Footage shot by the RTÉ (National broadcaster in Ireland) Investigations Unit showed workers shouting at elderly residents, dragging and kicking out at them as well as force-feeding one woman. Tragically, due to their disabilities, the residents in this unit, Bungalow 3, at Aras Attracta, Swinford, Co Mayo, are unable to speak and so are completely at the mercy of their carers.
I ask myself who are these cruel people?
How long have they worked at Aras Attracta?
Were they ever on bungalow 4 looking after my daughter?
I was so thankful that Aras Attracta was run by learning disability nurses and that Marie would be under the care of professionals. For me, it was a dream-come-true. To set up home only twenty
|Anna, Marie and Patrick 1989|
|Frightened of everything|
|Us age 5 and 16|
|Learning to walk|
Now I noticed that the older my children got, the more they questioned, and they raised some logical points.
Years earlier I had attempted to write a book about our lives together and now with Marie gone to pastures greener, I took my manuscript out of the drawer and
I was gobsmacked the day I found out my book was going to be published. When it came off the press there was a national postal strike in Ireland so the publisher Seamus Cashman, very kindly sent a dozen books down by train. I remember the day so clearly. It was a gorgeous summer’s morning and I was sitting on a bench with Patrick and Anna, in the railway station in Ballyhaunis. I smiled when I heard the Dublin train in the distance, knowing it had my freshly printed book on board. What a feeling when I opened the box on the platform to see Marie smiling on the cover! It seemed so unreal. This wasn’t supposed to happen to someone like me; someone with no education - someone who got kicked out of school when she was fifteen for being a bad influence on the class. It had been a long journey since I first spread my pages across the pasting table and tapped away on my Brother typewriter. It proved to me that anything is possible.
She’d been in the unit for 18 months and I still got a lump in my throat whenever I saw her. She was a people-watcher, often sitting alone watching the activity around her. As soon as she spotted me she came to life and her eyes watered, just like mine did. Some things you just never get used to and Marie leaving home was one of them.
Some days I could tell there was a staff shortage in the unit and I did feel sorry for the nurses. Routines have to be followed and staff shortages made their job twice as hard.
I kissed Marie that day, gave her a hug and then I said, “Wait until you see what I’ve got?” I reached into my bag for the book and knelt in front of her. As expected there wasn’t much of a response, so I carried on dipping into my bag and brought out her usual treats. The nurse who came over to greet me gasped when she saw Marie on the cover. Her reaction brought the other nurses over to investigate. The three nurses stood close together and flicked through the pages, pausing to admire the photos and the inscription to them in the front.
|A visit to Aras Attracta|
1st September 2000
"Dear Ms Daly,
Further to your letter of the end of July, I regret that the Board did not adequately respond to your enquiry. To answer your question directly the Board has no specific written policy.
The dignity of people in the Western Health Board's facilities is, I believe always respected. And from discussions with the local Director of Services in Aras Attracta he confirms that intimate dealings with female patients are handled by female staff."
I was so relieved when I read the letter and hoped the staff at Aras Attracta would understand my reasons for raising the issue.
I was a single parent and had home-schooled my kids. When they reached 16 they returned to England to study for their GCSE. I needed to find a job. I worked in Dublin for a while during the week in the Magdeline Laundries and returned to Co Mayo at weekends. Then I began doing agency work in the Uk and literally lived in between the two countries. I often felt torn with Marie in Ireland and Patrick and Anna now living in the UK.
I eventually settled in England but a day never went by when I didn't think about Marie. When I visited after a long absence the staff had tears in their eyes when they saw how happy she was to see me. I hugged her hard. She knew how much I loved her. Her beautiful hair looked like it had been cut around a basin and couldn't have been any shorter so I asked the nurse if they would leave it to grow.
We went out for a few hours and had a meal in the local cafe and when I took her back to the unit, I told the nurses I would return to Ireland in a few months when the weather was warmer, to take her on a holiday. They were really pleased and I couldn’t wait.
