On 24th November 2015, Labour MP Liam Byrne spoke publicly about growing up with an alcoholic father. Some may say this is a good way to promote awareness of the insidious affliction that affects many families around the world – alcoholism.
But should private family matters be used for political gain?
Unfortunately, Dermot Byrne passed away earlier this year due to serious health issues. His son Liam Byrne, it seems did not comprehend the repercussions of speaking out about his fathers alcoholism and how it affected his childhood.
This is why personal experiences should not be used in politics. I had the opportunity to interview Katie, Dermot’s step-granddaughter, about her opinion on the issues raised. I was also given permission to use the letter Michelle, Dermot’s step-daughter, wrote to the local newspaper.
I’m sorry about your loss, were you close to Dermot?
“Yes, although he wasn’t my biological granddad, I thought of him as such. He was a lovely man, who unfortunately died too soon. I miss him on a daily basis and quite often visit his grave. It’s nice having somewhere to mourn him.”
“He was in many ways a talented man, and a very intelligent man. He was very interested in everything we were doing and treated us as if we were his biological family.”
How did you feel when you saw the articles written about him?
“I was fuming. How could anybody talk about Dermot in such a manner? Particularly when he is not here to defend himself. I was infuriated that someone, especially a family member, could do that to him.”
“I feel as if this was a publicity stunt and I am appalled by it.”
Did Liam Byrne ever talk to you or your family members about his feelings towards alcoholism and his father?
“No. He never mentioned it. He never really visited Dermot whilst he was alive and barely ever answered his dad’s phone calls.”
“That’s why I am so angry over these allegations made about the man that my family happened to love and know in his final few years.”
Do you think any child who has alcoholic parents could make it as far as him in the world of politics?
“He owes all of his success to his father. Dermot did the best he could for his sons.”
“I believe children who are true victims of alcoholics probably couldn’t get as far as Liam has, but I also would like to believe that there is hope for every child, no matter their circumstances.”
Do you think there is a reason Liam Byrne decided to speak publicly about this now?
“I think he has decided to speak now because he wants to gain support for the charity.”
“I do support this charity and believe it is a good idea – but not at the cost of Dermot’s good name.”
How do you feel towards sharing personal experiences in politics?
“I don’t have faith in politics – I used to believe that politicians were for the people and were fair individuals of the public. Nothing however is fair about the articles published about Dermot.”
“There needs to be a massive change in politics – I would like to see younger people more involved in politics.”
If you could say anything to Liam Byrne regarding his father’s death, what would it be?
“If I could sit down and talk to Liam, I would show him his articles and answer each rhetorical question he was asking himself, especially the one where he said ‘was I there enough?’ and I would say to him, ‘no’, because he missed out on knowing a man with a kind heart. Who would openly go out of his way to help individuals in the community. Dermot was a people person.”
“A few years back, he took myself and my siblings away on holiday with my grandmother to Cyprus, and that is where I believe I truly began to get to know Dermot. He would wind up my grandmother, but he was always smiling, and he had this sly kind of smile, the kind of smile where he knew what he was doing but he was doing it to be funny, not to be unkind. I would sit there, and name the times that Dermot openly made my family and I laugh. Many people have come up to me since his death and told me the funny stories about Dermot, about how it was to be a part of his life and what his friendship meant to them. I know how much he meant to our family and it was lovely hearing others talk so positively about him, especially when we were mourning his passing. He was so interested and engaged with us as a family. We were his family, he often said this.”
“I want Liam to know that any guilt he is feeling now is because he missed out on knowing a wonderful man and I would say to him that what he is doing now will not go unnoticed by us.”
“We loved Dermot and refuse to sit back and let his name be dragged through the gutter. This interview is about getting justice for my step-grandad because he does not deserve this. I think what angers me more is the date that Liam Byrne decided to come out with these allegations publically – it was the day after what should have been Dermot and my grandmother’s third year anniversary. I think that was spiteful.”
What was Dermot like to yourself and your family?
“Dermot to me and my family was a man who couldn’t do enough for people. When I spoke to Dermot, I knew he was truly listening and acknowledging everything I was saying to him. He valued education and everything that his step-grandchildren did. I can honestly say that he encouraged me when it came to learning, and before he died he was personally working with me when I was writing my poetry.”
“He was an extraordinary man, and he is missed. I know for my family that he will always be loved and never forgotten.”
Katie also added “I am very aware that the charity is for a very good cause, but I feel the need to openly speak out about how hurt we are by these allegations in the national press. I understand that Liam is also grieving, but I wish he had understood the consequences of his actions before doing them.”
“I’m sure he meant well, but as a family, we are upset because we believe this has brought us not only humiliation, but attached a bad reputation to poor Dermot’s remembrance. I do hope people will help to support the charity as I emphasise that it is for a good cause”
It is clear that bringing your personal life into politics is sure to stir up numerous problems – someone will always get hurt. Particularly with politicians, it is their job to empathise with the general public because they have been a citizen of the same system before. Therefore by putting a story like this in mass media, more people will believe it. The family however, are left to pick up the pieces and make things right for someone who is no longer around to defend themselves.