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.