Rights for people with disabilities - Tokenism by government is shameful

We have a tendency in this country to clap ourselves on the back when advances are made in ending discriminatory practices.

We have done it in spades since the passing of the marriage equality referendum in 2015 that heralded in a new era of rights for LGBT people.

That was, indeed, a proud moment for the nation as a whole but there are other forms of discrimination that we, shamefully, allow to continue.

People with disabilities are among the most neglected of our citizens.

A group of disability activists protested outside the Dáil last Thursday demanding that the Government ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a landmark convention adopted by the United Nations in 2006 to ensure that those with disabilities can enjoy the same rights as everyone else.

Ireland signed the convention in March 2007 but remains the only EU member state not to ratify it, a state of affairs that shames us all.

Equally shameful is the tokenism displayed by successive governments in doing anything meaningful for people with disabilities.

Twelve years ago we collectively clapped ourselves on the back when the 2005 Disability Act was passed, seeing it as a mechanism for finally addressing the plight of people with disabilities. It followed a long campaign to try to get some rights in law for people with disabilities.

In fact, the act has proved less than useless, a token piece of legislation that confers no rights at all, at least none that can be asserted. It supposedly confers the right of every citizen with a disability to have their health and educational needs assessed.

But it does so subject to ‘available resources’, an opt-out clause repeated six times in the act and one that allows the HSE and whatever minister is responsible to
ignore the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

Last November Irish Examiner columnist Fergus Finlay described the 2005 Act as ‘the single most dishonest and fraudulent piece of legislation ever passed by the Oireachtas.’

His words were quoted by campaigners who protested outside Leinster House as TDs broke for the Dáil’s summer recess. They have pledged to return on September 19 when the Dáil resumes but, in the meantime, they remain subject to the worst discrimination of any group in Irish society.

The protesters were small in number. Why? Because, as the campaigners explained, “the awful inaccessible public transport system hinders travel for many disabled people.”

Another factor was of the lack of Personal Assistants (PAs) who could support disabled people to attend the protest. Their numbers have been savagely cut by this Government with the HSE refusing to fund the system due to (guess what?) ‘lack of resources.’

The contemptible way that people with disabilities are treated in Ireland shames us all. That shame must galvanise us to demand of the Government that our fellow citizens be granted the same rights that others enjoy. Ratifying the UN Convention would be a good start, but only a start.

We should not even think about clapping ourselves on the back until every citizen is equal before the law.



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