Death of tireless campaigner for the vulnerable

HE spent his life fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable in society.

He liked to be known as a human rights activist, author, poet, columnist — and he was all of those, as well as a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather.

John McCarthy, 61, passed away at his home at 11am yesterday following a two-year battle with motor neurone disease.

His health deteriorated over Christmas and it is understood he had been suffering with respiratory problems, which, in the end, caused his death.

John’s legacy will be his dogged attempts to show up what he deemed the country’s biggest hidden abuse scandal — the treatment of those with mental health problems. Or what he simply termed, people suffering emotional distress.

Despite his illness, he continued to campaign and advocate for people who contacted him with stories of abuse and mistreatment within the system. He made significant contributions to the Irish Examiner over the past year, assisting with contacts, opinion and time. He also wrote a column in the Cork Independent, The Human Condition, mainly about mental health issues, and published a book of these late last year.

When John suffered a breakdown and spent time in a psychiatric hospital, his mission in life became to fight for a human rights-based approach to care for people who are emotionally distressed.

He spoke out against the power structures within psychiatry, and campaigned relentlessly to stop forced treatment such as electroshock therapy.

John founded Mad Pride Ireland in 2008. Thous-ands turned out for the first Mad Pride day in Fitzgerald Park and 20,000 attended last year’s event.

He was candid about his situation, saying he had survived depression and a suicide attempt.

He had had a kidney removed due to cancer, and two hours later was told he had motor neurone disease.

“The irony was that I could live when I wanted to die, and now I want to live, I am dying,” he said recently. “You learn from surviving the first effort of dying, and I learned that life is beautiful.”

Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch said John was an inspiration: “In recognition of his work and contribution, I recently appointed him to the implementation group for the national disability strategy and I was very much looking forward to working with him.”

She added: “I regret that I will not now have that opportunity.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said John was “an intelligent advocate for mental health and a tireless campaigner for those living with mental health issues”.

John is survived by his wife Liz, children David and Jill, and four grandchildren.

John will repose at his home today where friends and family are welcome from 2pm. A humanist service will take place at Val O’Connor’s funeral home on Shandon St at 11am tomorrow, followed by burial at Curragh-kippane graveyard.

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