Review: Ken Loach’s ‘Sorry We Missed You’

By John Flynn

The redoubtable Ken Loach has followed up his Palm D’Or winning I, Daniel Blake with a devastating drama about a family struggling to make ends meet in a precarious working environment. Along with his longtime screenwriter Paul Laverty, Loach has crafted a very necessary film about working life for so many people today.

Ricky has gone from ‘shit job to shit job’ since the crash of 2008 derailed the family’s prospects. A constant plaintive refrain heard throughout the film by different family members is: ‘I just want to go back to the way things were’. Ricky takes a job as a self-employed delivery man believing (probably out of desperation) that it will finally give him the means to succeed. But, in order to put down the deposit on the van of £1000, he convinces his wife Abbie, a home carer on a zero-hours contract, to sell her car. From these desperate beginnings things soon begin to get worse. This brilliantly acted film will leave you emotionally spent as you watch this increasingly frazzled couple attempt to battle the exhaustion of long hours in high stress conditions and the fall-out of neglect at home.

There is a scene in the film that nicely weaves the personal with the political and provides a wider background to the film. Abbie is visiting Mollie, a favoured care recipient. Against the rules of the agency that she works for, (you’re not supposed to be friendly with your clients!) they are enjoying a fugitive moment of companionship sharing photographs with one another. Mollie shows her photos from the 1984 miners’ strike where she helped run the canteen. They are treasured memories of friendship and solidarity but from a tragic defeat for the labour movement. Abbie’s funny photographs are from her courtship with Ricky (at a rave), from a happy time when it seemed that they were going to buy their own home. But, the collapse of Northern Rock put an end to their hopes. It’s only in the photographs that Ricky and Abbie look happy. Now, they are exhausted and struggling to cope. A moment of marital intimacy is aborted because Abbie says she feels so sad she could cry for a week.

You always get a character in a Loach film who articulates very convincingly the point of view of the class enemy. Here, we have Moloney, ‘patron saint of nasty bastards’. He thinks that a company’s shareholders should erect a statue to him because he runs such a brutal operation for them. In the interview at the opening scene he gives Ricky some insidious language about this new economy, ‘you don’t work for us; you work with us’, but, before long, we see the brutal reality behind this rhetoric. Drivers are constantly monitored by their scanners, on severe time constraints, liable to sanctions, if they fail to meet targets. Ricky is horrified when his friend gives him a plastic bottle for emergency piss stops. But this is reality for the armies of delivery drivers frantically meeting the orders from companies like global giant Amazon. In an interview, scriptwriter Paul Laverty sardonically quipped, ‘I can’t imagine Jeff Bezos pissing in a plastic bottle because a meeting went on too long!’ When Ricky does need to use the bottle one time to relieve himself, he is savagely beaten and robbed. As he sits in the hospital waiting room with Abbie waiting to her from the X-ray results, Maloney rings him to inform him that he is liable for over £1500 because of the robbery. This, after he had incurred numerous sanctions after missing work because of domestic issues with his son, Seb. The reality of the new economy: all the costs to the worker.

Ricky and Abbie have two kids, Sebastian, the eldest and Liza Jane. Though Liza, Jane looks distraught at what is happening to her family (one terrible moment, when she bursts out crying after confessing to something is utterly heartrending), she is performing well in school. Sebastian, or Seb, is in trouble at school. He seems completely disabused of the entire system, and shoplifts spray paint for his graffiti art. The scenes with Sebastian and his friends are probably the only ones that point to self-activity or self-expression: Seb even sold his winter coat to purchase spray paint! When Sebastian gets arrested for shoplifting during a particularly fraught time for the family, Ricky collects him at the police station. Luckily, he meets a kindly copper who gives him a well-meaning talk about how fortunate he is to have a loving family and that he can get his life back together and be what he wants etc. The message of the film for me would imply that all this is well meaning nonsense. Sebastian’s graffiti collective is closer to some truth about class war politics than pieties about bootstraps and knuckling down.

Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You is a devastating critique of precarious work

It has always been a great strength of Loach that he manages to get such brilliant performances from inexperienced actors. The performances of the four main actors in Sorry We Missed You are superb, particularly in some emotionally fraught scenes. The cumulative effect of watching Ricky and Abbie struggle through the long working days (“What happened to the 8-hour day?” Mollie says at one point) and try to deal with the issues at home is really devastating. This is one of the most unflinching portrayals of working life ever seen on screen but also, one with an obviously deep sympathy for the characters. Ken Loach is one of the great socialist filmmakers.

So, it is probably surprising that the film ends on a note of such despair. I watched the film in the IFI with two friends and we were distraught at the end, in shock, could hardly look at one another. When you remember earlier Loach films also during times of defeat, like Riff Raff, there was some satisfaction when Robert Carlyle burned down the building site at the end in revenge against a brutal employer. Here, we don’t have that. I am thinking that Loach sees the total hopelessness of the current system and that it must go. But, destruction of this atomising system of colossal enrichment of the few is a collective project.

New Playground For Kilbarrack

After a long struggle, Kilbarrack finally has a new area for children to play in

After a protracted effort that began more than twenty years ago, there is finally a new children’s playground in Kilbarrack in front of the Kilbarrack All Weather pitch facing on to Greendale Road at the top of Thornville Road.

Satellite map showing the location of Kilbarrack's new playground as a red rectangle
Map showing the location of Kilbarrack’s new playground

A significant role in advocating for the playground was played by the Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme (KCCP), who are rightly proud and delighted with the result. After organising several meetings in the community around the issue of the playground, KCCP elected two representatives (Lenann Clarke and Stephen Hutton) who made a presentation to Dublin City councillors and officials, members of the Northern Area Committee.

On foot of this campaign, funding was allocated to the new playground and the process of planning went ahead.

It was still a massive task, however, to actually get the playground built.

And to make matters worse in 2016, KCCP lost a safe space for children’s play when a new fence was put up right outside their exit, creating a prison-like atmosphere.  In response, a fantastic video, produced and directed by Tiernan Williams called Kilbarrack’s Ode to Bansky was released in August 2016.

Later in 2016, Amy Fogarty launched an online petition that gathered 688 signatories and in October that year she was told:

In response to your query I can inform you that I am currently working on developing a playground analysis of the North Central Area for the purpose of identifying deficits in play facilities for this area. This is due to be presented at the next North Central Area Committee meeting. However, current records indicate that Kilbarrack has been identified as a deficit area according to Parks Strategy playground analysis. ‘Roseglen’ open space has been identified as a potential location for a new playground but as yet a delivery programme has to be identified following review of completed playground analysis for this area. I will get back to you with an update in the coming weeks. 

Unfortunately, this did not result in a prompt build and despite several positive announcements, the process dragged on until now.

Finally able to announce the new playground KCCP said:

Two Dublin City Councillors were particularly supportive of our campaign – Councillor John Lyons and Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha The playground may not be perfect and may need improvements but for a community that has been waiting for so long it is a great first step.

The work is nearing completion and KCCP have invited suggestions on necessary improvements: please email info@kccp.net or ring Marian 01-8324516

Council John Lyons was equally delighted.

 There is now a new playground in Kilbarrack. Happy to see that the community’s effort and persistence over a very long time has paid off!

Let’s hope that the kids in the area love it and use it as much as their hearts desire.

New Stardust Inquests for Victims of 1981 Fire

All the pain we’ve been put through, all the stuff we’ve gone through for the truth. This is what we fought for, campaigned for, and what we wanted.

This is how Selina McDermott greeted the news on 25 September that there will be a new inquest in to the Stardust fire. Selina’s sister Marcella (16) and her brothers, George (19) and William (22) died on the night of 14 February 1981 at the Valentine’s Day disco at the Stardust nightclub, Artane. In all, 48 people died that night with another 11 badly disfigured, 214 physically injured and hundreds, too, traumatised ever since.

Starting in a first-floor storeroom, a fire that night developed rapidly, in part because despite a lack of planning-permission, flammable materials were present in great quantity, including nearly 250kg of cooking oil in five drums. Although the Fire Brigade were alerted in minutes a blast of heat and the melting of ceiling material, followed by the lights going out created a catastrophic situation.

