Fergus Finlay: Santa helps children one day a year. It’s up to Leo for the other 364

Fergus Finlay: Santa helps children one day a year. It’s up to Leo for the other 364
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD during the switching on of the Oireachtas Christmas tree lights at Leinster House,Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Dear Mr Taoiseach,

I hope you will forgive me, if I struggle with your title. Up here in the very far north, we don’t use titles a lot. My good lady wife, who is, of course, the person really in charge of this operation, always just calls me Mr Claus, even when she is kissing me goodnight. I simply call her “Mum”.

Titles, you see, are not about love and care. They’re about feeling important. I only feel important once a year. And that feeling comes from what I do, not from who I am.

I wasn’t going to write to you, for several reasons, really. First of all, although I love to watch how the world works, it’s not right, in my position, to get involved in politics. Sometimes, it’s hard to avoid, though.

For example, a really exciting thing has happened in the country right next to us here. Now, five young women are in charge of the immediate future in Finland, and, already, I can see that it will make a big difference in a country I love.

I’ve always loved Finland, because, more than anywhere else, they take children, and childhood, seriously, and always have. That’s why, in all sorts of ways, it’s the best place in the world to be a child.

The second reason I wasn’t going to write is because, as you might guess, Mr Taoiseach, this is the busiest time of year for me. There are elves to organise (and they don’t always get up early in the morning, as you and I might wish); there are reindeer to be fed and got ready for their immense journey; and, most of all, there is a sleigh to fill.

It cannot just be filled — it must have the exact presents that all the boys and girls have written to me about. And they must be packed in exactly the right way, because there simply will not be time on any rooftop to try to find anything that has gone missing.

Thank goodness that Mrs Claus takes charge of the packing — she has eagle eyes, you know, and a much better sense of organisation than a plump old man like me. (She tells me so all the time.) But you talked about me,Mr Taoiseach, in your parliament. And that’s why I feel I must write you this letter.

You were answering a question last week about a boy called Kevin, who has nowhere to live, and who has written to me begging me to find him. You told the parliament that I would find him, that I would find all the boys and girls who have nowhere to live, and that I would go on to find all the boys and girls who are in hospital, and even the boys and girls who are living in those very strange places that you described as “direct provision”.

You were right, Mr Taoiseach. I will do everything in my power to make certain that I find every boy and girl in your wonderful country. And when it comes to finding children, my powers are very considerable. I have never failed. It doesn’t matter to me where they live, or how often they have had to move, or how difficult or overcrowded or inaccessible their living circumstances.

They are children, and they must be found.

But what I want you to understand, Mr Taoiseach — what, if I’m being honest, I don’t think you do understand, because you only ever seem to talk about numbers — is how much my heart breaks when I find some of them.

I described your country as wonderful, and it truly is. I first see it from a great height, every Christmas Eve, and my heart lifts when I see that little green dot down below. It’s a magical place — I’ve always felt more welcome there than anywhere else in the world.

And as my reindeer dive down (you have to have a great head for heights in my job), I can see immediately how rich it has become. Your towns and cities are brightly lit and frantic with commerce. Your countryside is full of beautiful houses in gorgeous land. Your roads are magnificent, and bustling with brand new cars of all kinds.

But as I get closer, I can see the poverty; often at the outskirts of the towns, sometimes right in the centre. I can see, surrounded by wealth, people who are living lives of the deepest struggle and pain. But your children are so wonderful. I see thousands of them, surrounded by love, lives full of expectation, homes full of joy and warmth and abundance.

But then there are the others. There are too many, Mr Taoiseach, far too many. Children without happiness, children who are cold and afraid, children for whom Christmas is just another day to be endured. Children for whom the best I can give is not enough to turn their lives around.

In the long, dark, quiet nights in the North Pole (and we have a lot of them) and because children mean so much to me, I have been reading a lot about something called adverse childhood experiences. I’m sure your many experts have heard of them, Mr Taoiseach.

And I’m sure they have explained to you that when a child suffers many of these — and they can happen because a child is neglected or abused, or just because his or her family lives in very difficult circumstances — the result for the child can be terribly bad.

And not just bad in the short-term, but bad for the rest of their lives; perhaps even to the extent of shortening their lives.

I see it, every year, in their eyes and in their hearts. I see children from whom all hope has been taken away. I see children who are too ashamed to have friends. I see children without the space to grow and develop. I see parents — mothers especially — who want nothing more than the freedom to love their children, but whose life circumstances mean they cannot give them the security and the safety that love demands.

Mr Taoiseach, that’s why homelessness, and direct provision, are not just a single adverse circumstance in a child’s life. Homelessness piles up those adverse circumstances. It gives children enormous mountains to climb, and takes away the breath we need at high altitude.

You are in charge of one of the richest countries in the world, Mr Taoiseach, and one of the very best. But you must change this. You must decide that your government — all of your government — will change the lives of the children I see. Shelter, security, safety, warmth — these are some of the things that every child must have an absolute right to in your rich and prosperous country.

Yes, I will find them all in a week’s time. And I will do everything I can to bring a moment of joy to their lives. But a moment is the best I can do. The rest is up to you. With all my heart, it is all I wish for.

Yours sincerely, and a very merry Christmas.

(Mr) Santa Claus

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