Undaunted: "Having a disability and fighting for every little thing takes its toll"

The 72-hour protest over disability services is not just about €300m investment, observes Steve Daunt, but also highlights the need for a new generation of activists

As they gathered to begin their three-day protest outside the Government buildings, news filtered through that Joe Mooney, one of the leaders of Ireland’s disability movement, had passed away. Joe would have smiled at the decision to ‘set up shop’ on Merrion St, just a week before the return of the Dáil

He had planned to be there today. He would have sat quietly observing everything, offering advice when needed. Joe was from Donegal. In his life he brought acumen to a range of organisations from Lucan Transport to Muscular Dystrophy Ireland, the latter of which was transformed under his leadership. He will be missed.

This one was for Joe.

Every Tom, Dick and Harry would have been swarming around Kildare St next week. Having Merrion St to themselves during a week when the cabinet was coming and going. It paid off. Enda arrived with cups of tea at one point. Enda also agreed to a face-to-face meeting between the protesters, along with some of the line ministers in charge of the myriad of disability spend.

This meeting could be a game-changer. We are weeks away from the Budget, so sitting down in the same room as Enda, Ministers Howlin and Varadkar will give the protesters the chance to address how the €300 million black hole in disability services should be met. Hiqa reports are piling up - showing that throwing money at big organisations is not tenable anymore. The triumvirate of Inclusion Ireland, the Centre of Independent Living and Áiseanna Tacaíochta are looking for a system where money will follow the person and people will gain control of how they access services. Things like a properly funded Personal Assistant Programme. Things like these have the potential to actually SAVE money as people take control of their lives.

Coming together to protest isn’t just about achieving actual results. Sometimes it’s about coming together and growing as an activist. Back in the day, I was one of those newbies learning the ropes. The sad thing is that many of those who were in leadership roles when I was active are still there. They are getting old. Having a disability and fighting for every little thing takes its toll. That’s what was great about today. A new generation of disabled people coming together to articulate their needs.

Joe would have approved.