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Kare's Project OWL participants graduate at ceremony in Leinster House

Trainees from the Project OWL (Oireachtas Work Learning) programme graduated at an awards ceremony in Leinster House this week.

Project OWL is an applied learning, development and socialisation programme specifically tailored towards young adults with an intellectual disability. The programme was first launched by the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD in September 2018 as a pilot programme with Kare and WALK as sponsor organisations. The Houses of the Oireachtas is the first Parliament in the world to host a programme of its kind.

The ultimate aim of the programme is to support graduates to find meaningful and viable permanent employment in the wider Civil and Public Service. Of the 30 graduates from the first three programmes, 16 are employed across ten Government departments and offices, 20% are employed in the private sector, while a further 20% are engaged in further education and training or supported by Kare and WALK to find employment.

Seven participants graduated from this year's programme, with Celine Chelariu, Claire Gillen and Conor O’Donnell being supported by Kare.

During their time on the programme, the interns were placed across different offices in Leinster House and in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and the Department of Finance where they gained valuable work experience in multiple areas.

Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD, said: “One of our key values in the Houses of the Oireachtas is to be inclusive. The development and expansion of inclusive work programmes and opportunities such as the OWL programme are critical if we are to harness the talent of people from all sections of society.

"I am delighted to say that from the outset the programme has been reaching key milestones/achievements.

"The programme is a real example of collaboration across the Civil and Public Service, and this has been recognised over the last two years with the programme picking up a number of awards including:• The Civil Service Excellence and Innovation Award in the category Workplace and organisation of the future in March 2023• The Advancing Disability Equality award at the National Diversity and Inclusion Awards in February 2024 and• A Good Practice Certificate in the category of Innovation in Public Administration at the European Public Service awards in March 2024”.

The Ceann Comhairle wished the graduates the very best in their future careers and said:

“I hope you will be happy and fulfilled as you go forward in your new roles in employment and in further education. I wish every one of you the success you clearly deserve."

Operations Manager at Kare, Peter Furlong, and WALK Former Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Catherine Kelly, said: “From the very beginning, we recognised that the challenges we aimed to address, significantly high unemployment rates of people with intellectual disability in the open Irish labour market were too complex to tackle alone. We knew that the path to meaningful change would require the collective efforts of diverse partners, each bringing unique strengths and perspectives.

"Today, we see the fruits of that vision, as the Oireachtas Work Learning programme stands as a beacon of what can be accomplished when we come together with a shared purpose. Our journey started with a simple yet profound belief, that everyone with an intellectual disability has the right to purposeful employment and that this is achieved through a supported employment model operationalised in Leinster House and delivered by specialist organisations such as WALK and Kare and strengthened by an educational component delivered by Adult Education Services, City of Dublin Education and Training Board.

For individuals with intellectual disabilities, Project OWL is not just a pathway to knowledge about the world of work; but rather a tool of empowerment, a means of breaking down barriers, and a key to unlocking limitless potential”.

They also thanked the families, the programme training sites and the employing departments for their support and for showing each graduate that they are equal and have the same opportunities when it comes to work as everyone else in society.

The graduates were each invited to attend the graduation ceremony with their families to recognise their achievement and learning journeys. Each of the graduates present received a certificate from the Ceann Comhairle to mark their achievement.

The programme maximises the opportunity for the trainees to experience several areas of work learning in units in the Oireachtas Service and the other training placement sites and to undertake formalised training through the City of Dublin Education and Training Board for the purpose of achieving a Level 3 Quality and Qualification Ireland (QQI) qualification.Two full-time on-site co-ordinators support the trainees in their roles and work towards QQI qualifications while the Houses of the Oireachtas provide a permanent training room.

Pictured top L–R: Peter Furlong (Kare), Celine Chelariu, Claire Gillen and Conor O’Donnell (Project OWL graduates) and Jane Courtney (Project OWL Co-ordinator, Kare). All photos courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas.


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