Special Olympian loses daycare centre place as Taoiseach is criticised

AIDAN DOWNEY is preparing for the biggest day of his life when he will represent his country at the Special Olympics World Games on Saturday.

What he doesn't know is that because of a lack of funding, he has lost his place at a daycare centre for people with a disability.

Two of Aidan's friends on Team Ireland's basketball team have also lost their places at the centre and face an uncertain future.

As the 22-year-old departed for Leixlip yesterday to stay with a host family, Aidan's mother couldn't bring herself to tell him the bad news.

"It's such a blow, and totally unexpected. I think it's deplorable that this is happening to members of Team Ireland, and in the European Year of People with Disabilities. These are the people who are being attacked now and being shoved out into nowhere the most vulnerable people in society. It's just a disgrace," said Joan Downey.

Mrs Downey, who lives near Cashel, said her son had been attending Moorehaven Centre in Tipperary for the past three years. The family had been told he could attend classes for as long as he wished.

However, at a meeting last week with the centre management, she was informed the South Eastern Health Board did not have enough funding to cover his placement and he would have to leave Moorehaven on August 28.

Mrs Downey said management at the centre suggested Aidan, who has a mild intellectual disability, could find a part-time job, but she does not believe he would be able to cope outside the workshop environment.

"We know of other examples where lads have left the centre and later on their job has folded. Once they've left the centre they can't go back."

A spokesperson for the health board said it was not a matter of funding. She said the board always tries to find a placement best suited to the needs of the individual.

Deirdre Carroll, the general secretary of NAMHI, an umbrella group representing people with intellectual disabilities, said there was tragic irony in Aidan's story.

"It's very ironic that this young man has a great opportunity to represent his country and be part of the glory of the World Games. But once it's over, he faces the prospect of being without a basic service to go to each day."

The spokesperson for the group Wake Up Call for Special Needs, called on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to resign as European Year of People with Disabilities patron.

Addressing a meeting of Kerry County Council, Noreen Buckley criticised the Government's treatment of people with disabilities.

"The Taoiseach is fully prepared to bathe in the glory of being the first country to host the Special Olympics outside the United States. But what does he do for his own people?" Mrs Buckley said.

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