20–21 April 2001, Kilkenny
Approximately 250 attended the 40th AGM of NAMHI which was held at the new and very posh Ormonde Hotel in Kilkenny on Friday and Saturday 20–21 April 2001.
A rights-based perspective was highlighted by the three speakers at the Plenary Session on Friday evening. Gerard Quinn spoke about the gap between our rhetoric and myth system of justice and equality (see p. ??). He recommended many avenues through which NAMHI members can pressurise for change.
Mary Keys spoke about concerns over the contents of the Mental Health Bill and the limited composition of the proposed Mental Health Commission. She discussed several aspects of the bill that will impact upon people with intellectual disability.
Michele Clarke, Chief Inspector of the recently inaugurated Social Services Inspectorate explained the work of her office, its limitations and hopes for future expansion.
Saturday morning’s business session of the AGM moved along smartly. Because it was the last AGM before his imminent retirement, Gerry Ryan presented his General Secretary’s report in full (see p.8–9), and he received the first of many ovations during the weekend from the appreciative NAMHI membership.
Sixteen motions were presented to the delegates. Motion 11 called for the removal of the mean tested Carers’ Allowance and its replacement with a non-means tested Carers’ Payment which would be relevant to the cost of care and in-home supports. That was the motion which received media coverage during the AGM. Lifetime medical cards were also requested for children and adults with a diagnosed, permanent disability. The controversial motion to set up a working group to look at a possible name change for NAMHI was passed—but it may not have done so if it had actually recommended a change in terminology. Cope Foundation presented a motion calling on the government to recognise the unique needs of people with dual diagnosis of mild intellectual disability and mental health problems, citing criminal justice dilemmas and the social crises caused by the death of parents. More resource teachers were demanded for primary and secondary level students with special needs in mainstream education. The Department of Health and Children was asked for an awareness programme for GPs on the importance of Fragile X Syndrome diagnosis and counselling. There was a call for increased student places for RMHN and paramedical therapy training, and for ensuring optimal standards in education and training of staff working in the intellectual disability sector. The recently formed Laois Friends of the Intellectually Disabled called on the government to ‘introduce legislation in the Oireachtas that would guarantee a comprehensive service to all citizens with an intellectual disability.’
The social side of the AGM was most enjoyable—the familiar faces were all on hand to celebrate NAMHI’s 40 years and to acknowledge Gerry Ryan’s able hand on the tiller ‘since half time’—to mix metaphors! Gerry and his wife Carmel were presented with gifts from the general membership and from Limerick Parents and Friends and the Parents and Friends of Castledermot. Honorary life memberships were presented to Carmel Goggins, Anne Redmond (in absentia), Áine Keaveney and Joe Maher (of the Communication Workers Union).
As usual, there was recurring disappointment at the small number of new and/or younger people attending the AGM. It is of course important that the ‘movers and shakers’ in service management should be present, but since the greatest value of the weekend is probably in the social and networking opportunities it provides, it would be a good thing to see many more frontline and young professional staff in attendance, as well as younger carers—all of them could help to forge a better partnership for our people with learning disabilities. Interestingly, two delegates acknowledged conference-funding from their area health board for representatives of their local parents and friends groups.