‘Missing my work pals like mad’: Down syndrome and Covid’s huge impact

Pandemic results in job losses and limited options to engage with further education

Síle Maguire (37), lives in Marino in Dublin, and up until the pandemic was working as a server in Temple Bar, one of the sectors – and locations – hardest hit by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Based in the city centre in the Oak Bar, she says she enjoyed the buzz of “meeting new people and having fun with them when they come into the bar”.

“Yes, I love it. I love my boss, I love my workmates,” she says.

Hospital Report

“I am missing my work pals like mad, I miss the chat with the customers. It’s hard as my routine is different and I really love meeting new people, and now I really miss that,” she added.


Job losses and having to stay at home for nearly a year now have had a disproportionate impact on Ms Maguire and other adults with Down syndrome and their families, according to Aoife Gaffney, head of employment with Down Syndrome Ireland.

“They have been left feeling they cannot connect with others like they used to, they cannot do the jobs they loved with the skills they had worked so hard to attain, and they have also been financially impacted also,” she says.

The Covid-19 pandemic “has left many adults with Down syndrome more isolated and has resulted in job losses and limited options to engage with further education and other life activities,” Ms Gaffney explains.

Some 96 per cent of employees that were on Down Syndrome Ireland’s Ability Programme, which trains adults for employment , “were placed on temporary lay-off or were furloughed”, she says.

“Our programme was going from strength to strength at the start of last year. We had a vast amount of plans, huge employment opportunities and partnerships in the pipeline.

But the organisation still needs to raise 86 per cent of its €4.8 million running costs to provide “all-through-life” supports to people with Down syndrome and their families.

Ability Programme

Ms Gaffney cites a charitable partnership with Mace stores which Ms Maguire is now fronting as a lifeline which will allow the Ability Programme for those aged 29-plus to move online. Funds will be raised by counter-top charity boxes in Mace stores and a contribution from the sale of selected own brand products.

The first €10,000 raised will allow Down Syndrome Ireland to deliver an initial 10-week online course beginning this Monday, February 15th, with every €5,000 raised after that funding an additional online course.

Separately, Down Syndrome Ireland has sought an urgent meeting with Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman, looking to discuss pre-school children with Down syndrome who the organisation says, “have received little to no State services since the beginning of the pandemic. We are a year into the crisis and young children with Down syndrome have been virtually forgotten and we need this addressed,” the group said.

“Challenges around communication, safety, self-care needs and mobility have been further exacerbated by the withdrawal of multiple therapies such as speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

“Access to therapies was already limited, they are now largely absent, with many therapists redeployed to Covid-related tasks,” said the statement, published on the organisation’s website.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist