by Finnula Garrahy, namhi Vice President & Maria Wolfe, Chairperson, Brothers of Charity National Service Users Council


The AGM of namhi took place at the Radisson Hotel Sligo on Friday and Saturday, 22 – 23 April 2005. Three hundred and twenty delegates attended from namhi-affiliated organisations from all over the country. The numbers of health professionals and service providers was greater than in the last number of years. The theme of the AGM was ‘Assessment of need – How will it work?’

Jim Gilmartin gave the address of welcome, as Cllr Margaret Gormley, Cathaoirleach of Sligo Co. Council, was unable to attend as planned. Tim O’Malley, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (with responsibility for disability and mental health) then addressed the Conference. He spoke about the government’s commitment to ‘a multi-annual investment programme for disability-specific services over the next five years’. Mr O’Malley spoke about the Disability Bill, but did not repeat the statement he made at the 2004 AGM ‘that Ireland’s disability will be the envy of Europe’.

At the outset of his presidential address, Stephen Kealy acknowledged the Sisters of La Sagesse, who started the services at Cregg House in 1955. He thanked the Community for the enormous contribution they have made over the last 50 years. The President went on to speak with passion about insufficient services on the ground for people with disabilities—respite, mental-health, day, residential and therapy services. The association has clearly identified the needs over the years. The President acknowledged that there has been a significant improvement in services throughout the country over the past number of years. There is a more positive attitude to disability; efforts are being made to make Ireland, a more inclusive society. He spoke about the necessity of making best use of inadequate resources: ‘ nowhere can you find a document that lays out a strategic plan to be achieved within a fixed time-frame’. He drew attention to some of the high priorities of namhi:

  • Adequate funding for school leavers, who should, by right, be confident of an appropriate placement the September after graduating.
  • A compressive respite programme in each geographic area.
  • The association must continue to highlight the necessity of suitable accommodation for persons with intellectual disability still in psychiatric hospitals or de-designated units.

On Friday evening we had a very informative overview of the Health Services Executive, by James O’Grady, whose appointment as National Care Group Manager (Disability) had just been announced.

Motions before the AGM were debated on Saturday morning, and as always there was a lively discussion. Delegates were very vocal in their condemnation of the proposed Disability Bill, and they called for it to be scrapped.

Dr Patricia O’Brien, Director of the National Institute for Learning Disability, Trinity College Dublin, gave the keynote address. ‘Meeting people’s needs: Reflecting on the New Zealand and Australian experience’. The introduction of needs assessment and service coordination ‘has the potential to change the face of services’, Dr O’Brien said. She elaborated on this throughout her presentation. She strongly advised that our main focus must be that our people with disabilities, be given the opportunity to ‘lead happy, meaningful and satisfying lives’. AGM delegates enthusiastically received her speech.

Following the presentation, people had the opportunity to attend a workshop of their choice that dealt with various approaches to assessment of needs.

Workshop 1: Assessment of Needs—The Early Years. Speakers were Mary Fox, Early Interventionist, St John of God Northeast Services; Pat Curtin, CEO National Council for Special Education and Marie Garry, Parent, Co. Offaly.

Workshop 2: Assessment of Needs—Values and Equality, what should we expect? Speakers were Jim Gogarty, Independent Disability Consultant, Catherine Timoney and Ger Gibbons, Cregg House, and Joseph Doherty, Self-Advocate (The story of One Man’s Life in an Institution).

Workshop 3: Assessment of Needs for Those with Complex and Challenging Behaviour.

Speakers were Brian McClean, Behaviour Support Specialist, Brothers of Charity, Roscommon, and Mary Kealy, Director, Brothers of Charity, Clare Services.

Workshop 4 was for people with an intellectual disability. It was a Drama Workshop entitled ‘Telling People What I Need’. The Workshop leader was Declan Drohan.

Following lunch, there was a short feedback session from the four workshops. Delegates expressed the opinion that they found the workshop format very useful—it affords them the opportunity to select a topic that is of most interest/concern to them.

At the close of the Conference, the President presented two awards. The Media Award went to The Primetime Team, for the programme that highlighted the difficulties experienced by families in coping with caring for their seriously disabled child/adult.

The Advocacy Award was presented to The Brothers of Charity National Service Users Council and was accepted by Maria Wolfe, Chairperson of the Council.

During the Conference Dinner, Honorary Life Membership was presented to three deserving recipients. Sarah Tate of Helping Hands Tallaght, who has spent her life in the service of parents and families where there is a family member with intellectual disability. Tony Darmody spoke glowing of her contribution to the community of Tallaght.

Gerry Ryan, who served for many years as General Secretary of namhi. Gerry has worked tirelessly on behalf of all the membership and is highly respected by everyone. Gerry was described as a true gentleman in the real meaning of the word.

Philomena Donavan, Parents and Friends Association of the St John of God Carmona Services. Phil has given a lifetime of voluntary service to the cause of people with an intellectual disability. Phil has been a true namhi supporter and delegate.

Special thanks to Jim Gilmartin, CEO of Cregg House, for the wonderful night’s entertainment. A very lively band had us all dancing. Jim and his team, in cooperation with Deidre Carroll and the namhi office staff, put a great deal of work into ensuring that the AGM was a huge success. Do keep the dates 31 March 31 and 1April 2006 free, for next year’s AGM, which will be held in Limerick.


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