Standing up and being counted

Mary de Paor


THIS ISSUE OF FRONTLINE could almost be considered ‘a retrospective’—a onetime editor going back over old ground. Nearly ten years ago (Issue 33, January 1998), we published a feature on self-advocacy, and, as guest-editor of this issue, I thought it might be useful to chart what has been happening more recently in that area. It is very encouraging to see that a great deal is happening, and at an overdue but accelerating pace. Recent legislation has given Comhairle (now CIB— Citizens Information Board) responsibility for the development of an effective advocacy network nationwide, and it is engaged in building up a range of services, benefiting from the previous groundwork of many individuals and disability service organisations.
My hope was to put together a few pages to show what is being done in the area; but the magazine is nearly filled with ‘advocacy stories’. I must thank Liza Kelly (Inclusion Ireland) and Máiríde Woods (Advocacy Executive, CIB) for sourcing the articles for me, and each of the authors and groups who responded. We can read about the energies of self-advocacy groups—such as Seasamh in Kilkenny and the Stop Bullying group who met at the National Institute for Intellectual Disability (Trinity College) and the Institute’s Transfer of Knowledge research programme—and about several advocacy services on behalf of those who are less able to speak up for themselves—the advocacy officers of Inclusion Ireland, Cheshire Ireland, community-based services in Sligo and Longford, and the newly-formed Irish Association of Advocates.

Broadening the concept of advocacy further, Patricia Noonan Walsh and Liz McKeon (and IASSID Physical Health Special Interest Group conference) advocate advances in the good-health status of people with disabilities. Owen Doody recounts a study which gave a voice to family-members of people who had been moved from an institution to a community-based residential programme. The Streetwise programme was devised in order to help individuals with intellectual disabilities live more confidently and safely in their community and, also, to foster more comfortable relations between them and members of the Gardaí. A.R. Giles appears to advocate that managers of disability services should have more empathy with the HSE! Advocacy in action is certainly evident in the heart-lifting story of Tigh an Oileáin. Again, this is a story that harks back—in fact, to Dr Noreen Buckley’s interview with the O’Connell family on Valentia in the very first issue of Frontline 18 years ago.

Eighteen years, and the magazine is still in existence. But in order for it to continue, and to improve, the Frontline editorial board needs new ideas and new blood—and not least, a transfusion of resources! As an example, Frontline badly needs a website-maintenance person—and the current editorial personnel are not competent to take on that responsibility. It would only take a few hours, just four times a year—any volunteer??