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Connemara graduate shines light on life with Down Syndrome



Róisín de Burca is a strong, ambitious woman who enjoys water sports; is a regular kayaker, and holds a blue belt in Taekwondo. She successfully sat all seven subjects in her Leaving Cert and went on to complete a third-level course at NUIG.

All she wants now is a break to get a job and establish her career as an independent woman – but Róisín also has Down Syndrome.

The Leitir Móir native is well used to defying the odds from the start; so much so that, according to her father Damien, her siblings never saw her as anything other than another member of a large family.

“Growing up, her brother and sisters didn’t realise (she had a condition); she had to hold her own,” he says.

The same could not be said of society however and Róisín has spent the last three years looking for a job and a chance to build a fully independent life.

“It is very hard for people with disabilities to find a job. Opportunity is what we need,” she says.

Róisín wants to tell her story to highlight World Down Syndrome Day, which takes place on Monday week, March 21 – with the message this year: “I’m a person, not a syndrome”.

She is one of seven children – Eoin, Beartla, Diarmaid, Róisín, Caoimhín, Tuathlaith, and Rumhann – of parents Damien and Eileen.

Damien credits the local schools and tight knit community of Leitir Móir for creating an inclusive and supportive environment. She sat her Junior Cert and Leaving Cert exams alongside the other pupils in her class.

“As far as we know, she is the first person with Down Syndrome to have completed the full Leaving Cert,” says her father proudly.

“Some (students with DS) have completed the Leaving Cert Applied or completed one or two subjects, but Róisín was the first to sit all seven subjects,” he adds.

Following this impressive feat, Róisín decided to further her education and attained a FETAC Level 5 Certificate in Business Administration with GTI.

Again, against the odds, Róisín challenged herself and conventions by enrolling in a University course. She was awarded a Certificate in Arts from NUI Galway in 2012. Her hard-earned credentials attest her commitment, resilience and gumption.

But despite her insatiable hunger for work, Róisín remains unemployed; she feels there simply aren’t enough opportunities out there to accommodate people with her condition.

“I would love to be out working in an environment that is acceptable and challenging for a person with a disability, who could really bring a lot to the workforce,” she adds.

“The one message I have for candidates and political parties is to create new jobs and opportunities for people” she said, adding “What employment opportunities will there be for me in Galway?”

She has been actively searching for work for over three years.

“She wants a job…and we want her to have a job too,” says her father.

“It is a bit disconcerting for Róisín, she wants to have the same sort of life as everyone else, that includes going to work and going for a pint in the local.”

But he points to a climate of ignorance which leads to misconceptions being taken as fact.

“Years ago people weren’t educated on disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities… and some people still have the view that’s the way things are. That will only change as they get to know them and meet them,” says Damien.

“Some people’s views are 30 or 40 years out of date,” he adds.

Pat Clarke, CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland puts it simply: “All people with Down syndrome, are the same as everyone else – the fact that they have an extra chromosome shouldn’t impinge on their rights.

“People with Down Syndrome must be able to enjoy full and equal rights – both as children and adults. This includes the opportunity to participate fully in their respective communities.”

Mr. Clarke is of the assertion that currently, the Irish Government is only ‘paying lip service’ to disability rights whilst schemes and strategies which are inherently discriminatory continue to ostracize people with disabilities.

According to Mr. Clarke, people with Down Syndrome are one of the most ‘under-represented groups in the Irish labour market’ – and yet they represent a ‘substantial source of untapped commitment and talent’.

Damien de Burca agrees: “As a parent you’re fighting the system all the time, but people with disabilities need appropriate intervention at the right time and that these services aren’t always available.”

Pat Clarke puts the onus on the Government to ensure services (speech & language therapy, occupational therapy, respite services, special needs assistants); jobs and opportunities are made available to all.

World Down Syndrome Day takes place on March 21; now in its eleventh year, it is an international day recognised by the United Nations – an initiative spearheaded by Down Syndrome Ireland.

DSI will celebrate World Down Syndrome Day early on Sunday, March 20, with an inaugural Purple Run.

Supporters can take part in either the 5k of 1k routes; register online.

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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