Fintan Bray last week became the first person with Down syndrome to be elected to a political position in Ireland. The Westmeath man was voted into Fianna Fail’s National Executive or Committee of 15 at the party’s Ard Fheis on Saturday.
Fintan says he is “thrilled” at being elected and that he wants to be a role model for younger people with disabilities. Here, he writes for The Journal and explains just how hard he’s worked to get here and what he hopes to achieve in his future political endeavours.
LAST WEEKEND WHEN I was elected to the Fianna Fáil Ard Chomhairle (the governing body of the Party), I became the first person with Down syndrome in Ireland, and possibly the world, to be elected to a senior position within a political party.
I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve made history and I plan on being a voice for everyone with disabilities – especially in terms of important issues such as equity of access to education and paid employment. Now that I have a voice in politics, I want to make a difference and use this role for change and to help others.
This is a huge personal achievement for me, but also for people with Down syndrome and disabilities all across Ireland. I want to be a role model and represent people living with a disability and ensure they can achieve what they want to achieve and take part in society as much as possible.
In Ireland, there are around 650,000 people living with a disability but research shows that people with disabilities have far fewer job opportunities.
Fewer than half (44%) of people with a disability of working age are in jobs. I want to fight for equal opportunities in the workplace for all. By employing someone with a disability, employers are building a team that best reflects the community around them. Employees with a disability add value to teams by bringing a range of skills, talents and abilities that the traditional workforce may not have.
Being elected to the committee of 15 means I will have monthly meetings with the governing body of the party, which includes the Taoiseach.
And I’ll be part of the decision-making process of the party. Being elected to the committee is a signal to me that Fianna Fáil members want to give a voice to people with disabilities and that is the kind of progress we need in politics in Ireland.
Breaking down barriers
Growing up, I had to work very hard as a child, probably five to six times harder than anyone else – to walk, to talk, to read, to write. I was 12 before I could ride a bicycle.
It was a battle for my parents to make sure I could go to our local national school where my brothers and sister went.
I’ve been through the education system now, in St Finian’s College and then Cavan Institute. And now people are calling me, texting me, asking me to be a voice for them, for their children.
When I finished school, I wanted to look for a job and get some work experience. I eventually got an interview at Clonabreaney House in Kells after Down Syndrome Ireland put me in touch.
I was so excited when I got the interview and just so thrilled when I got the job. I’ve been working at Clonabreaney for five years now and I love being in front of house for people when they arrive and making sure they get looked after.
A move to politics
I wanted to run for the Fianna Fáil Ard Chomhairle to make sure I could be a voice for people with Down syndrome and make it easier for them to get work experience and jobs. I want to make it easier for people with disabilities to have jobs and take part like everyone else.
People with Down syndrome haven’t had a voice before on this stage. But I know the challenges that need to be addressed and taken on because I went through the exact same obstacles that others have to go through.
I also work as a Recruitment Officer for the Fianna Fáil Disability Network, which has been great for me to take part in conversations around disabilities and take part in politics. I want to encourage more people with Down syndrome and disabilities to take part in politics and their local communities.
I’ve been overwhelmed with all the reactions and comments and congratulations online and in person from people all over Ireland and beyond, especially from Taoiseach Micheál Martin who said the party needed my input.
My family have worked very hard to be there for me and help me to get to this stage and they are so proud of me as their son. I couldn’t have achieved this without the support of my parents Eamonn and Mari, and my brothers and sister Kenneth, Fiachra and Caitriona. They have always encouraged and supported me through everything. And I would like to sincerely thank them for all they have done.
Fintan Bray is a Recruitment Officer with the Fianna Fáil Disability Network. He also sits on the Regional Advisory Council of Down Syndrome Ireland and on the National Council of Down Syndrome Ireland. He has won a bronze medal at the World Down Syndrome Swimming championships in Canada in 2018.