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Supports for people with disabilities must be restored

17 July, 2013 - by Kathryn Reilly


Speaking today during a Labour Party private members motion debate on the Special Olympics Sinn Féin Senator Kathryn Reilly said that “supports for people with disabilities must be restored.”

Senator Reilly said:

“The Special Olympics is a life-changing movement of people helping people. And at the outset I would like to commend and congratulate all the work being done by the volunteers, athletes, coaches, families and communities that are linked to the Special Olympics.

“Nearly one fifth of Irish adults with an intellectual disability have been diagnosed with depression; that’s considerably higher than the figure of 5% among the general population. So Special Olympics Ireland stepped in to the breach and since starting 35 years ago, it has transformed many lives.

“However, over the year’s government funding for the organisation has been dramatically cut. So too have many supports to people with disabilities such as the respite care grant, the mobility allowance, the motorised transport grant.

“If the government is to live up to its programme for government commitment to enhance the lives of people with disabilities it must start by restoring funding for these and other vital supports.”

Note to editor: Full text of Senator Kathryn Reilly’s speech during the Labour senators private members motion today.

Special Olympics is a life-changing movement of people helping people. And at the outset I would like to commend and congratulate all the work being done by the volunteers, athletes, coaches, families and communities that are linked to the Special Olympics.

What makes Special Olympics so special? Some of its founding principles may be the most appropriate way to shed some light on why this movement has thrived and caught the attention and ardent support of thousands of people.

The goal of this movement is twofold:
(1) to bring intellectual disabilities out of the darkness and into the light of public acceptance and understanding, and
(2) to give all persons with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to become productive citizens who are accepted and respected in their communities.

The spirit of Special Olympics incorporates universal values that transcend all boundaries of geography, nationality, political philosophy, gender, age, race, or religion.

We all know the role that sport plays in forming and strengthening friendships, tackling social exclusion and offering opportunities to develop life skills and self-knowledge. Lack of friendships and social interaction experienced by young people and adults with an intellectual disability may contribute to depression.

Nearly one fifth of Irish adults with an intellectual disability have been diagnosed with depression; that’s considerably higher than the figure of 5% among the general population. So Special Olympics Ireland stepped in to the breach and since starting 35 years ago, it has transformed many lives.

However, over the years government funding for the organisation has been dramatically cut.
Couple with that the cuts to the disability sector and it puts in conflict the first part of the Governments text with the latter line.

The Programme for Government includes a clear commitment to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities

This is a commitment that I very much support.

Unfortunately this Government has made a series of decisions which have undermined the quality of life for people with disabilities.

In Budget 2013 Fine Gael and Labour cut the annual Respite Care Grant from €1,700 to €1,375 for each person receiving care.

This cruel cut not only hit the 77,000 carers who rely on it to provide some respite for themselves, but it had a direct impact on those they care for – many elderly or people with physical or intellectual disabilities.

Hitting carers also hits those they are caring for and this cut has significantly reduced the quality of life for tens of thousands of people.

Worse was to come when the government announced the end to the mobility allowance and the motorised transport scheme.

This year these schemes were closed to new entrants. For the 4,700 people with disabilities who rely on the mobility allowance to live an independent life a period of enormous uncertainty was created when the government said the scheme would be replaced this summer but gave no indication as to what would replace it.

When the deadline came for closing shutting the scheme entirely no replacement was in place and the government extended the scheme again creating huge anxiety and uncertainty for people who use the scheme.

Other changes such as those to the household benefits package have left older people and those with disabilities more isolated than before. Changes to the medical card eligibility criteriua introduced earlier this year have also caused particular difficulties for people with disabilities. And the on-going saga of the effective cuts to special needs assistants is having a very real and detrimental impact on families with special needs children.

When I first read the final paragraph of the Labour PMB I was struck between the contrast between its self-congratulatory back slapping sentiment and the real hurt caused to real people by Fine Gael and Labour cuts to supports for people with disabilities.

The words of Independent Arklow councillor Miriam Murphy came to mind. Miriam is a disability rights lobbyist and activist and also has a physical disability having used a wheelchair all her life.

Writing in The Journal in April she said:

“On the 26 February, the cuts to the Mobility Allowance and the Disabled Drivers Transport Grants were announced. I was enjoying a nice cuppa’ at the fire. I was half listening to the 9 o’clock news, I knew I had heard “DISABLED HIT AGAIN”. My husband came into the room and said I should listen. I can honestly say it was like someone had hit me in my stomach. I was shocked, mad, and a little unsure about what the broadcaster was actually telling us. We both just looked at each other. I cried as I felt I couldn’t take any more.”

As you vote for your private members motion today remember that this is the impact of Fine Gael and Labour policies on the quality of life of people with disabilities.

ENDS

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