Ireland advances disability politics 2023

Europe is undergoing a paradigm transition as more EU countries include people with disabilities in politics. But some are lagging behind.

Fintan Bray and his sibling visited Brussels a few years ago.

Fintan’s attention was drawn to the European Parliament while they were touring the metropolis.

“Eventually, I will be in,” he told his sibling.

In October 2022, he became the first person with Down Syndrome to be elected to a senior position within an Irish political party, thanks to his ambition and hard work.

“I am extremely proud to be able to represent people with disabilities and to ensure that our voices are heard,” he told Euronews.

“And I have no plans to stop.”

Since he has been a member of Fianna Fáil for nearly two decades, he has been actively engaged in his party’s politics, using his voice at conferences and events to empower people with disabilities. He is overjoyed to have been elected to the party’s National Executive, or “Committee of 15.”

“It has been an incredible experience thus far,” he says.

Fintan’s story has been made possible by his family and Irish society in general, who have always supported his ambition.

As the party’s Equality Officer, his primary goals are to increase his community’s access to paid employment and higher education.

In Ireland, not only is it possible for individuals with disabilities to hold political office, but beginning this week, they will receive additional assistance when they vote.

In 2015, Ireland passed the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act, which enables those who may have trouble making decisions, such as those with intellectual disabilities, to exercise their democratic rights as citizens more effectively.

Since March 26th, this act expressly supports decision-making for people with disabilities, making Ireland’s voting system one of the most inclusive in the European Union.

Because this is not true in all EU member states.

No consensus on politics and disability

Fintan Bray’s tale is inconceivable in other EU nations.

In many other European nations, the movement of Irish society to better include people with disabilities in politics has not yet taken hold.

Pat Clarke, a representative of the European Down Syndrome Association, states that there are no expectations for the participation of individuals with Down syndrome in politics.

“Yet, this is changing,” he continues.

According to him, we are living in prosperous times for people with disabilities, as a paradigm shift is occurring and higher expectations are being set for them.

Clarke told Euronews that an increasing number of nations are working on the presumption of possibilities for these individuals.

However, the procedure is sluggish.

According to Alejandro Moledo, coordinator of EU Policy for the European Disability Forum (EDF), there are legal barriers in the EU that prevent people with disabilities from running for office or voting.

Disability rights and political equality?

In its 2022 centerpiece report, the EDF examined EU citizens with disabilities’ rights to vote and run for political office.

During the 2019 European Parliament elections, it was determined that approximately 400 000 people with disabilities in 14 countries were denied the right to vote due to their disability.

Moledo told Euronews that some nations view people with disabilities as second-class citizens.

For the freedom to run for office, the situation is deteriorating.

Only seven nations (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden) recognize the right of people with disabilities to run for office.

“We are striving for greater representation. Only five members of the EU Parliament have declared a visible disability, so we are not even discussing persons with invisible disabilities. This is far below the 15 percent of the EU population that has a disability, according to Moledo.

Fintan commented on this issue by stating that EU elections are in the back of his mind, but he wishes to focus on more local concerns.

“Perhaps in the future I will contemplate running [for the EU elections]. I want to be a voice for my community for the time being so that they can have what I have.”

Currently, one of Fintan’s primary goals is to defend the right to work for persons with disabilities. He is presently attempting to increase accountability in the hiring of disabled individuals.

“Many of my friends with Down syndrome receive a few hours of unpaid work per week,” he said. He is resolute to continue his fight.

“I’m not going to stop”.

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