PAST PRESIDENTS OF INCLUSION IRELAND SAY A FEW WORDS…

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Left to right: Jean Spain, Tony Darmody, Annie Ryan, Stephen Kealy, Deirdre Carroll, Gerry Ryan, Frieda Finlay, Bill Shorten, Eamon Carpenter, Jim Gilmartin, Finula Garrahy and Ann Donovan.

The National Association for the Mentally Handicapped of Ireland secured the prestigious 6th World Inclusion Congress for Ireland in 1972. I had the honour of being appointed Chairman of this event. We immediately set about the organisation of this major International Event to be held in Dublin on 15–19 September 1975.

When I was appointed Chairman of NAMHI in April 1974, the hosting of the World Congress was the major item of concern for the Association and its executive. The Congress was a great success and was attended by up to 1500 people. One of the remarkable features was the enormous support of local parents and friends associations and the financial support of commercial and statutory bodies. In addition there were major urgent concerns for the services to be
addressed:

— The urgent need for residential care for adults.

— The inappropriate placement of adults and children in psychiatric hospitals.

— The ongoing struggle to support the placement of the ‘mild mentally handicapped’.

— Major concerns around the staffing and placement of the ‘disturbed mentally handicapped’.

— The lack of trained personnel, especially psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists and social workers.

— Funding was also an issue, as was the developing, newly created Health Boards.

My most abiding memory is of dedicated members of the Association, throughout Ireland, whose unstinting efforts played a vital role in the development, and maintenance of services, both parents and professionals on a pro bono basis.
Pat Moloney

***

What’s another year as the song says? Yes, but 1961 was an exceptional one; the coming together of a like minded group of dedicated people, to further the interests of our children and adults with a mental handicap, by the birth of NAMHI.

During my two years as President, with our then General Secretary Gerry Ryan, I travelled through our country and met many wonderful people, but unfortunately some woeful buildings in which attempts were being made to provide services. For my two years as President my experience was generally good.

I hope and pray that constant improvements continue and as a parent, I thank all the staffs for their kindness and love shown to the people in their care.
Eamon Carpenter

***

During the 1980s I had the great honour of being elected to the Presidency of National Association of the Mentally Handicapped of Ireland, as it was then called. In those days the Association, which had been founded in 1961 to promote the rights of people with intellectual disability and to ensure their full and equal participation in society, had just been fuelled by the study of the National Commission on Mental Handicap Report. It was a very energetic time in NAMHI’s history. A new era was emerging in Ireland in respect to families with members who had disabilities and hopes were being nurtured of a brighter new future. NAMHI was providing a central forum for its members locally, regionally and nationally to express themselves about what mattered most to them—the welfare and future of their children and young adults. The membership was fully aware that services other than residential warehousing were needed. It was time to demand full integration at all levels of society. It was also a time of great frustration and lack of resources.

The challenges, as I saw them, were to somehow find a way of fulfilling the aspiration of the Irish Constitution of ‘cherishing all the children of our Nation’, and to support the families to empower their children and young adults to have a normal and better quality of life so that they could realise their full potential as citizens in modern Ireland. On the national, health, educational, social and psychological and economical levels a lot of changes were taking place, but at an unacceptable level. There was the development of the regional health boards and a realignment of responsibilities and finances, which gave rise to confusion and delay in the promised delivery of residential places and the newer more informed community service models, impacting on the children, young adults and their families. My abiding memories of the days of my Presidency of the Association are of the many regional, local and national meetings conducted in campaigning for better facilities, community programmes and the breaking of the staff embargo that was in place. NAMHI led the first very successful campaign against the health cuts, which resulted in the families of people with learning disabilities being exempted from the cutbacks.

