The right to make decisions for ourselves

Grace Kennedy and her mother Phil

“All of us need protection under the law, I have no problem with that. But Grace is not being protected, she is being excluded. She is being discriminated against because she has Down syndrome.”

That’s a quote from Phil Kennedy, mum of Grace, from an article in today’s Times Online by Sarah McInerney. The ever watchful Suzy Byrne tweeted it. Thank you, Suzy.

In essence, there’s an archaic hole in our laws and it makes life needlessly difficult for our people by not allowing them to open a bank account, write a will or buy a house. By ‘our people’  I mean of course people with Down syndrome, autism, Alzheimer’s, intellectual or learning difficulties, mental illness, older people and anyone really that ‘might look or sound a bit funny.’

Grace here was prevented from buying a house beside her mum and dad because of her diminished responsibility. Now I can think of whole heaps of people on the house-buying conveyor belt, from rezone-happy politicians to high and mighty developers to financially irresponsible bankers, who could show the beautiful Grace just exactly what people with ‘diminished responsibility’ look like. The list sure as little apples does not include her.

Nor does it include the Kildare group People First, which was refused permission to open a bank account for the same reason. The bank in question wasn’t named in the report, more’s the pity, nor was the individual who told the group’s treasurer Anne Finlay that legal advice had been given to the bank not to open accounts for “people like her”.

So there you have it. A bank, in Ireland, in 2010, that doesn’t want money.

Explain to me again what constitutes an idiot please, for I am a bear of very little brain.

I have promised myself that I won’t get worked up by this. It’s just an anachronism in the law, and this is how massive legal systems, built up over centuries, reveal their inadequacies and need to be updated. Apparently, if you believe the lore, a London taxi driver is legally allowed to have a poo wherever the need should strike him or her. They’re also required by law to carry a bale of straw with them at all times. It’s the law, see?

Anyway, there is a fix. It’s the Mental Capacity Bill 2008, and it’s due to be published. Except we’re still waiting, a year and a half since it was introduced. Not many votes in it, a cynic might say.

When (I refuse to think If) it’s finally enacted in law the act will change things in that it will have to be presumed that a person has capacity, unless it could be proven otherwise. Here’s what Inclusion Ireland  have to say:

On March 30 2007, Ireland was among the first countries to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

One of the central areas of the Convention is Article 12, Equal Recognition and Capacity on an equal basis with others. Adults have the right to make decisions about their lives – for example to accept or refuse medical treatment, to deal with their property and money and to have consenting sexual relationships. People with an intellectual disability have the same rights to self-determination and autonomy as everybody else.

Under the Lunacy Regulations (Ireland) Act 1871 a person who is unable to manage his or her own affairs can be made a Ward of Court. The impact of being made a Ward of Court on a person’s life is monumental: a person cannot have a bank account, cannot marry, cannot defend or initiate legal proceedings and cannot transfer residence (for example from a disability service), without the permission of the High Court.

The lunacy would be in not having the Mental Capacity Bill enacted into law. There’s a petition on the Inclusion Ireland website which I’d urge you to sign, to even up the score a tiny fraction. It’s here.

14 comments on “The right to make decisions for ourselves

  1. Jean says:

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention XXX

  2. NAN P. says:

    Heard Phil Kenedy on the radio this evening. She made so much sense!

    This “Lunacy Regulations (Ireland) Act 1871” is…, well… lunatic! Who is to judge anyone of us? And deny us, anyone of us, the most basic of rights?

    Anyway, I have signed the petition… if it changes anything.

  3. a regulation from 1871? just cause it’s “law” don’t make it right…

  4. Mel says:

    What a stupid law. Ridiculous!

  5. lisadom says:

    done. And now going off to share it.
    One of the corporate women I addressed heard this story on the “voice of the people” (aka Joe Duffy) so will forward a link to her too – now that I know the facts.

    And okay, I’ll say it:

    How can Sean Fitzpatrick be judged to have “full responsibility” but Grace be considered diminished?

    The law is diminished by this.


  6. lisadom says:

    ps: I wonder do Dublin Taxi Drivers have the same rights? Might make an interesting protest so…..

  7. Can’t open a bank account? Are you kidding?

    East Lansing, MI

    • Phil Kennedy says:

      Here I am, Phil Kennedy mother of Grace Bruen. That Grace can’t buy the house-next-door BECAUSE she has Down Syndrome has cost us thousands of euro in Stamp Duty. Yes, we had to pay big money for this horrendous discrimination. KARL MULLAN, REVENUE DEPT. says “we’re consulting our solicitors on this issue.” DERMOT MOYLAN, Secretary to Finance Minister is “looking into it.” Despite having cancer in 2 places, I’m ‘looking into’ them.’ That Stamp Duty will be refunded if it’s the last thing I do. The name of our house is GRACELAND – Grace says she’ll call her house DIS-GRACELAND because “THEY” are a disgrace. Thanks to everyone.

      • Nick McGivney says:

        Thanks for coming to comment, Phil. It is a ridiculous situation, and when I see the absolute haims that has been made by so-called leaders and financially ‘responsible’ pillars of society well I think I can understand your anger. Good luck with your work, and if we can help in any way ask ask ask.

  8. Jazzygal says:

    This is horrendous. What is the point of being one of the first countries to sign UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities without checking our own ARCHAIC laws first?? There are so many of these laws about it’s crazy… fact 😉

    Grace has put them all to shame with her comment.Well said Grace!

    xx Jazzy

    • Nick McGivney says:

      Only word for it, Jazzygal. The inconsistencies in our great little nation are great, and they often make so little of us. But we won’t go quietly.

    • Nick McGivney says:

      Yes indeed, well said Grace and Phil too.

  9. Kate Bopp says:

    Flabbergasted! I’ll take Grace’s word over Seanie Fitz anytime….

  10. Phil Kennedy says:

    Nick, thanks for your comment. It would help if you e-mailed Brian Lenihan, Minister for Finance (his secretary is Dermot Moylan). When is the minister going to respond to my question. I know they’re “talking to” their solicitors!!! Again, thanks Nick.

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