Plight of carers difficult to stomach

Plight of carers difficult to stomach Barbara Dickson featured on Fern Britton Meets.

Sometimes a pro-gramme gives you an unexpected but emotional punch. The impact of last week’s Prime Time – Carers in Crisis (RTÉ 1, Tuesday) was immediate and heart rending, but it will have to go way beyond a passing discomfort for the viewer.

At least one of the carers said she didn’t want pity or admiration but I couldn’t help being impressed by the practical love these carers show to their loved ones with illnesses and disabilities. Many were frustrated and even angry, and when you see that those whose make the most fuss often get the quickest response the anger is not surprising – when channelled effectively it can get results, though it shouldn’t have to be that way.

I suppose in the backs of our minds those of us not immediately in the centre of problems like this are aware that many people around us are facing hugely challenging situations, but programmes like this are a necessary wake up call, and they need to be frequent.

One of the issues highlighted was how aging carers themselves need care.  In one case a woman with learning disabilities had now to offer a level of care to her mother who was receiving treatment for early Alzheimer’s. Most of the carers and cared-for were women, but the one male carer wanted to care for his wife at home – he wouldn’t have it any other way. Yet a postscript told us that since the interviews were completed he had a stroke and his wife was now in a nursing home. Even more of a shock was the footnote that informed us that one of the women cared for had died unexpectedly a month after the interview.

Understandably people were not happy in the studio discussion that followed the filmed report. Finian McGrath, Minister of State with responsibility in this area, was on a hiding to nothing, and while he came across as genuine, he doesn’t control the purse strings, and his talk of strategies and task forces didn’t go down well with the audience – we were treated to several telling reaction shots.

If the programme had any faults I thought there was no need for the sentimental background music, and I wondered about the intrusiveness of the filming of those with the special needs and disabilities.

Meanwhile, on BBC1, Sunday mornings at the moment features Fern Britton Meets, an Advent series of one-to-one interviews with a religious faith element. Last Sunday Britton interviewed renowned singer Barbara Dickson, about life, music, faith and her conversion to Catholicism. I was never a great fan of her 80’s pop, but recent performance footage was impressively mature – I loved the clip of her singing ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. I was surprised by the “terrible anxieties” she suffered in her heyday, especially in musical theatre.

She came to Catholicism in her 30s, partly through marrying a then “extremely lapsed” Catholic”! Her con-version was like a ‘coming home’ for her, and now she felt connected to the world through her faith. Now 70, she is heading out on another tour in the New Year, but before that she will be at Midnight Mass, and is involved in the church maintenance and reading rotas in her parish.

Also with a Christmas flavour last Sunday’s Would You Believe? – The Secret of Christmas had a warm and timely look at people preparing for Christmas. One man found caring for his turkeys therapeutic!


The  St Vincent de Paul Society in Cork prepared their hampers, a Corkman lit up his home rather dramatically for charity, a mother waited for her disabled son to be able to see the Christmas tree, a schoolteacher wrote an original carol to help her students understand the meaning of Christmas, a family did a “reverse Advent calendar”  – adding an item to a hamper each day to give away, a homeless woman planned to stay clean and sober so that she could see her children at Christmas.

A female reverend invited a Muslim refugee for Christmas and they found common ground. A woman who had lost her husband found Christmases tough since the bereavement, but happily she was excited about this Christmas, and finally we saw children from Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin on an Aer Lingus flight that was visited by Santa.

The programme was positive towards faith and humanity.  A parting comment summed it up – “the goodness of people is just fantastic!”


Pick of the Week


The Real Star of Bethlehem: A Sky at Night Christmas Special

BBC 4 Sunday, December 17, 11pm

The Sky at Night team go in search of the potential causes of the Star of Bethlehem. Dallas Campbell goes in search of the historical and archaeological records that can shed light on the star’s identity.



EWTN, Sunday (night), December 17, 2.30 am

Historical background of the infancy narratives.


Myanmar: The Hidden Truth – Panorama

BBC 1, Monday, December 18, 7.30 pm

The treatment of Rohingya refuges in Myanmar

has been described by the UN as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing, but could it be genocide?

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