Empty promises not good enough

When he launched the European Year of People with Disabilities 2003 Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said it provided an important opportunity for Ireland to unite with other European countries in creating a greater awareness of disability issues.

He said there was a need to become more conscious of the rich and often underused talents that people with disabilities possess.

Mr Ahern said he would make a major contribution to promoting this awareness by delivering a promise he has reneged on the introduction of effective rights-based legislation.

Such legislation would enshrine the rights of people with disabilities and would afford them a better quality of life.

However, successive Governments have, inexplicably, been utterly negligent in introducing such laws.

It is a sad reflection on our society that those rights, which are fundamental to providing funding and

resources to establish proper facilities for people with special needs, will only ever be provided if there is a

legal instrument to ensure that they are.

In its previous term of office, the current Government gave assurances that money and facilities would be provided, but when people sought them they were pursued through the courts to have them denied.

Today we publish another story, one of a litany, pointing to the utter reluctance of the Government to provide such essential funding.

It concerns two children with a language disorder who are at school for the first time, but only through the generosity of a local school principal.

They are young children from the same family and the Department of Education and Science has refused to sanction a classroom assistant for either child.

The plight of so many thousands of people with disabilities is paid lip-service by the Government and too often it is left to the efforts of voluntary organisations and individuals to step in where facilities and services should be in place as of right.

The Special Olympics World Games held in Ireland this year were an example of what the country can do to promote awareness of people with disabilities and their needs.

But what needs to be done needs to be done on a more mundane daily basis and not simply on the big occasion.

People with disabilities have the right to equal opportunities and protection against discrimination and those rights need to be grounded in legislation.

It is about time the Government woke up to their responsibilities.

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