Wednesday, April 22, 2015

THERE are times when there is no question but we are going backwards. In 2003, the country was bursting with pride when we successfully hosted the World Summer Games of the Special Olympics, when more than 7,000 athletes from 150 countries came to compete.

There was a coming together in the entire country, with 30,000 volunteer officials and support staff offering their services. The host-town programme was nationwide and practically every organisation across the country got involved at some level or other for the duration of the games from 21-29 June.

Inclusiveness became the buzz word, and when the games concluded, it was generally accepted that there was an unprecedented level of awareness of the needs of this section of society.

Promises were made and good intentions expressed, but unfortunately, as if often the case, time dims the memory. Then we had the economic meltdown, which also saw a lot of the good intentions reneged upon.

But while money didn’t exist to carry out a lot of what was needed, you would think that people’s attitudes should not be dependent on that. We pride ourselves on being good, but of late, I have seen very little ‘good’ when it comes to looking after certain sections of our society, especially those who may not be able to speak up for themselves.

We all know of the disgust that was felt after the revelations concerning the treatment of elderly people in certain institutions. How could people be so callous to others? we asked.

But it would appear the elderly aren’t the only ones being targeted by certain sections of society. People with special needs are also high on the list, especially if reports concerning two recent incidents are anything to go by.

I looked at a film recently concerning a British war veteran who lost his sight and the treatment he received from neighbours on a large housing estate when a group of teenagers stole his guide dog.

“Surely treatment like that wouldn’t take place in Ireland”, I said to myself. But boy was I wrong.

There is one scene in the film where a group of teenagers surround the man as he tells them he is looking for his dog. They make fun of him before eventually knocking him to the ground and assaulting him – and all because he could not see.

Then I read about a case in Dublin where a 31-year-old man with the mental capacity of a ten-year-old is set upon by a group of teenage thugs and assaulted in a similar manner. As well as bullying and assaulting him, they also threatened to set him on fire. This happened in broad daylight in Fairview Park, Dublin, as the man had gone to watch men working on dumpers and diggers.

There is also the case of a teenage boy in Cork who suffers from autism being bullied and intimidated by another group of youngsters. On this occasion, they felt so brave about what they were doing that they actually put the incident up on social media.

So much for an improvement in attitudes, or society becoming more inclusive. These culprits need to be given a dose of some of their own medicine, but society in general also needs to examine what has gone wrong when people believe it is okay to treat others like this, simply because they are different.

Unless this fundamental issue is challenged – and quickly – it will spread like a cancer and any good work that may have been done in the past will be completely eroded.

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By Michael Godfrey
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