A protest will take place this Wednesday outside Dáil Éireann to call on the Government to save Cuisle, Ireland’s only accessible holiday and respite centre.
The decision to close the facility in Donamon, Co. Roscommon was taken by the Irish Wheelchair Association and was supported by Minister of State for Disability Issues, Finian McGrath, in the Dáil last Thursday. The announcement has sent shockwaves around the country, with national charities, people with disabilities, their families, staff, politicians, volunteers and supporters coming together to form a new campaign group, “Save Cuisle”. Their first action will be a protest outside Dáil Éireann at 12pm on Wednesday to call on Minister McGrath to reverse the decision. The group is encouraging members of the public to join them.
Seán O’ Kelly is a member of the Irish Wheelchair Association and has been going to Cuisle for the last 10 years. He expressed his sadness and disappointment at the decision to close Cuisle.
He said: “As a service user, Cuisle is like a home from home. The staff are really friendly and the service is second to none. In essence, Cuisle is a retreat for people with disabilities – the calm surroundings and the feeling of relaxation is invariably not felt in ‘normal’ daily life in comparison to the time spent in Cuisle. Many members of the IWA are devastated by this decision. We were not consulted and our views are being completely ignored. If Cuisle were to close there would be nowhere more suitable than Cuisle. The decision to close Cuisle has to be reversed without question”.
Ataxia Foundation Ireland is one of the organisations that will take part in the protest. CEO, Al Young, who is also a service user, has criticised the decision for failing to take the wishes of people with disabilities into account.
He said: “We believe this decision is deeply flawed and will have a devastating impact on our members. We are determined not to give up without a fight. The decision by the Irish Wheelchair Association to close Cuisle came without any consultation whatsoever with IWA members, staff, or users of the centre. This protest is about giving a voice to the thousands of people living with disabilities and their families, who will be directly effected by the closure of Cuisle. Making their voices heard has to be the priority. As of yet, the IWA has failed to respond with any more than a standard statement to any concerns from the members, public, or public representatives”.
Mr. Young continued: “We fully endorse the IWA’s vision of an Ireland where people with disabilities enjoy equal rights, choices and opportunities and where our country is a model worldwide for a truly inclusive society. We strongly believe, however, that the decision to close Cuisle is deeply flawed and will only result in achieving the exact opposite of this vision. We want this decision to be at least halted by 12 months or ideally reversed completely. Cuisle provides a unique service for the whole of Ireland. It welcomes anyone and everyone – be they having a disability or not – but prioritises, and can cater for, the needs and rights of up to 35 people per night living with the full spectrum of disabilities”.
“The IWA states that the closure of Cuisle is to move away from congregated, health service settings as reflected in the current HSE policy ‘Time to Move on from Congregated Settings: A Strategy for Community Inclusion’. Cuisle however is a holiday centre, not a health centre. To imply it is a health centre because it prioritises peoples with disabilities is deeply problematic”.
“The IWA and Minister McGrath state that they are planning to provide a wider range of choice to people with disabilities by partnering with accessible hotels. While this is to be welcomed this new strategy will only commence in March 2020! It is incredible to close Cuisle now before this new strategy is even started, let alone properly tested to evaluate its effectiveness in addressing the needs and rights of people with disabilities. Closing Cuisle is clearly also reducing choice – not expanding. People with more complex conditions will not use these hotels and so the IWA will call it a success, ignorant of these people and the reasons why they don’t use these services. There is currently simply no alternative holiday centre or hotel in Ireland that has the resources to cater for even a handful of people with complex disabilities at the same time. Our members will be left even further behind if this new hotel model is the only option to IWA members that use Cuisle now”.
Mr. Young concluded: “The IWA states that long-term financial sustainability is one of their core strategic objectives. We believe the members, and the members’ needs, have to always be the priority and closing Cuisle is not reflective of the rights of thousands of members of the IWA. This decision is yet another example of cuts to services for people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in this country”.
Noel Brennan has been providing care at Cuisle for 18 years.
He said: “We believe Cuisle is a template for the IWA’s own vision. Cuisle provides choice and opportunities for people with disabilities where they are safe in the knowledge that they can go by themselves – independently – for once not reliant on a family member or a carer. Cuisle is one of a small number of places in this country where a disability is not a barrier to living a fulfilling life. Cuisle is the IWA’s National Holiday Centre. It is an integrated hotel setting used by everybody and is the only fully accessible, specialised hotel venue in Ireland. We should be celebrating Cuisle – learning from the experience in Cuisle how to develop truly inclusive centres and hotels. I fear that closing it will further alienate some of the most vulnerable people in our society”.