Across the world, no single symbol represents a country more than its flag. And, in many countries, no group of people represents that flag with more pride or passion than its military.
Ireland is no different. But despite decades of distinguished service as UN Peacekeepers around the world and at home during The Troubles, public awareness of the plight of veterans is almost non-existent, leaving many destitute and in desperate need of help.
O.N.E. (The Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel/Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann) aims to raise public awareness and aid for the homeless Irish Defence Forces veterans it provides emergency accommodation for. With services constantly in demand, and currently unavailable in some counties, O.N.E sought help from ROTHCO | Accenture Interactive, to help them spark a national conversation about how Ireland treats the people who have given everything to serve their country so proudly.
This led to the creation of the Sleeping Flags, which took the iconic green, white and orange Tricolour flag and paired it with the object most universally associated with homelessness, the sleeping bag - a jarring combination and ’the bags O.N.E. never wanted to make’.
To incite a conversation that would drive awareness and donations, images of the veterans on the streets in Sleeping Flags outside historically significant political landmarks were leaked to social media, before O.N.E. later claimed responsibility for the act, along with a video for the appeal, shot by award-winning documentary maker Ross Whitaker through Antidote.
Ollie O’Connor, CEO of O.N.E., says: “Our first homeless hostel opened in direct response to a number of veterans dying on the streets of Dublin. Since then, we’ve helped over 900 homeless veterans who could have faced the same situation. But if we can’t get enough funding, veterans could end up back on the streets, or worse.”
Using the Tricolour was not a decision made lightly by O.N.E., given it challenges protocols around the treatment and representation of the Irish flag and the respect for it ingrained in all Defence Forces personnel, both serving and retired.
“The men and women we’re helping have a special affinity with the Tricolour. These are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and our next-door neighbours who joined the Irish Defence Forces to serve their country. When they joined up, they were young fit men and women. They didn’t put up their hands to become homeless veterans.
These are individuals who have proudly represented the flag, and Ireland, either abroad as the UN's most respected Peacekeepers in conflict zones like The Congo, Lebanon, Syria, and in the Mediterranean, or at home during The Troubles. Often, they’ll come to us with depression, disabilities and PTSD, with nowhere else to turn,” adds O’Connor.
Set against Ireland’s current homelessness crisis, the preventive services O.N.E. offer are more vital than ever. By offering over 16,000 bed nights every year, between Dublin, Letterkenny and Athlone, and with 95% of the veterans they help moving on to permanent housing, the organisation is ensuring even more people don’t end up joining the vicious cycle.
“We know for the Irish public there is a sense of being overwhelmed by the scale of the homelessness issue. But by providing a safe space, care and camaraderie, for veterans, for as long as they need it, we’re doing our part to keep the people we were set up to look after off the streets and from adding to that number. Because the last thing we want are any more veterans dying on the streets.”
Stephen Rogers, creative director at Rothco | Accenture Interactive: "When we first met O.N.E. and heard first-hand about the vital work that they provide for homeless veterans, we knew we had to land on an idea that would strike right at the heart of Ireland’s identity as a proud nation. Using the national flag, the symbol of our pride at home and abroad, seemed like the perfect vehicle to help us do that."
Adds James Pash, Senior Copywriter at Rothco | Accenture Interactive: “In the middle of the worst homelessness crisis in Ireland’s modern history, homeless veterans were especially invisible. Taking the Tricolour and applying it to sleeping bags, so synonymous with homelessness, felt like the most powerful way to visually depict their plight."
Says Alan Kelly, ECD at Rothco | Accenture Interactive: “‘Sleeping Flags’ proves there’s no such thing as big ideas or small ideas - just good ideas. A good idea, no matter how big or small the budget can shift culture, create change and positively impact the world.”
For more information on the Sleeping Flags Appeal, or to make a donation to O.N.E. click here