Something happened in Ireland yesterday

Yesterday was 22nd May, we had a referendum, well two actually. One on lowering the age at which a person can stand for election as President and the other on marriage equality – allowing same sex couples to have civil marriage.

I’m writing this in a hurry as I’m heading to Dublin in a short while to attend the Countess Markievicz summer school, which is on women and equality. Its always a good day and I’m looking forward to it.

I always vote and take pride in so doing but I was never prouder to vote than yesterday. Even in my small rural town in north Meath there was a sense amongst some of us anyway that something was happening. People were talking about marriage equality in the supermarket, Yes Equality badges could be seen all over the place. It felt good, really good.

Then I started looking at social media and got very emotional, the #hometovote stories made me well up, just the sight of so many people coming home to vote because this issue meant so much to them. As the day went on and it became apparent that turnout was good, possibly even high by referendum standards, I felt a rising sense of excitement. Now I’m a news and politics junkie and watch election results come in but never feeling like this.

Then on Twitter yesterday evening seeing Des Bishop ferrying people around Dublin so they could get to vote, and seeing others all around the country doing the same, well it just gave me goosebumps. Taxi firms waiting to collect people at train and bus stations and taking them to the polls for free (ok yes marketing ploy maybe but it felt good!), watching to see would twitter user @KDamo get home to vote (he did) all of this combined to make me feel that something happened here yesterday. Something good, something positive. A step towards equality for all.

And that’s what I hope the most. That the marriage referendum will be passed and that the energies that have arisen around this are then used in all the other equality struggles in our country. But that is for another day. For today I will wait and watch and hope that its a YES, and even better a resounding YES.

Its a new dawn, its a new day, its a new life……… and hopefully we’ll continue to feel good!

Special Needs

Friendship and citizenship

I have an amazing group of friends.  Well, I have lots of fabulous friends but there is one group in particular who are pretty damn special to me.  These eight women have laughed with me, cried with me, marched with me and generally helped keep me somewhat sane for the last few years.  These women are all mums to children with special needs, as am I.  That’s how we all know each other.  Our children have a wide range of needs and conditions and our family circumstances are all very different.  We live in various counties in Ireland and only get to meet up in person once or twice a year.  Thank goodness for Facebook and other social media!!!

At the moment some of us are anxiously waiting for decisions to be made that will hugely impact on our children and families.  Decisions like will a child of 10 continue to have an SNA in his mainstream school? Will a child with complex medical needs owing to her condition have all the equipment she needs in place to start special school?  Will a child of 5 be allocated a suitable transport place to enable her to attend the only unit in her county that meets her current needs?  Around this time last year, other mums in this close-knit group were equally anxiously waiting to hear about SNA allocation, placement in appropriate units etc.  I wonder what we will all be waiting to hear about next year.

And we are only nine families.  The tip of the proverbial iceberg.  We chat online most nights . We discuss the attractiveness or otherwise of certain male celebrities.  We talk about books we’ve read or are planning to read – not just 50 Shades of Grey!  We laugh about the funny things that happen in everyone’s lives.  And we share the hard days when some of us might be worrying about our children.  And we rant and complain about the lack of services for our children.  Or about the fighting we have to do to access certain things which should be our children’s by right – like education, like speech and language therapy.  But increasingly a note of something approaching despair is creeping in.  Despair at having to keep fighting, despair that our State seems to be endlessly cutting back at services (and if I hear the phrase “budgetary constraints” again!!!)  I said to them all earlier tonight that I truly feel this State (Ireland for anyone who doesn’t know where I am) does not consider our children – or anyone with a disability – to be an equal citizen with the same rights and entitlements as anyone else.  None of them disagreed with me.  (They wouldn’t dare ;))

But surely to goodness there is sometihng very wrong in a country when nine women of different backgrounds who are linked primarily by their children’s conditions all feel like they and their children are getting a raw deal.  Like I said earlier, we are only nine families.  But there are thousands more like us.  Do they feel the same?  In my bleaker moments I despair over the attitudes in wider society towards those with disabilities – do they also see my child and all the others as less than equal?

And in its those bleak moments that I am so thankful and grateful for the friendship of those eight women.  Without their love and support and virtual safety net we have created I fear I would surely have fallen by now.  So to A, A, C, G, K, L, N and T – thank you all for everything xxxxxx