Disability rights advocate Donal Toolan dies aged 50

President Higgins pays tribute to campaigner’s ‘immense contribution’ to public life

Donal Toolan was characterised as “a true champion of inclusion with a stubborn commitment to human rights”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Donal Toolan was characterised as “a true champion of inclusion with a stubborn commitment to human rights”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Disability rights campaigner Donal Toolan has died aged 50 following a short illness.

He was also a journalist and actor and became the first person with a disability to be nominated to the Council of State in 1991. He also presented RTÉ Radio 1 show Not So Different and was founder and director of the Forum of People with Disabilities.

President Michael D Higgins described Toolan, originally from Co Mayo, as “a deeply committed advocate for legislation on disability rights”.

“Donal Toolan had a rare skill to establish a rapport with all those with whom he dealt. As a journalist, actor and campaigner he made a contribution to Irish public life that was of immense value,” said Mr Higgins.

“He will be missed in particular by all of us who had the privilege of knowing him. Sabina and I express our condolences to his family, colleagues and wide circle of friends.”

‘True champion’

Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists Séamus Dooley said Toolan was “a true champion of inclusion”.

“Donal challenged the charity model which frequently characterised the disability sector and demanded that disabled people be accorded the right to be their own advocates,” he said.

“He was a true champion of inclusion with a stubborn commitment to human rights. Donal used all his talents – as an actor, a writer, and social commentator, to champion his vision of equality not just in Ireland but internationally, through the UN Association of International Service and the European Anti-Poverty Network.”

Toolan also served as a board member for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL).

Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the ICCL said: “Donal made an enormous contribution to defining the rights of people with disabilities as a question of fundamental human rights.

“He was a fearless and brilliant campaigner who believed passionately that people with disabilities must lead the fight for dignity and justice for all those affected by disability in all its forms.”

Mr Herrick added that through his activism, Toolan helped “change the landscape for disability rights in Ireland”.