Frieda Finlay celebrates 50 years of Inclusion Ireland and looks back over a hectic year in the run.up to the 50th celebrations


Above: Then President Mary McAleese at the launch of the 50th anniversary of Inclusion Ireland at the National Library on 20 January 2011.
Right: Deirdre Carrol, President Mary McAleese, Frieda Finlay and Jerry Buttimer at the 50th anniversary launch.
Opposite page: Presidential candidates debate at the Mansion House on 17 October hosted by Inclusion Ireland and chaired by Miriam O’Callaghan.

It was the pioneering spirit of the founder members in 1961 that saw the need for change and set up NAMHI. Having changed our name from NAMHI to Inclusion Ireland, now 50 years on we continue that campaign.

It is important while celebrating our 50 years that we have found the balance between the serious issues and the reasons to celebrate. Through our celebrations we want to highlight and help change attitudes and to promote rights, independence, dignity and equality for people with intellectual disabilities and their families.

We want to use our celebrations to keep the needs of people with intellectual disabilities and their families high on the political and media agenda. Above all, our aim has been to celebrate the talents, abilities, creativity and sheer personality of people with an intellectual disability themselves. In a way, that’s what Inclusion Ireland is all about, and throughout our history it has been people and families who matter most to us.

We have seen over the years how, when given opportunities, people with intellectual disabilities have blossomed beyond all recognition, full of confidence and self esteem. That’s why we have wanted it to be an exciting year. We knew it would be a lot of hard work, and we were going to have to do it on a shoestring. In September 2010 we started planning for our anniversary. We put together a brilliant committee of people who were willing to give us their time, energy and expertise, to help us organise the celebrations.

I would like to thank most sincerely Tom O’Higgins, Pat Kinsley, Stephen McDermott, Caroline Erskine, Miriam O’Callaghan, Carolyn Odgers (and the ball committee), Maria Mulcahy, Ger Lally (training speakers) and Anne.Louise Kelly (who devoted so much of her time and energy).

We were successful in getting sponsorship from the Iris O’Brien Foundation, to enable us to do the work without being a drain on Inclusion Ireland’s scarce resources.

On 20 January President McAleese launched our calendar of events for the year in the National Library. Our first major event was our AGM in Killarney in April, attended by about 300 members. Despite the very worrying times we are going through, the main message coming from the conference was that people felt this recession was an opportune time for reform—reform in the way services are delivered and funded.

In May we sent out information about our art and poetry competitions. The response was way beyond our expectations. There were 600 entries for the art competition and 280 entries for the poetry competition from all around the country.

During the summer Roddy Doyle held two workshops for young people with intellectual disabilities at which they had great fun and enjoyment.

We held a debate for the Presidential candidates on 17 October in the Mansion House. The debate was chaired by Miriam O’Callaghan, and attracted huge media attention. The only person unable to attend was Dana. Each candidate was asked to speak for five minutes. Questions from the floor dealt with issues concerning people with intellectual disabilities. It was the first time the presidential election was about real issues, rather than personality battles. On 19 October 19, with the Law Society, we co-hosted a very successful conference on ‘Intellectual Disability and the Law’, which was held in Blackhall Place. Over 220 people attended—among them people from the legal profession, the office of the DPP, service providers and parents. Again thanks to our great speakers Professor Gerard Quinn, Barrister Teresa Blake, Patricia Rickard-Clarke from the Law Reform Commission, Mairin McCartney (solicitor and board member of Inclusion Ireland), and Beverly Smith (self-advocate), this was a very important, informative and interesting conference.

The art competition was amazing. The work submitted had a profound impact on the internationally respected Irish artists Guggi and Dorothy Cross who agreed to act as judges. The 49 winning entries were exhibited as part of the National Arts Fair in the RDS.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny launched the competition with an audience of several hundred people, including the 49 artists and their family members who had travelled from as far as Killarney, Galway and all over Ireland.

The pride on the faces of the artists and their families was a real joy, they fully recognised the importance of where their work was being exhibited. The Taoiseach announced the overall winner, Natasha Moloney, and the two runners.up, Paul Clohessy and Mary B. Kelly. What was also important was that the Exhibition was visited by hundreds more people, and it attracted dozens of comments about the genuine and brilliant quality of the art on display.

The next event was the Conference on Sexual Offences and Capacity, hosted by the Law Reform Commission. I was really honoured to be asked as Chairperson of Inclusion Ireland to speak among such eminent people as Lord Justice Munby, Chairman of the Law Commission for England and Wales and a Judge of the Court of Appeals for England and Wales, James Hamilton, retiring Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Justice Charleton, a judge of the High Court, Dr Fintan Sheerin from TCD and Patricia Rickard.Clarke, Commissioner of the Law Reform Commission. Again this was a very significant and influential event, attended by many members of the judiciary and the legal profession. The Conference was a very good example of the way Inclusion Ireland has often punched above its weight, and has helped to influence public policy and the law because of the advocacy skills and knowledge we have brought to bear.

The winners of the poetry competition will be announced by President Michael D. Higgins at the National Library of Ireland, Kildare St, Dublin 2 on Wednesday the 30 November. We are delighted that President Higgins is in a position to attend the event and read the winning poem. The 19 final poem entries will be on display in the National Library from the 30th November and available on our website after 30 November. The judges for the Poetry competition were poets Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Theo Dorgan, and Irish Times Literary Editor Caroline Walsh. Having whittled the 280 entries we received down to the final 19 poems, they have also told us it was no easy job because of the high quality of the work they received. In fact, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill was so impressed with the work that she has offered two poetry workshops to ten of the top poets.

And we are also very excited about the self-Advocates Forum on ‘What Inclusion means to me’, very kindly sponsored by the O’Higgins family and to be chaired by Judge Kevin O’Higgins of the European Court of Justice, Tuesday 29 November at 6 in UCD. The event will be hosted by the famous Literary & Historical Society of UCD (L&H) in the Astra Hall. 15 self-Advocates will speak on the topic of ‘What Inclusion Means to Me’ at the Forum. The L&H is one of the oldest and most famous debating societies in the world, founded by Cardinal Newman in 1855, and this is the first time in its history that people with an intellectual disability will take part in a Society debate, on their needs and rights. We’re naturally hoping for as big an attendance as possible, in order to maximise the impact of the debate.

The final event of the year will be the self-Advocates Gala Ball in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham. We expect more than 200 self-advocates, families and friends to boogie the night away in these great surroundings.

By running all these events we have done a lot more than celebrate. We have helped to grow the profile and awareness of our work. We have also helped to greatly increase awareness of the talents and abilities of people with an intellectual disability, and I hope we’ve helped to add value to their creative lives. We’ve made new friends through the people who have been of enormous help to us. But apart from that, we all, I believe, owe a depth of gratitude to our CEO Deirdre Carroll and her team (especially Siobhán Kane) for, once again, doing so much with so little, and making a huge success of our 50th Anniversary.