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Bridging the poverty gap
Victoria Holthaus speaks to the new SVP National President

“Despite the welcome economic improvements of recent times, we remain an unequal nation,” says the new National President of the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

Along with overseeing the largest charity in Ireland, Kieran Stafford is a local businessman in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary where he resides with his wife, Mary, and two daughters. One of his daughters, Áine Stafford, was a core founding member and is President of the Mary I St Vincent de Paul society at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. Kieran is a partner alongside his brother in a small family business, Panda Carpets. He has been at this job since 1989, after his return from Britain.

Kieran was born in the UK, although his mother was from Clonmel and his father was from Wexford. When the family moved back to Ireland while he was still at a young age, he attended St Mary’s in Clonmel and went on to attain an apprenticeship in the Air Corps as an aircraft electrician. 

Along with being a father, businessman and national president, he is also an avid follower of Tipperary hurling, Arsenal football club and a fan of Marc Almond’s music. He also enjoys walking and golf during his free time.

He became involved with the Society of St Vincent de Paul through a friend, Eamon Griffin, because he wanted to help people in his community. Kieran has been a member for 16 years, beginning at the St Peter & Paul’s Conference in Clonmel, and then working as a trustee for 10 of those years. “I have always been very proud of my membership and to be involved in all of the work we are doing,” he says.

During his time with the Society, he was the South East regional twinning officer before becoming Regional President in 2007. In May 2013, he was appointed National Vice President which he has maintained until now. He will be succeeding Geoff Meagher from Kilkenny, who also appointed Kieran to become VP, and who has been in this position for five years.

His new role includes being responsible for social justice, youth, training, twinning and home visitation. He will serve for three years with the possibility of doing an additional two years. These tasks are similar to the ones he had during his time as VP. 

Kieran was recently involved in making the SVP’s pre-budget submission and has called on the Government to ensure “we are heading towards a positive and equitable future”.

Even as National President, Kieran will be involved in the face-to-face work with those who are in need of service. The experience that home visits have given him is a “valuable education” for what’s to come with his presidency. Home visitation is the core work of SVP including financial and non-financial support, advisory assistance, befriending and supporting access to social services.

“I have seen the issues that have helped to shape this organisation and the struggles people are facing,” he says.

In keeping with the tradition of his predecessors, Kieran will remain active in his local SVP Conference of the Holy Rosary Conference in Clonmel. 

“It is important to work in the community to have a solid understanding of the issues that impact on the people helped by SVP,” he says.

Objectives

During his time as president, his main objectives are “to continue to focus SVP as a strong and vibrant voice at a national level and within local communities for those who struggle in so many ways and to help people over both the financial and emotional hurdles and back to self-sufficiency”.

“Despite the welcome economic improvements of recent times, we remain an unequal nation. SVP continues to receive an unacceptable level of calls for support from families struggling to find affordable secure accommodation, employment opportunities that provide an adequate income, along with support for meeting education, health, energy and childcare costs,” Kieran says.

The SVP is Ireland’s largest and best-known voluntary charitable organisation. It operates through a network of over 1,200 local Conferences (units) throughout the country. In 2016, the SVP received 130,000 calls for assistance and its 11,000 members made approximately 8,000 home visitations per week. “We consistently require new volunteers to ensure we can respond to these requests for help,” Kieran says.

SVP provides services for vulnerable people, some of which is State-funded, through 10 emergency homeless services (300 beds in hostels); over 1,000 social housing units; seven resource centres; six holiday homes; prisoner visitation centres; children/young adult services and day care centres for the elderly. SVP also operates 220 community charity shops, which are not only a valuable source of income but act as a focal point for information on access to SVP help and services.

Advice Kieran would give to those thinking about getting into social justice or advocacy work is to “step up if you think that it is something that needs to be done. Don’t wait for someone else to do it and get involved in your community”.

“The current challenges in relation to homelessness, child poverty and educational disadvantage, mean working for social justice is as important today as it was when the Society was established in 1844,” he says.