I have lived on my own for the past 23 years with the help of Personal Assistants (PAs) employed by the IWA (Irish Wheelchair Association) who help me live my life and participate fully in the community as I wish. I was one of the first thirty people in Ireland to have a PA service so that I could go to Trinity College. I started at Trinity in October 1993 where I studied history, obtaining my BA in 1999 and my MA in 2009.
With their assistance, I was able to be Disability Director for the Southside Partnership from 2000 to 2008 and I helped set up Accessible Community Transport Southside, or ACTS, which is a door-to-door van service. Also, I am an active member of the Labour Party in Dun Laoghaire and have been working to raise the issue of equal pay for many workers in section 39.
My ability to live my life as I have described could become very limited because my PAs will go on strike next week. On the 17th of October 2023 there will be a strike by members of the SIPTU trade union (the general trade union representing workers from Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical categories in Ireland) in order to get equal pay with those doing the same work or similar in the public sector like the HSE (Health Services Executive) sector. It should be said that I support the strike with all my heart because the PAs work is so valuable to me! Without them I couldn’t live on my own independently. In short, I would have to go into an institution–‑which would of greater cost to the State.
All the PAs are looking for is equal pay with those doing the same work or similar in the public sector. This equal pay was happening until the financial crash in 2008. At that point, like most workers in society, they accepted cuts, too. However, in the subsequent public sector pay talks, this pay equality was not restored to the PAs and others in section 39. The strike will mean that the PAs can only do essential work—which is getting me up from bed, giving me a shower, dressing me, giving me my meals, medications and putting me to bed. This strike will continue until the government gives the PAs a settlement which SIPTU finds as reasonable to bring back to its membership. If the government doesn’t act quickly many good people In the IWA and in other service providers will leave in search of better pay and conditions. Indeed, it has been very difficult to recruit any PAs at the present moment. Ivana Bacik, Leader of the Labour Party, commented that they are not asking for the sun, the moon and the stars. All they are asking for is fair pay for a fair day’s work.