by Stephen Kealy


This Issue of Frontline circulates at the time when a very difficult budget has been presented in the Dáil. Undoubtedly there will be a significant impact on all services delivered and funded from the public purse.

Many services, families and individuals will have to make forced choices and, in doing so, they will have to tap individual strengths. Resourcefulness is not a quality confined to the few. Much of the infrastructure of our local and community disability services is rooted in the resourcefulness of committed parents and friends’ organisations throughout the country. At one time there was a strong parents and friends organisation in nearly every county. Some were attached to service providers, but more were stand-alone and were focussed on trying to put in place services for children (and later adults) at a time when there were significant financial constraints. What was striking about these parents and friends organisations was their capacity to get out and about, push the boundaries and harness the goodwill of their communities.

This Issue of Frontline, like all past issues, identifies that a huge amount of work is taking place around the country in disability services—good, innovative work from many people who are paid from the public purse, but who epitomise what is means to be a public servant, with their commitment, dedication and the willingness to give of themselves. The emerging polarisation of opinion about public servants versus the private sector does little to foster goodwill or recognise what important work is taking place. It is essential to avoid, possibly irretrievably, fracturing relationships that have been so carefully developed and maintained over the years, particularly since the 1965 Commission of Enquiry on Mental Handicap.

Services can be delivered in various ways, and the report on individualised funding (published on 3 December 2010) suggests that there is a different way, for some, of funding services. Minister Moloney’s resourcefulness in limiting any cuts to the Disability Sector to 1.8% is reassuring, provided the HSE does not intoduce other cuts by stealth and further erode good will and negate possibilities of innovation. Des Hanrahan’s article identifies how support may be provided in more cost effective ways. Considerable resources are available to disability services and, yes, it is important to look at how money is spent. However, planning for services also has to take account of the increase in the prevalence of intellectual disability.

This has been well flagged for many years. Year on year, the National Intellectual Disability Data Report identifies an increased number of people who need services—and who will continue to need them into the foreseeable future. But, since the reports were first published, converting evidence to practice has been challenging. At the end of the day, the strength, quality and depth of public services depends, for a large part, on what our nation is prepared to pay by way of taxation, voluntary effort and the willingness to form relationships that work for the benefit of disabled people and their families. How our leaders make choices will have an impact on the quality and range of services that are provided. Some of the choices previously made have not been great and they have resonated for a long time. Parents and friends groups were, and remain, a powerful antidote. Perhaps they are needed now more than evermore.