The Butterly Business Park, the site of the Stardust Fire of 1981

Most of the dead and injured came from Artane, Kilmore and greater Coolock, where the community has never ceased to suffer. Not only because of the pain of the losses, but also because of the way in which our political and legal system has failed us.

Independent Left Councillor John Lyons’ response to the announcement of the new inquests was to welcome it as hugely important but he added that this should never have taken so long.

The families of the victims and the survivors of the worst fire disaster in the history of the Irish state have been through hell and back many times over the last thirty eight years, from the initial political cover up by way of the Keane tribunal to years of political indifference, and the more recent con job that was the McCartan Report, which can only be described as a disgraceful insult, the families kept fighting, kept demanding answers as to how forty eight young people died in that building.

They have been vindicated by the decision of the Attorney General to open up new inquests into the forty eight deaths. But the survivors and the families and friends of the victims should not have had to wait nearly four decades to get the answers they deserve. If the fire had taken place in Blackrock rather than Artane, there is no way that people would be left waiting so long for justice. The working class communities of Coolock and Artane know this to be true as the treatment they have received from the Irish state, successive Fianna Fail and Fine Gael-Labour Party has been nothing short of a scandal.

The fact that the Keane tribunal of 1981 found that the fire was probably caused by arson – a finding that was always disputed and eventually ruled out – meant that the owners, the Butterly family not only escaped compensation claims and therefore proper accountability for their actions, which included the obstruction of fire exits, but they were awarded IR£580,000 in compensation.

The Stardust had been developed without planning permission and the fire authorities had denied Paddy Butterly permission to retain the club unless he installed another fire escape.

Although a 633-page was sent by the Gardai to the DPP, the only person to face charges arising from the tragedy was John Keegan, whose two daughters died that night, for confronting Paddy Butterly.

The Butterly family were – and probably still are – highly networked politically. In his memoirs, published just for family and friends but leaked, Paddy Butterly reveals that a former economic advisor to Labour Tanaiste Dick Spring worked for the family for two years. While he was Minister for Industry and Commerce, Fianna Fáil’s Kevin Boland had a chat over coffee with Paddy Butterly nearly every morning. “We were all Finna Failers”, reports Butterly, and adds that Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Jack Lynch asked Butterly to join Taca, their party fundraising group for wealthy businessmen.
‘‘What you had these people for,” explains Butterly, “was to help get things. I don’t mean by giving them money. But if you wanted to know something about your business or you wanted someone who could do something, you didn’t get the answers by writing into the papers. You asked these people.”

The injustice of the treatment of the Stardust families and their lack of access to political power in comparison to the situation of the Butterly’s explains why it has taken so long to obtain this inquest. And why it has been such an uphill struggle.

Independent Left’s Niamh McDonald paid tribute to those who never gave up the pursuit of justice:

I would like to congratulate the families on their sheer determination that got them this inquiry, without their hard work and persistence the establishment would have been very happy to see no justice being served. It is a disgrace that this government and successive governments have forced grieving families to fight for justice.

When, in 2006, Eamon Butterly, owner of the Stardust, opened The Silver Swan pub in the business park where the fire took place, protesters played the following Christy Moore song for ten weeks outside the bar, every night between six and eight pm.

They Never Came Home, was released in 1985 and was banned, with Christy Moore being found guilty of contempt of court for having written it. It remains a powerful statement on a terrible tragedy and a political system that has only contempt for working class communities.

