fields of social care.
Together it was decided that this group of men would work to identify the key issues in their lives, highlight the issues that needed addressing and offer solutions.
Originally known as the South East Men’s Network Ltd, in 1999 the organisation changed to The Men’s Development Network CLG, with the motto ‘about change for men and in men’.
Established as an Irish non-profit organisation headquartered at its own premises in Waterford City, a quarter of a century on, MDN is focused on being leaders in promoting change and equality within society.
Today it operates under the mission statement: “Better Lives for Men, Better Lives for All.”
The Men’s Development Network works with men on various levels including one-to-one, developmental, parenting, behaviour change group work, training, phoneline support, and raising awareness.
This work is carried out through our funded projects including Men’s Development Programme, Men’s Health Programme, Mend Domestic Violence Intervention Programme, Men’s Advice Line and Men’s Counselling Service.
The Men’s Development Network has also influenced policy on Men’s issues at local, regional, national and international levels and has a good record in multi-agency work and engagement.