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Column: 'I don't have the same civil rights as other Irish women. I have a disability'

Ireland must ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), writes Ann Marie Flanagan.

Ann Marie Flanagan

SINCE 1992, THE United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities has been celebrated annually around the world. The theme for this year’s International Day is ‘Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want’. 

Ireland has a poor record in offering protection to people with disabilities and still hasn’t ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Ann Marie Flanagan tells her story. 

I HAVE A 5-year-old little boy. I have a career and pay a mortgage. But I’m viewed as different to other women my age because I have a disability too.

I have a physical impairment and use a motorised wheelchair. I have personal assistants. These allow me to live my life with dignity but still I don’t have the same civil rights as other Irish women.

My ‘difference’

I know that I don’t have the same rights because on the 21st July 2011, the day my son was born, the HSE attempted to cut up to 40% of my personal assistant service without telling me or carrying out a risk assessment.

They knew that I’d had a baby because I’d written a letter to them. I was trying to be a responsible adult and alert them in case other services were required. So unlike other parents who could spend that time celebrating the birth of their child, I had to spend three whole months battling the system. In the end I got a reprieve.

My ‘difference’ was highlighted again, 13 months later, when the Minister for Health announced cuts to the personal assistance budget.

I experience my ‘difference’ every day, regardless of how hard I work in my job and regardless of  how much I contribute to society. I’ve learned to accept this, but it’s why I continue to be an activist and an advocate for others.

We want to put a marker down that from today on we are going to have a focused campaign. We are going to shine a spotlight on the inequality we experience, but more importantly, we want to tell people that we have the solution and we want people to listen to us.

unnamed Back from left: Thomas Connole, Dermot Hayes, Marian Hayes, Gerry McInerney Ann Marie Flanagan, Donal Toolin of The Clare Leader Forum.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Ireland has a poor record in offering protection to people with disabilities and its very failure to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) shows the lack of priority given to enshrining our rights in legislation.

As we approach ten years since Ireland signed the most significant progressive human rights treaty of the 21st century, we still await ratification.

I’m now asking the Minister for Disability, Finian McGrath, to help us in ending the degradation and cruelty experienced by people with disabilities, by naming the date Ireland will finally ratify the UNCRPD.

Article 19 says that states must ensure that people with disabilities have supports and services that allow us to live in our community of choice, to self determine, with dignity, respect and privacy, in the same way as any other person in Irish society. This would start the process to ensure that the Irish Constitution is amended and disabled people’s rights are protected too.

It would spark a new national conversation about the inequalities that currently exist and allow us a framework with which to challenge inequalities. It would allow us to be heard when we offer our own solutions.

We are only looking for the kinds of services that will facilitate independent living, so that we can participate in society, be tax payers, and challenge all of the negative stereotypes that exist.

Challenging stereotypes

We’re asking the general public to start questioning themselves about how they view those with disabilities too and to move outside their paternalistic ideas.

Right now we’re perceived as people who need to be cared for and who don’t necessarily feel pain or isolation in the same way as everybody else. When people hear stories about the abuse of disabled people, for example, it can be hard to truly empathise.

We’re asking people to search inside themselves and remind themselves that a human being is a human being, regardless of having an impairment or not. We want to be 100% equal in terms of our feelings and how we experience life. We want Irish people to hear us and do their part to support our rightful place in society.

My son’s life is completely enriched by being mothered by somebody with a difference, who understands inequality. The only problem is how I am perceived by other people.

And I don’t want my 5-year-old to spend the rest of his life experiencing barriers, because ‘Mommy’ is treated differently.

Ann Marie Flanagan is PRO of The Clare Leader Forum. They are marking today with an event in Treacy’s West County Hotel, Ennis from 11.30am.

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Ann Marie Flanagan

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