UCD Students March in Support of Disability Rights

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On Saturday, UCD Students marched from the GPO to Leinster House to promote disability rights among Irish people in a march organised by Wheelchair Rights Ireland. The march followed a video released by the UCD Students’ Union, in which the union’s Disability Rights co-ordinator, Amy Hassett, shared a personal testimonial on how Ireland has failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The UN CRPD was signed by Ireland in 2007. Issues arose with the ratification of the convention due to current laws at the time being “incompatible” with the convention. “It’s not really a very good excuse,” stated Hassett, “because we knew that the CRPD was coming down the line before we signed it – so we could have started changing those laws then.” When asked why she believes there has been such a delay in ratifying the convention, she said “I would guess that the government is waiting for a moment where it would be politically beneficial to ratify it i.e. if we had an election coming up.”

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The convention would give advocates of disability rights the opportunity to campaign for more accessible housing for people living with disabilities, and for students with disabilities to live away from home to attend university. Campaigns for better transport systems would also be supported by the convention, by ensuring that the government cannot cut funding to services that people with non-physical disabilities use i.e. educational services, mental health services, and occupational therapy. “It would also set an amazing precedent for how people with disabilities should be treated across society, including in universities,” says Hassett.

Along with the UCDSU, representatives from Trinity Students’ Union, the Disability Federation of Ireland, Wheelchair Rights Ireland, and members of the All Ireland Students Activist Network marched to promote awareness of the issue and disability rights. Senator John Dolan and Dr. Tom Clonan both spoke outside Leinster House after the march on the importance of “disruption” to highlight the need for campaigning for better treatment and better rights for people living with disabilities.

Margaret Kennedy of Wheelchair Rights Ireland, said she would be speaking to the Transport Committee next Wednesday 13th December and encouraged people to gather outside Leinster House in support.

With an approximate total of 12 UCD students in attendance, Hassett remains optimistic about future plans to promote disability rights despite the low turnout from students.”There were plenty more people interested in coming along but couldn’t make it because of work or study”. She expresses her happiness with the overall event: “It was 3 times what I expected, given the time of year it is, really showed that we do care a lot about this issue and are willing to put work in to make change happen”.

UCD Welfare Officer Eoghan MacDomhnaill reiterates that the main emphasis was “on the traction going into [the march], with our video”. The video released prior to the march has gained over 34,000 views, with Hassett stating the feedback she had received from viewers shows a lack of general knowledge on the subject.

Talking about the future plans of UCDSU to promote disability rights, Hassett emphasises the need for more student involvement, “we need people who don’t have a disability to campaign for disability rights”. MacDomhnaill says there is another march planned in the second semester for CRPD, but hopes that the government will have ratified the convention by that point. Emphasising the need for more passionate people to become involved in the campaign, MacDomhnaill calls for students to be more vocal as a means to get people involved.