'Sceptical' protesters maintain vigil despite last-minute reversal of cuts

 

CAMPAIGNERS remained outside Government Buildings last night, despite the reversal of cuts to disability services they rely on.

Dozens of severely disabled campaigners had gathered there yesterday to protest at the planned cuts and to demand the Government immediately ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

They said that a €10 million cut to services for the disabled would force them out of independent work and living and into nursing homes, increase their risk of illness and “wreck their lives”.

Three of the protesters met Minister for Health James Reilly inside Government Buildings at 7.30pm yesterday.

They said that while they received guarantees their personal assistant services would not be cut in this round, they asked for more.

Director general of the Health Service Executive Tony O’Brien also attended the meeting, the campaigners said.

“If somebody dies, we asked that those monies don’t go back into the general pot but are used to pay for services for somebody else on the waiting list,” said Leigh Gath, who was affected by the Thalidomide drug, and travelled from Limerick for the protest.

While the HSE last night issued a statement reversing cuts to the personal assistant service, Ms Gath said the protesters would maintain their vigil.

“After being let down so many times, you can understand that we are a little bit sceptical.”

Ms Gath said they received a commitment Mr O’Brien would give them a letter this morning to confirm what had been agreed.

Earlier yesterday, and before the cuts were partially reversed by the Government, Joe Mooney, a wheelchair user in full-time employment with Muscular Dystrophy Ireland, which has 617 members, feared he and his personal assistant could be out of work if the cuts are implemented.

“I hope the Government sees sense, this is about quality of life, not just for me but many others. All of those with muscular dystrophy will need assistance at some stage.

“I work, I pay tax, so does my PA (personal assistant). The cuts would leave both of us on the dole and me in a care home. That makes no sense.”

Dr Margaret Kennedy, accompanied by her sister Ann, from Greystones, Co Wicklow, both deaf since birth and wheelchair users, said the Government was “intent on destroying people’s lives or at least make them harder”.

“I live in my own home and am determined to stay there but there is a constant battle just to have a decent life.

“Enda Kenny has said we are a modern country, we’re not because if we were, we would not have to be here. How dare the Government come back from their summer recess and cut our services? Next week, they will be celebrating the Paralympians on their return but while the athletes were away, the services were cut. Such hypocrisy.”

Assistance hours had already been cut by 15 per cent and the latest proposals would increase that to 50 per cent, she said.

Donal Toolan, a wheelchair user for more than 50 years who recently had to seek personal assistance, said the cuts would increase costs and effect no savings. The disabled are “collateral damage” of a measure which, like the household charge, is not thought through, he said, speaking before the reversal of the cuts.

Case study: 'Why don't they look at their own salaries?'

MARY COLLINS doesn’t want to be admitted into an institution again.

Despite living with cerebral palsy and chronic pain, she has established a vibrant and independent life for herself, with the help of personal assistants.

But as cutbacks to these living supports loomed yesterday, she feared losing much of what she fought so hard to get.

“Without the support I have, I would be in an institution and feel like a prisoner with no dignity and freedom,” she says.

With limited mobility in her arms and legs, many aspects of life are beyond her.

She remembers one care facility where, as an adult, she would be put to bed at 4pm. It wasn’t because she wanted to go to bed in the afternoon – but because it suited the staff.

“Going back to somewhere like that would feel like a concentration camp to me,” she says.

Since 2000, Mary has had the support of three personal assistants who help her with everything – dressing, showering, going to the toilet, preparing a meal.

It has been life-changing.

She has gone on to receive a Master’s degree from Trinity College Dublin and carved out a career for herself as a successful artist. A high point, she says, was having an exhibition opened by Prince Albert of Monaco.

She is also involved in voluntary community work and campaigning on disability issues.

But now she is worried. Even the smallest of cuts in hours could curtail her independence.

Prior to August 2007, she says she had to spend Sundays at home with her elderly parents, whose house was not equipped to cater to her needs. Increased funding from the Health Service Executive, however, meant she has since been able to spend this time as she wishes.

As a Labour Party member, she feels particularly let down. She spoke at a party conference in 2009, highlighting the importance of independent living supports. Earlier this year she had a visit at home from Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. He saw for himself the value of these supports.

Speaking early yesterday before the reversal of the planned cuts, she said: “I’m very fearful over what could happen to lots of people like me if these cuts go ahead.

“I understand the financial situation we’re in. But why take these vital services away from people with disabilities? Why don’t they look at their own salaries?”

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