'We have rights. All we ask is that you uphold them'
CROWDS OF people marched in the west of Ireland yesterday in protest against possible cuts in disability services.
About 1,000 people took part in a demonstration in Galway and about 50 protested in Castlebar, Co Mayo. The Galway march, hosted by the parents’ group Hope for Disability, was held in solidarity with Inclusion Ireland’s march in Dublin.
The largest service provider, Brothers of Charity, has already informed HSE West this week that it will not accept “any further cuts” as to do so would have an adverse impact on frontline services, with potential disastrous consequences.
The charity says it faces cuts of more than €4 million this year, on top of €1.8 million sought last year, and says it has already dipped into reserves to keep respite and other key services open.
“In 21st-century Ireland, in a so-called modern society and on the back of the euphoria of the Special Olympics, how can they let this happen,” said Eamonn Walsh, chairman of Hope for Disability, when addressing demonstrators at Galway Cathedral.
Mr Walsh, who is a parent representative on the Brothers of Charity board, rejected what he called the “farcical nonsense” which was “being trotted out by the HSE”, saying that it was “not cutting budgets” but “cutting costs”.
HSE West regional director of operations John Hennessy said yesterday frontline services would not be affected by cost efficiencies.
However, Brothers of Charity acting director Anne Geraghty says her board was informed by HSE West last Friday that it had a projected shortfall of €15.5 million and would seek €4 million of this from voluntary agencies. She said frontline services would certainly be affected by this, as administrative costs amounted to far less than the savings being sought.
Mr Walsh, whose son Peter (12) has cerebral palsy, an intellectual disability and other conditions, said the size of the protest reflected a “groundswell of emotion” about the future of “wonderful children who give us back a lot of love in their own way”.
He welcomed any move by the HSE not to make any further cuts this year, but said services in Limerick, Mayo and Dublin had already been affected, and that Galway was faced with the closure of essential services and the “obliteration of respite by the end of the year”.
Mr Walsh warned against returning to the “dark days of disability”, and a return to institutional care, if cuts were imposed. “We are calling on the Government today to change their policy of seeing us as simply a cost,” he said. “We are human, our children our human, we have rights. All we ask is that you uphold them”.
In a statement, HSE West said it was “not in the business of cutting frontline services or impacting on agreed service levels”, but there was an obligation to get “the best value for public funds, including those applied to the voluntary sector”.
It said it wished to do this in a “collaborative manner”.
The HSE has not agreed on further cuts to the Brothers of Charity budget allocation. If voluntary services have funding reserves now is the time to explore the use of these funds in order to protect frontline services,” it said.
“Based on discussions held to date, the Brothers of Charity has confirmed to the HSE West they will continue to provide full respite services using current resources.
“The HSE will continue to work closely with the Brothers of Charity services to discuss the details of the cost containment plans to ensure that actions are not directed at clients and their families.
“The work will also investigate areas of expenditure where cost savings can be made including: the elimination of duplication in the administration of services; procurement and purchasing to secure best prices,” it said.
More than 50 people demonstrated in Castlebar, Co Mayo. They gathered outside Fianna Fáil TD Beverley Flynn’s constituency offices in Newtown. Ms Flynn was not there to receive a message of protest but a letter of grievance was accepted on her behalf.
Afterwards the protesters, which included members of Down’s Syndrome Mayo, Disability Ireland and of the group ÁIRC – Supporting Children with Disabilities in Mayo, marched to the health executive’s offices at Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar and handed in a letter of protest there.
Cutbacks Closures And Reduced Services
ORGANISATIONS PROVIDING services to people with intellectual disability say the following are affected by cutbacks:
The Brothers of Charity, one of the largest service providers, closed respite services caring for 377 people in Limerick, including at the Bawnmore Respite House, Caherdavin.
It also closed residential homes in Galway, catering for 20 people.
The Daughters of Charity announced the closure of Ard Cuan, on the Old Cabra Road in Dublin, one respite centre caring for 84 people with Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities.
It has also closed a recently opened day care centre, Glenmaroon, on a residential housing complex in Chapelizod, Dublin. It was opened in May and cares for 54 residents with intellectual disabilities.
At Aras Attracta, Swinford, Co Mayo, run by the HSE, two houses for people with intellectual disabilities were closed on a campus of 10 and residents were “doubled up” in other houses.
Inclusion Ireland has also said that since October 2008, education supports for people with a disability had been seriously cut back; special needs assistants had been reduced or cut and, since February 2009, more than 500 children were without special classes in mainstream schools.
“My home needs to be made accessible for my son"
For the past year respite services in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, have provided Avril Walsh’s six-year-old son Matthew with his only outlet outside school.
Matthew has an intellectual disability and like hundreds of other children present at yesterday’s marches in Dublin, Galway and Castlebar, he and his family will be severely affected by the HSE cuts.
Matthew stays overnight at a respite centre in Balbriggan for one night each month, which his mother describes as a “huge relief for the family”.
Ms Walsh said her family wish to make their home fully accessible for Matthew’s needs, but she has been offered inadequate funding to make the necessary modifications to her house.
“I’ve developed a bad back from carrying Matthew up and down the stairs everyday,” Ms Walsh said. “My home needs to be made accessible for my son, but I’m continually told by the HSE that the funding is not presently available.”
“Why should people with disabilities suffer"
Pat Buckley (45) travelled from Cork to the march because of cuts to his home support services, which include regular visits from home-help nurses, and his disability rent allowance.
Mr Buckley requires the need of a wheelchair and is completely reliant on support services, which allow him to live semi- independently in his family home.
“Why should people with disabilities suffer while the Government turns a blind eye,” asked Mr Buckley.
“My sister lives in a state-of-the-art complex which is forced to provide a limited service"
Dolores Kelly travelled from Donegal yesterday because her sister lives in a residential centre run by one of the largest service providers, the Daughters of Charity.
Mrs Kelly’s sister lives in a newly developed residential housing complex in Chapelizod, Dublin. It was opened in May and cares for 54 full-time residents with intellectual disabilities.
The loss of about 14 workers has forced the closure of day services, and residents are now experiencing overcrowded conditions because there is insufficient staff, Mrs Kelly said. - STEPHEN MANGAN