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Government needs ‘mindset change’ to address disability issues — Minister

Speaking in Balbriggan on 25 May at the opening of Prosper Fingal’s new day service centre, The Lodge, which will facilitate greater inclusion and participation of people with intellectual disabilities in their local community, Minister Finian McGrath underlined that disability is applicable across departments, referencing health, transport, employment and education.

“We have to change the mindset in Government and I see a lot of people in Government think, ‘disability, oh, that’s Finian, he’ll go off and do that job’… we need to broaden it out,” Minister McGrath told MI.

Minister McGrath accepted “there is a long way to go” in addressing disability service deficits. The minister told MI his next priority areas include respite services and therapies. “I am working on a national disability strategy at the moment and I am probably going to have a memo for Government in three weeks’ time,” he added.

In his address at the opening of the centre, Minister McGrath said innovative facilities such as The Lodge facilitate people with a disability to live independent lives and “exercise greater independence in accessing the services they choose”.

In 2017, €1.688 billion would be spent on disability services nationally, representing a 6 per cent increase on last year, the Minister told attendees.

Chairperson of the Prosper Group Dr Mary Murphy said The Lodge would provide a new model of service that is “built on the talents and abilities of people, rather than on their disabilities”.

She commented: “This facility will be used as a hub where people can be supported to participate in their own community to the greatest possible extent.”

Ms Mary Walshe, HSE head of social care in Dublin North, said The Lodge meets all of the policies that the HSE has brought out in recent years, particularly its strategy on day service provision. She said this latter policy, New Directions, is about client-centred care and inclusiveness.

Service user Ms Fiona Savage, who volunteers in the local community, told MI she loves meeting with her friends at The Lodge. “We all get along together,” said Ms Savage, who enjoys a range of activities and visits to other towns in Fingal.  Mr Daniel Brady-Byrne also attends the centre, which he described as “lovely”.  On Fridays, he is collected from The Lodge to go to Meals on Wheels, where he volunteers. 

The Prosper Group, incorporating Prosper Fingal and Prosper Meath, provides services to 500 individuals from 22 locations in Fingal and Co Meath. 

CEO of the Prosper Group, Mr Pat Reen, explained that service users will attend The Lodge on a day-to-day basis while integrating into activities in the wider community. Currently, 17 service users are accessing The Lodge but this will grow, he told MI.

Demands on disability services would continue to rise in the context of an ageing and expanding population, added Mr Reen. “The austerity years have hurt us and all disability services. There were cuts to our budgets when the need was still there and growing, and therefore we are in a serious catch-up situation.”

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Pictured L to R, the Reilly family: Carmel, Catherine (acting Editor, Medical Independent); Hilary, Mary, Jimmy, Mary, Hugh Junior, Anne, Owen, John, and Michelle

The purchase of The Lodge was made possible by the philanthropy of the Reilly family. The late Hughie and Kitty Reilly, whose son John cut the ribbon to formally open The Lodge, worked tirelessly and heroically for many years through the Fingal Association for the Handicapped in order to advance services for John and other people with intellectual disabilities in the locality.  After Kitty’s passing in 2013, the proceeds of the Reilly family home on Hampton Street, Balbriggan, were bequeathed to Prosper Fingal, facilitating the purchase of The Lodge. 

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Mr John Reilly and Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath opening the new Prosper Fingal facility, The Lodge

The Reilly Room at The Lodge is dedicated to Hughie and Kitty Reilly and their family, for their “immense” contribution to the formation and development of Prosper Fingal.

Dr Murphy of the Prosper Group told attendees: “Kitty and Hughie Reilly must be looking down on this day with great pride, the fact that their life’s work has left such a legacy for the town they loved.”

Prosper Fingal, which was originally established as the Fingal Workshop in 1978, celebrates its 40th anniversary next year.

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The late Hughie and Kitty Reilly of Balbriggan worked tirelessly on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities

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