Tuesday 19 September 2017

'Grace isn't an idiot or lunatic' - Mother stunned as daughter prevented from buying home under 19th century Lunacy Act

Phil Kennedy with her daughter Grace
Phil Kennedy with her daughter Grace
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

A mother was left horrified after she was told that her daughter (24) was unable to buy a home with cash in hand - because she has Down syndrome.

Phil Kennedy (68) from Bohermore, Co Galway was shocked when the Lunacy Act of 1871 prevented her daughter Grace from buying a home.

Phil, who is married to Irish crime writer Ken Bruen, had cancer twice and wanted to secure her daughter a future.

The Lunacy Act 1871 defines 'lunatic' as a person found to be "idiot, lunatic, or of unsound mind, and incapable of managing himself or his affairs".

As Grace has an intellectual disability, she is placed under the law.

"We were trying to make a future for Grace by getting her own home so that supports are in place for when we go. At the time, first-time-buyers were exempt from paying a stamp duty and we had the money in cash for Grace to buy her own home but she was refused because of the law. Grace is not a lunatic or an idiot. Those words should never have been used in the 1800s never mind now. Her father had to buy the house for her and pay €7,800 in stamp duty.

"Grace was rejected on the basis of her features because Down syndrome has a certain look. She had the money cash in hand.

"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 As the outdated law currently stands they are saying that Grace would not know the consequences of her decisions."

Grace is currently settling into her home and visits it to use her computer.

"The plan is that someone else will live in our house or live with Grace and keep an eye on her when we're gone. We're trying to settle her and give her a future because nobody else will."

The mother-of-one says that children like Grace are "on a road to nowhere" after they finish education.

"When a baby like Grace comes along you hear loads of buzzwords like 'mainstream school' and 'treat her like everyone else'.

"Grace went to primary school with the neighbourhood kids but it was all meaningless. We didn't know that she was on the road to nowhere."

Grace completed the Junior and Leaving Cert and wants to work in the local library, inspired by her crime writer dad.

"We didn't know that after 18 years of school, it all falls off a cliff and there's nothing for her.

"There are so-called training centres for teenagers with Down syndrome in our area but they're just babysitters. The centre is like daycare or a nursing home. There are no training programmes at all."

 She added that 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."

Phil said it breaks her heart that children like Grace are segregated from their peers.

"Grace hasn't seen any of her friends since she left secondary school. They're all in the local university and IT and she's stuck in the training centre. I don't understand why they can't integrate these training programmes with universities or ITs so that people with mental disabilities can be around people their own age and not segregated.

"It breaks my heart to say that a girl like Grace has no friends. She has no life."

The mother-of-one said she's devastated that her daughter has no future.

"She doesn't have a future. There are no jobs for people with intellectual disabilities."

She added that her daughter is very bright and humorous and helps primary school children with their homework at after school clubs.

"She loves doing it and she has a calming effect on the kids."

This summer 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.

However, Phil says that these talks are a "waste of time" as nothing is ever done to help people with Down syndrome.

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