Wednesday, April 12, 2006

In Memoriam: Ursula Haggerty

From the Irish Independent April 11 2006

An activist remembered

Tuesday April 11th 2006

Ursula Haggerty died on March 27. Ursula was a political activist, but she won't be written about by Gene McKenna or Sam Smyth, or any of the recognised political columnists in Ireland.

Neither will the actions she took part in be discussed on any current affairs programme on radio andtelevision.

Not even Nuala O'Faolain or Nell McCafferty will see Ursula as a fellow struggler in the campaign for women's rights. This is because Ursula all her life used a wheelchair for mobility and the aforementioned people refuse to see disability as serious civil rights issue that can make good copy.

No more than society in general, they see people like Ursula as unfortunates who are in need of care.

In 1994 Ursula took part in events that changed the landscape of disability. That was the year that people with physical disabilities first forced the authorities to recognise that they had the right and the capability of controlling their own lives rather than being the passive recipients of care. Ursula played a significant part in this movement.

From 1990 until the momentous events of 1994, she served on the steering committee that brought about Ireland's first Centre for Independent Living. But Ursula's struggle did not end in 1994. She served on CIL's board for some years after that. No less than a year ago Ursula's service provider pressurised her to accept that her personal assistants must wear latex gloves when assisting her, as if Ursula had some terrible infectiousdisease.

People closest to her say this broke her heart because she was given no logical or legal reason beyond that it was the service provider's policy.

This writer remembers the emotion in Ursula's voice as she read out embarrassing details of what she had to endure in the privacy of her own home. This is the same service provider whose representative at a conference in 2002 effectively ignored the events of 1994 and tried to maintain that the concept of independent living was an intellectual evolution, mostly on their behalf, from the notion of care, to care assistance, to personal assistance.

This demonstrates that the service provider, although using the language of independent living, did not see Ursula as an adult who could be negotiated with, but somebody who needed to be controlled like a bold child who wanted more and more sweets.

Rest in Peace Ursula. Not even you recognised your own significance.
Peter Moore
Donaghmede, Dublin 13.


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