Finian McGrath: 'I would love to ratify the UN Convention and reform our disability services'

Newstalk Drive's Steve Daunt meets Minister for Disability Issues, Finian McGrath

Did you ever buy one of those box sets of your favourite movie or TV show and went straight to watch the ‘How we made…’ extra feature? Well, this is the Undaunted version.

You’ve seen the promo. You saw the YouTube clip and you heard the radio interview. Now it’s time to tell the story of how I met and interviewed Minister Finian McGrath.

The beginning... 

It started last May. He had just moved into big school. Sorry, I mean he was appointed Minister. Like a well-trained journalist, I put in my first interview request to the Department press office. I got a lovely holding reply and so the wait began.

Some time later, I spotted the minister in Newstalk Towers and after an awkward few seconds where he thought I was a hopeless Finian fan boy who wanted an autograph, he realised who I really was and diligently promised we would meet before the Summer recess.

Life went on… And on. Summer faded into autumn and there was still no sign of the minister. A family bereavement pushed Finian way down my agenda.

However, as the new year dawned, Finian jumped right up my to-do list again. I follow the minister on Twitter so I DM’d him. He wrote back saying ’let’s get it on’.

He also uttered the memorial line: “I’m my own press officer.”

I began to think how the interview should look… From day one, I knew it wasn’t going to be a typed interview. I wanted something different, ideally on his patch.

With the help of Newstalk’s Digital Editor, Amanda Connolly, and ace cameraman Luke Benson, we came up with the idea that it might have the feel of a silent movie where questions would pop up on screen before the Minister answered. I told the minister and he agreed.

I then turned my attention to you, our Newstalk audience. The listeners’ questions were crucial.

As always with these things, there were some last minute swings and roundabouts but it all worked out in the end. The Minister came to Newstalk and you can see how the interview unfolded below…  

So what did I make of the interview?

As many of you may know, it coincided with the demo on the UN convention. The Minister had just come out of a meeting with Joanne Riordan and I got the feeling she may have used him as a shortcut as they say. Meeting me seemed to be a bit of light relief.

I got the impression that the Minister is a nice, caring man. I pointed out to Chris Donoghue that I was struck by his humanity when he spoke about the Grace Case. On the wider scale, I still have my doubts.

The nature of the interview meant it was always going to be a set-piece and big picture. Engagement on the issues was never going to be deep and meaningful. On the other hand, 25 minutes with a junior minister is an amount of time a political correspondent would probably bite my hand off for.

I had structured the questions to make it clear that the ‘needs’ of disabled people had to be met through the prism of citizen’s rights. That’s why I went big on why the minister was housed in health. It’s not a new approach. I heard about it as a young firebrand in 1990. Do the math.

As the interview went on, I could see the minister was genuine but the nagging thought in the back of my mind was ‘does he get it?’

It could be that his own personal struggles to gain services for his daughter may cloud everything he does. He genuinely thinks care and love will win at the end of the day. Or is he at the beck and call of his officials who are, in turn, at the beck and call of the Department of Finance who have always been ultra-cautious about disabled people gaining a right to any service?

UN Convention

At the end of the piece I did with Newstalk Drive, Chris Donoghue asked me if the UN Convention be ratified. I got off the fence and emphatically said NO!

Let me explain why and perhaps qualify it slightly. On a human level, I’m pretty sure the whole government may very well wake up one day and ratify. My question is around whether or not they actually understand what that means in terms of civil rights and disabled people? Standards will be need to be met. That’s going to be fun.

Let’s end on a positive. The Minister did set up a few deadlines within the interview and like a good hack, I’ll be keeping my eye on these. That’s a promise.

You can listen to Steve's segment on Drive about the interview here: