Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath officially opened a €2.1m Children and Adult Services Centre in West Cork but not before receiving a good-natured earful from service users in relation to disability issues.
Mr McGrath visited Clonakilty for the opening of the CoAction Centre, paid for almost entirely through fundraising, and was welcomed by a group of service users and self-advocates, who used a meeting with the minister to raise issues such as respite funding and local transport.
“They gave me welly, and hell,” the minister told the large crowd at the ceremony, namechecking Andrew Buttimer, Claire Calnan, Jack Barry and Melissa Collins as the representatives who set the agenda. “There is a place in Dáil Éireann for some of these voices.”
The sense of excitement among service users and their families was palpable ahead of the official opening of a facility that was the culmination of years of planning and fundraising.
Many in attendance said the centre should not mark a full stop in terms of services for those who need them, but rather another staging post on the road.
Ahead of the launch of a four-year National Disability Strategy in two weeks, Mr McGrath said the centre was “a legacy you can be proud of”, and pledged to make all efforts to secure as large a disability budget as possible in this year’s budget.
Referring to “people with loads of abilities”, he said he wanted to increase the percentage of people with disabilities working in public services to 6%. Afterwards, he said recommendations from a task force on personalised budgets could be ready by Christmas and accepted there were concerns over issues such as respite. He urged anyone who qualified for the carers grant to secure it, estimating that as many as 50,000 who can avail of it but who have not done so.
CoAction West Cork CEO Maurice Walsh said there was a shortfall in funding for respite services, and said transport for people trying to access services was a further problem. Mr Walsh said he was hopeful the minister would address those concerns, particularly the worries of ageing parents who are concerned about what will happen, in the future, to their children when parents pass away.
Mr McGrath said: “There are issues with services, and not enough services.” But as he spoke, the faces beaming back at him in a facility built by a community, he reflected on how all policy now is driven at allowing people “to live the lives of their choosing”. It was, he said, “a day of celebration”.
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