Speech by Tim O’Malley, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, on the occasion of the official opening of Brainwave’s National Conference – “Epilepsy – what does the future hold?” – in Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel

Chairman, distinguished guests, members of Brainwave, Ladies and Gentlemen

I am very pleased to be here, today, to open this Conference. I would like to thank Deirdre Commins, for her kind invitation to be here today to officially open this important conference Epilepsy “What does the future hold”.

The establishment of Brainwave – The Irish Epilepsy Association in 1967 was a landmark in services for people with epilepsy in Ireland. This milestone was the beginning of what the future holds for people who are affected by epilepsy. Due to the great dedication of its members down the years, services are now available on a national basis to people with epilepsy including advice and counseling for people who are affected by epilepsy and their families, assisting in the development of support programmes, training young people for employment and promoting research into the condition.

One of the principle aims of Brainwave since its foundation in 1967 has been to improve public understanding of epilepsy. Brainwave recognised that the key to a normal life for persons affected by epilepsy lies in adequate knowledge and a proper understanding of the condition on the part of both the general population and the persons affected by epilepsy. It has, therefore, over the years concentrated much of its resources on disseminating information about the condition to the general public, through information leaflets, seminars and addresses to interested local groups.

The conference that I am opening today continues and advances the objectives of Brainwave by bring together its members and important service providers, to look at developments in technology which will assist in the diagnosis of epilepsy in the future, the psychological impact on people affected by epilepsy and on a more practical note the roles of key workers in the community.

The growing recognition by society in general of the right of people with disabilities to participate in and contribute to the social and economic life in Ireland and on an international basis has underpinned much of what has happened in more recent years.

Some of the significant milestones along this road have included;
•The recognition of the need for the development of a more person centred approach in providing support services
•An awareness of and emphasis on the abilities of people with disabilities. The move from institutional settings to community based services and a recognition of the need for a greater range of support services delivered in a flexible manner which meets individual needs
•The very significant investment by the Government in supports for people with disabilities, including personal allowances, employment schemes and revenue and capital funding for education, health and personal social and other services.
•Finally, the various legislative and policy measures, including mainstreaming, which have been put in place by the Government in the areas of equality, education and access to facilities, services and information.

In order for the improvements I have outlined to come into being a spirit of partnership needs to evolve. However, partnership cannot be confined to a relationship between the statutory and non-statutory sector. The development of services for people with physical and sensory disabilities is a complex issue as there is such a wide range and variety of disabilities included in this category. To meet the needs of people with physical and sensory disabilities a wide range of interlocking and complementary services is often required. This combination of services can only be achieved when everyone involved in the delivery of services actively works together in partnership.

The National Disability Strategy is an opportunity to identify priorities in the services for people with disabilities. It is a framework of positive action measures to support participation by people with disabilities in Irish society. The Strategy consists of four elements:
■Disability Act 2005
■Comhairle (Amendment) Act 2005
■Six Outline Sectoral Plans, and
■A commitment to a multi-annual Investment Programme for disability support services.

My Department has published an Outline Sectoral Plan in respect of the specific health and personal social services provided for people with disabilities. This is very much an interim plan, designed to encompass a programme of work which is to be undertaken over the next 12 to 18 months. The main aspects of this programme are related to the provisions contained in the Disability Act 2005, together with a strategic review of the services as a whole.

The strategic review is examining the significant level of service provision which is already in place, focusing on specific issues which are of concern to people with disabilities and their families and carers, together with statutory and voluntary bodies in this area, with an opportunity to input into the planning and delivery of services over the coming years. I would like to acknowledge and thank Brainwave for the support they have given the Department of Health and Children in this regard.

Thanks again, for asking me here today to open this conference and I wish Brainwave every success with its future work throughout the country.