They Never Came Home Lyrics

Christy Moore

St Valentine's day comes around once a year,
All our thought turn to love as the day it draws near,
When sweethearts and darlings, husbands and wives,
Pledge love and devotion for the rest of their lives.
As day turns to evening soon night-time does fall,
Young people preparing for the Valentine's Ball,
As the night rings with laughter some people still mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Down to the Stardust they all made their way
The bouncers stood back as they lined up to pay
The records are spinning there's dancing as well
Just how the fire started sure no one can tell.
In a matter of seconds confusion did reign
The room was in darkness fire exits were chained
The firefighters wept for they could not hide,
Their anger and sorrow for those left inside.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
All around the city the bad news it spread
There's a fire in the Stardust there's 48 dead
Hundreds of children are injured and maimed
And all just because the fire exits were chained.
Our leaders were shocked, grim statements were made
They she'd tears in the graveyard as the bodies were laid
The victims have waited in vain for 4 years
It seems like our leaders she'd crocodile tears.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Half a million was spent on solicitor's fees,
A fortune to the owner and his family
It's hard to believe not one penny came
To the working class people who suffered the pain.
Days turn to weeks and weeks turn to years
Our laws favour the rich or so it appears
A woman still waits for her lads to come home
Injustice breeds anger and that's what's been done.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.

Ireland’s Climate Strike 20 September 2019

Young people in Ireland played their part in the massive world-wide strike against Climate Change on 20 September 2019. The energy and determination as well as the frustration of the participants was evident in the chants and slogans on the placards.

Fair play to the anonymous students who posted on Reddit that they had to go against the principal to participate:

Obviously have to keep this anonymous so I wont say what school but today out school refused to let us out of school for a few hours to the protests for climate change
I think this is a joke like seriously. It was only from 12-3 like its ridiculous. The school didn’t even mention it to us at all that this was happening or suggested we take part in it ourselves.
Needless to say we weren’t taking this shit so we grouped together and about 80-100 students rushed out the doors and ran to protest anyways.

Here are some of the images and videos from the day.

Participants in Belfast for Climate Strike 20 September 2019
Dublin protesters turned out in huge numbers, here marching along the west side of Merrion Square (photo credit: Conor Healy)

View of the 20 September 2019 climate strike, from above, south side of Merrion Square, Dublin.

The Irish Times concentrated on very young protesters but nevertheless captured the sense of determination as well as anxiety among protesters in their coverage of the climate strike in Dublin 20 September.

Gathering for the 20 September climate strike, Galway.
Grand Parade Cork, 20 September 2019, another large turnout as part of Ireland’s support for the climate strike.
The famous ‘Free Derry’ wall, painted over to support the climate strike of 20 September 2019 (and a march on 21 September).

O’Devaney Gardens: Public Lands for Public Housing

Satellite view of O'Devaney Gardens, Dublin.
Dublin City Councillors have allowed a development on O’Devaney Gardens that will fail people on low and middle incomes who need housing.

Councillor John Lyons calls for resignations over the way DCC was misled over O’Devaney Gardens

UPDATE 18/11/19

Opposition to Dublin City Council’s plan for O’Devaney Gardens rocketed on 18 November 2019 when it emerged that the council voted through a plan two weeks’ earlier (see below) that was reported to the council as a new one, with increased affordable housing by way of new cost rental units, when in fact the Minister, Eoghan Murphy, had not signed off on any changes to the original, rejected plan.

A letter obtained by Sinn Féin under the Freedom of Information act details comments from the Minister including statements that refute the promise of social and affordable housing:

In order to repay the required financing, the rental levels would likely have to be set at, or close to, market rates. This would effectively negate the concept of providing affordable homes for rent.

… it seems highly unlikely that the purchase of private units from the developer… can deliver its intended goal of affordable rental.

Independent Left Councillor John Lyons will move a suspension of DCC’s standing orders at the annual budget meeting 18/11/19 to deal with this crisis and attempt to win a plan for government funding towards a project that guarantees a large allocation of affordable housing for O’Devaney Gardens. This will give parties such as Labour, Greens and Social Democrats an opportunity to recognise that voting for the plan of 4 November was a massive mistake and a betrayal of those on low and middle incomes who elected them. Failing this, these councillors should resign.

As John Lyons explains:

I believe that all councillors from Fianna Fail, the Social Democrats, the Green Party and the Labour Party who voted in favour of gifting the prime public land at O’Devaney Gardens to the private developer Barta Capital should resign, with Fianna Fail Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe the first to step down.

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that their private “deal” with the developer has no legal basis and did not change the percentage of affordable housing contained within the disastrous deal struck between Dublin City Council and Barta.

During the city council meeting in which the vote took place on November 4th last I posed a question to the law agent: does the new FiannaFail/SocDem/GreenParty/Labour Party “deal” materially change the
contract between DCC and Barta?

