‘Our hospitals are a disgrace. We are letting down our doctors, nurses and whole society’

Ann Norton and team provide 10,000 hours a year to children with special needs in Clare

Clare county councillor Ann Norton is also managing director of Clare Crusaders Children's Clinic in Barefield, Co Clare. Married to Cathal Brodie, she has three children Nicole (21), Lauren (20) and Conan (13). And not only does she have a busy work and family life, but her role at the children's clinic is voluntary and since it was established in 2007, she and her colleagues have helped provide much needed therapy and specialist treatment services to around 450 children.

The clinic began when a group of parents, including Ann, were frustrated at the lack of publicly available treatment for children with autism and cerebral palsy so decided to do something about it themselves. The local community rallied behind them and before long, volunteers were offering their time through sporting events, social gatherings, one-off charity events and many more activities. And with the first funds raised, a therapist was hired to offer therapy to the children of Clare.

Just over a decade later, there are now four full-time and three part-time therapists (who cover occupational, physiotherapy, speech and play therapies) and several others who volunteer their services throughout the year including local primary and secondary school teachers and students who help out during the school holidays.

The clinic is managed on a voluntary basis and there is no charge for access to the therapists to ensure anyone can receive supports.


Ann and her team provide 10,000 hours annually to around 40 per cent of the children with special needs in Clare. So we asked this Health Hero some questions including what motivates her, what she does to relax and crucially what needs to be done to change the health system in Ireland.

1) What is your proudest achievement?

“To date we have raised over €2.5 million at Clare Crusaders. We run fundraisers every month from coffee mornings and 10k Runs to Fun Bingo Nights. We also have our annual charity cycle, Dancing for Our Stars and we have a running group which takes part in the Dublin City Marathon each year and raises funds through sponsorship cards. Also as part of the curriculum TY students across Clare run fundraisers for the clinic each year and many more fundraisers are run on behalf of the clinic from local business and the people of Clare.

“But first and foremost my proudest achievement is my family; my eldest daughter Nicole who has Cerebral Palsy and is visually impaired is an inspiration to me. She has managed to attend mainstream school throughout her education and has completed both her Junior and Leaving Certificates and has continued on to third level education. I believe this is a credit not only to me but to our whole family.”

2) What motivates you in your work and life?

“Over the past 11 years my life has changed from being a mum to my three children trying to help other families in similar situations. So I like to think that I am giving them some hope for their child’s future while providing them with a service that is not only free but a quality service that really all children should have access to, if they need it.”

3) What do you do to keep mind and body healthy and well?

“When I am with my own family we focus on fun activities that we can do together and we also love to travel together – so we really look forward to our family holiday each year.”

4) What are the most important factors to maintain a healthy society?

“I think we need a better health care system – the State is letting us down all the time, not just within the hospitals but in the disability sector by not providing therapy for the young children, teenagers and young adults who are forgotten about. So too are the carers who are doing the job of the HSE and are not receiving adequate supports financially or through care packages. The elderly who have made Ireland what it is today who now need the health service are also being let down time and time again and they are being provided with an inadequate service. They deserve better.”

5) What needs to be done in Ireland to achieve this?

“I think what needs to be done is a complete overhaul of the HSE – to reduce the numbers in management and put in proper area offices in each county. Also each school should have a physiotherapist, occupational therapist and speech and language therapist on staff to provide services to the children attending.”

6) What do you think is the most pressing health issue in Ireland today?

“Our hospitals are a disgrace, we are letting down not only the whole of society but we are also letting down our doctors, nurses and all other medical professionals as they are not able to work to their full potential.”

7) How do you think the Minister for Health needs to tackle this?

“The Minister for Health and the Minister for Education need to start working together to provide an adequate medical and educational service for our children.”

8) What do you do to relax and unwind?

“I love to walk around the coast, we have some fabulous walks on the west coast and I also like to read when I get time.”

9) What makes you laugh?

“My sisters – making time with them for afternoon tea or lunch is great. We try to do this once a month and we are guaranteed a great laugh when we get together.”

10) Where would you like to live other than Ireland and why?

"My dream would be to retire to Spain or to at least spend a few months there a year, I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and the heat would be great for me."

Our Health Heroes
1 - Martin Nevin: Even unwashed and medicated up to my eyes, Martin makes me feel beautiful
2 - Maureen Durcan: That so many live on the poverty line in Ireland is incredibly sad
3 - John Burke: Managing mental health should not be like climbing a mountain
4 - Derek Devoy: The Kilkenny taxi man whose drive saves lives
5 - Sarah Fitzgibbon: Society has to stop treating the marginalised and disabled as charity cases
6 - Kathleen King: I wanted to make sure no one else would have to wait nine years for a diagnosis
7 - Caoimhe Bennett: The schoolgirl raising understanding about young carers
8 - Ann Norton: Our hospitals are a disgrace. We are letting down our doctors, nurses and whole society

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories