Leading a life of freedom and inclusion in local society
Two Sligo women to speak at EU event about inclusion
Canvassers calling to Anne-Marie Duffy and Kathleen McTigue's home in Maugheraboy recently got rather more than they bargained for.
"One thing we want bad, and if you don't do it, we'll keep at you and at you, til you listen to us," said Anne-Marie to one caller, who was, as it happened, one of the local election candidates themselves.
She, Kathleen and their three other housemates, all women with intellectual disabilities, rely on public transport to get around.
"We used to get the M Bus around town and up to Maugheraboy. They took the 1.10pm service off us about four or five years ago and we're fighting to get it back," Anne-Marie tells The Sligo Champion last week.
"We'd like a bus in the afternoon sometime. If we get bits and pieces in town we have to get a taxi home," says Anne-Marie. Carton has a bus every hour and taxis are dear, points out Kathleen.
Being pedestrians, they also want better footpaths around the town.
One of their housemates who is not as nimble on her feet, fell twice the day before, once in town and again on the way home. "She fell twice and I said 'this is not on'.
Any other town it's perfect except Sligo," says Anne-Marie.
The election candidate was left in no doubt as to what would happen if they didn't keep their promise.
Another canvasser, this time a female relative of another local election candidate tried to tell the women who to vote for.
"I said 'you won't tell me how to vote. I'll vote for who I like!'" says Anne-Marie. "I was thinking in my head, if she had some manners we might vote for her relative," she says, still indignant.
Pity the fool who takes them for one.
These are two extraordinary women who are not stopping at local politics in Sligo - they are now taking their demand for inclusion and respect to Europe.
After impressing policy-makers at an EU conference in Brussels last December, Kathleen and Anne-Marie were both invited by the Director of Inclusion Europe Milan Šveřepa to speak at an EU conference in Lithuania next month.
Lithuanian Government ministers, the President of Inclusion Europe Jyrki Pinomaa and policy makers from across Europe, will listen to their experience of moving out of Cregg House in Sligo and into the community, nearly three decades ago.
"I was nervous first and then we liked it," recalls Anne-Marie.
"We get on but we have rows every now and again," she adds.
They received training and guidance beforehand which worked well for them.
The best part of independent living for them is the freedom to come and go as they please, go to bed when they want, do their own shopping and cooking, things we all take for granted.
"It's good to be able to do your own thing," said Kathleen.
Getting to know people and their neighbours has been the biggest difference to Anne-Marie's life since leaving Cregg House.
"They're very good neighbours. We have one very good neighbour. When we go away on holidays she minds our cat Cheeky," she says.
She still goes home many weekends to Louisburgh in Mayo.
"Anne-Marie plays a very important role in helping her own mother to live independently and remain in her own home," adds Nóirín Clancy, of Inclusion Ireland North West.
"I always say, 'you only have your mother once," says Anne-Marie.
They work one day a week at their own cleaning company, Dust Busters, another day at their day service doing craft work or some Abbott's contract work.
They volunteer at a second-hand shop and enjoy computer and literacy classes in the community.
Kathleen and Anne-Marie have also just completed a three year Certificate in Lifeskills Studies at St Angela's College.
They are members of 'Shared Voices' advocacy group as well as being part of the Quality Improvement, Planning and Monitoring Group - they're in hot demand.
"We're in a lot of groups. I don't know how we get time to ourselves," laughs Anne-Marie.
The duo also served on a national working group for three years, meeting once a month in Dublin, which culminated in a HSE report published last September.
"We really enjoyed it and the best part was that we got paid for it, expenses too," said Anne-Marie.
"That's something that's important," says Nóirín.
"They could be asked all the time to go on consultation committees and don't get paid, so this was good," she says.
The public speaking comes naturally to them now.
"I get more nervous," laughs Nóirín, who will accompany them to Vilnius.
"We used to get nervous but not any more, we're so used to it," says Anne-Marie.
The one message they want to get across to people in Lithuania, and at home, is to listen to people with disabilities.
Their advice for those of us shy about speaking up?
"Don't be afraid. Because if you don't talk up, they won't know what's wrong with you and they won't listen," says Anne-Marie.
"Some can't stand up for themselves," Kathleen is quick to point out however. "We try to help them," adds Anne-Marie.
With that, they were off to prepare their presentation for Vilnius on 6th June.