The controversy over payments at the Central Remedial Clinic to a former CEO have engenedered a furore and created fears that organisations like the CRC will lose huge financial support from the public. Here,freelance journalist Anita Guidera recalls an inspirational year spent teaching at the CRC and warns of the perils of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The CRC needs and deserves the continued support of the public to survive but we must make it clear to the political classes that we will no longer tolerate a system whereby people’s hard-earned donations are being siphoned off to bulge the coffers of well-heeled board members, far from the coalface.
Until recently most people had probably never heard of the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC).
Now, amidst sickening boardroom revelations of salary top-ups and inflated pensions it is making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
For parents of children with physical disabilities, the CRC has been providing an invaluable lifeline since the 1950’s when British aristocrat, Lady Valerie Goulding opened a small clinic to provide aftercare for people with polio.
By the time of her death in 2003, the expanded clinic, in the leafy suburb of Clontarf on Dublin’s Northside, was providing services to 3,500 children and 500 adults with a wide range of physical disabilities from all over the country, including Donegal.
It’s where I had my first temporary teaching post as a young graduate from St Patrick’s College of Education in September 1983.
The noisy hustle and bustle bore little resemblance to any school environment I had known. Calipers, wheelchairs, crutches, and walking aids clattered down corridors as cheery children made their way from buses and cars to classrooms or day services.
My charge for the first term was a small group of third and fourth-class boys and one girl of varying physical abilities. Later that school year, I returned for a further three months to teach the admissions class and complete my teaching diploma.
People asked me all the time whether I found it difficult to work in such a challenging environment and my answer was always the same. Within days of being there I no longer saw the individual disabilities.
What I saw was a great bunch of kids with indomitable spirit and infectious courage and determination and an incredible staff whose commitment was inspiring.
My classroom door opened dozens of times a day as a steady stream of nurses, language, physio and occupational therapists came and went.
In the noisy canteen where everyone ate together, stories of mini-Everests scaled were shared and daily victories celebrated: children communicating their first words; swimming widths of the pool; performing wheelchair wheelies on the corridor (although this was not encouraged) or using the bathroom unaided.
Going to school was fun. From the drivers of the buses to the teachers and therapists, loving care abounded. But witnessing the challenges faced by many of the children on a daily basis could also be tough.
I recall American singer songwriter Emmy Lou Harris having to curtail her visit to the school when she became overwhelmed with emotion on arrival.
Once, with the help of some parents and classroom assistants, my class and I went on a big adventure to the city centre to see the latest Disney movie. Afterwards we ate in Burger King where there was an offer of a free burger every time someone shouted out “I’m hungry for a Whopper!”
There was much hilarity as Ciaran, the most able bodied and verbal of the group, spent most of the time going to the counter to claim free burgers for his friends.
This loving, lively ten year old suffered from a chronic heart condition, which meant he couldn’t run or play football, the two things he most loved to do.
We were left devastated one Monday morning a few weeks later when news of Ciaran’s sudden death from a heart attack reached the school.
The entire staff extended wings of comfort around the broken-hearted children. One carer produced a camera to encourage everyone to smile for Ciaran. The photograph on this page was taken that day.
At his funeral that evening, his devastated mother told me how much he had loved that day out in the city with his class.
Working at the CRC for the short time I did, changed my views about disability, about teaching and about life.
I saw the dedication of a staff that went way beyond the call of duty and the lengths to which parents will go to get the best help for their children.
I saw too the sacrifices they willingly made to ensure those vital services were retained. This continues to be the case today.
So when details of the €742,000 pension and pay off of former chief executive Paul Kiely came to light I felt sick to my stomach.
Mostly I felt saddened for today’s overworked and under remunerated and resourced staff whose reputations are being tarnished by the greed of a few.
I listened to parents like Marie Nolan fighting tears on Morning Ireland and begging people to continue to donate, as she described the lifeline the clinic has been for her 17-month-old son, Oisin and Tom Clonan, whose 11-year-old boy Eoghan has to use a wheelchair that’s too small for him because of health service cuts.
He probably put it best when he wrote in the Irish Times of the behaviour of the board being symptomatic of “a toxic political culture of cronyism and entitlement”.
Yes, it’s right we should rail against a political culture that has created and nurtured such a sense of entitlement and ‘jobs for the boys’.
Yes, we should be angry at how successive governments have allowed a system to evolve where children with disabilities have to rely on charitable donations to shore up the state care to which they are entitled and deserve.
But in our demand for change we shouldn’t forget the dedicated staff that continue to provide daily care for hundreds of children and young adults or the families who want only what is best for their children.
The CRC needs and deserves the continued support of the public to survive.
But in making that happen we must also make it clear to the political classes that we will no longer tolerate a system whereby people’s hard-earned donations are being siphoned off to bulge the coffers of well-heeled board members, far from the coalface, whose concept of charity is at best questionable.