THE LIMERICK PARENTS AND FRIENDS: One group’s experiences of campaigning for better services

by Ger South (Limerick Parents and Friends Association of the Mentally Handicapped

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Starting off

Limerick Parents and Friends Association of the Mentally Handicapped were set up in 1972, in response to many calls for help and support for the intellectual disabled in the area. After approximately three years, it became clear that the Association had failed to make progress in advancing the call for services to meet our needs. It was decided to embark on a political campaign to make progress. This decision was arrived at when it became clear that our Mid-Western Health Board, willing and supportive as they were to provide the services required, could not do so because of lack of funding from the Department of Health. Our campaign has continued up to the present time.

When one talks about a political campaign, we have to look at the many ways that we had to identify with, to make progress.

The campaign

We commenced our campaign by meeting many local politicians on Limerick City and County councils to present them with our documented case for services required. After some time it became clear that Councillors did not have the power to provide the funding for services identified. We then had to direct our campaign to the national and government parties. Having met with all political groups we finally had to concentrate on those who made up the government—those in government control the purse strings.

The political process, as we know it, has failed miserably to deal with the continuing crisis in services. In our thinking, this is because for many years successive governments have considered people with disabilities as not having votes to influence politicians. Over the years we have met and made our case to four Taoisigh and all the Ministers for Health..

The political process is the only real avenue for us to take in order to achieve our rights, and to facilitate improvements for people with intellectual disability. The political process inhibits improvements in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities because they are not considered a priority when elections come round.

Using the media

The only advice one could give to people campaigning for the rights of people with intellectual disability is to make as much use of the media as one can, by identifying the very personal family cases that exist. This should in the first instance be done by very publicly making government and opposition TDs account for their support or otherwise for the cases. It is only at a local level that TDs can be made to say yes or no. Meetings with local TDs must be publicised so that people in the area hear about the meeting and its outcome.

If at all possible, parents should try to bring their intellectually disabled son or daughter to meet their TD when identifying the service they require.

If TDs attend public meetings and support your call for services, make sure that they provide feedback via the local media as to what progress they have made at government level.

For many years people have had to go through the courts to get their rights.

The future

Maybe I am optimistic, but I believe that finally we are on the edge of achieving our goal. However, this can only be done by getting the government to:

  1. Lay aside the proposed Disability Bill 2004
  2. Replace it with a combination of the Strategy for Equality report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disability (1996) and the DLCG Equal Citizens report
  3. The Minister for Finance Brian Cowan must continue on the positive support he has shown to date, by bringing forward rights-based legislation early in the Dáil.

Only in this way can this government once and for all bring an end to the many difficult years that parents have spent, seeking the rights of their family members with intellectual disability.

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