Living with a disability

Posted on: 10th April, 2017

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

In Ireland the 600,000 people with disabilities are not afforded the same basic human rights as everyone else. Although one of the first countries to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) a decade ago, in March 2007, Ireland is the only European country not to ratify this International agreement.

The CRPD is an International Agreement directed at changing attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. The convention ensures that people with disabilities have the right to be consulted about their own welfare and enshrines their rights around access to education, transport, employment and other issues.

On March 30, the ten-year anniversary of Ireland signing the UNCRPD, Senator John Dolan joined the disability community in a protest outside Leinster House. Addressing the protestors Senator Dolan said “…We are the only country in the EU not to have ratified the treaty and we have understandably come under the spotlight around the globe for our failure to support people with disabilities on such a crucial issue.

“…I am embarrassed as well as angry. Is this the best we can do as legislators for a key group of citizens?”

Marco Sabatini Corleone, 58, a paraplegic landmine victim living in Clonakilty, is a regular user of the Irish Wheelchair Association service. Marco speaks to Mary O’Brien about life before and after becoming disabled.

Located at Clogheen Business Park on the outskirts of the town, the Irish Wheelchair Association offers options and supports for people with limited mobility to socialise, learn, work, holiday and be active in their homes and neighbourhoods.

Marco Sabatini Corleone has been accessing the IWA service in Clonakilty for the past three years. “Day trips, visiting the theatre, going ten pin bowling, online courses, Operation Transformation, these are all things that I wouldn’t have been able to do without the IWA,” he says.

As a result of the Irish Wheelchair Association, Marco enjoys a lot more independence. “I was getting quite depressed being stuck inside at home,” he explains. “Without a car, we even have to rely on friends to bring us in to town to get our shopping.”

Access is more often than not a problem for someone like Marco who is in a wheelchair. Although for years the Clonakilty Access Group has been calling for all illegal items placed on public footpaths and other public places to be removed, Marco and others with physical disabilities are still hindered and prevented access by such obstacles. “High steps, items obstructing shop doorways, signs on footpaths – these are all things that make everyday life very difficult for wheelchair users or anyone with limited mobility or a disability,” says Marco passionately. “People just don’t think or ignore us. The law says that public buildings and services in Ireland are supposed to be accessible but it’s not being enforced. I can’t even take the bus to Cork because Bus Eireann won’t remove the seats blocking the disabled access door.”

Born in London to a Sicilian father and Irish traveller mother, Marco came to West Cork 14 years ago to trace his mother’s relatives.

He had a difficult childhood. After spending some of his early years in a children’s home run by the charity Barnardo’s, Marco was adopted. His adoptive mother remarried and Marco grew up with an abusive stepfather.

He did well in school and at the age of 19, joined the British Army to get away from his home but was able to opt out of going to Northern Ireland given the fact that he had Irish parentage. Marco became a Military Police bodyguard in the Elite Close Protection Unit of the Royal Military Police tasked with protecting VIPs.

During his service, he became a qualified trauma medic and a Physical Training Instructor, training other soldiers to become bodyguards.

After leaving the British Army, Marco took some photography and journalism courses and travelled to Bosnia as a freelance photojournalist.

In 1994, Marco was paralysed from the waist down after the vehicle in which he was travelling struck a landmine in Bosnia after the war, killing the driver.  He suffers from a range of other health complications linked to his paralysis.

After his accident, Marco returned to the UK but because of his disability was unable to access his first floor flat in London. He became homeless, sleeping rough on the streets of London for the next 17 months. “I slept in night shelters or doorways, mainly in the Abbey National bank doorway on Victoria Street or on the ledge at the entry to a little theatre on Leicester Square.”

Eventually Marco was given a flat in the East End through the Rough Sleepers Initiative. During his time living there, he met a Buddhist monk who invited him up to Scotland to stay at a Tibetan retreat centre. Here, Marco learned how to meditate and became involved with an organisation called Rokpa, an international relief organisation, active mainly in Tibetan areas of China and Nepal.

After returning to London, Marco met his Scottish wife, Donella. A year later in 2000, the couple – who share a love of animals and a ‘crazy’ sense of humour – were married. After visiting West Cork together on holiday, they made it their home.

Today Marco is writing a book about his time in Bosnia and is a passionate campaigner for Independent Living rights and rights of access for people with disabilities.

Living with a disability is not easy, especially in Ireland, but Marco says the Irish Wheelchair Association in Clonakilty has helped him achieve greater independence, freedom and choice.

Clonakilty Access Group expresses disappointment at comments of councillors

“As an Access Group which is trying to promote INDEPENDENCE, EQUALITY and RIGHTS for people with disabilities in our own community and wider society, we are deeply disappointed by the comments of some councillors as quoted on the report in the Irish Examiner on Friday, March 10

We are sure that these same councillors would be the first to praise disability-rights advocates and campaigners such as Joanne O’ Riordan, the Paralympic Athletes, etc.

We also assume they would support the call for Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which disability organisations such as ours have been calling to be adopted for years.

Groups like ours support business – in particular town centre businesses.

However, the rights of people with disabilities to be able to access public footpaths and other public places, buildings and facilities is a basic one.

That some elected reps in West Cork in 2017 feel it’s okay to put out illegal items on footpaths, which hinder and prevent access for people on wheelchairs, with mobility-aids, those with visual-impairments, parents with buggies, etc. There are issues of health and safety as well as basic rights at stake here.

We hope that council officials will ensure that there are no compromises when it comes to any section of our population and especially if this issue is to be discussed again.

For years we have been calling for all illegal items placed on public footpaths and other public places to be removed by the council and only those with valid licenses be allowed put out under the terms of the licence. The allocation of such licences should always be disability-proofed, and not granted if they impinge in any way on any person with a physical disability – including those with visual impairments.

Remember, People with Disabilities are also consumers and tourists. They are also Constituents of the elected representatives of Cork County Councillors, whose rights and welfare should be as important to them as a businessperson or other constituent.

In our view, instead of saying that it’s okay to place obstructions on footpaths – even for the six-week tourist season, the councillors should be calling for the footpaths to be enhanced in all areas where practical, so everyone can use them in comfort and safety.

We have made a more detailed response to this newspaper report on our Facebook page ClonAccessGroup.”

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.
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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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20th February, 2018  ·  

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Main course

17th February, 2018  ·  

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