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By Dermot O'Hara


Several years ago Mary Nelis, a local elected member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, invited the Destined group to visit Stormont Buildings in Belfast. It was a fantastic day as all the politicians were there that day as part of the ongoing negotiations regarding the peace process. The Destined members had their photographs taken with  Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Mark Durkan, Ian Paisley and David Trimble to mention a few.


Destined had arranged to meet with another learning disability group based in East Belfast while on the visit and there was a much quieter encounter happening in this big building on the hill. Dympna Markey had just met a friend who she had not seen since the early 1970’s when they were both living in Muckamore Abbey in Antrim. Later when recounting the surprise meeting with me I realised the depth of history she possessed about the institutions and experiences of people with learning disabilities. I decided that day that there was a need to record the stories of people like Dympna.


A short while ago on a Monday evening one of the Destined members came into the office for a chat while waiting for the Irish class to begin. I asked him how the weekend went and he said that they were at a night club in Letterkenny. I asked him why they go there rather than to clubs in Derry and he said that it stays open until 4.00am in the morning. Up until three years before, this person spent most of his time in his bedroom with no friends and no social activities. He was part of that large group of people with learning disabilities who are isolated from and invisible to the community.


Change is coming and change is happening for people with learning disabilities. The days of people living in isolation at home are ending and this book is about people saying here I am and this is my story. It is statement of intent that is telling society that we have arrived and we are part of this community in all aspects of it. It is a celebration of life, both the hardships and the good times, it is a celebration of survival. 


It is a statement of maturity from people who know where they have come from and where they are going and who are saying to this community you have been privileged with our stories, read them well for the future.