Don’t let doom set the mood

by Stephen Kealy

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ISSUE 73 OF FRONTLINE is published against the background of seismic international financial volatility which has had far reaching consequences for many people throughout the world. Daily in Irish newspapers the consequences for our economy are analysed by commentators. The statements of politicians and men and women of business are carefully scrutinised for words of hope and vision. Commentators rightly point out the impact the downturn will have on any families struggling to make ends meet in this changed environment. The election of President-elect Barack Obama, in this climate of uncertainty, has been seen by many as a signal of hope and transformation, not only in America but throughout the world.

Disabled people are very often dependent on others for hope and vision. However, the lack of vision of some people providing services for people with intellectual disabilities can often mean their lives as disabled people are circumscribed, and some of the places where they live undesirable. Politicians have to make choices as to how money is spent and people/organisations in receipt of that money have to be accountable for the service provided. However, Budget 2009, as its implications unfold in practice, does not send a clear message about protecting the vulnerable within our society.

Brendan Broderick’s article identifies that things can be done differently, that we need to be open to change, to do business in a different way. More importantly, it conveys a sense of vision and change that is achievable, provided people work collaboratively in a new way. Business leaders often identify three important components which contribute to being a successful entrepreneur:

Responsibility – taking responsibility for a project, business or service, and not to lay blame on others for something within the remit of their business. Making hard decisions – making hard decisions by critically re-evaluating how some disposable resources are husbanded and utilised. Having to choose is not easy, but it can be made intolerable if there are controls that take no account of people’s needs.

Planning – having a plan, so that there can be overall achievement within what is reasonably possible—even though every component of it may not be met. These themes are reiterated in Tony Darmody’s contribution and similarly by Siobhán Kane’s.

The HSE as the funder of disability services are working under excessive budgetary constraints and have applied a formula for financial rectitude that disables service providers, preventing them from constructively engaging in the above principles. It is not that change is not possible, but the absence of an overall strategic plan for disability services magnifies distortions in service quality, through ‘efficiency cuts’ and budget-reduction formulae.

If vision and change are to become reality, business has to be done in a different way. We must avoid disability services becoming so expensive that they are simply impossible to provide. All people involved in the provision of disability services are going to have to realistically rethink how high-quality services can continue to be developed and delivered equitably, and with easy access, so that parents seeking the continuation of existing services and the development of new services are not repeatedly traumatised by poorly-integrated planning, inadequate funding, sectional interests, and a system bereft of hope and vision.
The articles on fostering people’s spirituality restate the idea of completeness, inclusion, and recognition of the person. These themes are also taken up in other articles. There is a recognition that we can continue to support families and disabled people, while doing things differently. Service providers, statutory and non-statutory, have a shared objective—high-quality, equitable and accessible services for people with disabilities. These cannot be achieved without everyone taking responsibility, and collaborating fully.

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