Dear Minister Flanagan,

I am writing to you as a former constituent to express my deep concern at the news that The National Platform of Self Advocates is being forced to close due to lack of funding. I implore you to consider urgent action in this regard as the closure of this organisation would be a significant loss to Irish civil society.

As one of the last countries to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the momentum among the disability-rights sector in Ireland has never been higher. Organisations like the National Platform have worked tirelessly, both before the ratification, and in the time since, to highlight the many obstacles within our society for people with disabilities. However, there is still much work to be done if we are to be in line with our obligations under the Convention and therefore, organisations like the National Platform need public support and funding in order to be able to continue.

I have been proud to support the work of the National Platform on previous occasions, and look to their expertise within my own work as an academic. If their input is lost within the sector in Ireland, we are at an immediate disadvantage going forward. Their members – who give of their time voluntarily – have regularly met with Government Ministers, taken part in conferences and training events, produced research which has practical implications and made recommendations for reform, and engaged with the drafting of legislation such as the Assisted Decision-Making Capacity Act. We as academics have learned from the tireless commitment and work that has been produced by Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs), such as the National Platform, which is then fed into our research and teaching practices.

As a small country, we are fortunate to have access to a number of organisations who give of their time and expertise to attend events and speak at conferences (often without payment), engage in law and policy-making and participate in academic projects. The National Platform was Ireland’s first ever DPO and since that time, its members have been to the fore in all of the above engagements. As a DPO, their experience and participation cannot be understated. It is an organisation that is run by people with intellectual disabilities themselves. Too often, the voices of people with disabilities are side-lined and overshadowed by other groups with vested interests (including parents, caregivers, social care professionals, academics, politicians and medical professionals). We must not allow this to happen.

By providing funding to the National Platform, it will enable them to continue their vital work and play a part in the reporting process which Ireland is due to undergo as part of the UN CRPD. Indeed, the Convention itself was built on the framework of inclusion of people with disabilities and their representative groups throughout the entire drafting process. The motto “Nothing About Us, Without Us”,  has now become synonymous with the disability rights movement and the final text of the Convention, but such words will ring hollow in Ireland if we lose the National Platform due to a lack of funding.

The closure of this organisation has sparked widespread dismay, not just in Ireland, but across the disability sector worldwide, as is reflected by the outpouring of shock across social media following the news of their closure last week. I am concerned about what the closure of this organisation says about us as a country, and our commitment to the UN CRPD, to our international peers, and I genuinely think this will reflect badly on our political leaders if nothing is done to support organisations like the National Platform.

I call upon you to support the work of the National Platform by way of providing proper funding, to ensure that we do not lose the very valuable input that their members bring to Irish society.

Dr Donna Marie McNamara

Lecturer in Law
The University of Newcastle, Australia

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