People like my brother bear brunt of 'shameful' cuts - councillor
A local councillor whose brother has Down Syndrome has delivered a stinging, personalised condemnation of cuts to handicapped support services.
Cllr Fiona O'Loughlin, a Dáil candidate in Kildare South and long-time worker for the Special Olympics, was speaking ahead of the United Nations day for supporting people with special needs, on Thursday.
The UN day aims to promote the human dignity of special needs and disabled people while promoting their inclusion at every level of society.
Ms O'Loughlin, a former primary school teacher based in Newbridge, Co Kildare, is the eldest of 11 children. She was aged 11 when her brother Cathal was born with Down Syndrome. She recalls that from the outset he was accepted as a member of their large and extended family and has taken part in all activities ever since.
"Cathal is now better known in some parts of Kildare than I am, and he is my most loyal supporter," she said.
Cllr O'Loughlin, who volunteered for the Special Olympics for many years, left teaching to work full-time for the organisation in 2000. She has been a member of Kildare County Council since 1999, was Mayor of Kildare this past year, and is standing for Fianna Fáil in the Dáil election in three-seat Kildare South.
Ms O'Loughlin said her own direct experience had taught her that the brunt of efforts to integrate people with special needs fell on family members.
She said the harsh cuts to family supports for special needs had seriously disrupted this integration effort.
"Cuts in home-care services have been a bitter blow in recent years and further cuts to the Scheme to Support National Organisations in the Community and Voluntary Sector (SSNO) managed by the Department of the Environment have been detrimental," she said.
"The Government cannot preach access and inclusion for all, while cutting funding to many frontline services provided by voluntary organisations, groups who have provided essential support services, counselling and carer supports to date," she added.
Cllr O'Loughlin said United Nations International Day of Persons with Disability emphasised "access and empowerment of people of all abilities". It aims to mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of people with disabilities.
"Due to cuts in support services in recent years, the Fine Gael/Labour Government are neither aware of, nor implementing the United Nations' grand vision," she concluded.