That summer I loaded the car with Marie’s favourite things: Joey, the monkey, the baby’s buggy that she loved to push her doll in, our music videos and DVDs, her big fat catalogue, colouring books and pencils. I also took her big container of Duplo bricks, that she spent hours putting together in her own fashion—a house with no roof, a ‘twain’ with no wheels. I’d rented a holiday cottage near Westport on the west coast for two weeks. I was looking forward to some quality time, being able to relax and enjoy Marie's company.
Marie was always pleased to see me, and no matter how far apart my visits were, she never forgot how to interact with me. We developed a language and understanding that never faded with time.
The bungalow accommodated eight people, and we were spoilt for choice; so much room and a long hallway which Marie would be thrilled to push her pram up and down. They even had a baby room with a cot.Talk about spoilt!
I unloaded the car, and put on the kettle, the CD player was plugged in and Abba rang through the bungalow. We had a cuppa, then, I put our clothes away and off we went to do some shopping. I tied a carrier bag to gate posts or trees at every bend we came to so we’d be able to find our way back. Marie laughed as I jumped in and out of the car and so did I. It was fun and we had a great week.
We went to Knock Shrine, which was only about eight miles away. It was a place visited by pilgrims and tourists throughout the year. People came from all over the world to see where Our Lady was supposed to have appeared in 1879.
The car park was full of coaches. Different accents drifted our way as groups of people strolled towards the churches. I lifted Marie’s wheelchair out of the back of the car, strapped her into it, and off we went. She loved being on the move, but this day she seemed quite sad and unresponsive.
|Knock Shrine 2005|
We walked around the souvenir shops. I helped Marie out of the wheelchair and encouraged her to push it with me. We did a slow walk back into the church grounds and sat on the wall to have something to eat. I was looking in the bag on my knee for the sandwiches and Marie was trying to peer in, making oo and ahh sounds, waiting expectantly to see what I have got when I noticed two cuts on her head. They were nasty gashes; although the bleeding had stopped, they were redraw. I knew it was from bashing her head into the door. Today the scars remain, leaving tiny bald patches.
I knew she rarely went out because her behaviour was so disruptive and unmanageable, and yet she sat with me as good as gold. Just like always, she liked to be close by. That day, it was as if all the hope had gone from her.
So there we were, lost in our own thoughts, sitting together on the wall. Suddenly her little hand reaches out and touches mine. She took it to her lips and kissed it before resting it back on my leg. I felt overwhelmed at such a show of love. That kiss told me she knows—that she’s always known—deep down I will always be there for her. These are precious moments nobody else sees. I turned to meet her eyes, and for a fleeting moment, I felt God looking back at me.
I was weighed down with trying to make one of the biggest decisions of my life. I knew it was time; I had to seriously think about bringing Marie home.
I had been scouting around for a decent residential place in the UK where Marie could live close by and have lots of family contact but had not found anywhere suitable.
he only alternative was to look after Marie at home, but would I be able to cope? It seemed a long uncertain road, yet I had to be positive! Didn’t things always turn out OK? I took Marie’s hand and squeezed it. She looked at me, and I smiled at her. I told her that one day I was going to bring her back home. I didn’t know when, but I knew it wouldn’t be too far away, I wish she could have understood..
When I left Marie back on the unit that day, I asked the nurses if I could leave her wheelchair with them for when I brought her back to England on the plane. I think they finally believed that Marie was finally leaving Aras Attracta.
The next day when Anna and I went to collect Marie I was shocked at how much more weight she had lost. And her legs were covered in hair. The nurse gave me a month's supply of medication and a large bottle of medicine prescribed by the GP as a food supplement. I couldn't understand why she needed food supplements when she had always loved her food. I mean why wasn't she sitting at the table eating proper meals? What was the problem?
|In the Swinford hotel|
We stayed another night in the hotel where Marie and I shared a double bed and Anna was in the room next door. Marie snuggled down next to me and was asleep in no time at all. I took out her care plan and began to read.
