Inclusion Ireland AGM,

by Mary de Paor

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31 March–1st April 2006

There was no 45th annual meeting of ‘namhi’ this year. Instead, phoenix-like, the newly registered company Inclusion Ireland held its first Annual General Meeting, at the Radisson Hotel outside Limerick, on 31 March and 1 April 2006. The limited-company status of the ‘new’ organisation called for some changes in procedures and terminology, but the ‘faces’ remained largely the same. Discussion took place this year under the theme of ‘promoting quality-of-life for people with an intellectual disability’.

Minister of State Tim O’Malley TD gave the welcome address; once again members were disappointed (and many were annoyed) at the lack of opportunity for questions/debate following his speech.

At the end of his two years as namhi president/Inclusion Ireland chairperson, Stephen Kealy expressed his gratitude to many individuals, and particularly to the four retiring Directors—Tony Darmody, James Gilmartin, Ann Donovan and Noirín Buckley—who between them epitomise the breadth of voluntary service to the organisation and the disability community. Stephen quoted approvingly from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s recent report on accountability in disability service provision. He used the catchwords Plan, Implement, Evaluate and Improve, as the vital collective mantra required for both government and service providers for people with an intellectual disability.

CEO Deirdre Carroll reported to members about the three major organisational changes during the year—new company status, new name and new premises—and about the major concerns of the organisation during the year. These included the development of personal advocacy services specifically for people with disabilities and their families, the importance of multi-annual funding for services, the continuing need for more respite care, the uncertainties concerning long-stay residential charges, and issues of capacity and consent.

Keynote speakers at the Saturday morning session were Dr Ian Callanan, Board Member of the (interim) Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), and Michele Clarke, Chief Inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate. Here I must confess that I had not been conscious of the existence of (i) HIQA (pronounced heek-wa) despite the fact that Minister Mary Harney had announced it, and its interim board, in January 2005. Admittedly, that interim board still awaits the writing/passing of legislation for its foundation. The (interim) board includes several familiar names, such as Ruth Barrington (Health Research Board) and Anne Geraghty (Speech and Language Services, Brothers of Charity Services, Galway). HIQA will be responsible for developing health information [does that include the Ppars project?], promoting and implementing quality assurance programmes nationally [does this include the proposed NDA standards and/or the existing quality systems already in use among disability services?], overseeing health technology assessment, and reviewing and reporting on selected services [monitoring standards?]. HIQA will be responsible for assurance and information, as the third arm of our health services—reporting directly to the Minister for Health and Children—with the Health Services Executive (delivery and infrastructure) and the Department of Health and Children (policy and legislation). I live in hope, trying to dampen my natural scepticism and trepidation.

The Social Services Inspectorate will soon come under the umbrella of HIQA (in a structure not yet defined because of that awaited legislation). SSI Chief Inspector Michele Clarke reported on progress since she spoke at the 2001 AGM of namhi, and the disappointing lack of progress toward inclusion of residential services for children (let alone adults) with disabilities into procedures for registration, standards and inspection. She doubted that there would be any improvements in this area before 2008, at the earliest.

Three ‘parallel sessions’ provided AGM attendees with difficult choices; fortunately rapporteurs summed up the discussions for everyone afterwards. Research projects concerning quality of life issues were presented by Erik Koornneef of the NDA and David Doyle of Down Syndrome Ireland, and Mary Kealy of the Brothers of Charity Services in Clare reported on that service’s facilitation of people into fuller integration in their community. Martin Galvin (Gheel Autism Services) and Catherine Devine (Walkinstown Association) spoke about low arousal approaches in challenging behaviour—giving specific examples of the resulting improvement in individuals’ quality of life.

The business of the Inclusion Ireland AGM was completed with the inauguration of Chairperson Finula Garrahy, and the presentation of Media and Advocacy Awards—to the Limerick Leader and the Brook Centre (Brothers of Charity Southern Services, Cork), respectively. During the dinner dance later that evening, the John Ryan Award was presented to Sr Mary Mangan, St Anne’s Services, Roscrea. The late John Ryan was an energetic and charismatic figure in namhi, and his name graces the new awards that replace the namhi ‘life memberships’ which were traditionally announced annually.

I wasn’t able to attend the namhi AGM in 2004 or 2005, and I was happy to see that the number of self-advocates had grown to about 30 this year. I believe the AGM provides an invaluable platform for the Partnership Model—a weekend of informal discussion—and some worthwhile debate. With the rise of the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies in recent years, I’ve thought maybe namhi-Inclusion’s focus had edged more toward being a parents’ platform, but the AGM included perhaps a 2:1 split (family members to service organisation representatives). I wonder if my impression is accurate, that many of the ‘professionals’ were CEOs and area directors— indeed, it’s good to see the ‘old hands’ there. But people often mention that we need to get younger people involved, and I would like to see more frontline staff in attendance too, mixing with parents and service-user delegates at the AGM.

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