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Fergus Finlay: Parents won disability cuts battle -- but the war goes on

So, parent power worked. Thousands of parents, and people with an intellectual disability, marched the streets towards Leinster House on Wednesday, finding a strong voice to protest against cuts in essential services.

Inside Leinster House, the Government was stoutly denying any cuts were planned. At the same time, Ministers scrabbled to get meetings with the service providers to make sure the cuts that weren't being planned were reversed!

And at the end of the day, members of the Government went on radio and television to say they couldn't understand what the fuss was all about. There were no cuts, we're not doing any cuts, there's no need for all this protest. A senior HSE manager was sent on the telly to say that he was sure the necessary savings could be made by more effective purchasing. Yeah, right.

It just went to show how effective the power of protest can be, especially when a government is on the defensive.

It's a polite fiction to say that no cuts were being planned, because in fact cuts in disability services have been under way now for about two years.

Ministers can keep telling us until they're blue in the face that they never intend to see services cut. But they know better than most that there is simply no way of avoiding cuts in services if funding goes down year after year. The real crisis could come in September, as the services providers are sitting down to try to finalise budgets for next year.

The other thing that has really damaged services, in addition to the funding cuts, has been the embargo on staff replacement.

It has meant that no-one who retires, gets sick, or goes on maternity leave can be replaced, and it has led to enormous gaps in services.

If the service-providing organisations can't get an indication of some relaxation in funding and in their capacity to replace key staff by then, letters could be going out to thousands of parents all over the country telling them that there will be no service at all for their child next year.

So parents can't afford to let up on the exercise of parent power. If anyone really thinks that the bland reassurances offered this week mean that the crisis in services is over, they're easily fooled. Parents frightened the life out of the Government this week. They have to keep the campaign up if essential services are to be protected in the short-term, and properly planned and managed in the longer term.


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