During a debate on proposed new laws to protect the vulnerable, Senator Lynn Ruane opened up about her own experience.
“Your Dad was singing all night.” I could not believe that the health service decided to over-medicate my father to shut him up because he was singing at night to get him through the pain.
SENATOR LYNN RUANE recounted a personal story about her father this week as the Seanad discussed a Bill aimed at protecting the most vulnerable adults in Irish society.
Ruane said she had not planned to speak during the debate on Wednesday, but after listening to some of the stories, she felt she had to.
“As I was listening to everyone’s contributions I could not help going through so many of the faces and the cases of adult abuse I have witnessed over the years. Although we have uncovered some of the most extreme cases, there are many cases that are so subtle and so carefully manipulated that we will never be able to pinpoint that they are happening,” she said.
The far-reaching Bill, which is not being opposed by government, aims to make better provision for the care and protection of adults who are at risk and to establish the National Adult Safeguarding Authority.
The proposed and complicated legislation (which senators hope will come to fruition in about 12 months) aims to make reporting by certain professionals and others where an adult has suffered abuse or harm or is suffering abuse, mandatory.
When the discussion turned to the care of the elderly, she recounted her own personal experience with her father, who died four years ago this week.
‘My father found refuge in song’
“There was one thing that stood out to me throughout my father’s illness. He had dementia. I remember going to the hospital… I remember going up one day and my father sang. He found refuge in song. Every time he felt uncomfortable, or scared of a situation because of hallucinations caused by his Lewy body disease, he would sing.
“The one thing he could remember, and which took him back to that moment of safety, was the words of a song he could remember. We sang every day until the day he died and I taught him songs, even right up to Paolo Nutini. He was still learning until the day he died,” she told her Seanad colleagues.
“I remember going up to the hospital one day. I experienced a lot of things that no older person should have to endure. I witnessed him being left in his own urine, being left without his catheter and having to fight for things… One of the things that hurt me most when I went up there was around medication,” she said.
I went up one day and my Dad was completely out of it. I asked the nurse, “Why is my Dad so out of it? Why is he sedated?” My Dad never went into distress, was never violent, was never a problem. He became immobile so that he was never a flight risk. He was not trying to run out of the hospital. When the nurse looked at me and gave her answer as if it was normal, I could not believe the culture that had been created in the health service around medication.
She said to me, “Your Dad was singing all night.” I could not believe that the health service decided to over medicate my father to shut him up because he was singing at night to get him through the pain, the fact that he was not in his own home or his own bed, or the fact that he might have been hallucinating at that moment. What I taught him to do every time he went into hallucination was to sing and they sedated him for that.
Ruane said that her father is not the only person to be treated in such a way, stating that being medicated unnecessarily is a complete attack on a person’s agency, autonomy and human rights.
Over the years, Ireland has witnessed a litany of failures in the protection of vulnerable people – Aras Attracta, Magdalene Laundries, mother and baby homes, and the abuse case of Grace, to name but a few.
However, Ruane pointed out that abuses take place on a regular basis.
I remember one woman who was living in a homeless service who had managed to get away from her family. Her sons and her husband had been constantly sexually abusing and raping her. When she found refuge in a city centre hostel that family continued, every week, to find her at her post office, to further beat her up and to take her weekly money so that she would be left begging on the streets.
That was obviously an awful situation, but I learned as I worked longer in the homeless service that it was not an isolated case of family members finding a vulnerable adult wherever they had found refuge and continuing the abuse.
She also recalled the story of another woman who lived in her home in the Dublin. Her son came every week, and would take her money and leave. The woman was left begging outside the shops within her own community, because she did not have access to her own social welfare.
How do we protect people?
“The issue of financial abuse of older people is huge. How do we unearth that it is happening within families? How do we even get there? It is quite scary to think that we might never be able to fully protect vulnerable people,” said Ruane.
Senator Keith Swanick said the Bill’s goal is to ensure that cases like those never happen again.
While abuse is very complex issue, it is is important that there are structures in place to protect people, said Senator Victor Boyhan.
It’s emotional, physical, financial, mental and sexual. There is a range of abuses, they are all abuses and there is no greater or lesser category of abuse.
It is simply abuse. It is an appalling and shocking thing to happen anyone and nobody should have to suffer abuse but, more importantly, people need to be empowered to respond and seek out help and support when they are the subject of abuse. That is important.