Speech for Minister John Moloney T.D., Minister for State at the Department of Health and Children, on the occasion of the Inclusion Ireland Self-Advocacy Conference, 2008

I would like to say how pleased I am to be here to-day addressing your conference. Before proceeding further, I would like to refer to my predecessor Dr. Jimmy Devins to whom you originally addressed your invitation. However, as you are aware events in the last few weeks have seen him move on to pastures new. It just shows how quickly things can change.

Many people can advocate for themselves most of the time. Indeed I understand that many of the presenters, who will speak after me here today, will show how they can contribute in a meaningful way to society. As individuals they wish to be treated like all citizens and have equal opportunities afforded them.

However, some people need support from time to time in order to express verbally or in writing their concerns. Advocacy is something that many people do for others on a daily basis. Parents advocate for their children every day. Relatives and friends speak on behalf of vulnerable persons when necessary. To put it simply, it is the act of supporting or speaking up for someone. I would like to thank all those people who from time to time perform this role.

In its broad sense, advocacy is quite a traditional concept linked to the notion of the citizen taking responsibility not only for him or herself but also for his or her neighbour. It is not to be confused with the giving of information or the offering of advice per se, although both of those functions are aspects of the advocate’s role.

Most experts consider self advocacy as ideal but unfortunately most disadvantaged people are unable to do this all the time. However, the need for advocacy is not just confined to people with disabilities.

It can cover such categories of persons as older people, Travellers, people with literacy difficulties, and the marginalized, who could all possibly but not necessarily need advocacy.

The Citizens Information Act, 2007 is a key element of the Government’s National Disability Strategy which is designed to ensure that people with disabilities are supported to enable them, as far as possible, to lead full and independent lives, to reach their full potential as individuals and to participate fully in society.

This Act, together with the Disability Act 2005, the accompanying Sectoral Plans and the Education for People with Special Needs Act, 2004, demonstrates very clearly the Government’s intention to have an effective combination of legislation, policies, institutions and services in place to ensure equal access to services and full participation in everyday life for people with disabilities.

As we are all aware people with disabilities face many barriers to full participation in society. The primary purpose of the Citizens Information Act, 2007 was to enhance the functions of the Citizens Information Board, in supporting the development of advocacy services, in particular for people with disabilities.

A key provision of the Act is the introduction of a Personal Advocacy Service which provides for the assignment of a ‘Personal Advocate’ to assist, support and represent a person with a disability in applying for and obtaining social services and in pursuing any right of review or appeal in connection with those services.

I am confident that this service will make a significant contribution in ensuring that every person with a disability has access to appropriate assistance and support in securing their entitlements to social services.

This represents an important step forward in delivering the Government’s commitments in the Disability Strategy to the full integration of people with disabilities in all aspects of society.

As most of you here to-day are aware, advocacy is in many respects a new and emerging profession in Ireland On a regular basis, I note that new models of best practice are being developed

In this regard I note the title of your conference is “My Voice My Choice”. As part of the documentation which Inclusion Ireland sent to my Office with their Invitation were two of their own information booklets one of which was entitled “Inclusion Ireland Guide to Voting”. I am sure that many of you here to-day found this booklet most information and helpful when you went last week to a polling booth and preformed your democratic duty by casting your vote.

By putting your “X” on the referendum ballet paper you participated in a national process which has implications not only for Ireland but for the rest of the EU also. I congratulate all you who participated in the process but particularly those who voted having read the booklet.

From looking at your conference agenda, I note that the official launch of Inclusion Ireland’s booklet ‘Managing Your Money’ Pack is taking place during your conference. I have also been informed that the author of this booklet Sarah Lennon ran a series of very successful and well attended workshops over the last few months on reaching decisions about money.

From talking to the organisers of your conference, I understand that one of the most popular workshops is entitled ‘Supported Decision Making’ which is also being run by Sarah Lennon. I have been told that this workshop deals with the daily management of money and other budgeting services.

I wish all participants in the conference’s workshops a most enjoyable and informative exercise.

I would like to conclude by congratulating all those involved is any way in the organisation of to-days conference. It took vision, commitment, determination and organisational ability on everyone’s part to arrive at to-days conference. I wish you all a most successful conference and that all participants have a most enjoyable and informative experience.