The annual Cneasta Conference was held this year in the Tullamore Court Hotel on 27–28 October with the theme ‘building on experience’. The conference was officially opened by Jacqui Browne, Chairperson of the NRB.
Tony Tyrrell, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, updated delegates on national developments and gave a concise overview of the next round of European funding, which is entitled EQUAL.
The latter part of the first afternoon sessions consisted of four presentations on how agencies have moved from providing training to creating enterprise. The session not only gave them opportunities to hear how some of these agencies have achieved this, but the organisations and the people working in them were able to promote their achievements—much of which does not get the public attention it deserves.
Pat Reen, Fingal Workshops Limited, spoke of the huge potential which agencies have to develop quality products, while providing worthwhile employment. Maureen Muldoon, Ridgepool Services, and Mary Reilly, workers’ representative, jointly told delegates of their experiences and the developments that have occurred in their service in recent years. The speaker from Irish Social Firms Initiative, Michael Coughlan, also gave a very interesting overview of the different elements of the ISFI, while the final speaker, Michael Barrett from COPE Foundation, addressed some of the challenges in establishing enterprise from training.
The Cneasta AGM was held late in the afternoon, and in the evening, delegates were addressed by Mrs Rose Wright, 1998 Westmeath Businesswoman of the year, at the Conference dinner.
Thursday morning began with ‘Landmark Reports: Information and Implications, the purpose of which was to update delegates on the developments of recent important reports produced in Ireland in recent years. Mary Wallace, TDm Minister for Equality and Law Reform, spoke on developments resulting from the Report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, with particular reference to the National Disability. The findings of the NACTE Report were presented by Brendan Sutton, CEO of Cheeverstown House and Chairperson of the Steering Group. Brendan Ingoldsby, Principal Officer in the Department of Health and Children, discussed details of the report of the Review Group on Health and Personal Social Services for People with Physical and Sensory Disabilities, ‘Towards an independent future’.
Five parallel sessions were held. Experiences of services by service users were given by Natasha Philips, a trainer with the Irish Wheelchair Association, Lee Maree of CPI and Anne Flagg of the Threshold Foundation. The recently-produced policy document Area Development Management Ltd—Achieving the inclusion of people with disabilities was presented to delegates by Sinead Murtagh, Disability Information Officer with ADM. Political lobbying—some guidelines were given in an informative and entertaining way by Chris McInerney, National Coordinator of the Community Workers Cooperative. The employment of people with disabilities comprised clear and objective presentations from the employer and union perspectives, co-hosted by Rosaleen Glackin of ICTU and Anne Coughlan of IBEC. The NRB—Future developments—this was obviously of great interest, and Frank Treacy of the NRB gave a straightforward presentation on the future of the organisation.
Before the final session of the conference, delegates were given the opportunity to speak on any subject, for three minutes. A daunting challenge for most, there were, however, a number of brave people spoke on matters about which they felt strongly.
‘Training and employment—the Irish perspective within the EU’ began with Dr Donal McAnaney of the Rehab Group explaining the importance and relevance of the EU in respect to training and employment services for people with disabilities in Ireland. Carlos Reis Marques, Confédération Européenne pour l’Emploi des Handicapés (CEEH), spoke of developments within the European Union and the work of CEEH, which is comprised of networks of organisations (such as Cneasta) from the member states of the Union.
The conference organisers were pleased with the written and verbal feedback from delegates. Through the responses to the main and parallel sessions, ideas were generated for future Cneasta conferences and seminars.