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Fergus Finlay: We're not stags or dogs, we're just citizens and no one is listening to us

Stags last week, breeding bitches this week.

More time and emotional energy has been devoted to animals in our national parliament than was ever devoted to NAMA. The Government parties are tearing themselves up over issues of animal welfare. And they're getting acres of media coverage for it.

But what do you have to do to grab the attention of the Dail if you're not an animal?

People with an intellectual disability for instance, whose essential services and income have been systematically cut?

Families under immense strain, who save the State thousands a year by pouring love and care into the raising of their children with intellectual disabilities? How do they get a couple of hours of the Dail's attention?

This week, they're marching on the Dail. Tomorrow they will leave the Garden of Remembrance at noon and march down to Leinster House. Peacefully, democratically, but with a seething anger inside.

And I hope thousands of Ireland's citizens march with them.

This Government adopted a disability strategy back in 2004 -- the good old days, when promises were easy, when they were able to spend money as if there was no tomorrow. But when the money dried up, almost the first target of the cuts were people who were defenceless.

But hopefully, the Government has reckoned without the determination of representative bodies like Inclusion Ireland, who will fight for people with an intellectual disability with all the resources they have.

The main resource they have, though, is our support -- yours and mine. Here are just a few of the things that have happened since the disability strategy was introduced:

  • The Personal Advocacy Service that was laid out in the Citizens Information Bill has been deferred indefinitely

  • The implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act has been deferred indefinitely

  • The full rollout of the Disability Act -- again, deferred indefinitely

  • Day services and residential services, and especially respite services -- designed to give families a tiny break -- have been cut throughout the country

  • Waiting lists for every single service have grown -- including dental, psychological assessment, and speech and language services

  • The basic income on which thousands of adults with intellectual disability -- their only income in the huge majority of cases -- has been cut by €8 a week

No wonder the disability organisations are saying enough is enough.

I thought my marching days were over. When you get to a certain sort of age and perhaps a certain level of fitness, you persuade yourself that marching and protesting doesn't do any good. That it's only about letting off steam. That there are better ways of campaigning for change. And indeed, sometimes there are.

But I'm a citizen. As far as I know, I'm fully paid up, taxes in order, passport up to date, entitled to vote in every election. That makes me one among millions. We're citizens. Citizens of a republic -- and a republic is a place where citizens are supposed to matter. And when the republic stops listening to its citizens, it's time to start shouting from the rooftops.

So what do you think? Do you feel like marching tomorrow, from the Garden of Remembrance to Leinster House?

It might mean taking a couple of hours out of your day, from noon to about two o'clock. But you'd be doing it for fellow citizens who are really finding it hard to make their voices heard.

And you could do something fantastic -- you could make the Government start listening to its people again.

So if we're serious about solidarity, let's march for it.

If we're serious about accountability, let's march for it.

If we're serious about everyone making a fair contribution, let's march for it.

If we're serious about lifting the burden off those that can't carry the burden, let's march for it.

They might call us begrudgers. We're not. We're only citizens. But this is still our republic. And we need to make our Government listen.