Every person has the right to be in control of his or her own life and in decisions which affect them. However, sometimes, whether through frailty, disability, financial circumstances or social attitudes, they may find themselves in a position where their ability to exercise choice or to represent their own interests is limited. In these circumstances advocates can help ensure that an individual’s views, rights, and entitlements are heard, respected and acted upon. In the context of disability in Ireland, there have been quite a lot of developments in recent times in the area of advocacy.
For example, a new personal advocacy service was recently given legislative status under the Citizens Information Act (2007). The Citizens Information Board (CIB)—the national support agency responsible for supporting the provision of information, advice, and advocacy on social services—has been supporting the development of new, community-based advocacy services for disabled people. So far, the CIB has funded over 30 advocacy projects throughout the country. Those seeking formal training in advocacy can pursue a qualification through the Institute of Technology, Sligo.
All of these new advocacy initiatives complement the informal advocacy that has existed in Ireland for so long and supports the established advocacy that was already available to some disabled people from organisations such as the Irish Advocacy Network. As the number of people working in the area of advocacy increases and as it becomes more professionalised, those working in the area have sought to come together and share experiences and offer mutual support. As a result, a new organisation—the Irish Association of Advocates (IAA)—was established this year. The IAA is a peer-led organisation, which seeks to support and promote the work of advocates in Ireland. The IAA is committed to a leadership role in the ongoing development of advocacy services in Ireland and to providing support to advocates.
The IAA sees advocacy as:
‘Taking action to enable people to express what they want, secure their rights, represent their interests, and obtain services they need. Advocates and advocacy services work in partnership with the people they support and take their side. Advocacy promotes social inclusion, equality, and social justice. Advocacy can be instructed or non-instructed.’
The IAA meets regularly to discuss issues of common interest and welcomes anybody working in the area of advocacy to apply for membership. The IAA has developed terms of reference and a code of practice for its members. The IAA code of practice is a set of guidelines for advocates aimed at providing clarity, support, and boundaries for their practice. The code offers a clear description of what is and is not expected of an advocate in their day-to-day work with service users.
In the future, the IAA hopes to:
- Represent and lobby on behalf of advocates on matters of policy and practice.
- Offer peer support and share best practice.
- Promote the IAA as the representative body for advocates.