Wednesday 21 March 2018

Tributes paid to 'fearless' disability rights activist Donal Toolan

Donal Toolan
Donal Toolan

Alan O'Keeffe

President Higgins has led tributes to actor, journalist and leading disability rights activist Donal Toolan, who has died.

Mr Toolan (50) died after a short illness.

Mr Toolan, from Knockanara,  Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, was a resident of Irishtown in Dublin.

President Higgins said "I have heard with sadness of the passing of Donal Toolan, co-ordinator of the Forum of People with Disabilities and former member of the Council of State.

“A deeply committed advocate for legislation on disability rights, Donal Toolan had a rare skill to establish a rapport with all those with whom he dealt.

“As a journalist, actor and campaigner he made a contribution to Irish public life that was of immense value.

“He will be missed in particular by all of us who had the privilege of knowing him.

“Sabina and I express our condolences to his family, colleagues and wide circle of friends.”

Mr Toolan, who lived in Dublin, previously served for many years as a Board member of Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL).

 ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

"Donal made an enormous contribution to defining the rights of people with disabilities as a question of fundamental human rights.

"He was a fearless and brilliant campaigner who believed passionately that people with disabilities must lead the fight for dignity and justice for all those affected by disability in all its forms.

“Donal also was committed to a broad human rights agenda and stood in solidarity with all those seeking justice in Irish society."

"Perhaps most significant, in terms of Donal's contribution to human rights in Ireland, was his commitment to shining a light on the human rights of those who lived in "closed spaces", including disabled children and adults.

“Through his activism, his journalism and his artistic expression, Donal helped change the landscape for disability rights in Ireland in a profound and lasting way.

“His death is an enormous loss to the world of arts and broadcasting, but especially to the human rights and disability rights community in Ireland.

Seamus Dooley, Acting general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said “Donal was a passionate advocate for equality: fearless, wise and funny. He was a talented writer, actor and broadcaster. As presenter of  the RTE Radio 1 programme “Not So Different” he championed the rights of people with disabilities. He did so with eloquence and courage.

“In 1993 he was awarded National Broadcast journalist of the Year and also received a Jacob's award for his work on the documentary series 'In From the margins'.

“As director of the Forum of People with Disabilities  Donal challenged the charity model which frequently characterised the disability sector and demanded that disabled people be accorded  the right to be their own advocates.

“He was a true champion of inclusion with a stubborn commitment to human rights.   Donal used all his  talents – as an actor, a writer and social commentator, to champion his vision of equality not just in Ireland but internationally, through  the UN Association of International Service and the European Anti-Poverty Network," he added.

 In 1991 he was appointed as a member of the Council of State by President Mary Robinson.

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