‘Every carer is an unsung hero'
Ann Quinn, the Westmeath Carer of the Year, has advice for the government, as well as for other carers – she says the former can do more to help; and the latter should join Family Carers Ireland.
Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner after accepting her award, Ann, a proud 69 years of age, said: “I am so honoured to get this award, it means a lot, and I accepted it on behalf of every carer in Westmeath – they all do sterling work.
“The sad thing is this government does not recognise that every carer in the country is an unsung hero.
“It’s not a job anyone signed up for, and they’re saving the country millions. Family carers in general are the only people in receipt of a social welfare payment who have to work 24/7,” said Ann.
“In this day and age, the least they [the government] might do, is pay carers the minimum wage for a 34 or 37-hour week – that would be a step in the right direction, it would be recognition for the work we do.”
Ann is carer for her son, Sean, who requires “constant supervision and help with all his personal care”.
Sean was 34 in March, and his mother has been caring for him since he was born. He suffers from epilepsy, asthma, and profound autism, and he’s non-verbal, Ann said.
Caring for Sean is a full-time job for Ann, but she does get some badly-needed breaks. Sean attends the Cill Cuan day centre in Mullingar five days a week, and around once a month he stays at the College View respite centre for one or two nights. Apart from that, the pair are alone, as Sean is an only child and Ann was widowed 11 years ago.
Prior to attending Cill Cuan, Sean was a student atw St Brigid’s School in Mullingar, and Ann says that only for the likes of those services, she could not cope.
She has great praise for Family Carers Ireland, the team at the office in Blackhall Mullingar – Denise (Nolan), Dorothy (Finnane), Cassandra (Heffernan) and Joan (MacLoed), as well as Helen (McGauley), who has just joined; for Billy Mac, who organises an annual concert to raise funding; and for “my friend for over 18 years, Caroline Poole, regional manager of Family Carers Ireland”.
Ann said: “It is important for young carers to join the organisation. There is the social side, and they help in a lot of different ways.
“There are lots of benefits to being a member, certain firms give discounts, for example.”
Ann said any carer is welcome to the monthly meetings of the support group (on the last Thursday at 11am) in the Greville Arms Hotel, whether members of Family Carers Ireland or not.
“Family Carers Ireland have given me tremendous support over the years, and I’d recommend that anyone that’s caring for a person should join the organisation,” said Ann.
“As a carer, you have a limited social life, you can’t really get out, you have a person with lot of difficulties, and you can’t get minders. And people with autism don’t like change. If you want to go somewhere, it’s like a military operation, so the support from the carers organisation is important.”
For her last word in the interview, Ann returned to the subject of government support for carers: “Family carers in general are the only people in receipt of a social welfare payment who have to work 24/7.
“You still get your reward for what you’re doing, and the government play on that – they know we can’t go on strike, that you love the person you care for so much, Family Carers Ireland is the only union we have, the only support we have.”