Background of The Irish Advocacy Network

The Irish Advocacy Network was established from a conference that took place in Derry. In 1999, approximately 270 individuals from all over Ireland who had mental health difficulties came together with the purpose of creating a representative voice for service users. Several key people presented this vision to health boards across the Republic of Ireland. They also went on to engage with other service users, health board staff and mental health employees.

Subsequently, an elected management committee composed of people from the island of Ireland, was charged with establishing the Irish Advocacy Network. In 1999, Organisational review and strategic plan 2012-2014 Page 9 with support from a number of key people within the HSE, the Irish Advocacy
Network was constituted and officially formed.

The United Kingdom Advocacy Network (UKAN) was one of the main inspirations for the establishment of the Irish Advocacy Network. UKAN was founded in 1990, established by grass roots activists who strongly believed that advocacy should be independent and provided by people who have direct experience of using mental health services. The main objective of advocacy, according to UKAN, is to enable people to advocate for themselves.

‘Mind Yourself’, a peer-led advocacy organisation from Derry, developed an Open College Network accredited training programme to empower service users to speak up for themselves or for those in recovery to become qualified to support other service users. IAN has partnered with Mind Yourself to provide this training for all of its staff and volunteers.

IAN developed the concept of peer advocacy across Ireland and fostered the concept of recovery. For the first few years, a handful of IAN peer advocates worked on a voluntary basis. There are now paid staff members and a number of volunteers. IAN provides paid jobs, volunteer work and training opportunities to people with experience of mental health problems. This is something IAN is proud of and continues to promote. In providing these opportunities, IAN helps people with mental health problems from the entire island of Ireland to reduce the effects of social exclusion.

“We can look into the sunlight of tomorrow and say yes; yes the Irish Advocacy Network has the determination to be the voice and the watchdog of people who encounter emotional distress.”
Paddy McGowan, founding member

IAN established its services within the majority of HSE areas, as well as with the Belfast Health Trust in Northern Ireland, developing strategic partnerships and alliances in cross border health services. IAN was involved in the concept of peer advocacy and support in several areas of Ireland. It carried out surveys and was heavily involved in research projects to inform the future of services and professional practice. It developed the capacity and expertise to provide training and information to a number of audiences and partner organisations. IAN was also commissioned to carry out an in-depth survey in order to inform the current mental health policy for the Republic of Ireland.

Ireland: A Vision for Change

Through the facilitation of service user empowerment we support people to speak up, speak out and regain control of their lives. IAN uses self-experience of mental/emotional health problems to help understand peers in their journey of recovery and help them to reclaim full citizenship. The organisation believes peer-advocacy has a unique role to play in accompanying citizens experiencing mental/emotional distress on this journey. IAN is committed to adapting to new challenges to health care services, practices and transformations within communities by establishing strategic partnerships and alliances.