Disability minister says government must be advocates for people with a disability (Inclusion Ireland Self-Advocacy Conference)

by Siobhán Kane, Communication and Information Manager, Inclusion Ireland

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Minister of State with Responsibility for Disability and Mental Health John Moloney TD, said the government must act as advocates for the rights of people with an intellectual disability. Minister Moloney was speaking at the Inclusion Ireland 2008 Self-Advocacy Conference, which took place on 18–19 June in the Carlton Shearwater Plaza Hotel in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. He also said people with a disability should not suffer as a result of health cuts. It was the fourth annual Inclusion Ireland Self-Advocacy conference. Minister Moloney stayed at the conference for several hours after he spoke in order to listen to other speakers, cancelling other events to do so.

As in previous years, the conference was a lively event, with fantastic speakers and great audience participation. The majority of speakers were people with an intellectual disability and they encouraged delegates to support each other and stand up for their rights.

Galway woman Marie Wolfe spoke about the need ‘to believe in each other’s rights’ and said ‘disabled people have the same rights as anyone else…We need supporters not to see us as disabled people, but to see us as people first.’

Paul Alford said, ‘Self-Advocacy is about speaking up for your rights and letting people know what you need. It’s not about bullying people. It’s not about being angry. It’s about knowing your point and making your point at the time. I have been involved in self-advocacy for ten years and it has helped me greatly in my life. Being involved in self-advocacy has led me to a more independent life. I have been able to travel on my own to America, Australia and China.’

Phil Davey spoke about the need for people with disabilities to support each other: ‘People with disabilities at times share the same experiences. We come across the same barriers, understand how it feels and the best way to overcome them. Advocacy has allowed me have more control in my life. Without advocacy I don’t think I would be as confident in managing difficult situations. I live a very independent life. I have gotten my own house, I have a job and have the freedom to come and go as I please. People with disabilities look to staff for the answers yet we are the ones who understand. Peer advocacy is giving the power back to people with disabilities.’

Other speakers were Labour Disability Spokesperson Kathleen Lynch, Corkman Seán Ryan, Martin Dooher, Paul Dunne, John Flannery, Padraic McDonagh, Ann Mahon, Maria Wolfe and Jina McNamara from the Brothers of Charity group ‘Research into Action’, and David Toomey and Padraic Maher from Western Care.

Andrew Doyle, Chair of the European Platform of Self-Advocates, who travelled from Scotland for the event, gave a very moving presentation about his own journey to independence, including pictures from his recent wedding. To close the conference, an open forum discussion was held with Deirdre Carroll, CEO of Inclusion Ireland, Pat Reen from Prosper Fingal, Breda Crehan Roche from Ability West, and Andrew Doyle all taking part.

Aside and from the speakers, there were also workshops on drama, independent living, relaxation and supported decision-making. The conference closed on both days with samba drummers from the Cope Foundation in Cork, who gave a rousing performance as they marched through the seating area.

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