Tuesday 16 January 2018

Mice, beetles, flooding and abuse -- the terrifying conditions endured at Lota

Brian McDonald

THE daily, handwritten records compiled by staff at Lota from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s paint a grim picture of life for mentally handicapped boys at the Cork facility.

As well as detailing a litany of distressing problems affecting the residents there, the repeated occurrences -- in some cases over several years -- suggest that little was being done to rectify the failings, or that actions taken were wholly deficient.

Vermin, insect infestations, lack of heating and water were among the problems recorded in the records, which do not cover every single day.

Meanwhile, the abuse of younger children by older boys also appears to have been a recurring problem at Lota.

The log book entry for September 10, 1976, reports "(name erased) abusing other boys, am". Nothing further is recorded by way of follow-up. An entry dated February 13, 1977, refers to a suspicion by a staff member that a boy was abusing vulnerable younger children. There are no entries to suggest this boy was separated from the others.

But staff also had other concerns. In January 1979, a member of staff requested that disinfectants and methylated spirits should be locked away -- indicating that they were in easy reach of the children.

Between 1976 and 1983, the records often detail mice and insects running day and night alongside food and through dormitories, corridors and other rooms in Lota.

An initial entry in the daily log book for February 18, 1976, notes there was a "smell of dead mice in dormitory of small unit". On June 14, ants were noted "swarming in the dayroom during the day", while mice were seen in the dining room and kitchen.

There is no record of any action being taken, but four days later all of the boys in the unit for young boys were being treated for worm infestation.

On September 9 of that year, the daily report states: "Beetles in kitchen, bathroom, linen-room, etc. Mice in both units." Again, nothing appears to have been done to correct this.

The mice infestation is noted to be increasing in March 1977. The entry by the staff member on duty states: "At night they are seen in the dining hall, kitchen, linen-room, middle dormitory, etc; the problem is getting out of hand."

The staff member requested that traps be set and this appears to have been done, but sightings of mice were again recorded.

By the following year, spiders were "coming from a hole in the wall beside a child's bed and crawling on (name erased) while asleep".

Mice, cockroaches, spiders, ants and beetles were also recorded as swarming the building.

On June 7, 1979, the records noted that "the linen-room, kitchen and bathroom are infested at night time with insects, could something be done about them as they are very unhygienic?"


Later that month, staff refused to use the staff room as it was infested with cockroaches, while other rooms were "infested at night with hundreds of insects".

Between September 1976 and the end of 1984, there are repeated references to an absence of water and heat in Lota.

On September 7, 1976, a staff member wrote: "No hot water to wash the boys in St Vincent's this am. No water in sluice basin to sluice nappies or sheets. No night lights in St Vincent's."

Later it was noted: "No hot water in bathroom of the big dorm. No cold water in sluice room all night."

On the last day of 1978, a staff member wrote: "Dormitories very cold last night. Perhaps the heating could be left on all night while the frost continues."

But there is no record to indicate anything was done. Further entries by staff complain about the cold, and jumpers had to be put on the children at night.

In February 13, 1980, the record stated: "It appears there is a serious outbreak of diarrhoea and vomiting. Dysentery and gastroenteritis, odour from diarrhoea and vomit very offensive."

There are several incidents of leaking toilets and leaking pipes, resulting in flooded floors.

An entry on March 27, 1981, states: "All boys put to bed early as it was very cold in the day room. Rain coming in high windows in the dormitory, beds pushed away from windows."

Irish Independent

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