Matthew O’ Neill Interview

Matthew O’Neill is a vivacious, charming and very popular man in his hometown of Portmarnock in County Dublin. He is a fanatical Manchester United and Celtic supporter, and he also spends a large proportion of his time supporting various local sports teams around Portmarnock with his contagious enthusiasm.


Some fifteen years ago now, Matthew was one of 400 athletes who represented Ireland at the Special Olympics which were held in Dublin. Matthew competed in the gymnastic events, in which he managed to pick up a silver and a bronze medal in the event.


This summer, the Special Olympics is returning back to Dublin once again where this great event will be hosted. However, Matthew has some concerning issues about how the disabled are treated in Ireland, and how difficult it can be for the disabled and their families

Matthew said: “I attended the Prosper Fingal centre in Skerries up until the Special Olympics took place. After being so happy, winning medals at the Olympics, I was then really upset to learn that there was no way I could go back there to my friends.”


Shortly after Matthew’s outstanding achievement in the games, he was devastated to learn that there would be no place for him in the Prosper Fingal centre due to a result of cutbacks in the area of intellectual disability.


Fifteen years later, and we are coming close to entering the new year when Ireland has the honour of hosting the Special Olympics once again. However, we are also facing the exact same problems as we were back then, and it seems as though nothing has changed.


It has been a point made well-known that people with disabilities are a group which face the highest risk of poverty in Ireland. To coincide with this, overall funding for disability services has been reduced by €159.4 million between the years 2008 and 2015 with almost 1000 staff members across various mental health services losing their jobs throughout the recession.


Matthew says such reduction in funding can have detrimental impacts on families if the cuts means a disabled person loses their place in an aiding environment. “There are disabled people who need more attention than others. It’s not fair on our families and friends who have to take care of us when they have their own life.”

The current cost that living with a disability in Ireland today is estimated to be between €207 and €276 extra per week. This is unacceptable. There are 600,000 disabled people and their families in Ireland. They are citizens of this country and such costs should not impact the quality of the life they live.


Matthew’s father, James, pointed out that they have not asked the state for any form of respite care and feel they have been slapped in the face for their efforts.


Matthew is hopeful that young people with disabilities won’t face the same struggles he and many others have faced due to the government cutting funding in the future. Hopefully, young people like Matthew can contribute in society, and even represent their country without the fear of losing their spot in the variety of workshops available and organisations providing helpful environments can continue doing good work in this area.

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