Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters

Employment and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Discussion

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the witnesses. It has been an interesting discussion and I take on board the points that Senator Flynn made, but I want to place a value on the work that has been happening. I know Val and Una Cross in Drumshree, Rathangan, who are wonderful ambassadors for the concept of social farming. It was the first time I had heard of it. As hosts, they have gained a great deal. They have run open days and brought members of the community to their farm. Similar to Mr. McManus, those who have participated have gained a great deal through empowerment, learning skills and being part of the community.

While Senator Flynn was asking questions, I was trying to think of my own experience. I did social farming once in my early 20s. It was in Israel on a kibbutz. We were paid 1 shekel per week, or the equivalent of 50 pence, but what I learned and what I experienced over the few months I was there – obviously, it was a different situation – was phenomenal. It empowered me in many different ways.

I was delighted when the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, made so much more money available for social farming within the seven counties. That was important. The model is important and could be applied across other sectors as a stepping stone to employment in a similar way to the Oireachtas Work Learning, OWL, system that we have in the Oireachtas, through which participants from KARE and WALK have the opportunity to be in a workplace. They are not paid in a similar way to others, but more than 50% of them have gone on to full-time employment, three of them in Leinster House.

It was great to hear Mr. McManus’s testimony and about how the skills he learned through social farming helped him to achieve his dream of living independently and doing so much for himself. That is very important. Perhaps he might tell us more about what he feels he gained from being on the social farm.

I thank the witnesses from the Central Remedial Clinic, including Mr. Le Roux. One of the issues that he mentioned was career guidance. I could not agree more. It is shocking that there is no career guidance in special schools. It is wrong that we are effectively denying young people the opportunity to discuss what they would like to do when they leave school. Mr. Le Roux also mentioned partnerships. We must consider how to engender and support partnerships for the young people we serve. He might comment on this.

I wish to ask a general question about the key changes that the witnesses feel are needed to increase participation in employment by people with disabilities. What policy changes do we need to put in place?