And the idea should also be applied to other major cities where there are significant numbers of older Irish, said Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform vice chairman, Ciaran Staunton.
Staunton, who is himself a Mayo native, was badly shocked not just by Gallagher’s death, but by the fact that the body of the 72-year-old remained undiscovered in his Sunnyside, Queens apartment for a week or more.
Police had to kick down the door to gain entry once they had been made aware of concerns over Mr. Gallagher’s welfare.
“No one knew he existed. That’s the problem. That’s what we intend to change,” said Staunton.
Staunton said that he believed money should be spent on opening drop-in centers for Irish seniors similar to the one already operating in Long Island City, Queens under the stewardship of Belfast native Fr. Colm Campbell.
Staunton told the Echo that centers could also be modeled on one in Leeds, England where a full time staff looks after the needs of about 200 Irish seniors.
“People have been focusing so much on the Irish in England, they have forgotten about the Irish in America,” Staunton said.
He acknowledged that carrying out a census and persuading seniors to turn up at any new centers could be difficult.
“Those who came here in the 1950s were a proud group. They pride themselves on not taking charity. But we need to create comfort levels on a weekly and daily basis, which takes time. We are a long way away from that goal,” said Staunton.
Staunton said that serious consideration should now be given to allocating ten percent of the money being sent back to Ireland by organizations in the U.S. to a fund that would help older immigrants in America’s Irish communities.
Staunton has already proposed the idea in a phone conversation with Irish foreign minister, Miche_l Martin and is hoping to further discuss the idea with Martin in a face-to-face meeting sometime in the next few weeks.
Tony Gallagher’s wife, Josephine, is in a home suffering from Alzheimer’s for the past ten years.
His brother, Eddie, who lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and is in a wheelchair after a hip operation, first raised the alarm after not hearing from his brother.
Tony Gallagher had lived in Alaska for a number of years and in New York was a member of Carpenters Union Local 608.
Said Staunton: “Tony’s death has been a wake-up call for our community. We should remember that charity begins at home. We’ve been sending money back to Ireland for years to help people at home and forgetting that Irish people here also need help.”
“We need to do something within our community to make sure there are no more deaths like this. If we had kept back just 10 percent of the money going to Ireland over the past 10 years we could have funded our own outreach group to maintain contact with our vulnerable Irish elderly here in the U.S.”