Colin Griffith


At the time of writing, RTÉ has just screened the Prime Time special that so graphically described the plight of those service users and their relatives who have intellectual disability and accompanying severe challenging behaviours. Those of us who have been in touch with the intellectual disability services over the past thirty years are aware that the provision of facilities for this group of service users has never been adequate. Although parents, siblings, service users and professionals have repeatedly attempted to acquire appropriate services for those who needed them, service provision has never matched demand.

It was a brave decision of RTÉ to make the film; using the fly-on-the-wall approach to record such graphic imagery gave the film much power. The anguish of the service users—their constant struggle with themselves and those around them—was very clearly depicted. Equally, the pain and suffering of the those who were trying to provide care for them was very evident. If one theme came through and seemed to link the different carers’ voices, it was that most had had suicidal thoughts for themselves and their loved one at some point in their struggle. How utterly appalling that this apparently civilised society can countenance such a state of affairs. When did we lose the ideal of cherishing all our children equally?

By way of contrast, this issue celebrates the achievement of the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. One year on, it seemed an appropriate time to look back at the Games and to try to get a perspective on what happened. Was it really as good as it seemed at the time? Did the whole country move in tune with the Games and the athletes? Was it just a dream?

Mary Davis tell us something of the inside story of the Games. Her account is supported by Annette Codd and Noel McCarron, both of whom held pivotal positions in the games organisation. This issue also explores the experiences of volunteers, host families and, of course, some of the athletes themselves. Many of the events could not be described in words and therefore we have included as many photos as possible to bring back the memories. Lastly, Damien Brennan considers the whole event in the context of a ‘not-so-quiet revolution’.

In her interview, Mary Davis makes the point that the raising of people’s awareness of disability in general, and intellectual disability in particular, was one of the results of the Games and most of us would agree with that. However, there is a more difficult side to intellectual disability—a side that has been largely hidden, happening when all the politicians have gone home from Croke park, the flags have been furled, websites taken down and T-shirts stowed away in the drawer. It happens at three o’clock in the morning when your child, who has been up since seven the previous morning, is banging his head against the bedroom wall. You are ready to tear out your hair and there is still no relief from the pressure on you and on him. Where do you turn to then?

Disability is higher up the agenda since last summer; it is possible that there may be a better chance now to ensure that the rights of those with disability can be vindicated. Could it be that the efforts of those in last summer’s Games have raised the profile to such an extent that it is now no longer possible to ignore the suffering that Prime Time showed us? Could it be that the athletes of last summer have given that push to the decision makers and that they will succeed in liberating those whose need is great [even greater than theirs?]? That would indeed be self-liberation!   [liberation– is it self-??—sorry, I’m maybe failing to be philosophical again.]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here