Sunday, December 3, 2023


DEIRDRE Mongan says she is excited at having earned the chance to advocate for those with disabilities following her appointment to the board of Sport Ireland. Deirdre, who lives in Newcastle, is a former Paralympian who competed at Rio 2016. She was encouraged to apply for the role following a career in which she has competed in rugby and athletics. Following the notification of her appointment to the role, she told the Mourne Observer how she felt about the news. “I am thrilled but a little bit of nervous. It is a huge responsibility. But I am very excited and looking forward to getting into it. I will hopefully do it to the best of my ability.” Deirdre has been involved in sport at various levels for 16 years. She is a wheelchair user and has been involved in wheelchair Paralympic sports. She started playing wheelchair rugby in 2006. She moved into athletics and competed at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and the world championships. Deirdre has moved away from the high level athletics but plays wheelchair rugby locally with the Ulster Barbarians. She helps out running sessions and is involved in the development of the club. She is also part of the Irish Wheelchair Association. Despite her background, Deirdre still wasn’t certain that she would be selected. “When I made the application, I was hoping that I was selected. I ticked a lot of boxes but you can never be sure. “It is positive that they are looking for a disability advocate because that suggests this is something they are taking seriously.” One of the reasons why she wanted to take on the role was so that she could give back to the community. “I have seen the benefits. It is not an exaggeration to say that sport has changed my life for the better. “I have had so many opportunities and I have been very lucky that I have met people along the way who have enabled this to happen. “I want to give something back and help the people who are coming up. I’ve seen people who have been involved in sport who have had life-changing injuries and you see the development that they have through sport and it helps them with their everyday life. Sport gives people confidence. “I just wish that other people in my position would have the same experience that I have had. It is only by developing disability sport that that will become possible.” Deirdre’s experience of competing at a high level has taught her that if the investment and work is put into sport for those who are less able, then great things can happen. “Things are improving but there is always room for improvement. “I was involved in Paralympics in Ireland and the way we were looked after was on a par with able-bodied athletes who would compete at the Olympic Games. You can see the fruits of that in terms of we would be seen as a very successful country in terms of Paralympics. That is simply because the investment has been put in and the facilities have been made available to us.” Deirdre will join the board of Sport Ireland which is a body that is responsible for the development of sport in Ireland. They cover all aspects of sport, from participation at grassroots or recreational level, all the way up to high level performance of people competing at Olympic or Paralympic games. Deirdre’s role is to make sure that disabilities are considered at every stage. “I will be providing a voice for people with disabilities on the board of Sport Ireland to make sure that people with disabilities are not forgotten and when we talk about developing sport it is not just for able-bodied people. Everybody is included. “I am committed to making sure that people with disabilities are not forgotten. “Any policies they develop I will be advocating that disabilities are considered. “It is a really good opportunity to ensure that disability is considered throughout all aspects of sport. It is important that that becomes the norm and the barriers that are there are recognised. We have to try everything that we can to overcome them. “In an ideal world there would be no need for me. I would love to see that happen. Hopefully we are going the right way.” Deirdre explained that currently in Ireland there remain many barriers that limit the sporting options for those with a physical disability. She said: “It can be difficult to access venues. For example, if you want to access a swimming pool and go swimming, not every swimming pool has a hoist or facility to get changed. “There are a few clubs that people with disabilities can participate in. I want to highlight that. It needs the input from the top level to put the investment and raise awareness. When things are being developed that is when things like access for disability should be raised. “I notice new sports centres and there is a focus on that the facilities are accessible for all and that is very positive. “There is a lot that could be done. Newcastle is very accessible compared to other places. “But there are plenty of towns and villages in Northern Ireland that don’t have that. Something as simple as steps makes the difference for people wanting to go outside to get exercise. “It can be hard to find places that are accessible. It is getting better but change can be slow. You need car parking. Can you get your wheelchair in? Can you access all of the building?” She is aware that there are going to be challenges to addressing those problems. “The biggest of those is perhaps to do with finances. “I do work with children for them to get a wheelchair to do basketball or rugby and it is a huge expense. That is a huge challenge. “For example, wheelchairs for wheelchair rugby are about £4,000 and most people don’t have that money to spend on a sport. “You are constantly battling to get resources to get funding for equipment which is not an issue that most able-bodied athletes have to deal with.” She is looking forward to taking on the role. “A lot of it is raising awareness. “People won’t see it unless they have friends or relatives who have disabilities. When people are aware of the needs, they are generous with their time. “I am looking forward to seeing how the decisions get made and being able to represent people who wouldn’t usually have a voice. “That is a difficult thing. There are a lot of people looking for different things. Disability often gets ignored.” Deirdre works in Dublin as a research officer in the area of drugs and alcohol. So she will have to balance her job and this new position, but that’s not something that concerns her. “I am used to being busy. When I was an athlete competing at the Olympics I worked full time. You just have to get more organised.”

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