It has not been a good month in Ireland. May will be remembered for two main news stories; the first involving the crash of a school coach near Navan, County Meath which injured over forty schoolchildren and claimed the lives of six pupils all under the age of eighteen, and the second involving the abuse of elders in a private nursing home.
Let’s look at the youth for a moment. It is certain that lives could have been saved had the passengers all been wearing seat belts. They were not because it is, apparently, common practice for three youth to share a double seat. The reason? The State decided that it did not have enough monies to ensure that all coaches ferrying children were fitted out with adequate safety restraints. After the tragedy, the Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, responded by stating she could understand the concerns of parents “but it was impossible to put seatbelts on each of the 3,000 buses that ferry 38,000 Irish schoolchildren every day”. When it comes to children, “impossible” should not be in the lexicon. We must consistently give this message to our politicians.
What is most maddening about this is the fact that our government recently wasted some “50,000,000 on an electronic voting system that simply did not work! If just a fraction of these monies had been spent on children's safety, there would be fewer grieving families and friends today. I remember reading in the mid 1990s that the cost of the death of a young person in Ireland could be quantified by actuaries into a figure of “980,000. Shame on that figure. There is no price on a child. There is no way truly to measure a child's worth.
And now to the elderly. It is estimated that some 2%-5% of older persons in nursing homes are abused. After the airing of an investigative news documentary (Primetime) on alleged abuse of older persons on Monday 30 May, 2005, The Irish Health Service Executive acknowledged shock and stated that it was “appalled at the conditions that were shown”. The Minister with responsibilities for the elderly, Mr Sean Power, said he was “deeply concerned at the content of the programme” and that it made for “disgraceful viewing”. Before this show was aired, I must confess that I was unaware that we even had a Minister with responsibility for the elderly, so low profile is his post.
A grain of hope
One positive thing to come out of this mess for the child and youth care sector was that the reporter who secretly taped the abusive environment is actually also a qualified care worker. This is a wonderful example of advocacy at its finest.
A full investigation into the alleged abuse will now
be conducted. All through today the radio airwaves have recounted
stories on the topic of elder abuse. In relation to the youth, a move is
underway to have all transport fitted out with appropriate safety
measures. And so it should be.
To paraphrase the Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, Let us not be known as a nation who know the price of everything and the value of nothing ...