No less than 360,000 Irish citizens and 37 million European citizens are affected by disability. According to official United Nations estimates, 10% of any given population has a disability and the figure rises to about 30% if one takes into account the full range of persons affected by disability, e.g., carers of elderly parents with disability and mothers of children with disability.
Over the past decade there has been a profound policy shift in the disability field. The old policy based on paternalism and welfare has given way to a new one based on equal rights and respect for difference. This is of equal significance in the physical and mental disability fields. The shift from welfare to rights, necessitates profound changes in the Irish legal system, in areas as diverse as education, employment, mental health law, transport, building regulations, access to the Information Society, incompetency law, biotechnology and the law.
A new independent Research Unit just established in National University of Ireland, Galway will provide a forum and focus for disability related legal and policy research in Ireland. The Disability Law and Policy Research Unit, is the first such centre in the Republic of Ireland and one of the first in Europe. The new research unit is part of the Irish Centre for Human Rights which is based at NUI, Galway and affiliated to the University s Faculty of Law.
The Disability Law and Policy Research Unit will investigate the adequacy of existing legislation and promote the drafting of a new Disabilities Bill. International expertise in the Centre will inform contributions in this area. "Ireland is already bound by a complex web of international legal instruments which bear either directly or indirectly on the disability issue", says Professor Gerard Quinn, Convenor of the new Centre.
"International law provides a strong stimulus to the disability rights movement. Advances in European Union law are especially important in this context because they have a direct and potentially positive effect on Irish law and Policy. The Centre will therefore use international and comparative benchmarks to scrutinise the adequacy of the Irish law reform process in the field of disability. This has not been systematically done to date with the result that Irish policy has been deprived of the very best insights from similar systems of law", says Professor Quinn.
Professor Quinn also emphasises the international role he envisages for the Disability Law and Policy Research Unit, pointing out that Ireland contributes positively to the elaboration of international law through its growing involvement in organisations such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Union. "It is vitally important that Irish policy makers should be kept as fully informed as possible about the role they can play in advancing the disability agenda at an international and regional level", he says. "The Centre will be proactive in the debate within the United Nations on the need for a UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities, while also advocating immediate implementation of the Article 13 TEU (Treaty on European Union) Non- Discrimination Directive. The Disability Unit will use the best comparative insights from both the United States and from the EU and indeed the Council of Europe. At least two of its members have worked on disability law for the European Commission and Professor Quinn has done a considerable amount of work on US law and policy.
The Centre will host a public lecture on Thursday, 15th March by Professor Carol Doherty-Rasnic, Virginia Commonwealth University, USA entitled, The Americans with Disabilities Act - an update on recent US Supreme Court Decisions . The Centre will also shortly initiate a major research project on comparative disability law with sister Units in universities in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Professor Quinn is available for interview on the work of the Research Centre and on Disability-related issues.
Further details from: Máire Mhic Uidhir, Press Officer, NUI, Galway. Tel. 091-750418
Professor Gerard Quinn. Tel 091-524411, Ext. 3014