FINIAN MCGRATH INTERVIEW

Finian McGrath, Independent TD for Dublin North Central

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How does the political process facilitate improvements for people with intellectual disability?
In fairness, most politicians are supportive of the needs of people with an intellectual disability. Others are passionate and strongly support a rights-based approach. Disability groups have forced TDs to listen to their effective campaigns. It is no longer a fringe issue. This year’s budget with major extra resources for services showed how effective disability groups were. They are now in the door, but it is up to government to listen to them.

How does the political process inhibit improvements in the lives of people with intellectual disability?
Sometimes they simply do not listen to the needs of the person with an intellectual disability and this inhibits improvement. Politicians need to think of a person-based service. Many of the services need radical changes and improvements. Governments need to tackle the major complaints about the management of disabilities. This inhibits progress.

What advice would you give to campaigners about how to fully vindicate the rights of people with intellectual disability?
Get involved in their own disability organisation and link up with the broader disability movement. There are a lot of talented people in there who will assist them in a professional manner. Get involved and also try to get into the management sector of the services. Make your voice heard at all levels. Also tackle your politicians in your own constituency. TDs will only listen or take seriously registered voters in their own patch. If you are not a registered voter, you will fall down the pecking order.

What are the short cuts that can speed change through the political system?
Lobbying TDs and ministers. Also get your local TD to put down Dáil questions. Meet the TD face to face.

If you were a person with an intellectual disability and wanted to obtain a service that you were entitled to, but were not getting, how would you go about getting it?
This will speed up the process: first of all, write to the service provider with a clear written request. Phone calls often go missing in the system. Also contact your local TD about your situation and get him or her to push your case. Finally, if these two do not work, contact your own disability group for legal advice. You have also the Ombudsman to assist you.

What relationship should exist between politicians and campaigners for people with disabilities?
The relationship has improved over the last five years. This has been a positive development. There is a healthy respect between politicians and campaigners for people with disabilities. However, the campaigners should retain their independence from political groups and only focus on the issues. They should always push the human rights side of their arguments. After all, it is about equality and respect for diversity. If anyone has a problem with that agenda, they themselves are not sincere. Keep challenging for change and improvements. Then we’ll all win.

Are politics relevant at all or is change primarily brought about through the courts, the media and direct action?
Politics is relevant, but you also need direct action, the media and—sadly—the courts. You have to fight in all spheres of Irish life to win. A good politician will not only interpret the world but will also change it. Passionate movements with a clear equality agenda will always win. For all our talk of equal rights, a significant minority of people living in Ireland have not achieved legal, economic or cultural parity. These are serious violations of justice and most of the public will support disabled people, if given the proper direction and leadership. We are fortunate in Ireland to have a number of excellent disabled people leading us from the front. I can think of five immediately who could be senior cabinet ministers—and there is not a politician in Leinster House who would disagree with me.

Do you think the system should operate through the application of political influence?
No, but sadly it does in many ways. The system should be based on the rights of our citizens to quality services. That is why I have major concerns about the current Disability Bill. Rights-based legislation is the way forward for all people with disabilities, to end the injustice once and for all.

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