As this year is the 50th Anniversary of Inclusion Ireland I would like to express my gratitude to the organisation for all it does to support people with an intellectual disability. A key strength of Inclusion Ireland is the network and community of 160 affiliated organisations throughout Ireland with their hundreds of individual members. In particular I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all of those people who give so generously of their time, year in and year out, without fail, to help people with intellectually disabilities realize their full potential
Fifty years ago, the road ahead for Inclusion Ireland was something of and less traveled route that ran into many hazards pot holes and even dead ends. Over the years which have brought Inclusion Ireland to their golden jubilee celebrations, we have witnessed many changes principally in attitude, just look at the Special Olympics World games and the impact it had in demonstrating the positive side of people with intellectual disability. Inclusion Ireland has helped change the landscape of experience and opportunity for the better and they have brought issues like access, care, opportunity, rights and self advocates into the mainstream of civic discourse nationally, also at European and internationally level.
I attended and spoke at the Annual Conference of Inclusion Ireland earlier this year. I was greatly heartened by the warm welcome I received from all of the attendees as it was my first time attending as Minister of State. I was particular impressed with the level of enthusiasm and vitality running through the organisation. Events such as the Inclusion Irelands Annual Conference helps to raise awareness in society at large of the needs of people with a intellectual disability which are to a great extent, the same needs as the rest of society. All of us want to lead as healthy a life as possible, to have meaningful social interaction, the chance to learn and the opportunity to contribute through employment and civic participation.
Ireland has now in place a clear Disability Strategy. The Strategy focuses on mainstreaming and social inclusion in relation to the planning and delivery of state services to meet the identified needs of all people with a disability. I have no doubt that this strategy would not be in place without the valued input and campaigning of organisations like Inclusion Ireland. I have always believed that the people working on the ground are often the best placed to provide answers on how we should improve the lives of people with disabilities. They are also often the people who identify the need for change and work tirelessly to bring this change about.
The Programme for Government has a commitment to publish a realistic implementation plan for the National Disability Strategy, including Sectoral Plans, with achievable timescales and targets. There will be whole of government monitoring of the strategy, in partnership with the disability sector. Inclusion Ireland is a member of the Disability Stakeholder Group (the six disability umbrella bodies) which has given constructive comments on the preliminary work by the Department of Justice on an implementation plan. I welcome this type of positive engagement and recognise the importance of cooperation in this regard.
Looking back along the sweep of the past fifty years, there have been many milestones which have helped to advance the cause of people with a disability to the point we have reached today, not least of those milestones was the foundation of Inclusion Ireland. Your members were able to bring a collective focus and momentum that bit by bit helped to move the many obstacles to change out of the way. I congratulate you and look forward to continued growth of the organisation.
Inclusion Ireland is a most appropriate title for an organisation that has now become the umbrella body for a large range of organisations representing people with an intellectual disability. This organisation provides a voice to improve their quality of life and participation in Irish Society.
In these times of economic retrenchment Inclusion Ireland’s work takes on a new pressure, intensity and importance. Unemployment affects those with a disability disproportionately, scarcer resources will have an impact on all services for people with intellectual disabilities however, the history of this organisation demonstrates that you have the inspiration, the imagination and the commitment to make a strong contribution in the coming years to continue and improve the lives of the people you represent. I, as Minister for Disability, Equality, Mental Health & Older People look forward to facing, and indeed overcoming these challenges together with you.