Special Olympics Ireland: Motion

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Seanad Éireann Debate

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Special Olympics Ireland: Motion

Acting Chairman (Senator Jillian van Turnhout): Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I welcome representatives from Special Olympics Ireland to the Visitors Gallery.

Senator Mary Moran: Information on Mary Moran Zoom on Mary Moran I move:

That Seanad Éireann:
- notes the commitment of the Government in the Programme for Government to ensure that the quality of life for people with disabilities is
- notes in particular that Ireland has the highest participation rate of any country in the world in terms of Special Olympics Ireland, with around one-third of persons with an intellectual disability participating each year;
- notes that Special Olympics Ireland, a professionally run organisation with a strong volunteer network, has 400 community clubs across Ireland which offer training and competition in 15 Olympic type sports for those with an intellectual disability; and that the organisation operates a wide range of programmes which promote the development of the individual, by integrating them into local communities and giving them opportunities for personal development and achievement;
- notes that in 2003, Ireland hosted the most successful World Summer Games in Special Olympics history; and that on a weekly basis, Special Olympics Ireland offers a year-round programme of sport and training facilities to over 11,000 individuals throughout Ireland; and
- commends the Government and Minister Kathleen Lynch for their support for Special Olympics Ireland, and for their work in seeking to ensure enhanced quality of life generally for persons with disabilities, and in particular for adults and children with intellectual disabilities.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. This motion is dear to my heart. I welcome also Mr. Peter O'Brien of Special Olympics Ireland, Mr. Jim Kelly, parent of James, the athlete, and Cillian, another athlete, who are in the Visitors Gallery.

I am delighted the Minister of State is taking the debate as I have experienced her active commitment to people with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics is what it says in the name - it is special. The volunteers who lend their time and money and without whom the Special Olympics would not take place, the athletes who compete and exercise unrivalled compassion and sportsmanship, the parents who watch fondly as their children make friends and engage in athleticism — this is what makes Special Olympics unique. My own experience is that there is nothing like it. I have watched my son overcome with joy and pride at having received a medal. Sometimes I can be more competitive than the athletes. Recently, as parents we attended the regional finals in Kilkenny. It was a joy to see parents, siblings and athletes together and sometimes athletes waiting for other athletes before they cross the finish line. To me that is the true moment of sport and equality. It is an indescribable moment for every parent who has witnessed the same.

I pay a heartfelt tribute to Special Olympics Ireland. This organisation provides athletes with otherwise scarce opportunities to develop their physical fitness, demonstrate their courage and compassion, experience true joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, talents and friendships with families, Special Olympians and their community.

It is fitting that we have this debate around the tenth anniversary of the Special Olympic World Summer Games in Ireland, a truly momentous occasion. They are probably the most successful games. At the time of the games, every corner of Ireland became involved and contributed greatly to making these games widely recognised and the most successful on record. This firmly established Ireland as a caring island that supports equality and inclusion for those people with a disability. The games of 2003 brought home the true meaning of sport.

I could spend all of my allotted time speaking about the games in 2003 but this Private Members' motion is future focused. I am here to bring further awareness to Special Olympics Ireland. We must continue the momentum from 2003.

Special Olympics Ireland has permeated all 32 counties of Ireland and has 400 established community clubs. One in three people with an intellectual disability in Ireland participates in Special Olympics Ireland. This represents the highest worldwide penetration rate of Special Olympics programmes in the world. The average participation rate in most countries is 2% whereas in Ireland it is more than 33%. That is incredible and the numbers have increased since 2003 with 5,500 new athletes joining since the games in 2003. The valuable and vital year-round service of training and competition to more than 11,000 athletes cannot be emphasised enough. From this statement alone it is very apparent that Special Olympics Ireland has taken a large financial burden off of the State and the taxpayers. I pay tribute to my local club in Blackrock in County Louth which hosts the games every four years.

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