There is no doubt in my mind that Ireland owes Inclusion Ireland (with its 160 affiliated associations) a great depth of gratitude for their heroic sacrifices and contribution to the ongoing process of the development of the multifaceted approach to the current excellence of our models of services for those with learning disabilities.
Br Thomas O’Grady, OH

***

I was privileged to serve as President of (NAMHI) Inclusion Ireland during 1989–1991. It was, like now, a time of economic hardship. The principal worry of Inclusion Ireland at that time was the ever growing waiting lists. Our objective was to get the Department of Health to give an annual development budget, clearly identified and specified for new places. In this we were successful.

The other major development was the establishment of the Adams Fund. This arose from a request from Inclusion Europe to help parents get organised in the former communist Eastern Bloc countries. As President, I proposed to the then Executive that we twin with Bulgaria, and this was agreed.

The Adams Fund was established and through its funds the Bulgarian Association of Parent and Friends for Intellectual Disability (BAPID) was established in 1991. The Adams Fund paid for their first telephone and fax and one-room office. Inclusion Ireland has continued to support BAPID office until well into the current century. Today BAPID is self-supporting and has a network of 54 branches throughout Bulgaria. Small grants were given to help set up the first community services, such as day activity centres and group homes. In recent times the Adams Fund has been used to help support a community project in Macedonia.

I look back with joy at my many years of involvement with (NAMHI) Inclusion Ireland, beginning from 1975. As Inclusion Ireland celebrates its Golden Jubilee, I wish it continued success.
John O’Gorman

***

I was actively involved with NAMHI and Inclusion Ireland for 1968 to 2001 (with a short sabbatical from 1976 to 1984). During that time I met and worked with some really great and unassuming people. Colonel Joe Adams, Captain O’Neill, Gerry Ryan and Deirdre Carroll were very committed General Secretaries and each brought their own personal skills and talents to their work. I also worked with many presidents/chairpersons and greatly respected each and every one for the vision and energy they brought to the Association. I recall attending my first council meeting at St John of God’s Services, Islandbridge in 1984 (after my sabbatical) and thinking ‘nothing has moved in the past 10 years.’ But thankfully much has progressed since 1984. Some particular memories that have remained with me include: Meeting Professor Timchev from Bulgaria for the first time at a NAMHI Executive meeting. Along with many others I have worked with John O’Gorman in supporting Parents & Friends Associations in Bulgaria. The late Siobhán McCarthy from Cork who worked tirelessly to secure travel passes for people with an intellectual disability and who livened up any meeting she attended. The commitment of many parents such as Bill Kennedy, Eamon Carpenter, Annie Ryan, Ann O’Donovan, Dr Noreen Buckley and the late Sadie Tate in advocating for quality services and supports for people with an intellectual disability. Space does not permit naming the many other parents who have devoted much time and effort working with Inclusion Ireland, but I salute all of them and thank them for the many happy memories that will remain with me forever.

Very positive discussions at meetings where parents and professionals were in attendance. I would like to see greater collaboration between all stakeholders in intellectual disability, as we face very serious challenges in the years ahead to maintain and develop services and supports for people with an intellectual disability. Being an Officer of NAMHI for many years and being honoured to be President for two years. Meeting some extraordinary people through Inclusion Ireland at AGMs, regional and other meetings. I congratulate Inclusion Ireland on its 50th Anniversary and wish everyone involved continued success in the future.
Tony Darmody

***

I will never forget the day in 1996, in Donegal Town, when I was elected as President of NAMHI. It was a great honour and one which I still treasure. Since then both the organisation and I have moved on – Inclusion Ireland becoming a more fitting name for NAMHI, and I have retired. I still continue to take an interest in Inclusion Ireland by retaining a personal membership. My memories of that time are many but the two main ones are the parents who fought so hard for their children’s rights and a tour of some of the worst ‘institutions’ in which so many adults with a learning disability were living. I hope that things have improved over the years in residential centres, but the present financial climate will reduce resources. I had many friends in ‘NAMHI’ and am still in contact with some of them. I hope I contributed something positive during my years of involvement. I congratulate Inclusion Ireland on its 50th Anniversary and wish it every success over the next 50.
Jim Gilmartin

***

In 2003 I was elected as President of Inclusion Ireland (NAMHI as it was named then). It was a great honour as a parent of a daughter with an intellectual disability to be president of such a great organisation. It had and still has a long history of being at the forefront of promoting the rights of people with intellectual disability and their families. Inclusion Ireland is a unique organisation as its members includes parents, professionals (working with people with disabilities) and services providers.

