Independent Living Movement Ireland

Message from ILMI CEO Damien Walshe

It is that time of year, where I try to distil the collective work that has been carried out in as concise a way as possible. So much has happened in the last twelve months that we should collectively be proud of, as we move ILMI from its current strategic plan to the development of a new plan that will take us from 2023 to the next four years of our evolution as a national cross-impairment DPO. 

Before I acknowledge the work of board, staff and members in continuing to build our Movement, it is fitting that I begin by recognising members who contributed so much to the realisation of disabled people’s lives over the last 30 years who sadly passed away this year. Earlier in the year we lost our comrades Dr John Roche and Hubert McCormack, stalwarts of the Independent Living Movement. Their loss was huge and we collectively mourned and celebrated their memories. Sadly, this weekend we lost another giant of Independent Living with the passing of Michael Nestor. Michael was know by many for his involvement over the last 25 years in the development of Centres for Independent Living across the country and specifically in his founding of Offaly Centre for Independent Living. He was also vice chair of ILMI until 2020 when he stepped down due to health issues. His wisdom and generosity will be sadly missed. 

While we remember our comrades who have passed, their vision and passion can and does continue to inspire us to collectively work together to realise a brighter future. This year saw the end of two large ILMI projects, namely ONSIDE and CREATE, as well as the completion of a short-funded project to support the development of Full Spectrum Ireland (FSI).  

In this eBulletin you can read close out reports for both ONSIDE and CREATE but i would like to share some highlights of some of their successes, as well as other ongoing ILMI work that will go on beyond 2022. 

I would like to pay tribute to the hard work, energy and innovation of the ILMI ONSIDE who contributed to the delivery above and beyond our expectations. The staff, led by Peter Kearns, included Angela Colemen, Orla Beirne, Edel McGinley, Marie Gilligan, Fiona Brennan, Clive Lowry, Mark McCollum and Audrey Wilson. ONSIDE not only directly engaged with over 625 disabled adults across Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, but also began to establish processes for growing local DPOs with ILMI’s support. 

This September saw the close of d our Creating Raised Expectations and Aspirations Towards Employment (CREATE) project. Funded by Pobal funding, CREATE works with disabled people to develop their confidence and skills that supports them to start or progress on their employment pathway. Led by Patrick Flanagan, CREATE coordinator, with support from CREATE life coach Eileen Daly, ILMI developed online group coaching, employment skills workshops and peer mentoring to support 40 disabled people to explore employment and training options over an eighteen-month period. 

The results showed that CREATE’s unique peer-led space had a huge impact on participants with all participants received training and support to build their self-confidence, skills, and knowledge to improve their employment and education opportunities. 70% of CREATE participants are currently employed or engaged in employment activation, 87% of participants showed an increase in confidence and 78% of participants showed an increase in social interaction / activity and 39% accessed employment due to CREATE. ILMI hope to take the innovative learnings from CREATE and apply them to other programmes in relation to employment. Many thanks to Patrick and Eileen and all the trainers who participated in this programme. 

With funding secured from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) under the LGBT+ scheme ILMI was able to employ two part time community development workers to support the development of Full Spectrum Ireland, an online collective for LGBT+ disabled people. From January to June 2022, Niall Jordan and Nem Kearns worked with the FSI Steering Group, FSI members and key LGBT+ mainstream service providers to build the collective capacity of FSI in relation to sexual health awareness and disability equality training for mainstream service providers. 

This year we were delighted that the HSE had agreed to fund our peer mentoring position. Over the last three years, our peer mentor Shelly Gaynor had developed a programme for supporting disabled people beginning their pathway to independent living and we look forward to how this programme develops over the course of 2023 and beyond. 

Over the course of 2022, Strategies for Change continued to engage emerging disabled activists. Coordinated by Fiona Weldon, this innovative programme worked with 15 emerging disabled activists to develop their collective skills and analysis. Over the course of 2022, participants from the 2021 programme were supported to utilise their skills on specific issues. We hope that participants from SFC 2022 will join in on these working groups to put their skills into practice. Another legacy from SFC is the body of video and online resources Fiona has collected and curated. This will allow disabled activists to use the SFC section of the ILMI website to learn about disability equality and how to work collectively to bring about change. This is almost finalised and will be officially launched in 2023.  

At the end of 2021, ILMI was delighted to announce that we were successful in our application to the pilot Community Development Programme with the Department of Rural and Community Development. The department received 123 applications, and from that have chosen 7 pilot programmes. Our Virtual Online Inclusive Communities for Empowerment (VOICE) project is one of those successful 7 projects which were announced by Minister Joe O’Brien TD.  

VOICE aims to work with disabled people in counties Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford. It is a welcome development that will allow us to build a stronger movement.  The focus is on bringing disabled people together in collective spaces. It is based on digital networking, peer mentoring support and activism with disabled people in the south of Ireland (CHO areas 4 and 5). VOICE aims to inform, mentor and support disabled people to build authentic local representative structures and build the capacity of local mainstream services to promote real inclusion of disabled people. At the start of 2022 we were delighted to have Nicola Meacle (Community Development worker for Cork, Kerry and Tipperary) and Paula Soraghan (Community Development worker for Kilkenny, Carlow, Waterford and Wexford) join the staff team in 2022. Over the course of the year mapping of all seven counties was completed. This was an extensive list that included disability Service-Providers, local Partnerships, ETB’s, 3rd level colleges and universities, Sports Partnerships community groups, Men’s Sheds, Disabled Persons Networks and local media. Group work has begun in Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny and will be rolled out in Wexford, Waterford, Carlow and Kerry next year. 

