There’s such a difference in the air today compared with the last time this country went to the polls. Then we were voting for equality, for human rights,for love. And we got it spectacularly right. I shed tears that day when Ireland voted ‘Yes’. I have never been more proud of my country than I was that day. It was like we were on the crest of a wave;change was coming and it felt good.
Fast forward nine months and all I feel is despondency at this upcoming general election. I’m going to tell you a story here, that is not mine to relay from a first person perspective, but it may easily have been.
A young family are eating in a restaurant-mammy,daddy,son and daughter. The daughter is full of giggles and chat, politely asking the waitress for more “joose”. She may not possess the same vocabulary as the average nine year old, but what she lacks in words, she more than makes up for in effort and charm.
Another family are watching this one from the corner. This family is older;their children now adults. The mother of this family watches her younger counterparts with interest, but also something tinged with bitterness and sadness. She watches the nine year old girl communicate with those around her. She feels the glow of the bright embers of her future. She marvels at this family out and about and seemingly normal, away from the shadowy corner her family are seated in. Her son is sitting next to her. She reminds him to wipe the food away from the side of his mouth. He grunts assent.
Both the young daughter of the other family and her son have Down syndrome. The difference between the two is two decades, yet it may as well be centuries. For there was no early intervention when her son was born. He is twenty nine years old and can only say two words-‘yes’ and ‘no’. His family had been forgotten, abandoned at at time when Down syndrome was a shameful, shameful thing and those born with it given no chance of reaching their full potential.
She catches the eye of the young mother as she walks past. The two families chat and both marvel at the differences in their fortunes.
My heart broke when I heard this story. Oh how we have failed so many of our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts in the hundred years since we made our bold strike for freedom from an alien government. How we continue to fail them. Yes, life is now so much better for people with disabilities due to increased awareness, improved technology and sheer bloody minded determination on the parts of some incredible men and women. We, as a family owe so much to the trailblazing parents who have gone before. The ones who ensured our kids now have access to resource hours in primary schools, where none existed before. The ones who refused to accept the status quo and forged ahead to create a brighter future for their loved ones.
This outgoing government has failed and continued to fail our most vulnerable citizens. No one has mentioned disability issues. It’s sad to say but it will again most likely fall to the parents to fund, to source, to ensure their children are getting the services they deserve. We owe it to do all we can to help them. I am not hopeful of the new government doing any better but voting is the first step on the road to change. I’ll be voting today, and I’ll be taking my bright, beautiful girl who has benefited so much from services that I as a parent has funded for out of my own pocket. I’ll be voting in the vain hope that something will change-that we will be able to give all our citizens the chance to live their lives in the sun, not confined to the shadowy fringe of society. We have to try, that’s all we can do at the end of the day.