By Aine McDonnell
“Independence is happiness” is a wonderful quote by Susan B. Anthony and a very apt one to describe the impact the Irish Wheelchair Association’s AGM and Conference had on me. The event was held in The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Santry on May 14th 2016 and was attended by 300 members from all over Ireland.
The facilitator for the conference was Fergus Finlay. The theme of the conference was ‘My Home – Housing Options and Issues’. This theme was very important to me as I hope, later this year, to move into my own purpose built house in my hometown of Belmullet. An incredibly exciting and slightly daunting milestone for me! Being able to have a home of your own is so important for everybody. It enables a person to be independent which does incredible things to a person’s self-esteem and sense of worth.
We started the day with a very moving and inspiring speech by our outgoing CEO Kathleen McLoughlin who shared some wonderful memories of her 10 years with IWA. Kathleen will be sorely missed by all in the organisation; she then introduced our new CEO Rosemarie Keogh who comes to us from The Order of Malta.
We then went through motions to be discussed; my local branch had four which were all passed by the floor.
Our first one was:
- That IWA compiles a database of all hotels/guesthouses that are fully accessible to all people with disabilities. IWA should also lobby all bodies with responsibility for hotels and guesthouses to ensure they are all accessible with proper facilities
Our second was:
- That IWA lobby the HSE to increase PA and Home help hours and also to increase the number of PA’s and Home helps employed
Our third motion was:
- That IWA assists members to lobby the Government, specifically the Department of Transport, to improve access to transport options for people with disabilities particularly in rural areas, with an emphasis on improving access to intercity routes on buses run by Bus Éireann and private bus operators
Our final motion that we submitted was:
- That IWA seeks additional funding to build wheelchair accessible housing in rural Ireland using the model used in Belmullet. Where need is identified, houses should be planned and designed to the needs of the individual.
The keynote speaker was Fr. Peter Mc Verry, an amazing man, who has done incredible work to help homeless people in Ireland. His speech was very empowering and enlightening. Fr Peter McVerry told the conference the right to housing was the most fundamental of all and was a question of ‘dignity’. “Because without appropriate housing, people may not eat properly, their health will deteriorate, they will not be able to access education and they will not be able to access employment or training”, he said.
He spoke about how having your own home can give a person dignity. Fr. Mc Verry also spoke about how not having your own home can impact on other aspects of a person’s life such as access to education and employment which leads to a vicious circle of poverty and homelessness. He spoke of the need for more resources to be put in to providing more housing which is appropriate to people in differing situations.
Finian Mc Grath who is the new Minister with Responsibility for Disability also spoke at the conference. He laid out the new Programme for Government and how it will affect people with disabilities in Ireland.
We then had the Open Forum which gave people the chance ask questions to a specially selected panel; comprised of Claire Feeney (Housing Agency), Margaret Geraghty (Fingal County Council), Dolores Murphy (IWA Housing Support Services), Eileen Daly (IWA member) and our Keynote speaker Fr. Peter Mc Verry. This open forum gave members the chance to air their views on different issues which affect their lives.
The day ended with our Gala dinner and the IWA Volunteer Awards. Sean Bilbow who recently retired from our Resource and Outreach Centre in Belmullet won the Staff Volunteer Award and we are all very proud. It was wonderful to see such pride in the people who won awards and delight in the faces of those who nominated them.
It was a wonderful night to end a very productive and informative day! I look forward to next year in Killarney.