The proud worker who chose not to stay sitting silently

24 Sep 2009

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Tom O’Mahoney lost his job this year because of the recession. He decided that, instead of being quiet about it, he’d set up a website that would provide a voice for the 430,000 people out of work today.

You lost your job earlier this year, what inspired you to set up Halfaloaf.ie?

It came about because I was made redundant in February and, after going through the first couple of weeks of DIY and gardening, I just thought, what else am I going to do with my time?

What people don’t realise is the unemployed experience true social isolation. You spend the whole day at home with nothing to do and that is really, really hard.

I decided a website that would connect people as a way of sharing knowledge and insights would be a really useful service.

Is it fair to say that the unemployed feel a disconnect with ‘Official Ireland’?

Definitely. Things came to a head for me in July when the unemployment rate shot up and I decided to set up a site to keep people in contact with each other. When you become unemployed you feel like you’re the only person experiencing it. Unfortunately, contact with Official Ireland only enhances this feeling.

People need to have better information on their rights when dealing with officialdom around things like the Mortgage Interest Supplement and Job Seeker’s Allowance. I thought that with the enormous pool of talent in the country, emigration not being an issue because there’s nowhere to go and my belief that people should be encouraged to start micro companies a website would be the ideal first step.

What kind of services will Halfaloaf.ie provide?

The site features things like a volunteering section for people to get involved in charities, get involved in social issues and use their skills to provide, for example, services to the elderly. We held our first networking event in Terenure in recent weeks and we are planning more for around the country.

How would you describe the individuals you have come in contact with via Halfaloaf.ie?

Many, many good people who never imagined they would be in this situation and don’t deserve to be. A year ago I managed logistics and a warehouse in the midlands.

What Official Ireland doesn’t realise is how hugely demoralising it can be if you are someone who has worked all your life and suddenly you are cut off from the camaraderie of work. The danger is this could lead to social isolation and depression.

I feel that Official Ireland is missing out on a huge opportunity. There are so many good people with skills and experience who could volunteer their skills to solve problems in the community, whether it is teaching the elderly computers, providing back-up support in the country’s overcrowded classrooms and much, much more.

There’s more that people can and would do if they were engaged in projects that would give them a sense of dignity and work.

Having started Halfaloaf.ie do you think it is becoming a business?

One of the things I am doing right now is putting together a skills directory on the site so people can help each other and ultimately get people out of the house. The main theme that arises again and again is the need for leadership – the unemployed are quite willing and able to be part of the recovery, just let us play our part.

The website is becoming a full-time job in terms of activity and I’ve also decided to go back to college for a year to study economics at National Univeristy of Ireland, Maynooth.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Tom O’Mahoney

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com