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.”