Disabilities minister Anne Rabbitte heard a series of personal testimonies from families coping with disability at an emotionally charged public meeting in Cork on Tuesday night.
About 150 people attended the meeting which was the first of 39 such meetings scheduled over the coming months where the Minister of State for Disabilities will meet families and hear their experiences with the delivery of disability services.
At the meeting, which lasted four hours, Ms Rabbitte heard from a number of speakers who said they were exhausted from having to constantly fight for their children’s rights.
There was much dissatisfaction voiced about the HSE’s Progressing Disabilities Services programme, and when the minister asked if the provision of disabilities services were better or worse since Progressing Disabilities Services was introduced, she received a unanimous “worse”’.
The minister said she had wanted to get public feedback on Progressing Disabilities Services and, she said, she would “make an informed decision on Progressing Disabilities Services”.
Two parents called on Ms Rabbitte to resign, with three women walking out amid angry scenes when the mother of a terminally ill child accused the minister of lacking empathy.
Many speakers questioned the absence of HSE representatives, and the minister said she had invited representatives from the HSE and from “all the care providers”, but none had attended.
A number of speakers said that Taoiseach Micheál Martin should have attended the meeting, both as a local TD and as the leader of the country.
One parent, who declined to be named, told The Echo he admired the minister for her “guts” in attending the meeting.
“There was an awful lot of pain in that room, and a lot of people are justifiably angry, but at least Anne Rabbitte bothered to show up, and to listen to people,” he said.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that the HSE didn’t send a single rep tonight.”
Cork North Central TD Pádraig O’Sullivan, who is Fianna Fáil spokesperson on special education, said the HSE had been invited.
“There will be a further 38 meetings happening nationally over the coming months, and I would like to think that they will be able to attend some of these forums.”
A spokesperson for the HSE said: “Due to short notice a representative from the HSE was unavailable to attend this forum and the minister’s office was advised.”