Arising from the Prime Time Investigation of the Aras Attracta nursing home revelations which showed residents being slapped, kicked, verbally abused, force fed and physically restrained, the HSE’s independently appointed review group has set up a public consultation inviting concerned and interested members of the public to have their say on urgent changes and reforms in the provision of care for people with intellectual disabilities.
Any decent human being who watched the RTÉ production or read the many reports last December will recall being completely shocked with what they saw. The emotional response was understandably one of disbelief, disgust and ultimately anger.
What’s now important is that changes are put in place so that we never let this happen again. We’re talking about the most vulnerable people in our society. We owe it to them. Questions need to be answered on the best approach: whether through legislation or procedures, involving training, funding or oversight. The time to act is now, not a few years down the line when another incident occurs and people wonder why nothing was done after Aras Attracta.
The public consultation process should be welcomed and engaged with. It’s an active step in the right direction for Wicklow residents including parents, guardians, friends, care professionals – especially those who have experience of care services for the intellectually disabled. They now have the opportunity to have their genuinely held concerns and grievances listened to and hopefully acted upon. Ideally this information will lead to meaningful and constructive reform within the intellectual disability care sector. We don’t know whether that will happen. What will happen is that the review group will have the benefit of relevant feedback from those who actually use care services.
Inclusion Ireland, the leading national association for people with intellectual disabilities, have been entrusted with the responsibility of hosting submissions from the public through their website (www.inclusionireland.ie). The questions asked are refreshingly straightforward. For example, One asks ‘what action can providers take to ensure people are treated with dignity and respect?’ , another asks ‘how to prevent neglect?’.
The only downside I see is that many people are not aware that the public consultation period even exists. Real change is difficult to achieve without residents being informed, encouraged and empowered to speak up and directly offer their wisdom to the policy making process. We’ve seen this before. Poor decision making by government and we are left shaking our heads wondering who dropped the ball, and why it wasn’t picked up on. Irish Water is a classic example. It doesn’t have to be this way. Wicklow residents and community groups have a fountain of valuable knowledge that needs to be tapped into by policy-makers. Public consultations are one way of doing just that. At the moment that’s about as near as it gets to meaningful ‘Direct Democracy’ or what some politicians call ‘Subsidiarity’ in our country.
Wicklow TDs have talked a lot about the theory of reform. They claim they would like to empower Wicklow people. Yet here we are with a rare chance for public-lead reform that concerns many of us and our representatives sit on their hands. Could they not use up some of their precious air-time or print space to let parents and carers know that they too can make a difference? Is that too much to ask? With less than one week to go before the consultation period closes it’s sad and cynical to hear zero from our representatives.
That said I’m confident that, as with other real-life issues, people will overcome this incompetence. Firstly, by making a submission by Monday the 28th of September on care services if they have reason or concern to do so. And secondly, by demanding their representatives to be more forthcoming – to inform them of real democratic processes such as this one. Public consultation is too often overlooked by our representatives and yet it’s continuously open to public input in some shape or another. Not just at election time. The prevailing political assumption that people ‘just don’t care’ needs to be turned on its head.