There were many events and campaigns during my presidency, but the one event which stands out was the Special Olympics World Games which came to Ireland in June 2003. This was the first time it had been held outside America. The opening ceremony was a spectacular event and I will never forget the feeling of pride when our own Irish team arrived into Croke Park. What a welcome they received. Everybody was crying with happiness. When the torch arrived and the flame was lit, the excitement was intense. I can even now remember the colour and vitality of that wonderful opening ceremony.

The next day I was honoured as President of Inclusion Ireland to be an honoured guest and to present medals at different venues to winning Special Olympians. I met many wonderful people while waiting to present the medals, among them Sargent Shriver, Brian O’Driscoll, a Japanese Princess, and John O’Donoghue (then Minister for Sport). Sargent Shriver welcomed me with a huge handshake when I introduced myself as a parent of a person with intellectual disability. He was a lovely man; he joked and made us all laugh.

It’s wonderful to see the happiness of the athletes when they received their medals. The Special Olympics shows the positive side of our wonderful people, and the games captured the imagination of the Irish people with crowds flocking to every competition.

The closing ceremony of the World Games was again a wonderful celebration of music and dance, with a mixture of sadness and regret that the games were over- The last part of the ceremony was to extinguish the Olympic flame and that was done by my friend Mandy Finlay, with the help of President
Mary McAleese

***

I will never forget the feeling of pride I had as President of Inclusion Ireland over all the days of the World Games that summer. SHARE THE FEELING.
Jean Spain

***

It was my great privilege to become President of Inclusion Ireland at the AGM in Limerick in 2006. Less than one week in the position, the honour fell to me to welcome President Mary Mc Aleese to officially open our new office at The Steelworks. Our CEO Deidre Carroll, Ian Redmond, then advocacy officer, and Stephen Kealy, Inclusion Ireland’s previous President, had done all the hard work in the acquisition of the property over the previous two years. The office was bathed in sunshine that afternoon, having been decked out in daffodils for the occasion by the staff. There was a great sense of new beginnings. At the end of that year, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern paid an official visit. This was followed by a visit by Mary Hanafin, then Minister of Education. The arrival of all these state cars sparked a great curiosity in our neighbours, apartment dwellers and company office staff in the Steelworks building complex, so much so that there was a request to purchase tickets to any future events. With funds being very tight just then, the temptation to do so could have crossed Deidre’s mind. Representing Inclusion Ireland at the World Conference of Inclusion International in November 2006 was indeed a highlight of my presidency. Fifteen hundred delegates attended. Many were self-advocates from various organisations throughout the world. Despite the fact that the conference was been hosted in their own country, the Mexican self-advocates had to make the greatest efforts to attend. There is no rail service in Mexico, the cost of air travel was out of their reach, and their only option was up to fifteen hours on a bus, irrespective of their disabilities. It was a joy to experience their wonderful sunny disposition.

In this country we are totally opposed to congregational settings for service delivery; I learned that for people with any type of disability in Mexico at that time, even congregational settings would have been a pipe dream. I greatly enjoyed my visits to the many parents and friends groups and county organisations during those two years. It never ceases to amaze me, that despite the fact that one may only know one or two people when you arrive at these meetings, the common bond of involvement with intellectual disability erases all sense of being a stranger. Much to my own surprise, I shed a tear as I handed over the presidential chain of office to Bill Shorten at our AGM in Tullamore in 2008.
Finula Garrahy

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