The rumours of an imminent meeting began to circulate on Wednesday of last week…two days before the bombshell meeting. For some Cuisle employees, the wait was shorter. Many of the staff only heard on Thursday that a meeting had been called for Friday. Some say they never got any official word of the meeting at all.
Staff whom the Roscommon People have spoken to insist they have never believed that closure of the Cuisle Centre was even remotely ‘on the cards’. Yes, they knew there were ongoing financial pressures, they knew too that the building needed some ‘work’. But closure? Never.
A staff member told me: “We had been told, on and off over the last two years, that management was trying to source funding…for electrical works, and so on. We didn’t for one moment think there was any risk of closure. We work in the disability sector…there’s a meeting at the end of the year, there’s a budget, there’s a funding deficit, every organisation wants more money. Nothing unusual in any of that. You hear it every year…you just keep working”.
The staff had become used to that narrative…year in, year out. For the most part, the staff have been extremely happy in Cuisle. They have the normal ups and downs that are experienced in any workplace. As for the building, they like their physical work environment, but they know it’s not perfect. Not perfect, and subject to the usual financial budgetary tensions. But closure? Never.
When staff heard about the meeting, many of them were concerned. But they did not expect the bombshell. The meeting began just after 2 pm on Friday. There were two ‘HR people’ present, along with Mr. Tony Cunningham, Director of Housing and Holidays with the IWA. Within ten minutes, the dye had been cast. Closure on the 29th of November. The need for electrical works, and a shortfall in required funding, was put forward as the reason for the closure.
The message came as a monumental shock to the staff. They were dumbfounded. Some people were in tears. 48 staff. A lot of emotion, a lot of shock. A source says that, on average, staff members have been there “ten or twelve years”.
After taking a few minutes to deal with the shock, a few people mustered some questions. The IWA now began to talk of the need for a new care model. Staff expressed concern for service users, people from all over the country who will be dismayed – in some cases distraught – at this news. Many of those people visit once or twice a year; many of them have built close relationships with staff. They know ‘Donamon’ and they love Donamon.
All weekend, employees of Cuisle sought to come to terms with the news. Shock turned to anger. So many questions.
Why was there no warning? Were genuine efforts made to secure funding? Why, if funding is the issue, is the focus just as quickly switched to the ‘shift in best practice,’ i.e. a move towards ‘accessible hotel holidays’? Which is it…funding or a policy switch? If it’s funding, is it €1.2m, €1.5m, €2m? Why isn’t there more transparency? Why isn’t there any transparency? Why was the IWA CEO not engaging in public on the issue?
“We believe this is closure by stealth” a staff source says. “And it was savage that it was announced on a Friday afternoon. Obviously we don’t agree with the closure, but they couldn’t even do it on a phased basis. It’s an attack on their own service. People are so let down.
“It’s anguish for us as employees, but what is it for the service users? The reaction from service users nationally has been just unbelievable. People are distressed”.
Cuisle is, after all, a resort…a service provider for people. Many service users have built up a special rapport with staff over the years. Emotions are running high now. One woman rang a trusted staff member and said: “Will you please keep in touch with me in the future, even if there’s no Cuisle…”
Another upset caller said: “I’m really scared…please don’t give up the campaign to save it”.
We are in a very strange situation now. The staff, the service users, the politicians, the Divine Word Missionaries, the community…all want Cuisle to stay open, and furthermore, they all seem to take the IWA ‘position’ with some scepticism. Trust? It’s not there.
A staff source says some employees believe this can be reversed. That staff member is less sure. “It would take people having to do a u-turn…and ego is the downfall of humanity…but a bit of real humanity goes a long way”.
A service user from Dublin rang a member of staff they’re friendly with…to discuss the unexpected bombshell. Questions, answers, tears. She loves Cuisle, and keeps coming back. Now this. She had one final question.
“Why do people make it so hard for us?”