I’m sure I read somewhere that the most powerful person at a meeting is the one who writes the minutes. Especially if the minutes are the only record of what was said and agreed.
That theory crossed my mind this week when I received a set of bland minutes from a meeting I attended on Monday night. They cover the facts given and the actions proposed, but say nothing about the words that were spoken. Are all minutes like this? It’s sad really, because the passion and inspiration from many of the speakers is completely absent: the minutes do not tell the full story.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that it was a disability rights meeting. Maybe a little surprised it involved an evening trip across the River Liffey. And perhaps amazed that instead of trying to find a sitter, I brought my two younger children with me. Including my disabled daughter B, even though I guessed that some might consider her vocal contributions disruptive. She should be heard and she should be seen, and I won’t let anything get in the way of reminding people that her needs are important too. Even when those needs may be a little different to those of the general disability population.
It was a small meeting: despite all the publicity, only about 30 people were present – out of the 300,000 or so who are affected by disability in Ireland. It just shows how tired and unsupported most disabled people and their carers feel.
But I really enjoyed it, because there was lots to inspire and digest:
A factual mini presentation about disability housing issues from David Girvan, and an impassioned plea for real change from Aisling McNiffe were among the parent and activist contributions that were preceded by some powerful words from the main speakers of the evening.
First up was Dr Tom Clonan, author, security analyst and busy advocate for his disabled son Eoghan. Here is just some of what he said:
The number of organisations agencies etc is mind numbing and little or no accountability. The situation is getting worse and worse. Disabled people becoming homeless is a policy. Levels of suffering completely unnecessary.
Meanwhile the Government has 44 media advisors. Choosing to ignore us. Because they can.
We need to make this a general election issue, and reach out to the able community.
We can make change against resistance: I know how to fight, and I will spend the next 25 years fighting.
Graham Merrigan is a wheelchair user who lives an independent life and described his issues as mostly in relation to infrastructure, taxis, misuse of parking bays etc.
Local PBP Councillor Annette Mooney raised the issue of the still unratified UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and told the meeting her belief as to why it has not happened here, when almost every other country in the world has ratified:
They won’t ratify it because you’d be entitled to things. The main reason for not ratifying is money.
Why am I not surprised by this opinion?
Finally the gathering heard from Senator John Dolan, who is also CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland.
On the Budget and ratification of the UNCRPD:
State signs the international treaty, and it’s like getting engaged. Ratification is the day of getting married. Ratifying means your starting a progress of implementation. It doesn’t have to be right straight away.
On community living for disabled people:
Some HSE staff are getting people out of institutions , others are putting them back in. You can protect an institution, it can be seen, while cutting a home help is unseen. We’re fighting to get people living in the community but as it stands the community is a very vulnerable place to be.
If you only read the minutes, you’d think that attending this meeting was just a boring duty. It wasn’t. It was a pleasure and it was worth it, and I came away feeling less alone, and more understood. The minutes had no meaning for me. The quotes I’ve shared here give just a taste of what the meeting was really all about.
Note: I typed copious notes throughout the meeting and I hope I have reflected its spirit here. I should also mention that People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett was the MC for the evening.