"Marie enjoys most foods particularly cakes, biscuits and sweets and crisp." That was so true so why oh why was she so seriously underweight.?
"If she doesn't get her own way she urinates on the floor." I thought it was more likely she wanted to go to the toilet and staff hadn't noticed.
"Has regular episodes of screaming, pulling her hair and bouncing on the chair throwing her head back, hitting herself. She may throw herself on the floor, spitting. She may scream and shout whilst out on trips." Spitting - never, she isn't physically able to.
|1 month at home|
|6 months at home 2008|
I watch the video clip of those poor women being abused and wonder if Marie has been too. I remember in 1998 receiving a letter that Marie had had an accident at Aras Attracta almost a week after it happened. I immediately rang a senior member of staff and was informed Marie had been having a temper tantrum at 7.30 the previous Saturday night and thrown herself back off the chair hitting the corner of the wall and cutting her head. A GP was called and when Marie (whom I imagine by this time was in a very distressed state, bearing in mind her mental age is below that of a 2 year-old) wouldn't co-operate with him stitching the wound she was then taken to Castlebar Hospital and had 4 sutchers. I wrote to the Director at Aras Attracta and complained about the time it took to inform me and I also asked for a copy of the accident report.
I brought Marie home for a week and gave her plenty of TLC. She was none the worse. Accidents happen and if Marie was that easy to look after she would have been living at home. However, I did feel it could have been avoided had Marie been moved to a 'safer' area and I put it down to busy staff and not enough of them.
Today I look at the accident report filled out by a male staff nurse; 'Temper tantrum, headbanging and kicking. Sat on floor and hit her head backwards on corner of the wall.' but now I find myself scrutinising two conflicting accounts of how Marie was injured and I wonder if she was shoved or pushed by a member of staff. I wonder if the staff nurse on duty the night of her accident is one of those suspended. My mother used to say evil thinkers are evil doers, and I hate to think the worst of them, it's just not in my nature. Then I remind myself of all the lovely nurses I met at Aras Attracta and the vision they had when it first opened. I think of how good they were taking Marie to the chemist time and again to have her passport photo taken. The trouble they went to obtaining a letter from the Gardi enabling Marie to travel to England. I have a photo somewhere of myself with the then Minister for Health Brendan Howlin, at the late official opening of Aras Attracta and I have to keep reminding myself there's a lot of good in the world.
The fact that it was a whistle blower nurse who first raised concerns about the standard of care long before the TV team did their filming shows the integrity and dedication most of them have. Thank God RTE followed it through and did their own investigating for all the world to see.
I would like to know which other bungalows the abusive staff worked on at Aras Attracta and if any of them were on bungalow 4 before December 2007.
I would also like to know how many patients in bungalow 4 had meals replaced with food supplement medication.
For all this to happen in a rural area means there is no cloak of anonymity. Everybody knows everybody and there'll be no escaping the public wrath. I don't really feel any sympathy for the staff who abused those poor vulnerable women. However, I do hope the public will remember that the abusers families are innocent victims in all of this. Their lives will never be the same any more than the lives of the families of those poor women will.
|Marie in 2014|
I have always had a great interest in social care and having been on both sides of the fence has given me much perspective. Being a full time carer to Marie makes me almost housebound but I do what I can to help others. I also write family life stories about people with special needs and am founder of Warrior Mums blog for parents of children/adults with special needs.
Since Marie came home I updated our story and published under the original title of With a Little Help From My Friends. It's a very appropriate title dedicated to all the people who have helped us over the years. I was honoured to have Dr Sheila Kidd, retired Consultant Psychiatrist, Cambridge, who has been interwoven into our lives since I first brought Marie home, write the foreword.
And again I paid tribute to -
"The nursing staff at Aras Attracta, Swinford, Co Mayo, Ireland for the love and care they gave to Marie."I mean that from the bottom of my heart. There was a time she did have lots of love and care. I just wish it could have continued...
Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums
With a Little Help From My Friends - in paperback
With a Little Help From My Friends - Kindle