The role of advocacy in Inclusion Ireland

by Jim Winters, Inclusion Ireland


Advocacy is a word often misunderstood. Put simply, advocacy is about speaking up. The word advocacy comes from the Latin word advocare—meaning to call. The term advocacy is also used to explain many different approaches from campaigning to lobbying. This article seeks to provide some clarity to the term advocacy as it is understood from the perspective of Inclusion Ireland.

Inclusion Ireland is the largest national organisation representing the interests of people with an intellectual disability In Ireland. Inclusion Ireland has been supporting the voice of people with an intellectual disability in Ireland since 1961. We campaign for changes in laws and services for people with intellectual disabilities. We were one of the first organisations to employ a full-time advocate and are now the largest single employer of paid advocates in Ireland.

Models of advocacy supported by Inclusion Ireland

The advocacy models endorsed by Inclusion Ireland are described below. Although each of these models of advocacy share the same basic principles, a different approach is needed to implement each one. self-advocacy—When a person speaks up for themselves it is called self-advocacy. self-advocacy is not something provided by Inclusion Ireland, but it is promoted and encouraged. Sometimes an individual needs more than encouragement or support to speak up—information and training are necessary. Inclusion Ireland provides this information, training and support to self-advocates. We also facilitate self-advocacy groups and are in the process of establishing a National Platform of self-Advocates. Representative advocacy—On other occasions where people find themselves in situations when their voice cannot be heard, an advocacy service can be provided. Inclusion Ireland calls this type of advocacy representative advocacy.

Representative advocacy is independent of disability service providers and is provided by a paid advocate. Representative advocacy is issue-based. This means when the issue is addressed the advocate moves on to another advocacy case. Inclusion Ireland employs a number of representative advocates and has developed a code of practice and policies to support its advocates in their practice. Inclusion Ireland also has two representative advocacy projects funded by the Citizens Information Board (CIB). Public policy advocacy—Public policy advocacy is when organisations and advocates call for change; this has been a major part of the work of Inclusion Ireland since the 1960s. Inclusion Ireland advocates and campaigns for legislative reform; the provision of services based on need and with national standards; the closure of large residential institutions; the rights of people with disabilities, etc. Public policy advocacy is not something you provide – it is something you do. Citizen advocacy—Advocacy can also be provided in a non-paid capacity. The main difference between citizen advocacy and representative advocacy is that the relationship in citizen advocacy is long-term and the time is given freely. Inclusion Ireland has plans to develop a citizen advocacy programme in the future.

Peer advocacy—Peer advocacy is when a person with a shared experience supports another person to have their voice heard. This can be a person with an intellectual disability supporting another person with an intellectual disability. Inclusion Ireland supports people with an intellectual disability to become peer advocates and facilitates a number of peer advocacy groups. Parent advocacy—Parent advocacy is about parents acting as advocates for their children. Inclusion Ireland recognises the role of parents and provides information, advice and support to parents to be effective advocates for their children. We provide support and training to parents who participate on the parent speaking panels and HSE Consultative Committees. We also encourage disability service providers to have elected parent representatives on their boards. A growing number of parents and friends associations are also members of Inclusion Ireland.

Recent advocacy developments in Inclusion Ireland

Inclusion Ireland has recently carried out research in respect of advocacy and best practice. Consequently, a number of policies and procedures have been developed to give guidance to Inclusion Ireland advocate. A code of practice has also been developed. This is based on the Code of Practice of the Irish Association of Advocates (IAA). Inclusion Ireland has also reviewed the commitments to advocacy in Making Inclusion Ireland a Reality (Inclusion Ireland Strategic Plan 2009 – 2012).

Inclusion Ireland’s two CIB.funded representative advocacy projects have been independently evaluated and a report on them is expected soon. A case management system for CIB.funded advocacy projects is also in place.

Inclusion Ireland has received funding from Atlantic Philanthropies, through the Person Centre, to establish a National Platform of self-Advocates in Ireland. This will be modelled on successful platforms in other countries and is evidence of Inclusion Ireland’s commitment to the voice of people with an intellectual disability. A national convention of self-advocates which took place in Dublin last year, has formed the background to this self-advocacy initiative.

Inclusion Ireland also plans to produce a guide to advocacy for its members and the wider public. We are also designing a range of advocacy and human rights training programmes designed for people with intellectual disabilities, parents and disability service providers, respectively. We also hope to have a dedicated advocacy section on our website soon.

From a public policy point of view, Inclusion Ireland continues to advocate for changes to laws and improvements in services to people with intellectual disabilities. Inclusion Ireland has been vocal in respect of the need for statutory inspection in adult disability services. We continue to campaign for appropriate capacity legislation.

If you would like to find out more about the advocacy work of Inclusion Ireland please contact us on 01.8559891 or visit


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here