by Cormac Cahill, Inclusion Ireland
International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Inclusion Ireland and Down Syndrome Ireland marked the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in style by hosting two performances of the Blue Teapot production of Sanctuary, to packed audiences at Dublin’s Liberty Hall Theatre on 3 December 2014. The audience was treated to a double bill: a presentation by the Inclusion Ireland self-advocacy group, followed by the Sanctuary play. The powerful presentation was: ‘Change the law on relationships for people with disabilities – we have a right to have intimate relationships.’
The Inclusion Ireland self-advocacy subcommittee has nine members.
Brian Hayes spoke first and said; ‘We are here today to celebrate the international day for people with disabilities. Thank you so much for coming today and helping us to celebrate.
We hope today will bring some change to people’s lives so people have more confidence in themselves to demand equal rights and the freedom of having a relationship of their choice.
The law in Ireland today says that people with intellectual disabilities do not have the same rights to enjoy intimate relationship as everyone else in Ireland. Today we want to tell the government that this in not right and we want this law changed.’
Marie Wolfe, a member of the self-advocacy committee and a lifelong activist for the rights of people with disabilities, spoke on the day saying ‘Let us live the way we want. We have desires and wants like anyone else. Enough talking we want action so change the law. We are asking for the law to be changed for a long time now. Enough talking. We want action to change the law.’
Sanctuary highlights how Section 5 of the Sexual Offences Act 1993 dramatically impacts on the intimate lives of people with disabilities. The cast of sanctuary are actors with intellectual disabilities, and they raised many poignant points during their performance. They questioned the power dynamic that exists between support staff and people who use disability services. Though humour and poignant remarks, the play demonstrates that people with disabilities are denied the basic human right of privacy in their daily life.
The current law, the key topic of the day, puts people with intellectual disabilities in a vulnerable and powerless position which often results in poor sex education and training for adults with disabilities who are subjected to policies within disability services that are far from rights-based. Marie Wolfe described it perfectly in Liberty Hall when she said ‘Give us the right sex education and training. People who use services need sex education and training. We need good information so we can make our own decisions. We feel service protect us too much. The law makes services afraid to give us sex education and respect our rights, so they hold people back.’
Phil Davy, chairperson of the Connect People Network who have made two submissions on how the law should be changed, asked for the Department of Justice to please listen and act on what they are saying.