Disability activist Evelyne Cynk hoping to move to Ireland after accepting place on UCC course

Disability activist Evelyne Cynk is hoping to move to stay in Ireland and has been invited to Leinster House this week to share her story about the rights of the disabled to live and work where they choose, writes Ellen O’Regan
Disability activist Evelyne Cynk hoping to move to Ireland after accepting place on UCC course

Evelyne Cynk: Picture: Eileen Oelbermann

EVELYNE Cynk, a disability activist from Germany, is blazing a trail for other people with disabilities who want to live a full life, and is moving to Cork later this month to pursue her dream of becoming a writer.

Evelyne has accepted a place in University College Cork this coming academic year, to complete a Masters in Creative Writing and an internship with Stinging Fly literary magazine.

Confined to a wheelchair, Evelyne is the first person in Germany, and she believes in the EU, to try and emigrate while receiving 24-hour care.

“It’s a bit of an adventure. I’m relocating with no-one, and just have to rely on complete strangers to understand what I need and take me seriously,” she said.

Under the Charter of EU Fundamental Rights, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Evelyne has the same rights as any other EU citizen to move and reside freely in any member state.

Evelyne Cynk. Pic: Yelyzaveta Hubar
Evelyne Cynk. Pic: Yelyzaveta Hubar

The latest European Disability Strategy, adopted in March 2021, specifically states that “persons with disabilities should enjoy all rights on an equal basis with others, notably when moving to another member state”.

However, as Evelyne has learnt, trying to realise those rights as a person with a disability is far from easy.

Earlier this year it seemed her hopes of ever reaching Cork were crushed, as her state-funded care provider in Germany, Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (LWL), refused to transfer funding for her 24-hour personal assistance to an Irish company.

It said there was “no legal basis for financial contributions for assistance services when a person wants to live in a foreign country”, and that they would only support her care if Evelyne was habitually resident in Germany.

Evelyne said that this is in contravention of her rights as an EU citizen, and launched a determined campaign to “fight with every fibre of [her] being” to get to Cork.

Several months on from being told it would be impossible to follow her dream of moving to Ireland, Evelyne said there is now “light on the horizon”, as the company has agreed to transfer her care to an Irish care company, Home Care Direct, and she is set to move to Cork at the end of the summer.

Michael Harty, founder and owner of Home Care Direct, said her case is a first for them, as they supply personal assistance services to Evelyne for her move across Europe, and her continuing day-to-day needs in Ireland.

He highlighted that Evelyne’s struggle to move her disability supports to Ireland demonstrates a common lack of choice for people to make their own decisions about their care.

“Evelyne is an incredibly capable person. She’s a person with a disability who wants to manage her own life, and make her own decisions without excessive outside interference, and a lot of people with disabilities here in Ireland face the same battle,” he said.

“There is a terrible lack of trust in people with disabilities making decisions about their own life. We often feel there’s an excessive amount of handholding that goes on by the State with regards supporting people to live independent lives, older or disabled people, and we have this kind of one-size-fits-all system that everybody is funnelled through.

“People’s needs and circumstances are incredibly varied. The options that are available to them should be varied as well. That’s what Evelyn is fighting for: choice. To have choices and to be able to make choices,” he said.

Evelyne says her ultimate dream is to stay in Ireland, make it as a professional writer and artist, and eventually become an Irish citizen.

An LWL spokesperson said that if Evelyne wants to continue to live in Ireland after her studies “nothing prevents Ms Cynk from doing so”, and she should apply for care assistance here, under her EU right to take advantage of the social benefits of the country she lives in.

However, because LWL have said they will not fund her care to stay in Ireland after she finishes college, Evelyne is facing a move back to Germany in two years time – unless she successfully campaigns for her care to be taken up by the Irish state while she is here.

Evelyne Cynk
Evelyne Cynk

The Independent Living Movement Ireland, a national advocacy group led by disabled people, say Evelyne’s rights as an EU citizen are being infringed.

“We believe that under the Charter for Fundamental Rights, Evelyne is entitled to a right to education, a right to social security and social assistance and freedom of movement. Most importantly, Evelyne is entitled to [be] treated equally as a disabled woman to attain those fundamental rights,” said an Independent Living Movement Ireland spokesperson. They said that unfortunately, “many other disabled people, like Evelyne, are denied the chance to realise their dreams to travel, study, work and experience life in other countries as they are unable to bring the supports they have in one country to another”.

Evelyne has found a job in social media to support her while she is studying in Ireland. In correspondence with Evelyne, Solvit, a Europe wide problem-solving network that responds to complaints from EU citizens who feel their rights are being denied, confirmed that as an employed person, Evelyne falls within the scope of free movement of workers’ provisions.

STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Evelyne said this confirmation is a step in the right direction not only for her own case as she campaigns for a way to stay in Ireland, but for every person with a disability.

“This is a step in the right direction that benefits all of us people with disabilities, in our road to freedom and to free movement within Europe, at least when we are a working person,” she said.

However, she said anyone with a disability should be recognised as an EU citizen with full rights to free movement, even without a job, and especially so as disabled people often cannot work for fear of losing State supports.

“What would be beneficial for the entire disability community, is that people acknowledge us as European citizens even if we aren’t working, because in some cases it’s just not possible to be a full working person, because people lose their support,” she said.

Evelyne has continued to fight for her right to move here, where she says she feels she belongs. Despite warnings that inclusion and accessibility for disabled people in Ireland is far from perfect, Evelyne believes Ireland is far ahead of Germany in terms of attitude.

“It’s just unbelievable how much support I get from Ireland. I’m fighting all on my own here in Germany with no-one to help me and nobody is taking me seriously,” she said.

Evelyne hopes the Irish understanding extends to recognising her rights as an EU citizen, and finding a solution for her to be able to stay in Ireland. “I hope that Ireland has some understanding of the legal rights I have as a full European citizen, but first and foremost I am really happy to come to Ireland and get my education. I’m just taking it step by step, and I am very grateful for so much help,” she said.

“I have had so much support from my course professors in UCC who have been working constantly with me to help me with my case, I’m very happy to have them in my corner,” she said.

SUPPORT

A UCC spokesperson: “Our Access UCC Disability support and Accommodation and Community Life teams have been pro-actively engaging with Evelyn to support her to undertake her studies in UCC, and we look forward to welcoming her here in the new academic year.”

“UCC is committed to supporting all students who wish to study in UCC, and welcomes queries from students about entry routes to UCC and about services available to support their progression to UCC,” they said. As she continues to battle for her right to move and remain in Ireland, Evelyne has been invited to Leinster House tomorrow, by senator and disability advocate Tom Clonan.

“They want to meet me and let me explain my situation. I really hope to get my point across about what I want to do for Ireland and for their inclusion, and that I really hope that the law may change in regards to my staying,” she said.

“Everyone has the right to move and live where they want. I’m being restricted from my rights, but regardless of my problems, I want to highlight the issues for all people with disabilities.

“This is an issue for every European citizen with a disability, and there has to be some change,” she said.

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