19th century Lunacy Act prevents my daughter from buying a house, says mother

The mother of a 24-year-old woman with Down syndrome claims young people with disabilities “are out in the cold” and “on their own” when they turn 18.

Phil Kennedy is calling for education programmes which are tailored to suit individual levels of ability to be put in place to allow them to develop their full potential.

Ms Kennedy, who lives in Waterlane in Bohermore, says her daughter Grace Bruen, together with other young people in the same situation, are on the “road to nowhere” when they finish second level school.

Grace who previously completed her Junior and Leaving Certificate at the Mercy College in Newtownsmith, is now working voluntarily at Bohermore Community Club’s after-school study group. She helps children with reading and writing.

“When a child like Grace is born you get a dictionary of buzzwords, such as stimulation, integration, mainstream schools and swimming! But what I didn’t realise was that when she was 18 you are on the road to nowhere. There is no plan for them, nothing to take into account their individual abilities. There is nobody waiting to receive these children afterwards.

“Their potential is not considered. Society must stop talking about mainstream schools and integration when it’s a road to nowhere and ultimate segregation. It’s all talk, nothing changes, there are still no jobs. In the 1930s Grace would have been in an attic, now it is a bigger attic called a training centre.

These are more like daycare centres than training centres, they are like nursing homes for young adults. Why has there to be segregation? Why cannot these young people further their training/education in NUI Galway, GMIT or GTI? It is only young people with disabilities who are still segregated.”

Ms Kennedy believes there should be a long term plan in place starting when children first attend primary school.

“There should be an overview taken of their degree of ability and an individualised education plan constructed to reflect that.”

She is highly critical of the fact that her only child does not have the right to buy a house. She had hoped to purchase a property next to her parents’ home six years ago but was unable to do so because of an antiquated law from 1871 - the Lunacy Act - which is still applicable and says “imbeciles or idiots” cannot own property. Grace’s father, Ken, had to buy the house for her.

“That law was supposed to be replaced by the Mental Capacity Act whereby someone would assess her mental capacity. It has gone through all phases of the Dail but has still not been introduced. As the outdated law currently stands they are saying that Grace would not know the consequences of her decisions. What I am saying is that the developers [during the boom] did not know theirs.... Because Grace has Down syndrome and her features reflect her condition she cannot buy a house.”

Referring to the world’s largest disability summer school which is currently taking place at NUI Galway and will focus on how to translate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into reality, Ms Kennedy says events such as this are little more than “talking shops”. “Nothing comes out of all these conferences I believe.”

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