‘Break barriers, open doors—for an inclusive society for all.’ That was the theme of the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December 2013. Members of the self-advocates’ sub-committee of the Board of Inclusion Ireland marked the important day by briefing Oireachtas members, before a formal meeting the following day with Kathleen Lynch TD, Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues. Brendan O’Connor, Deputy Editor of the Sunday Independent, chaired the briefing.
Themes at the briefing to Oireachtas members ranged from what self-advocacy has meant to the sub-committee members and their colleagues, to calls for changes to the Assisted Decision-making (Capacity) Bill, currently going before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Choice and control over their own lives were also central themes, encapsulated by sub-committee chairperson Marie Wolfe: ‘People living in large residential services have very few rights and control over their lives. We want to choose who we live with and where we live, and manage our own money, control what we do … have a social life, go to college, get a job, fall in love.’
Sam O’Connor said: ‘We want to be part of all decisions that affect our lives… The government and HSE need to be accountable and include people with disabilities in decisions.’
Adrian Noonan, PRO of the Kilkenny-based self-advocacy group Seasamh, emphasised that people with an intellectual disability are voters too, and must be respected and listened to: ‘We have to keep fighting to be heard and remind this government we are not going away…. We as people with intellectual disabilities will not be walked over and are citizens of this country too, and should be treated equally.’
The speakers from the self-advocacy sub-committee were Marie Wolfe, Sam O’Connor, Phil Davy, Paul Alford, Martin Rowan, Dermot Lowdes, Brian Hayes and Adrian Noonan. TDs and Senators who attended included Deputies Jerry Buttimer, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Simon Harris, Finian McGrath, and Senator Mary Moran.
The self-advocacy sub-committee got a strong reaction to their presentation from all who attended, and they intend to continue to highlight issues affecting them by accepting the invitation of Deputy Jerry Buttimer (committee chairman) to speak before the Oireachtas Health Committee in 2014.