I want to recognise that a cornerstone of our current strategic plan is to work with other equality and human rights groups and embed disabled people’s voices in other campaigns. I want to thank ILMI board, staff and members who have represented us at key spaces including the Assisted Human Reproduction coalition, the Irish Network Against Racism, Community Platform, Add the 10th Alliance, European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) Ireland, Community Work Ireland, the Coalition Against Hate Crime and the National Women’s Council. I also want to recognise that ILMI has been working with our partner organisations (As I Am, Disabled Women Ireland, the Irish Deaf Society and the National Platform for Self-Advocates) to establish the DPO Network, which began in 2022 and has ended the year in a very strong position as a Network. 

We continued to offer online spaces for training, consultation and peer spaces. The ILMI Women’s Group continued over 2022 as did our innovative Youth Space. We also held a number of very interesting webinars to build on our collective analysis, including two more in our “Everything You Wanted to know about disability but were afraid to ask” including our “Let’s talk about Sex” and “Let’s talk about the social model”. We also co-hosted a webinar with Community Work Ireland on the absence of community development approaches with disabled people called “In from the Margins”. 

As part of our 30th Anniversary and also commemorating European Independent Living Day on 5th May, we hosted a webinar on our PASNOW campaign. Over the course of 2020 to 2022, we have worked with disabled activists locally, local elected representatives and political parties and in 2022 we were delighted to announce that each local authority has passed motions calling on a right to personal assistance for disabled people. This event was preceded with 30 days of action as members recorded short video clips to talk about the importance of PAS and why it needed to be invested in and legislated for. We followed up this successful webinar and campaign with an in-person presentation in the Oireachtas AV room with strong political allies. Our PASNOW campaign will continue as we work to bring legislation into the Dail and continue to build cross party support for a right to PAS. 

As part of our 30th Anniversary we hosted a series of important webinars on Independent Living, which included a memorable input from the Legendary Adolf Ratkza. We also hosted a series of cultural events called “Smashing it” which featured Matt Frazer and Rosaleen McDonagh among others.  All of these events can be accessed on the video section of our ILMI website ILMI – Video Resources 

Coupled with our revamped website and video content, we continue to promote the work of ILMI with our weekly eBulletin, our social media presence and working to build links with media, including our very successful RTE 6 One News piece on December 1st to comment on the ESRI research to PAS. 

Over the course of the year, we published a number of key position papers. We started 2022 with the publication of Our Lives, Our Voices (Our Lives, Our Voices Reclaiming the Narrative – February 2022.pdf) which explored how the media needed to support disabled people’s voices as well as “Enabling Participation: Supporting the Involvement of disabled people in political parties” (Enabling Participation – ILMI Position Paper.pdf), “Pathways to a Personal Assistance Service (PAS)” (Pathways to PAS – March 2022.pdf) and our pre-Budget submission “Invest in Inclusion” (ILMI Budget 2023 – Invest in Inclusion.pdf). 

We also made a number of submissions to inform public policy, such as our submission to the Assisted Decision-Making Bill (Independent Living Movement Ireland – Submission on ADM.pdf) the HIQA Home Care Consultation (ILMI Submission to HIQA Home Care Consultation.pdf) and the Commission on a referendum on Housing (ILMI-Submission on the Housing Commissions Public Consultation on a Referendum on Housing.pdf). 

I want to use this opportunity to recognise to thank everyone who has participated and contributed to the work of the organisation at every level in 2022. I especially want to acknowledge the huge amount of work that the board has put in over the course over this year. 

On a personal level, I want to recognise the support and guidance that Des Kenny continues to give as chairperson of ILMI. I also want to recognise the work of Selina Bonnie (Vice Chair), Jacqui Brown (Secretary), Gordon Ryan (Treasurer), Brian Dalton, Ann Marie Flanagan, Catherine Gallagher, Seònaid Ó Murchadha, Sinead Murtagh and Aoife McNicholl. 

We are extremely fortunate to have such skilled, creative and committed staff members that bring so much to the organisation. I want to acknowledge the work of the staff team over the course of 2022: Orla Beirne, Susan O’Brien, Nina Byrne, Dr James Casey, James Cawley, Angela Coleman, Patrick Flanagan, Shelly Gaynor, Edel McGinley, Niall Jordan, Nem Kearns, Peter Kearns, Claire Kenny, Clive Lowry, Nicola Meacle, Mark McCollum, Paula Soraghan, Fiona Weldon and Audrey Wilson. As CEO I want to thank them all for their dedication, expertise and passion they bring to their roles and their work as a team. 

As projects have closed down and staff have sadly moved onto new roles, I want to especially recognise the contributions of Audrey, Clive, Edel and Orla who left ILMI as ONSIDE wound down. I would like to thank Niall and Nem for their work on the short project to develop Full Spectrum Ireland and Patrick for his management of CREATE over the last eighteen months and for Susan and James for their significant contribution to the organisation over the last years. I am sure you will join us in wishing them all the very best and to thank them for all they have done in ILMI over the years. I also want Linda McCourt and Carrie Minagh from NUI Maynooth who joined ILMI on placement as part of their education in 2022. 

As always, it is vital to acknowledge the huge contribution made by disabled people who have been involved in the work of ILMI in so many different ways.

With the development of a new strategic plan which we will launch in 2023, it is my hope that ILMI can continue to grow as a national DPO and bring new ways to challenge the structural ableism that prevents disabled people from participating in society as equals. 

I wish you all a very happy Christmas and look forward to working with you all in 2023.

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