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Saturday 7 December 2019

'It's a slap in the face' - anger as allowance for disabled students is cut

Back row from left: Inclusion Ireland’s Mark O’Connor, the Central Remedial Clinic’s Ben Henricksen, Disability Federation Ireland’s Clare Cronin and Ciaran Costello, from Westmeath. Front row: Conor Dillon and Joan Carthy, of the Irish Wheelchair Association. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Back row from left: Inclusion Ireland’s Mark O’Connor, the Central Remedial Clinic’s Ben Henricksen, Disability Federation Ireland’s Clare Cronin and Ciaran Costello, from Westmeath. Front row: Conor Dillon and Joan Carthy, of the Irish Wheelchair Association. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

A decision to cut a vital training allowance for people with disabilities has been slammed as an attack on society's most vulnerable.

As thousands of students who received CAO offers on Friday prepare to take up college courses in the coming weeks, a cohort of students with disabilities face having their rehabilitative training (RT) allowance removed next month.

The allowance of €31.80 aims to support progression to further education or employment.

There are currently more than 2,200 people availing of the RT allowance, but it is estimated that this cut will impact about 400 students alone this year.

Unfair

It is believed that as a consequence, many students waiting to start rehabilitative courses in September will not be able to do so.

Six disability groups came together yesterday at the Buswells Hotel in Dublin to protest the HSE's decision.

Student Conor Dillon, from Swords, Co Dublin, described the cuts as a "slap in the face" to those with disabilities.

The 21-year-old, who has cerebral palsy and attends the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf, Dublin, is about to start RT to advance his education and skills.

Speaking to the Herald, Mr Dillon said he is now on a mission to highlight the "totally unfair" move by the HSE.

"I think that it is very wrong that this allowance is being taken away from people who are doing their best to progress their education," he said.

"I am really annoyed and I feel discriminated against.

"Why is it our allowance that was taken away? I was planning on using this money for lunches and transport while I completed this course.

"I feel if this allowance is taken away from me I won't be able to do as many activities or learning outside the centre. It's totally unfair, which is why I'm now standing up for other people in my situation.

"It's a slap in the face to everyone with disabilities."

Ciaran Costello, from Westmeath, who is in receipt of the weekly fund, has been studying with the National Learning Network for almost two years.

There is no bus service in his town, requiring him to use the €31.80 to cover petrol costs for the 20km journey to his course.

"If I hadn't got that €31.80 I wouldn't have been able to do that, and not only would my disability have got worse, my mental health would have got worse," he said.

"So please, anyone in the Government, €31.80 is not a lot to pay for a student to go and get back into society."

Research conducted by Rehab Group suggests that 80pc of those in receipt of the RT allowance could not have done their course without it.

Representatives from Aontas, the Central Remedial Clinic, the Disability Federation of Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, the Irish Wheelchair Association and Rehab have now called on the HSE and Health Minister Simon Harris to reverse the decision.

"It is clear that, without this allowance, young people with a disability will have a further barrier to equality placed before them," said Joan Carthy of the Irish Wheelchair Association.

The HSE said ending the RT bonus would yield €3.7m over four years to be reinvested.

Mr Harris did not respond to queries by the Herald at the time of going to press.

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