Limerick disability activists campaign against cuts to ‘most vulnerable’

Aine Fitzgerald


Aine Fitzgerald

YOUNG people will disabilities will be forced into nursing homes if there are any cuts to personal assistant services according to Limerick disability activist Leigh Gath.

YOUNG people will disabilities will be forced into nursing homes if there are any cuts to personal assistant services according to Limerick disability activist Leigh Gath.

The Pallaskenry resident who is a member of the Leaders Alliance - a group which is campaigning for equal and fair treatment for all people with disabilities - says that for some people, cuts to their PA (personal assistant) services will mean that they won’t be able to live in their homes any more.

“For some people they will be tossed into institutions such as nursing homes because many people, especially in more rural areas, are living at home with elderly, frail parents who cannot help them with their physical needs,” said Ms Gath.

“So if they even lose a half hour from what they are getting now – which is minimal – they are going to have to make the choice that they don’t want to make and be put in a nursing home. Nobody wants to do that when you are 20 or 30 years old and nobody should have to,” she added.

The Leaders Alliance are campaigning to force the government to rethink cuts it is making to the HSE budget which is forcing the HSE to make a 3.7% cut to services for people with disabilities this year. This cut, along with previous cuts, now brings the total to 11%.

“They have already cut PA wages, there is nothing else to cut except hours at this stage,” said Ms Gath.

“It’s a national problem. People with significant disabilities are receiving minimal PA hours now. The providers are getting minimal payment for the hours,” she added.

A native of Newry, Ms Gath who has been living in Limerick for the past six years, was born without arms or legs due to Thalidomide – an anti-morning sickness drug prescribed to her mother when she was pregnant. She completed a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice in 2007 and is now a stay at home mother-of-two.

A PA, she says, “is basically an extension of yourself” and any cuts to services provided by them would have devastating consequences for people with disabilities.

“A PA is more than a home help. A PA is an extension of your arms and legs. For some people a PA will help them to get out of bed in the morning. A PA will help them to get showered and dressed. They help people to feed themselves, they help people in their job or work,” she explained.

“There used to be social hours with a PA whereby if somebody has a communications problem, their PA could go to the doctor with them or the hospital or help somebody to do their weekly grocery shop. Now the hours have been cut back so much that basically PAs are fairly restricted to doing things in someone’s home.”

Noreen Mullane, who lives in Raheen, is also campaigning to have the cuts reversed. The Newcastle West native contracted Polio on September 16, 1956 while out playing in hay. The next morning she couldn’t move her legs. She found herself in hospital in Croom for the next year and a half.

“I needed an iron lung but there was no iron lung available because it was during the epidemic. The only thing I could move was my head,” she explained. Gradually, through intensive physiotherapy Noreen began to get movement back in her body.

She eventually went back to school but recalls not even having a walking stick to assist her.

“I was dragging my body around. I would go around holding the walls, a sweeping brush, anything I could find that I could lean on. It was a dreadful situation,” she recalled.

Noreen who is confined to a wheelchair has a PA for 14 hours a week. Her PA helps her to get dressed, make the bed and do simple things like picking something off the floor.

“You use grabbers and things like that but it wrecks your head if you have to keep doing it- you could easily fall out of the chair,” she explained.

According to Noreen who worked in the Mid-Western Health Board for 27 years, “you judge a country by how it treats its most vulnerable”

“The most vulnerable are fighting just to survive. If you put a disabled person in a nursing home you are taking away their own identity,” she pointed out.

Last week a ‘meet the TDs day’ was organised jointly with the Leaders Alliance and the Independent Living Centres.

“We met over 50 TDs and five senators in the Mansion House,” Leigh explained.

“I think that the government felt that they had picked on a very vulnerable population but we won’t take it,” she added.