IT IS almost two years since the Prime Time screening of ‘Inside Bungalow 3’, an RTÉ Investigations Unit programme that exposed horrifying abuse at a residential care unit run by the HSE.
An undercover reporter posing as a student care worker revealed how seven women with intellectual and physical disabilities living in the Áras Attracta care home in Swinford, Co Mayo, were subjected to abuse.
A hidden camera showed one resident being dragged along a floor while others were slapped, force-fed, and otherwise roughly treated. It looked like the kind of treatment suffered by prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
The revelations naturally caused a public outcry and led the HSE to set up an independent inquiry into how Áras Attracta was run.
While the programme exposed horrifying abuse, the inquiry report reveals something less dramatic but, in many ways, more shocking. It shows a systemic regime dominated by a culture of overbearing control designed primarily to make life easier for the staff rather than for the residents.
It found that Áras Attracta did not respect the residents as individuals or take their views into account. “There was an assumption that the residents could not contribute and do things for themselves: They have been unable to reach their potential. The residents have had a poor quality of life, and their voices have not been heard,” said Dr Kevin McCoy, chairman of the group.
The HSE says it accepts that the system of care in Áras Attracta was not as it should be and has pledged to move from providing residential disability services to community living, supporting people with disabilities to live lives of their choosing, to decide where they live, who they live with, and how they spend their time.
Those seem to be very noble ideals but the HSE must take account of the fact that, because of decades of residential care, many of the people in Áras Attracta and other centres will have become institutionalised and may find the move to independent community living traumatic and disturbing.
This report also makes it more urgent than ever that Ireland ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ireland signed the framework of the convention back in 2007, but has not yet made it legally binding by ratifying it.
A number of legislative changes are needed before we can put the convention in our laws but those changes have been painfully slow in coming.
Finian McGrath, the minister with responsibility for disability issues, has promised that the convention will be ratified by Christmas.
When, as justice minister, Michael McDowell signed the UN convention he described it as “a blueprint for a significant improvement in the lives of these people”.
The fact that it will have taken almost a decade to put it into law here reveals a disturbing lassitude in ensuring that the rights of our most vulnerable citizens are upheld.
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