Disability rights activists from North and South are today attending a conference on disability rights and inclusion in the Carrickdale Hotel in north Louth.
The conference, is organised by Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson, who is the vice president of the European Parliament’s disability intergroup. Among those participating are Les Allamby from the Human Rights Commission, Monica Wilson from Disability Action, Julie Ward MEP British Labour Party, Kate Beattie Barrister, Senator John Dolan, CEO Disability Federation of Ireland and An-Sofie Leenknecht, Human Rights Officer with the European Disability Forum.
Opening the conference Sinn Féin leader and Louth TD Gerry Adams called on the Irish government to “urgently clear away any outstanding obstacles to the signing of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was signed by this state nine years ago. The failure of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael led governments to ratify is disgraceful.”
Gerry Adams said:
“It’s not easy being a citizen with a disability. All you want is fair play. An equal chance. Regrettably, government policy hasn’t made that a reality for many. In fact, three-quarters of disability service users are not satisfied with the level of control they have over their own lives and citizens with a disability suffer among the highest levels of consistent poverty.
People out of work due to illness or a disability are five times as likely to be at risk of poverty and survive on the lowest annual average disposable incomes, compared to other socio-economic groups. That has been compounded by years of service cutbacks and lack of service provision.
The CSO Survey on Income and Living Conditions shows that more than half of people who are not in work due to disability or illness are experiencing enforced deprivation.
They cannot afford the very basics such as heat in their homes, food on the table and appropriate clothing, not to mention having minimal opportunities for social inclusion.”
The Louth TD cited local examples of disabled citizens not being allocated the resources they have a right to.
“The cancellation of respite provision at St. Mary’s in Drumcar and the non-continuance of funding for the WalkPeer Project, which supports people with disabilities to access employment and education, are causing severe difficulties and frustration.
The WalkPeer programme enables young people with a disability to access opportunities in mainstream education, training and employment within their communities.
It was one of the fourteen Disability Activation Schemes jointly funded by the Department of Social Protection and the European Social Fund. The government withdrew funding for such schemes, in a move that made no sense whatsoever. Only the Louth project has survived.
I have met Minister Finian McGrath many times on this issue. Its future is still uncertain.
Another massive issue was the scrapping of the Mobility Allowance Scheme and the Motorised Transport Grant Scheme, on which thousands of disabled citizens depended. Some 5,000 citizens are still in receipt of these grants, but there have been no new applicants since 2011. Government claims of putting an alternative in place have produced nothing in that period.
But perhaps the clearest evidence of the government’s failure to support citizens with disabilities has been its failure to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Irish State signed the Convention in 2007, but it is the only EU member state that has not yet ratified the Convention. That’s not acceptable.”
Concluding Gerry Adams said:
“We cannot have a fully inclusive republic without respect for diversity and the achievement of social equality by citizens that have been excluded. We have to be about ensuring equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens. This means ensuring that citizens with disabilities, can play a full and independent part in all aspects of life, relying, as far as possible, on mainstream services for health, education and employment but with the support of tailored disability services where necessary.”