Speech by Minister John Moloney T.D. at the Irish Wheelchair Association Annual Conference and AGM

I am delighted to be here in Co. Kilkenny to address the Irish Wheelchair Association’s Annual Conference and AGM.

More importantly, I’m also pleased to attend another celebration of 50 years of your wonderful organisation. I had the pleasure of attending a celebration in the IWA Outreach Centre in Ballymote, Co. Sligo a couple of weeks ago.

Your Annual Conference and AGM might be the largest celebration of your 50 years that the Association is hosting. However, I know that it is just one of many parties which the Association is holding throughout the country this year to honour the eight great founders of the organisation. I send my best wishes to Oliver Murphy.

I would like to begin by thanking Kathleen McLoughlin, the Chief Executive Officer of the Association for the very welcome invitation.

From its modest beginnings in 1960, the Irish Wheelchair Association now has a network of over 20,000 members and 2,000 staff. The Association provides a range of services throughout the country, primarily to people with a physical and sensory disability, on behalf of the Health Service Executive.

The Association provides services such as information; advocacy programmes; assisted living services; providing support in employment and housing; motoring and transport; peer counselling; respite and resource centre activities in cities and towns and in smaller communities. These services represent a lifeline to the people who avail of them, helping them to live to their fullest possible potential.

The provision of these services, week in and week out, gives us some sense of the enormous contribution which the Association makes to the lives of people with disabilities and their families, on nationwide basis.

The background to the establishment of the Association is very much tied into the first Paralympics Games, which took place in Rome in 1960. Just months after their return from Rome, several members of the Irish team came together with others and formed the Irish Wheelchair Association.

I think it’s particularly appropriate therefore that the National Junior Athletics Championship is taking place tomorrow morning. Members of the Association countrywide have always been very keen sports people and I’m pleased that you are carrying that torch onwards.

We are all aware of the valuable impact that participation in sport can have on all our lives. We develop a range of motor skills, stay fit, engage with our communities and more than these things – we have fun.

How much more important it is then, that people with disabilities are supported to engage with the positive experiences which can be derived from sport. Let us celebrate the determined efforts and personal victories of each and every member of the Association.

A key strength of the Irish Wheelchair Association continues to be the body of volunteers who organise and support the activities of the association on a nationwide basis.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all of those people, some of whom are here today, who give so generously of their time; their skills and their money, year in and year out, without fail.

Current lifestyle pressures impact on people’s ability and willingness to make a commitment to volunteering. Yet throughout Ireland, there are thousands of people who work with various charitable and caring organisations.

Their involvement strengthens our communities, as they work enthusiastically to improve the quality of the lives of those more vulnerable. They are an inspiration to us all.

The current economic climate provides challenges, but also opportunities to look at what we do and how we can do it more efficiently and effectively.

In this regard, the Department of Health and Children is engaging in a Value for Money and Policy Review of Disability Services as part of the Government’s Value for Money Reviews for 2009 – 2011.

This in-depth review of Disability Services will assess how well current services for people with disabilities meet their objectives and support the future planning and development of services.

The disability service priorities that emerge from this Review and other policy initiatives could radically change the nature of disability services and supports, housing and employment in the current years.

One of the most positive and enduring features of disability services here in Ireland is the very strong partnership that exists between all of those involved in the planning and delivery of services to people with disabilities and their families.

This partnership includes the Government, the Health Service Executive, Voluntary agencies such as the Irish Wheelchair Association, families and friends and people with disabilities themselves.

While I accept that in the current climate we face significant challenges, we must remember that our objective is to work together to develop a person-centered approach to the delivery of disability services and to improve the lives of people with disability.

This vision was in the hearts and minds of the eight founders of the Association and is still very much in evidence in the work of the Association throughout the country today.

I congratulate the Irish Wheelchair Association on your 50th Anniversary. I thank you for your contribution to the provision of services for people with disabilities throughout that time and wish you continued success with your work. I hope that you a successful Annual Conference and AGM. And I wish you many more celebration parties in 2010, a very special year for the Association.

Thank You.