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‘Make Way Day’ Message to the Disability Federation of Ireland

24 September, 2021

When I was inaugurated as President of Ireland, Uachtarán na hÉireann, I said that I wished to seek to achieve a citizenship of inclusion and equality, by promoting, in an appropriate way, the policies, measures and practices that were needed to ensure that every citizen in Ireland can participate as fully as possible, and that everyone is treated fairly and with respect. It is participation that defines citizenship, was my message.

Our Republic, if it is to carry the true values of a Republic, must be one in which every citizen is afforded that most fundamental right; the right to participate, to be such a voice in their society and community as will enable all to participate actively in the shaping of their society.

So today, on Make Way Day, may I encourage activists and concerned citizens alike, all over the country, to reflect and highlight, for example, those challenges posed to those with disabilities arising from obstacles being thoughtlessly left on the footpath, in their way.

While this year’s campaign is online owing to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, may I encourage you all to become involved, connecting with community and voluntary sector disability groups in your cities, towns and counties, and help the highlighting of issues you encounter or have become aware of so that the relevant local authorities can take action.

For example, you can help by taking photographs of the obstacles that you confront or identify, such as cars parked on footpaths, motorbikes and bicycles parked inappropriately, sandwich boards blocking thoroughfares, and any other objects that strike you as needing attention, such as broken shores, kerbs and loose paving slabs, and then post your pictures on social media. You can show your support by sharing and re-tweeting other people’s posts from the ‘Make Way Day’ social media pages, and encourage friends and family to do the same; by contacting your local Councillors and asking for their support – which will be forthcoming, I know, both of the initiative and to ensure that items identified are rectified – that can be all really of help.

On occasions such as today’s ‘Make Way Day’, organised by the Disability Federation of Ireland, we are all invited to consider the many physical obstacles that limit the right of people with disabilities to full and meaningful participation in society. Such obstacles as I have mentioned as examples are barriers that are encountered day in, day out by people with disabilities across our country, barriers that limit their ability to participate in their communities, barriers that can, too, pose real risks, perhaps even leading to serious health hazards.

It is a source of the greatest encouragement, surely, that we have in recent decades seen a welcome and positive change in society’s attitude to fellow citizens living with disabilities. It is a transformation which did not happen overnight. For many, change was distressingly slow, but where it has succeeded over the many years, it did so through the persistent effort by committed citizens determined to achieve positive change for others.

As President of Ireland, mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, I wish to pay tribute to the resolute efforts of disability rights activists across the country through the ages.

May I suggest that we draw for courage and energy on the success of previous advocates and activists to inspire us on the road ahead.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development pledges to ‘Leave No-One Behind.’ If we, as a community, are to benefit from the skills and talents of all of our citizens, we must ensure that we have the policies and practices in place that enable all of our citizens to take part in all of the processes that shape our shared future. This requires every citizen to have an awareness that their actions, without sufficient care, may have unintended repercussions for others.

We can achieve the fullest participation and citizenship by having all voices heard, all talents respected. In doing so, we will be enabling flourishing lives of fulfilment, of possibilities. I wish ‘Make Way Day’ every success and encourage the fullest possible participation in what is a most practical initiative.

Gach rath oraibh don tochchaí.

Beir beannacht.