A young man from Co Westmeath has said he is “overwhelmed” and “overjoyed” at becoming the first person with Down syndrome to be elected to a senior position in a political party in Ireland.
Fintan Bray was voted into Fianna Fáil's National Executive or Committee of 15 at the party’s Ard Fheis on Saturday.
Fianna Fáil Longford councillor Uruemu Adejinmi, who became the first black woman to be elected mayor in Ireland last year, was also elected to the oversight committee.
Mr Bray told the PA news agency he was “thrilled” at being elected and that he wants to be a role model for younger people with disabilities.
“I’m still in shock,” he said.
“I’m elected now and now people from everywhere, from Galway, Kilkenny, have all been liking and commenting and texting me congratulations.” The 28-year-old from Delvin said politics is the only job he wants for the rest of his life, adding that he wants to represent those with special needs across the country.
“It’s the only job I want for the rest of my life,” Mr Bray said.
“I’m looking for paid employment for all people with disabilities, any type of disability to have a chance to have a job, to have access to education. And I’m representing people for all of that now.
“How do I feel about it now? I’m absolutely overwhelmed with everything… I can’t believe it myself that it’s happening.”
Taoiseach Micheal Martin, who met Mr Bray at the party’s Ard Fheis at the weekend, congratulated Mr Bray on his successful campaign.
Mr Martin later wrote on Twitter: “Special mention & congratulations to Fintan Bray on being elected to our Ard Chomhairle – the first person with Down syndrome to be elected to a senior position in a political party in Ireland.
“We’re delighted & very grateful to have his input and representation in our party.” Mr Bray, who describes himself as being “born and raised Fianna Fail”, said meeting the Taoiseach was “one of the best days in my life”.
“He is a nice man,” he said.
“He’s one of the nicest people you’ve ever met. He’s really friendly and he’s so nice to talk to.
“He’s one of the best leaders we’ve ever had in Fianna Fail.” Mr Bray, who is a member of a number of bodies including the National Council of Down Syndrome Ireland and Fianna Fail’s disability forum, said he wants to focus on helping people.
“It’s not about what I want, it’s about what other people want… It’s all about the people now,” he said.
“The people have spoken now. I represent everyone in the country with differences.” His advice to younger people with disabilities is to stay positive.
“Don’t ever give up on your dream,” he said. “Keep on going with your future.
“Things are hard, I have to say that, things are hard, difficult at times, but that’s just life. Just keep on going. Keep on doing your dancing, singing, acting, anything, keep on doing it and living your life to the fullest.
“Think about all the positives in life and never think you cannot do it. Everyone can achieve anything if they’re given the opportunity.”