We fully understand the deep frustration of Phil Kennedy (Advertiser, 22 June 2017 ) with the outdated and insulting legislation on ‘Lunacy’ in Ireland. She is rightly aggrieved that her daughter finds it impossible to acquire a bank loan because of the old legislation. In passing she described our annual Summer School on disability law as a ‘talking shop’ for experts. We would like to share some information about our Centre and our Summer School and set the record straight.
The participants at our Summer School were indeed experts - but they were mostly ‘experts by experience’. Most of the participants themselves have disabilities or were disability rights advocates or family members. All of them are active in advocating for reform in all corners of the world.
We should never forget that the vast bulk of persons with disabilities live in developing countries (nearly 700 million people ) where circumstances can be extremely dire. Many of the graduates of the Summer School (in its 10th year next year ) have brought about great change in their own countries including Peru, Kenya, Mali, etc.
We fully agree that change must begin at home. The Centre here at NUI Galway has in fact been to the fore in challenging the legislation that discriminates against persons with disabilities. We helped shape the new Assisted Decision Making Act, which will replace the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland ) Act 1871.
The new act has not yet been fully commenced which is why the old legislation continues to discriminate. We are proud of the role we played in crafting an entirely new law. We were also instrumental in helping establish a Platform of Self-Advocates so that persons with intellectual disabilities no longer have to rely on ‘experts’ but can raise their own voice and make it heard in the Oireachtas and elsewhere.
We are also proud of the fact that we helped change EU regulations so that taxpayers’ monies are no longer spent on building institutions. Instead these funds are spent on developing community services throughout Europe. We sit on the Government’s Taskforce to personalise and individualise budgets for persons with disabilities - something that is long overdue and will not happen until the Taskforce concludes its report to Government. Our students volunteer for a disability law clinic to inform people of their statutory and other rights.
Our Centre is committed to change and reform and it uses academic knowledge and insights to assist civil society to advance reform. Pushing for legislative and policy change is time-consuming work and maybe not as visible as other work. But we are passionate about it since we do not believe in the old approach of applying political pressure simply for once-off or isolated arrangements - we believe in systems-wide change that can benefit everyone.
We would like to issue an open and cordial invitation to Mrs Kennedy, Grace and indeed anyone else interested to come and visit the Centre and meet our staff, researchers and students – all of who are working on practical reform projects and who work very closely with the community.
Prof Gerard Quinn, Director, Centre for Disability Law & Policy, NUIG
Dr Charles O’Mahony , Co-Director, 9th International Disability Law Summer School.