'Last year's budget cuts disproportionately targeted people with disabilities. And quite frankly, I think that's immoral."
These are the angry words of a woman who has spent the past 20 years caring for her son Sammy.
Rosemary (a part-time drama administrator) and her husband Siegi Kratschmar (a driver), who live in Walkinstown in Dublin, are at an age (their 50s) when they should be thinking of slowing down. Instead, they willingly accept that they will be caring for their son who has Down Syndrome for as long as they live.
Rosemary says that she had a suspicion her baby might be born with a disability.
"Sammy was the last of our family," explains Rosemary, who once harboured great dreams of a career on stage. "Although I already had three girls I was still only 29, so I wasn't particularly old when I had him. Still, I had an inkling things weren't right because he wasn't moving as much and I was seeing kids with Down Syndrome everywhere I went."
So her hunch proved to be prophetic. His problems haven't in any way lessened her love for this enthusiastic Liverpool Football Club supporter. Fortunately, she has been well placed to access services for him over the years.
"He went to Cheeverstown (day care) from birth to five years and after that to Stewarts Hospital for his schooling. He's still with Stewarts under the umbrella of their adult education programme and he loves every second of his time there. He's very much the class clown and is very well liked by many people all over the country."
In the evenings the Kratschmars organise activities for Sammy which include swimming, hip-hop dancing, pool and bowling. He is also part of the basketball team representing Ireland in the up-coming Special Olympics. Rosemary says it's important to keep her son well stimulated as he has attention deficit disorder (ADD) and is prone to wandering off on his own.
She says Sammy also suffers from sleep obstructive apnoea. "This means his sleep is constantly disturbed," says Rosemary, "and that's not good for his heart at all." The situation is compounded by hearing, thyroid and eye problems; so she is kept busy taking him to his various medical appointments.
It follows then that Sammy requires much more input than the average person his age. But the Kratschmars remain hugely positive, full of fun and absolutely devoted to their lively, good-natured lad.
However, Rosemary is deeply troubled by what the future may bring. "It's a constant worry that services will be further affected by government cuts."
The beleaguered family has taken several financial knocks already.
"The home care package has been reduced; the respite care grant has been cut while the cost of prescriptions has also gone up. All these are small things but they soon add up."
She questions whether it's fair to target vulnerable people who are already stressed by the difficulties of caring for a loved one with a disability.
"You are always in the zone. You can't go away on a whim; we can't leave Sammy on his own. I have friends our age who talk about having the freedom to come and go – even to emigrate. If we want to go the cinema or for a meal, we have to have someone to mind him."
Catherine Cox, of the Carers Association, confirmed that her members had indeed been hard hit. "Across the board, other social welfare recipients have been hit by under two per cent, whereas carers were cut by five per cent if you take into account reductions in respite care and household benefit packages, as well as an increase in prescription charges from 50 cent to €1.50 per prescription. Over one million hours of home help have also been taken out of the system. Carers are hugely concerned about the upcoming budget."
The Carers' Association, Market Square, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Tel: (1800) 24 07 24 or see www.carersassociation.ie