Sunday 15 September 2019

Áras Attracta residents were treated as 'eternal children'

The Áras Attracta centre for adults with intellectual disabilities,
in Swinford, Co Mayo. Photo: Keith Heneghan/Phocus.
The Áras Attracta centre for adults with intellectual disabilities, in Swinford, Co Mayo. Photo: Keith Heneghan/Phocus.
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

A damning report on the Áras Attracta centre in Mayo said that residents with intellectual disabilities were treated as "eternal children" who suffered isolation and institutional conditioning.

The report of an expert panel, chaired by Dr Kevin McCoy, reviewed the conditions and care of residents following an 'RTÉ Investigates' exposé showing abusive treatment of seven women in the HSE-run home.

The report even found that two male residents who loved Gaelic football never got to visit the GAA grounds across the road.

The residents were found to be behaving and conforming to rituals and rigid routines, mostly to make life easier and more convenient for managers and staff.

Launching the report yesterday, Dr McCoy said there was an assumption that the residents could not contribute or do things for themselves, leaving them unable to reach their potential.

"They have had a poor quality of life and their voices have not been heard," he added.

"Mass is celebrated every week in Áras Attracta, but few residents attended the local church.

"There is a GAA pitch across from the main entrance to the campus yet residents who follow GAA do not attend matches."

The centre, which has now undergone a management and staff overhaul, is gradually being wound down, with a plan to move residents between now and 2018 to the communities where they will live in small groups in houses in Swinford, Castlebar and other towns.

This year, 27 residents will be promised a new, more fulfilling life in the community where they will be supported to participate in normal activities that others take for granted.

Another 26 will be moved next year, and, starting in 2018, the remaining 37 residents and their families will be offered more options and choices.

Read more: Áras Attracta residents had poor quality of life - says damning report

However, a number of the relatives of some residents have expressed deep concern about uprooting their loved ones and said they would prefer them to remain in Áras Attracta.

But Paddy Connolly, head of the disability group Inclusion Ireland, said that while their fears are perfectly understandable, the best place for residents is community living which is appropriate to their needs.

"It is important that relatives are shown the clear benefits of moving to the community."

And he said that thousands of people with an intellectual disability will wait years before moving out of old-style congregated settings similar to Áras Attracta, where residents endured bleak lives of widespread control and conditioning.

He added that around 3,500 to 4,000 residents of other congregated settings are due to be moved, but the pace is "painfully slow."

"The initial target was due to complete the transfer by 2018.That has now been pushed back to 2021. Even with this timeline, some 1,800 people will still be in congregated settings," he said.

The McCoy report described how overcrowding in Áras Attracta affected the lives of residents.

One resident was sharing a room with another person who they had previously said they were afraid of.

At general elections they were assisted to vote - but the ballot was brought to the campus, depriving them of the opportunity to go to the local polling station.

A "spin in the car was just that", with no choice of destination or duration. On another occasion, a quiet resident was taken for two bus trips but nobody got off the bus, and it had to return early to cover staff breaks.

The report also found a lack of training among staff.

Overcrowding in Bungalow Three, which featured in the exposé, was identified as an issue.

Senior HSE officials Pat Healy and Tony Canavan, who have responsibiltiy for disability services, apologised to residents and their families yesterday.

Disability Minister Finian McGrath said there has been €3m investment in Áras Attracta staffing. "Nationally, €100m has been provided in capital funding to allow for residents from various centres to move to the community between now and 2021," he added.

Irish Independent

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