They’ve been doing it for 38 years now, and the NAMHI AGM is a well-run gig. (I’ve always considered that my £10 sub for individual membership is fantastic value. Annoying expenses like travel, food and accommodation apart, the AGM itself is a free event, with valuable freebies of reports, literature, information, camaraderie and craic.)
Ann Donovan, President of NAMHI and Chairman of host-organisation the Galway County Association, conducted the AGM with grace and efficiency, and General Secretary Gerry Ryan provided his consummate skills throughout the proceedings. Friday evenings of recent AGMs included workshops to discuss the next day’s motions; they provided a good chance to have a say, but sometimes led to a ‘leftovers’ feel at the actual presentations of motions on Saturday. This year, after delegates were welcomed by Councillor Donal Lyons, Deputy Mayor of Galway, and Ann Donovan gave her President’s Address, proceedings moved to a plenary session, entitled ‘Working together for the future’. Justice Declan Costello chaired the panel of speakers (representing service providers, funders, users, family and staff members) who described their roles in the provision of supports and services in the years ahead. Speakers were Tom Hogan, Voluntary Federation; Seamus Mannion, Western Health Board; Mary Kinsella, Orchard Centre, Gort; Tom Healy, Rosedale School Association; Mary Kelly, Western Care Association; Veronica Cleary, Siblink; and Sue Patching, Galway County Association. Individually and as a group, the speakers epitomised the partnership which is vital in order to serve the needs of persons with learning disabilities (see also this issue, pages00).
Minister for Health and Children Brian Cowen, TD, spoke during the AGM session on Saturday morning. He spoke with a candidness that might have been ‘refreshing’ had it not been so unyielding. He restated the government’s priorities in mental handicap services and acknowledged that there were many areas in need of further provision, ‘as additional funds become available to me’. That dishearteningly passive-sounding phrase dashed any hopes AGM delegates may have held that the Celtic Tiger’s purse-strings would be loosened in their cause. Although far from satisfied by his message, NAMHI delegates did appreciate the fact that Minister Cowen did visit the AGM, and that he accepted questions from the floor and spoke informally with several delegates afterwards.
A rosier feature of the morning session was a presentation to Inclusion International’s President Don Wills and his wife Maureen, who were guests at the AGM. In his short message to delegates, Mr Wills spoke of Inclusion International’s aims for people with intellectual disabilities: inclusion in all aspects of everyday society, full citizenship, self-determination (self-advocacy) and family support. The movement worldwide now includes organisations which reach about 20 per cent of the estimated 50 million persons with intellectual disability in the world. Noting a recurring motion on title/terminology to come before the AGM later on, he quipped that perhaps NAMHI could be ‘Now A Movement Heralding Inclusion’, and he mentioned some national organisations which had changed their title, e.g. Inclusion Japan.
As in previous years, most of the motions at the 38th NAMHI AGM sparked unanimous agreement rather than heated debate. Particular attention was given to respite care, provision for older persons, parents’ representation, guidelines for the investigation of abuse of adults with learning disability, and the carer’s allowance. The AGM approved the restructuring of NAMHI as a limited company, with articles of association to be submitted to a future annual or extraordinary general meeting. The AGM also passed an enabling motion to allow ‘the Council of NAMHI to prepare a motion … setting out the necessary rule changes for a change in the name of the Association’. Some delegates considered the enabling motion ‘the thin end of the wedge’, and there will be a return debate in the future with proponents for a name change, who argue that the association should adopt newer terminology and accede to the views of individuals who find the mh-usage offensive.