The Lord Mayor refused to allow the question to be answered. Why?

Either these councillors knew that their new deal was nothing but a fig leaf to cover up their vote to privatise public land or they were genuine in their belief that their “developer deal” was going to increase the number of affordable homes but were too incompetent to ensure that their deal was legally sound.

Either way, they should resign over this farce.

DCC gave away O’Devaney Gardens without guarantees of affordable housing

On the evening of 4 November 2019, Dublin City Council officials and councillors from a range a political parties (Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein, Labour, Soc Dems, Greens and some Independents) handed over a hugely valuable piece of public land, owned by the people of Dublin through the local authority, to a private developer.

O’Devaney Gardens is a 14 hectare site right next to the Phoenix Park, and if developed sensibly, could have provided a huge number of social and affordable housing units on site. Independent Left Councillor John Lyons made his opposition to this plan clear after the meeting of Dublin’s councillors.

The vote tonight on the O’Devaney Gardens Public-Private Partnership deal was a red line: the plan to gift the private developer Bartra Capital one of the most valuable sites in Dublin was passed by a majority of Dublin City councillors, meaning life in this city for thousands of individuals, couples and families struggling with sky-rocketing rents, unaffordable house prices, ever-lengthening housing lists, insecure tenancy arrangements and worsening homelessness will become even more of a struggle.
I voted against this proposal as it further entrenches the neoliberal model of housing delivery pushed over the last two decades by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael: gift prime public assets to private capital, receive a paltry return and be grateful.
Is it crazy to believe in the idea that public land should be used to meet the housing needs of the public and not to enrich a wealthy property developer?
Instead, it appears that Fianna Fáil, the SocDems, Greens and Labour would rather have cosy chats with Bartra Capital than campaign for public housing on public land.
Dublin City Council can and must do better: yes, our ability to act independently is restricted by the pro-market, neoliberal, property developer-friendly Fine Gael government at a national level but this only serves to emphasize how important it is that all elected representatives who care about housing in the city oppose the sell-off of public land and link in with local, city-wide and national housing campaigns to apply the pressure and force a change in national housing policy, away from the failed pro-market policy that only favours the rich and powerful towards a more humane housing policy that treats housing as a right and not a commodity.
I will continue to campaign and call for the construction of public and affordable housing in Dublin City. This city belongs to us all not just those with the deepest pockets and the ear of the government. We need to stand up and take back the city from the vultures and speculators and their politician friends.

Councillors had a vote on the proposed section 183 disposal of the land to the developer. Unfortunately, even parties who claim to represent the interests of working class communities allowed this plan to go ahead.

The deal went through with the support of Fianna Fail, SocDems, Greens and Labour. They called for the housing minister’s resignation yet they rubber-stamped and further entrenched Fine Gael’s pro-market model of housing delivery.

List of Dublin City Councillors organised in three columns. Under a text about the motion to approve the tender to redevelop O'Devaney Gardens is a column with a heading '39 FOR' against a green background; a column with '18 AGAINST' against a red background and '1 ABSTAIN' against a grey background. Inside the columns are the names of the councillors.
Dublin City Councillors listed according to whether they voted for or against the tender plan submitted by Bartra Property to redevelop the O’Devaney Gardens site. It shows the Social Democrats, Greens, and Labour joined with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to approve the sell-off.

Sinn Féin opposed the plan, but has flipped and flopped over O’Devaney Gardens these past three years. Their manoeuvring on 4 November rings hollow. The previous council meeting had an opportunity to develop a truly public cost rental model on the site but SF, along with Labour and Greens, defeated it.

A cartoon with the headline Fine Gael: Public Private Plunder. Underneath, a Leprechaun looking like Eoghan Murphy, Housing Minister, is handing a pot of gold labelled 'O'Devaney Gardens' over to a man in a suit with top hat and bow tie. Behind them, famine figures look on.
O’Devaney Gardens sell off is a victory for Fine Gael’s pro-market support for developers and landlords. Cartoon courtesy of Foxy Slattery.

