I am delighted to be here with people I met recently at the Conference of States Parties, COSP. On this occasion we do not have to travel so far to be with them. On a more serious note, I pay tribute to everybody present from Dóchas and my own organisation, the Disability Federation of Ireland, which has been a part of this issue during the years. I hope it will continue to be. That is an expression of the responsibility we generally have in Ireland. My organisation is about people in Ireland with disabilities, but one cannot be blind - if I can use the term - to the fact that there are people all over the world who are disabled. I have read that 80% of the world's population of disabled people live in the developing world, not the developed world. We have enough issues to be put right. What must it be like for the others?
I recall meeting a few years ago a lady from South Africa at an international summer school in Galway. She told me that both of her parents were deaf but that she could use Irish sign language. I asked her how this was so and she said the Dominican Sisters had taught both her father and mother.
Ms Diouf, or perhaps it was someone else on her side of the table, referred to maternity care and care for women. The Medical Missionaries of Mary did huge work - most of the sisters were trained nurses and consultants - in the area of maternity care. What I am doing is drawing on the long-term interest Ireland has shown and the way in which it is now expressed. I am referring to the fact that the Government, through Irish Aid, is more involved in this critical and important work. I have used two examples of women's organisations to underline this point.
Sustainability is mentioned throughout the presentations. We now have the issue of climate change strongly in front of us. This has happened very quickly, but the issue has been around for many decades. From my study of development economics, the way the First World deals with the developing world has ramifications for its progress as we tend to take cash crops. Cash crops are grown in the developing world because we want them. This results in land erosion and the movement of people into cities which impoverish countries that are trying to develop. This has to have ramifications for people with disabilities and families on the margins. That is a point on which people may want to comment. How critical is the broader issue of sustainability and the interaction between the north and the south before one even gets down to granular level and specific programmes to support people with disabilities? What series of actions or behaviours on the part of Ireland, in the opinion of our guest speakers, would give sustained hope to the people with whom they work?
To refer to some of the presentations made, Mr. Lamson mentioned that disability was an afterthought in development policy. I have said many times before that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 should have done the business. We are all human and have rights simply because of our humanity, not because we are women or men, boys or girls, come from different ethnic backgrounds, are disabled or whatever else.
It was not until almost 60 years later that the UN had to issue what I see as an apology, stating that it had not made that real for people with disabilities. We have been involved in development aid since before the foundation of the State through religious orders, philanthropic groups and so on and, more recently, through our foreign policy, Irish Aid, and so on. However, it seems that it was only yesterday that somebody figured out that people with disabilities should figure in disaster relief, development work and so on. There is a cultural or other issue that makes it difficult for human beings and states to identify that. I would welcome the views of the witnesses in that regard.
Ms Diouf gave a specific example in regard to education, mainstreaming and support for teachers. Efforts such as that are magnificent in the sense that we put people away and we have had to try to unpack that. On data and the census and so on, it is only in the past 20 years or less that the Irish census has had very specific questions about the extent of disability. It is magnificent to have information on the number of kids and adults with disabilities in various counties in terms of participation, employment, education, housing and so on.
Ms Carty stated that people with disabilities are often the least visible and are rarely heard. Even if that was the only thing said today, there would be very many threads to be pulled from it about what it leads to. Each of the witnesses expressed how they stand in solidarity with people with disabilities. The question for the committee and the State, which may not be answered today, is how we can stand in solidarity with people with disabilities and their families around the world.
Dr. Keogh and I have known each other for some time. She carried out a significant amount of work in raising issues of disability and disability inclusion and the voice of people with disabilities in Ireland through the 1990s and into the 2000s. I have a tricky question for her. She has a sense of the difficulty and challenges of doing so in Ireland and is now doing something similar in the developing world. What are the similar or different challenges in that regard?
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, who is coming into the room on cue, referred to a yearly meeting. What would be a good and sustainable structure or agenda for that? There would only be one or two meetings per year. Other work must also be done. What might be a good structure or some key themes for the committee, of which I am not a member, to consider in terms of making it useful? I am very involved in the European Disability Forum, which has a strong interest in the rights of persons with a disability outside Europe and, in particular, difficult issues experienced by women and children.