June 2010 Newsletter
Issued on June 24 2010
DFI is often asked by the HSE and other public bodies to confirm that we are a registered charity, and we simply respond by giving the charity number. We probably don”t stop to think that one of the tests in receiving charitable status is that the organisation must be in existence for “public benefit”. Public bodies exist also to be of public benefit or service. The mission of the HSE is “
To enable people to live healthier and more fulfilled lives ”.
So much of the concern at the moment is around services for people against the background of funding cuts that have taken place, cuts that are now happening and further cuts to come in future budgets. It is said over and over that the money is not there, and that everyone has to share the burden. There seems to be a certain logic to this, but also a sense that not to immediately agree is to somehow be selfish or unpatriotic.
Are the totality of voluntary disability organisations in Ireland simply machines to turn out services on the basis of funding from the State, without any interest in who receives those services, and how and why they are provided? The evidence points to quite the opposite, from the founding impulses through to the development of services by these organisations. The primary concern was for the redress of neglect and exclusion, along with a determined belief in the value and potential of the people they set about serving. Many organisations reluctantly got into direct service delivery when the State did not take it on, or did so, on behalf of the State.
Where would Irish society be today if it were not for the leadership and determined action of people, stretching back before the founding of this State, who voluntarily organised themselves into groups dedicated to improving the situation of so many people with disabilities and mental health needs. We still have a legacy of people living in institutional settings where their lives are greatly restricted and where their human rights are being curtailed. How many more would be in the same circumstances were it not for the work of voluntary organisations? How would Ireland respond to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the more recent UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This is not by way of saying that we are and always were wonderful! We have not always got it right, and we have not made as much progress as possible. There is much more at stake today, beyond only a concentration on funding levels, to ensure that services are provided. Yes, service availability needs to be promoted strongly, but in a manner that is informed by the wider context of our motivation and values, as people and as organisations that claim to exist in order to serve the needs of others in order to enable them participate fully in Irish society.
Fintan O” Toole, speaking at the recent Wheel Conference, set out the catalogue of violated trust that is unfolding on a daily basis in Ireland, Banks, Church, Politicians, the institutions of the State, and State governance itself. He then noted that there is still one area where people have trust and confidence, namely, in the voluntary and community organisations right throughout the country. There is, however, the question that he did not verbalise. Are voluntary disability organisations fully recognising and living up to that role? Maybe we need to think and express more what we are about in order to best place the services and supports that we are currently providing.
The irony of the great financial crisis that we are in is that, while it is about money, it is much more about values and priorities. Government has stated and acted on the basis that we cannot afford not to save the banking system, but it so often seems that, at the same time, there is an acceptance that we cannot afford to save service provision for people with disabilities. We can save and protect the necessary services and supports that are needed, we cannot afford not to, because the level of social toxicity that is building up will destroy peoples lives and destroy the objectives of the National Disability Strategy.
The story of our State has been a mixture of major economic difficulties with short bursts of growth and prosperity. Yet during even the worst of times economically, people set up organisations, and the public supported them to improve the very difficult conditions that people with disabilities and their families found themselves in.
Now is the time when we must engage with a societal perspective, and have renewed resolve about our human and social values. It was voluntary organisations that set this State up. Voluntary disability organisations can be part of bringing renewal and value based practice and action on behalf of all who want to see disabled people fully included in all aspects of life.
Chief Executive Officer