‘It should be the same as for anyone else . . . to be respected as individuals’

A part-time job at the Botanic Gardens has given David O’Brien ‘untold confidence’

Every day is different in David O'Brien's part-time job as an operative at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, just a 10-minute walk from his home.

“I help the gardeners to maintain the beds by weeding and edging grass,” he explains. “I go down to the vegetable garden as well, cleaning the pond and sweeping.”

If it’s raining, he will probably work indoors, potting seeds or cutting back, in the nursery or in the majestic Victorian Palm House.

“I don’t mind what job of work there is to do,” he says, although he prefers to be indoors when it’s really cold. He gives some of his earnings to his parents – the rest he saves or spends on clothes and going to the cinema.


Aged 37, David was the first person with Down syndrome in Ireland to complete the Applied Leaving Certificate, at Ballymun Senior Comprehensive School in 2000. He has recently returned from Geneva, where, as part of an international self-advocacy panel, he addressed the 37th UN Human Rights Council Meeting, which was celebrating World Down Syndrome Day, on the subject of "what I bring to my community".

"I told them about my job and that I had been on the National Advisory Council [2010-2014] with Down Syndrome Ireland. I told them about my interests and my hobbies," he says.

He does drama in St Michael’s House in Ballymun on Monday nights, goes to a social club on Tuesday nights and once a week goes to the gym and swimming in DCU.

During his time on the council he also got to visit the White House and, while he didn't get to meet then president Barack Obama, "we saw him going off in the helicopter on business".

Ross has participated in DSI's political awareness programme, My Opinion, My Vote, and has voted in all elections and referendums held since he turned 18. He would encourage all fellow members of the adult Down syndrome community to exercise their right to vote.

David sums himself up as a hard worker who does what needs to be done without anyone asking him. But “it is very hard to get a job”, he says, pointing out that there is discrimination.

“It should be the same as for anyone else,” he adds, “to be treated and respected as individuals”.

Parent's view: The job at the National Botanic Gardens has made "an enormous difference" to David, giving him "untold confidence", says his mother, Anita O'Brien. He had been in other jobs for a short time – in a credit union and a hotel – "but he didn't gain any confidence". For a start, he wasn't paid, "so he didn't have the same enthusiasm going in". Now he goes to work with a spring in his step, she adds, "feeling part of the community, going for gainful employment like his three siblings".

Employer's view: David is known as the "king of edging", according to colleague Pauline Brady, as he is so meticulous with the edging shears. While another colleague, Kevin Kenny, sums him up as "punctilious", so careful and exact is his application to any task. Also, "he has a dry sense of humour and is known to spontaneously do an impersonation of Michael Jackson". Overseer Brian Furlong adds that David's contribution to the Botanic Gardens "has been entirely positive".

Part 1: Working to give people with Down syndrome a meaningful job
Part 2: 'I just love my life . . . the job is important for my confidence'
Part 3: 'It should be the same as for anyone else . . . to be respected as individuals'
Part 4: 'I love working, because I am a working man'

Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, family and parenting