by Finula Garrahy, Vice-Chairperson, Inclusion Ireland


The Parents’ Committee of namhi hosted their annual Parents’ Seminar on Saturday 12 November 2005, at Killarney Plaza Hotel, Killarney. A packed audience discussed ‘Supporting families: Innovative approaches to respite services’. Opening the seminar, John O’Donoghue, TD, Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, assured the audience of the government’s commitment to supporting the disability sector.

Kevin Doyle, chair of the namhi Parents’ Committee, and Margaret Geaney, Chairperson of Kerry Parents and Friends, welcomed attendees.Margaret reminded the Minister, their local TD, of the serious shortage of respite services in his own constituency.

Kevin Doyle, parent of four young men with an intellectual disability, gave a parent’s perspective on the value of the respite services as offered by St John of God North East Services in Drumcar, Co. Louth. Kevin’s advice to any parent who may have doubts about availing of respite is to ‘think again as all parents need time to recharge their batteries’. Des Hanrahan of the St John of God Services gave a presentation on the ‘Failte’ service—a family-based respite service. He also described the ‘Network First’ service that he coordinates, which is an example of how families are supported to look first to their natural networks of family, friends, neighbours and communities to avail of short breaks. Des can be contacted at des.Hanrahan@sjog.ie for further information.

St Anne’s, Roscrea, offers a person-centred, tailor made, outreach respite service. Margaret Rooney, who is head of family support services, presented details of their alternative and flexible model of service delivery. Each respite service user has their own support worker. The programme offers recreational opportunities, education and training, counselling and mediation. The building of relationships is a key component.

The Caring and Sharing Association (CASA) has been offering a respite service to people with a disability run entirely by volunteers since 1981. It now has two full-time staff, but it is still heavily dependent on the work of volunteers. All of its current resources rely entirely on fundraising activity, as it does not receive any state funding to run its two respite houses, based in Dublin. I would see Mairéad Griffin and her fellow volunteers as the unsung heroes striving to improve the quality of life of people with a disability and their families. Mairéad was positively enthusiastic in stressing the tremendous satisfaction that the team gain because of their involvement. Well done, CASA!

Seamus Green of the National Parents and Siblings Alliance gave a very informative presentation on the opportunity for a hotel break for people with disability and their carers or family members. It is being offered by Choice Hotels, and includes the 4-star Clarion Hotels, three star Quality Hotels, and Budget Comfort Inns at various locations. Incredible as it may seem, there is no charge for the room (food services are charged, but there is no obligation to dine in the hotel). This offer is being organised through the NPSA organisation. Seamus Green has put tremendous work into organising this respite project and he informed the seminar that all the breaks had been fully subscribed. There is, however, talk about repeating the scheme again next year.

Tony Kemple from the Department of Social and Family Affairs gave detailed information on the Extended Respite Care Grant which was introduced in last year’s budget. This is a non-means-tested grant, available to carers who are not in receipt of a carer’s allowance. The Department has been surprised at the low take-up on this allowance. Certain conditions of course apply, but if any carer feels that they may have an entitlement, they should contact the Dept of Social and Family Affairs at the Longford office. Incredible as it may seem, Tony stressed that there may be as many as 5000 carers unaware that they have an entitlement to the grant [which was raised to €1200 in the December Budget]. The grant may be claimed up to December 2006. The Department is assessing its advertising campaign around the grant this year and will make the necessary adjustments next year to ensure more people are aware of it.

Pat Nelligan, Director of Nursing Intellectual Disability Services, HSE Southern Area, discussed the role and structure of the HSE and where disability services fit in to the new structures of Primary, Community & Continuing Care (PCCC). Pat assured us that the provision of respite is a very important element in the national policy of the HSE.

Tony Darmody, CEO of Kerry Parents & Friends, chaired the seminar in his inimitable way. As is customary at the namhi Parents’ Seminars, an open forum with a panel of speakers was animated and lively and proved very worthwhile to hear views on respite services from all perspectives.

Stephen Kealy, namhi Chairperson, gave the closing remarks. He assured the gathering that the question of suitable respite provision is top on namhi’s list of priorities. Once again, namhi provided an informative and thought-provoking seminar for the many members who braved the elements.

All papers from the Seminar are available from namhi (Tel: 01-6766035; info@namhi.ie).