AT least 2,000 people converged on city centre Dublin, demanding cutbacks to disability services be reversed and the state stops treating those using the services as “second class citizens”.
At 12.15pm the march began at the Garden of Remembrance, and less than an hour later it had trailed its way to the Molesworth St and the gates of Leinster House.
The flags, banners and placards told the story, service users, family members and staff at centres from around the country, all united in their calls for what many simply claimed were equal rights.
Politicians of various hues were spotted amongst the throng, including Denis Naughten of Fine Gael, Arthur Morgan of Sinn Féin and Liz McManus of Labour. They listened intently as a number of speakers rounded on the Government and spelled out the human cost of the cutbacks to services.
Frieda Finlay of Inclusion Ireland, who herself has a child with an intellectual disability, told the crowd that the cuts were having a devastating impact and that some people were even losing their homes as a result. She said people were being treated with “disrespect” and as “second class citizens”.
“We are representing thousands of people who can not be here because of their disability,” she said.
“Families are at breaking point because respite services are being stopped or cut. It is outrageous that it has come to this.
“Did we destroy the economy? No. Did we cause the banks to collapse? No. Are we greedy? No. Are we corrupt? No.
“So why are we being punished? Why are we losing our homes?
“Our very basic human rights are being taken away from us,” she said.
Frank Conaty from Galway, the father of a 16-year-old boy availing of disability services, said there had been “a fundamental failure of Government” and the last six months had seen the closure of community homes and a reduction in respite care.
“Lives are being lost, families’ lives are being absolutely devastated,” he said.
Avril Webster from Limerick was joined at yesterday’s march by two of her children, Rachel, 7, and 9-year-old Michael. They all carried homemade posters calling for the system to support their brother, 12-year-old Stephen, who has a severe intellectual disability.
“He is with the Daughters of Charity in Lisnagry. The Government are snipping away at it. There have been cuts in the past six months but we are fearful of what will be coming.”
Eddie Redmond, human resources manager with the Irish Deaf Society and who himself is deaf, said in the past two years funding had been cut by between 25% and 30%.
“We used to have 20 staff, now we have 10 or 11 for people who are using sign language,” he said.
“Everyone is talking about inclusion but we are always treated like second class citizens.”
Jean Fitzpatrick, a service user at the Donegal Centre for Independent Living and staff member Pat McCafferty were part of an eight strong team down from Letterkenny.
Jean, who has used the personal assistance service for the past seven years, said, “The health area is one thing that should not be touched. It gives us our independence – I don’t know where I would turn if they cut it further.”
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