NOTES ON THE NAMHI AGM,

by Mary de Paor

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19-20 April 2002
Seán Staunton, Cathaoirleach of Westport Town Council, welcomed delegates to the 41st AGM of NAMHI with refreshing candour—admitting his unfamiliarity with the organisation’s work (he had initially us with Mental Health Ireland). He challenged NAMHI to develop a higher profile. Like his audience, he hoped that politicians’ ‘verbal zeal before the coming election will be matched with action afterwards.’

Friday evening’s plenary session, chaired by Stephen Kealy, was on ‘consent and capacity to give consent’. Christina Burke of NUI Galway outlined the fragmented legal context of consent in Ireland, Law Reform Commission recommendations and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons.

Mairín McCartney spoke about issues for families and carers of persons over 18 who lack capacity for informed consent. Wills/discretionary trusts can assist provision for financial needs, but present laws do not cover guardianship, enduring power of attorney or legal-advocacy. Difficulties can arise particularly in the areas of medical treatment, sexual relationships and parenthood.

Tom O’Malley was unable to attend in person; Ms Burke presented his paper on ‘protecting vulnerable persons from sexual abuse and exploitation’. Because of the limitations of the criminal law, he recommended that focus should be placed on civil remedies—care orders, wardship if necessary—and that matrimonial law should be re-examined.

Tony Darmody’s presidential address concentrated on NAMHI’s major objectives: services as a right, elimination of waiting lists, relocation of people from inappropriate services/institutions, issues around guardianship and consent, respite and advocacy. He was strongly critical of the industrial action by residential care staff which had temporarily forced some people with intellectual disabilities to leave their homes. He reported that despite their best efforts, NAMHI had not secured a meeting with the Minister for Education during the past year: ‘surely common sense alone would suggest that a go-it-alone policy will not succeed.’ Minister for Health and Children Micheál Martin was fog-bound on the East Coast, and in his stead Minister of State and Mayoman Tom Moffat arrived, almost out of breath, to deliver the governmental speech outlining recent expenditure and future plans.

Jean Spain succeeds Tony Darmody as president of NAMHI for 2002-2004, along with Stephen Kealy, Vice President; Bill Shorten, Honorary Secretary; Finula Gerahy, Assistant Hon. Secretary; Ursula King, Treasurer, and Frieda Finlay, Hon. PRO.

Among the 17 motions passed, perhaps the three supported with most passion dealt with a government strategy to deal with the shortages of therapists and specialist staff, appropriate alternative accommodation for people in locked wards of outdated institutions, and provision for the specific needs of people with mild intellectual disability, especially those serving prison sentences.

Rosaleen O’Connell and Ursula King received NAMHI honorary life membership. Western Care Association and Aras Attracta mounted stalls of their enterprises, crafts, candles and Moy Chocolates. On Saturday afternoon, Mayo Special Olympic athletes and their coaches made a presentation on the 2003 World Games.

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