Tuesday, 30 August 2011

National League of the Blind Ireland

National League of the Blind of Ireland:

The National League of the Blind of Ireland is an information service for blind workers. It is a registered Trade Union and provides information on free legal aid and advisory services. It promotes rehabilitation training, employment, education and welfare for all blind people.

The National League of the Blind of Ireland Trust was established in 1898 and is the only blind organisation run by the blind for the blind. It is based at 21 Hill Street, Dublin 1.

A reference to the National League of the Blind Ireland can be found in Hansard (House of Commons 1918)

HC Deb 18 February 1918 vol 103 c468 468


76. Mr. BOLAND asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland why the Irish branches of the National League of the Blind have not been represented on the Advisory Committee for the welfare of the blind in Ireland, seeing that this representation has been given in the case of England and of Scotland? 

Mr. DUKE A representative of the Dublin Branch of the National League of the Blind has been co-opted on the Industrial Training and Workshops Sub-Committee of the Irish Advisory Committee on the Blind.

Did the NLBI have the same roots as the NLB in Britain?

There is an interesting article at the link below which discusses the history of the National League of the Blind in the UK and the ideological issues around why the League defined itself as a Union as opposed to a charity. 

The article refers to the establishment of an unregistered organisation called the National League of the Blind Great Britain and Ireland in 1894:

"The group was established to promote the demands, outlined later in the manifesto above, and in 1897 they elected one of its founder members Ben Purse to become the first full time secretary (Purse, 1916a: 8). Purse was an extremely influential figure in the early years of the union formation and through his stewardship a National Conference was convened in 1897 (Purse, 1919). Following this dawn of collective activism the loose association sought and achieved registration under the Trades Unions Acts with the objective of organising the blind population throughout Great Britain and Ireland. The organized blind community was to be politicized to add weight to the union’s demands for the State to take responsibility for the employment at adequate wages of all sightless persons already trained in workshop production methods and to provide a centralized training scheme for new entrants to the workshop sector. Additionally, for those who could not be trained, adequate pensions were demanded away from poor law provision (NLB, 1899).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Largely due to frequent outspoken criticisms published in the Leagues official journal ‘The Blind Advocate’ founded in 1898, and because of many acts of resistance adopted by the militant activists the NLB faced hostility from many existing institutions for the blind which had the unintended consequence of causing victimization of members working in existing charity workshops (Banham, 1901: 1-2). The antagonism towards charities also caused the NLB to be excluded from most national conferences discussing the welfare of the blind which often affected government policy. So the NLB had a clear choice, it could remain a hostile critic with activists attempting to change the status quo from outside the dominant circles of power, or it could take a more conciliatory line attempting to alter opinions and hence policies from within existing power structures.

A critical period for the NLB occurred circa 1910 when the league principally through the influence of purse modified its approach to their relationship with charities to a point at which cooperation became possible. This pragmatic change saw the influence of the NLB increase in political circles and gain support from some influential individuals who aided a wider recognition of the organisation as a legitimate lobbying group attempting to influence policy, achieve social change and ultimately emancipate blind people from their oppressive relationship with charity (NLB, 1914; Purse, 1919). "

Wheeler, P. F. and Salt, F. W. (2006), Disabled activism, a historically problematic relationship with charity. Paper delivered at the Disability Studies Association Conference, Lancaster University, 18-20 September 2006.

The article mainly refers to the NLB's development in the UK and there is no reference to the NLBI forming as a separate branch in Ireland from 1898. It would seem from the various old documents previously published on this website, appertaining to the political aspirations of my great great grandfather John McDonnell who stood for election as a Poor Law governor under the banner of Sinn Fein, that his association with the NLBI may well have had both political and charitable connotations. Though as a successful blind entrepreneur himself, we might surmise that his personal ideology fell on the side of the rights of the blind person as a self-actualising worker rather than a recipient of charity.  

Certainly it seems that the user led National League of the Blind in both Great Britain and Ireland was a radical organisation compared to the big charitable institutions of the era such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London.

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