Dear Enda ...

MY name is Joanne O’Riordan from Millstreet in Co Cork. I was born with a disability known as “total amelia”.

This means that I was born without all four limbs and although it’s a physical disability I have never allowed this to hold me back.

At the start of the week and during Tuesday’s budget announcement, I was shocked and disappointed to hear a member of your government announcing the horrific cut to the disability allowance.

Why, you may ask…? You may not remember me but I remember the day I met you. It was during the time you were canvassing in Millstreet for the general election and I was doing my Junior Certificate mocks.

I stopped to ask you a few questions in relation to people with disabilities. If you remember, you told me that day there would be no cuts to the disability payments as you wanted to protect us. I took you on your word and I thought your word would be good enough. But 10 months later, when I turned on the television to watch the Six One news, I was really annoyed and disheartened to find out that you had gone back on your promise you had made to me personally.

It is extremely hurtful that you would feel the need to lie to me and others who are in a vulnerable position.

As a person who has a physical disability you are not going to prevent me from having a voice. I will use my voice to help others who feel they cannot be heard. To live with a disability like mine is, for you, unimaginable.

You may not think that the cuts your government originally announced and then paused would damage anyone, but they do!

I, like every citizen in this country, am entitled to live a quality of life that is equal to an able-bodied person. By reducing my entitlements and that of others you are excluding me from living a fully independent and quality life. I am not a statistic and just like everyone else, I have needs and ambitions too.

Any cuts to disability benefits prevent me and others from furthering our chances of having a better education and social life. If you want to inflict pain and suffering on anyone, why don’t you start with your own pocket? Set an example to Irish people and the wider society that you are not in this job for the money, but to help protect hard-working and honourable citizens, just like me.

Despite your Government’s U-turn, I still felt it necessary to take time out of my busy day to write you this letter, something which I thought I would never have to do.

Yes, Taoiseach, just because I have a disability does not mean that I will fade into the background and become a person that people can only see and not hear.

I have many projects that have several deadlines such as the BT Young Scientist Competition and school exams. It may also interest you to know that only three weeks ago I was a recipient of the West Cork Garda Youth Award and not only that, I also performed in the school play.

I expect to see you at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition because I would like to enlighten you on the facts of our project No Limbs, No Limits? My friend Nadine Spillane and I have been working hard to show how people with disabilities can achieve their goals in life.

But before I go, just remember: a cut to my entitlements is a cut to my life.

Yours in good faith,

Joanne O’Riordan

(A 15-year-old hard-working student.)

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