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Doherty welcomes HSE decision to drop offensive term as ‘a momentous victory’ for disability rights advocates

24 March, 2015 - by Pearse Doherty TD

Sinn Féin’s Finance Spokesperson Deputy Pearse Doherty has today (Tuesday) described the decision by the HSE to abandon an out dated and offensive term previously employed to define intellectual disabilities as a “momentous victory” for disability rights advocates throughout Ireland.

The Donegal South West TD made the comments after the HSE confirmed this week that the organisation will no longer use the term “mental handicap” when referring to certain conditions recognised under the Long Term Illness Scheme – including Down Syndrome.

Deputy Doherty said;

“Having been asked by local group Donegal Down Syndrome Association to have this issue looked at, I decided to raise it in the Dáil as this terminology applied by the HSE to conditions such as Down Syndrome and Global Development Delay was completely insensitive and wholly inappropriate.

“For those with syndromes or conditions which cause intellectual disability and indeed for their families – this label has caused them untold emotional suffering for years now as it only served to further stigmatise and marginalise them.

“It was for this reason that I decided to raise this matter in the Dáil as I believed that this situation needed to be rectified.

“Following this, I have today received correspondence from the HSE in which the organisation has confirmed that the term will no longer be used when classifying conditions for the Long Term Illness Scheme and instead will employ the correct term ‘intellectual disability.’

“This is despite the fact that when I originally raised this matter with the Minister over four weeks ago in the Dáil she stated at the time that she had no plans to amend any of the scheme’s existing terms.

“I am of course absolutely delighted that the Health Service Executive has announced that it no longer will use this archaic label and the organisation has also given a commitment to review the wording of the LTI webpage on the HSE’s website in order to take this change into account. 

“Let’s be clear, while this is a simple and sensible action and one which merely involves the rewording of existing HSE documents, the importance and significance of this move should not be overlooked – this is a momentous victory for disability rights advocates throughout Ireland.

“I have spoken to a number of groups and individuals who have passionately and unwaveringly campaigned to have this matter highlighted, many of whom had vehemently refused in the past to apply for inclusion to the LTI Scheme because of the stigma which this term embodied.

“Parents in particular have contacted me to say that they had refused to have their child branded by this insulting term while others have been in touch to recall the horror at having to describe their child as mentally handicapped on a form with tears rolling down their face.

“Following this announcement today, these people can now take some solace from the fact that they and their loved ones will no longer be forced to endure the demoralising effect of having to be branded with such a cruel and draconian label.

“Of course, while this announcement is very much a welcome one, the legislation which established the Long Term Illness Scheme now needs to be altered as well in order to reflect the HSE’s decision.

“I am now calling on the Minister to amend the Health Act, 1970 (as amended) so that this obsolete term can be removed from Irish statute and thus affording those with disabilities the fairness and dignity which they so thoroughly deserve.

“In relation to today’s decision – for all those who rightly refuse to be ill-defined by their disability – this is very much a victory.”


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