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Brendan O'Connor: Children with disabilities are not taken care of in Ireland

The RTÉ presenter gave an impassioned interview on The Late Late Show last night.

Image: RTÉ/Screengrab

RTÉ PRESENTER AND newspaper columnist Brendan O’Connor spoke out last night about the challenges that faced the parents of children with disabilities and the lack of State supports that are there for them.

Appearing as a guest on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show, O’Connor spoke about his own experience being the father of a child with a disability.

O’Connor’s 5-year-old daughter Mary has Down Syndrome.

The television personality said that in the future, people would look back on the way children with disabilities were treated in Ireland and say that we lived in an “inhumane” country.

“As a society we look back now on how we treated children 20, 30, 40 years ago and we go, ‘God, that was an awful country we lived in’,” he said.

We will look back on how we treat those children now and we will go, ‘that was an inhumane country we lived in’.

O’Connor said that taking care of a child with a disability was difficult, but that it didn’t make a family any different to other families.

“I didn’t plan this – I never expected this to happen in our family and when it happened I thought: ‘okay this is it, our lives are ruined’, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Everybody has kids like this and it doesn’t make you other, it doesn’t make you different. The kids aren’t other, they’re not different – they shouldn’t be.

State supports

O’Connor went on the say that he didn’t want to “cuteify” the reality behind how people people with disabilities are taken care of in this country.

“The reality is is that people like my daughter… it’s all very well that we look at them and go ‘aren’t they great’, but as a society the way that we treat them is appalling,” he said.

He said that while he didn’t want to make it seem as though taking care of Mary was a “cross to bear”, the reality was that taking care of a child with a disability was difficult.

“There is a lot of extra work involved there… and there’s a lot of pain involved as well,” he said.

On top of the difficulties, O’Connor said that parents and those they care for aren’t adequately supported by the State.

“There is nothing, there is less and less out there all of time,” he said.

There are people down the country driving hours to get to a bit of physiotherapy, a bit of speech therapy – if they can get it at all.

O’Connor said that his family were lucky that they lived in Dublin and could afford to pay for services, but that many families across Ireland didn’t have that option.

He said that as of the end of 2015 there were 15,000 people waiting for an assessment of needs so see what services they needed to avail of – up 20% from the year before.

He said that HSE figures show that the rate of people getting an assessment that they were entitled to under thelaw was only at 35% nationwide.

“The one thing that you should give those children… give them their voices – let them speak,” he said.

Read: Republic of equals? My son, on a waiting list, twists in a wheelchair too small for his body

Read: Intellectually disabled man left in care home with alleged abuser for two years – report

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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