New era for disability charity but funding issues remain crucial

by Louise Doyle

THE Irish Wheelchair Association in Donegal has marked the dawn of a new era, but has said funding for its services remains a top priority.

Owen McFadden has been appointed as Services Co-ordinator of IWA, a role that had been passionately held by Mary McGrenra for 23 years.


THE IWA was formed in 1960 by a group of volunteers returning from the Paralympics in Rome. All were wheelchair users, but a person does not have to rely on the use of a wheelchair to avail of IWA’s services.

The organisation supports those aged between 18 to 65 years with a physical disability or limited mobility.

The core mission of the charity is to support those with a disability, ensuring they have inclusion within their communities, and that they have access to services such as education, health, home support, community centres, advocacy and housing.

THE IWA has centres in Letterkenny, Donegal, Malin, Gaoth Dobhair, Carrigart.

As Owen takes up his new role, based in its Carnamuggagh Upper premises in Letterkenny, he said he acknowledges the ‘big shoes’ he has to fill.

But, Owen is also an integral member of the IWA in Donegal, having been employed with Ireland’s leading representative organisation for people with physical disabilities for 17 years.

His own own background is in HR, and separately he was previously employed as a logistics manager in Bunbeg for 10 years. Owen switched sectors following a redundancy when the company he was with at the time closed down.


“I saw an advertisement for Community Employment Supervisor and I put my name forward for it. I’ve been here since, and I worked very closely with Mary over the years,” Owen told the Donegal News.

“Mary has left such a strong legacy, expanding the number of centres in Donegal from one to five. She always put our members first in every decision. She played a key role in establishing two swimming clubs and a young adults socialising group.

“Our community centres are not fully funded by the HSE, they are part funded and supported by CE schemes and fundraising. This puts a focus on fundraisng both at local and national level.

“People are at the heart of everything we do. We have 110 service users availing of our services across the county. Around 60 come to the centre in Letterkenny.”

Although there is significant demand for the services provided by IWA, Owen said the charity has not escaped the challenges brought on by crippling energy surges and a cost of living crisis. Transport is one of the charity’s pivotal services, and, looking ahead, Owen said much focus will be given to fundraising for this.

“Our service is not fully funded. We are part funded by the HSE, and as such we have to raise money towards the running costs of the building.

“Our transport is not funded and this is one area where we focus our fundraising as without transport our community services would not exist.

“Transport is another big thing. We are down one bus at the moment. We have four vehicles on the road at the moment, but when you take in the size of the county that number isn’t enough.

“Diesel costs and costs overall have hit us pretty hard. Our lighting costs have gone up, as have our gas costs. We haven’t received any extra funding for those utilities. Everything is biting, and we are fighting that battle every day.”

Owen also pointed out that IWA receives funding for those under the age of 65 only.

“We don’t receive any funding for those over that age, but a third of the members coming here would be older than 65. We continue to keep them in the service.”

The range of services provided by IWA include a School of Motoring and Assisted Living.

“In Letterkenny we have our Young Adult group who meet out of hours. This group was formed in 2013 in response to a need for supported socialisation for those aged over 18. The group continues to grow and anyone interested in learning more should contact us a the Letterkenny office.

“In our community centres there are many opportunities for those interested in progressing to work in the health sector by joining our

Community Employment Scheme. Our track record of progressing successful applicants into employment is almost 100 per cent, many of whom are now employed by IWA either in the centres or Assisted Living.

“Assisted living, supporting individuals to remain in their own homes is another of our services. Unlike the community centres, this service is fully funded by the HSE and hours are allocated by HSE across all ages.

“We have a School of Motoring. The driving instructor will assess those who wish to learn to drive, or alternatively those who may have acquired a disability and wish to get back to driving. Donegal is a very rural county and unfortunately owning and driving a car is pretty necessary to engage in education and socialisation.”

IWA also has a focus on housing.

“We and others others lobby and advocate for the right housing in the right areas. This is a huge challenge in the current housing crisis, and especially in Donegal with the mica crisis. The National Housing Strategy for people with disabilities 2022-2027 was formed with the government and various agencies such as IWA and those with disabilities to ensure that those with disabilities have housing to meet their needs. There is much work to be done and IWA is represented on each local authority.”

A person can self refer to IWA. For more information on any services, or to help with fundraising please contact IWA on (074) 91 77448.

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