A bad deal for Dubliners out there struggling on mid-to-low wages and faced with dire homelessness, outrageous rents, unaffordable house prices and lengthening council lists.

Public land should not be used for private gain.

O’Devaney Gardens developer demands €7m: Councillor John Lyons refuses to be bullied

Ahead of the important Dublin City Council vote on Monday 7 October 2019, the head of housing for Dublin City Council, Brendan Kenny briefed the press that the developers, Bartra Capital, had demanded a €7m payment from the council. Kenny threatened that there would be a five-year delay should this not be granted by councillors and released figures that glossed over the extent to which Bartra capital were able to exploit the situation, namely by having 50% of the units for sale on the open market.

John Lyons, Independent Left councillor, made his opposition to this extra give-away clear:

I will not be threatened by the executive of the city council acting on behalf of a private developer, and so will be voting against the plan to hand over the O’Devaney Gardens site to a Bartra Capital.

We have, as Dublin City Councillors, an opportunity next Monday to stand up for the people of Dublin who are despairing at the lack of public and affordable housing in the city.

I will not support a plan that will see a private developer make massive profits from the privatization of public lands, and with such a paltry return for the council terms of social housing, as well as the complete absence of any kind of housing that could be reasonably be described as affordable.

We have a fight on our hands and so we must link up with all the campaign groups and others interested in creating a city that is accessible to all.

O’Devaney Gardens should be used to provide affordable public housing

The vote to privatise the public lands at O’Devaney Gardens was postponed until early November 2019

The main reason for the postponement seems to have been in order that the Minister for Housing can get involved on behalf of Bartra Capital. On 7 October 2019, the Minister for Housing repeated the threat made by a DCC official last week that if councillors refused to vote to gift a prime piece of public land to a private developer then nothing will happen on that site for at least half a decade.

Minister Eoghan Murphy says he wants to meet DCC councillors.

Councillor John Lyons made the following response:

To offer what exactly? I would say not much but a slightly tweaked outrageously bad deal.

So let’s use the next few weeks to build up the pressure on Fine Gael, DCC officials and the councillors currently in favour of this rotten deal.

Both Richard Barrett, the founder of Bartra Capital, and Eoghan Murphy TD share the idea that it is valid to build co-living apartment blocks. In other words, accommodation that is only a bedroom, with other facilities being shared.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy sitting on the right of RIchard Barrett, founder of Bartra Capital
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy and RIchard Barrett, founder of Bartra Capital

Infamously, Murphy has described such accommodation as like living in ‘a trendy boutique hotel’. Everyone else calls it for what it is: a rat race designed by developers who want to maximise profits.

We should be designing beautiful public environments, like the one in Vienna highlighted here by Councillor John Lyons.

In April 2019 the Irish Sun used a freedom of information request to discover that the founder of Bartra Capital wrote to Eoghan Murphy in 2017 after his becoming Minister for Housing. Richard Barrett intended to avail of the ‘passports for cash’ scheme (officially, the Immigrant Investor Programme) but civil servants replied on behalf of Murphy that the meeting would be premature.

A film made in 2013, ‘Inside Out Outside In, Stories from O’Devaney Gardens’, highlights what has now been lost: a vibrant working class community.

Over 3,800 children homeless is a scandal.

At the end of April the Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government released its most recent homeless figures. During March 2019 there were over 3,800 children who were homeless and 2,445 adults. This represents a rise on the same period in 2018 and shows that Fine Gael’s promises (and those of their ‘independent’ allies) to make housing the test of the success of the government to have been merely shadow play.

Niamh McDonald, Independent Left candidate for Donaghmede LEA said:

The majority of those children are from one parent families, those parents are mainly women. These figures are not the entire picture, there are women and children in refuges, the hidden homeless, Direct Provision and many on the streets are not counted.
This is a generation suffering and becoming institutionalised due to no fault of their own.
This can be solved but we need to vote out those who refuse to fix the problem FG, FF & Labour.
Some seem to think if your local FF or FG Cllr gets the road fixed or gets your windows done you should vote them back in, this will not create change, everything will just stay the same.
Its up to the people to change it because the establishment currently elected won’t change as it benefits them to much.