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 Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Our guests are very welcome. It is great to have them here. They might be familiar with my surname because my brother, Matthew McGreehan, is a very proud social farmer. Our family has been very committed to social farming for many years now. I am a major advocate for it. I heard Senator Flynn speak about dressing it up as unpaid labour, but social farming is so much more than the work done on a farm. It is about inclusion into a family and community. It is also a complementary therapy. So much learning and education goes on in social farming, from learning to bake bread, growing your own food and interacting with people you might not know. My brother spent yesterday at the agricultural show in Balmoral in the North with his social farmers. He brought them up there for the day to show it to them. To be included in that is, in itself, a learning experience and a therapy. I am a major advocate for it. As Ms Doherty said, it is about that personalised budget. It is about people being able to say this is the social prescribing they want to do, that they do not want to be in a day centre today but out on the farm, that they do not want to sit but want to be an advocate for themselves, and that they want to be able to social prescribe and be on a farm today. Maybe they want to be on a guided walk on another day or do art. Social farming is about that concept of social prescribing and complementary therapy. It is not about unpaid labour. It is about so much more.

Following on from that, is there a further step we can take so it can be more like a CE or FÁS scheme? Based on the experience of the witnesses, can we add that on so that people with disabilities are empowered and raised up? We know that people come on. I have seen them grow, not just people with disabilities but those suffering from drug addiction and mental health difficulties, when they work on the farm. They grow, change, develop and become the people they are and want to be. After personalised budgets and that right to choose, what is the next step we can take to advance towards that employment on a bigger farm? Many of the social farmers are on smaller, family farms, which are pretty much on the edge of their seats when it comes to making ends meet. How do we move it on to the next stage?