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Funding of Disability Services: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Derek Nolan: Information on Derek Nolan Zoom on Derek Nolan] The Brothers of Charity has a staff of 1,000 who do their utmost to serve the highly vulnerable people who avail of the organisation's services. They have dramatically changed their service model in recent years and I commend them on reducing back office staff and restructuring to deliver a more efficient and dedicated service. No one can deny the need to dispense with the institutional model for providing services to people with disabilities. However, making the transition to a new model will require additional resources if it is to be completed properly.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to Galway to meet those involved in the Brothers of Charity services. She was generous with her time, going through the organisation's budget, strategy and management systems and discussing individual cases. We must always remember that disability services are provided to individuals. I observed the immense joy felt by the parents of eight children in Galway who were informed that places would be available for them. The Minister of State was in weekly contact with the relevant officials to ensure these places became available.

Delivering the national disability strategy will be the next significant plank for transforming the system. The Minister of State's decision to chair the implementation group on the national disability strategy demonstrates the political commitment and importance she attaches to the issue. I have heard her speak about the necessity for a strategy to drive disability services. Other services and areas of Government have strategies, whereas the area of disability has lacked a strategy and suffered as a result.

Service providers are engaged in change but it must be radical and profound and everyone in the system will have to buy into it. We cannot continue to fund the system in its current form, where one has several service providers, all with head office functions, competing with one another in one city. Integration is needed, as is a shift towards a new funding model under which the service user is given the freedom to choose what he or she wants.

In all of the contributions I have heard the Minister of State make on the two areas of her portfolio in which I have an interest, namely, older people and disability, I have not heard her use the term "people with disabilities" or "older people". Instead, she refers to individuals and what they want or need to lead their lives. She recognises that service users are part of family structures in which their relatives provide care and support. It is vital that when discussing vulnerable persons we do not forget that they are individuals with their own concerns, wants and desires. I am always delighted to hear the Minister of State speak in this manner and commend her on doing so. I am pleased she is in her current portfolio because she is a woman of determination and tenacity with an intolerance of inflexibility. These qualities will be needed if, rather than tweak services, we fundamentally change the way in which they are delivered.

Deputy Paul J. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the motion. It is important, even on the eve of what will be one of the most difficult budgets in the nation's history, to reiterate our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable in society, namely, those with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The debate over who made the mistakes that led to the financial crash of recent years will continue for years or decades. However, one group that will not figure when blame is being apportioned is people with disabilities. They did not over-indulge, borrow excessively or engage in reckless lending and for this reason they should not bear the brunt of cuts. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has conceded that the next two years will be particularly difficult in terms of the health budget and that expenditure on services for people with a disability, which cost in the region of €1.4 billion this year, will face difficulties. Notwithstanding this, expenditure on areas such as residential care, respite care and placements for school leavers must remain a top priority in 2013.

The Minister of State is committed to the implementation of the national disability strategy and chairs the new implementation group for the strategy. She has included in this group a number of individuals who will be able to bring to the table their experience of living with a disability. The implementation group will also take on board the views of the disability forum, which met for the first time in June.

I note that 15% of the budget of the Department of Education and Skills is spent in support of children with special educational needs, including on the employment of 10,575 whole-time equivalent special needs assistants in primary, post-primary and special schools. We must not overlook the invaluable role special needs assistants play in our education system in ensuring children with special needs are educated among their peers in a local setting.

Understanding of the need for early intervention in respect of autism is growing internationally. It is heartening that there are now 76 early intervention classes for children with autism attached to mainstream schools. Under the home tuition programme, funding is also provided for children with autism who are unable to access placement in such classes. Such early intervention is crucial as it often addresses behavioural difficulties and allows children to attend their local national school. Without such early intervention, more supports would be needed for such children in school and valuable learning time, which cannot be replaced, would be lost.

The need for proper services for adults with disabilities is another crucial issue. In recent months, members of Ballinasloe Advocates group have been to the fore in highlighting the need to retain and strengthen adult services for people with disabilities. Deputy Nolan and I have observed at first hand the tremendous work being done across the west by organisations such as Ability West and the Brothers of Charity. In recent years, these organisations, through the help and goodwill of members of the local community, have steadily built up the services on offer and their hard work must not be negated by a shortfall in funding in the coming years.

Family members of persons with a disability will stress the need for respite hours to be retained at all costs. These hours are often the difference between a person with a disability being able to live at home or moving to a community setting. In many cases, parents who are becoming increasingly frail are able to cope with living with the extra demands of an adult child with a disability because of the support provided through respite care. Reducing respite care hours would result in a major increase in the number of applications for housing in a community setting.

I note the Minister plans to move into the community next year 150 of the 3,600 persons with disabilities who are living in an institution. While progress is slow, it must be acknowledged that the provision of housing is difficult in the current climate. The element of the national housing strategy aimed at people with a disability will come under much more pressure if the current level of respite care is not retained.

Organisations and staff working with people with disabilities have done a tremendous job. Alongside people with disabilities and their families, they have provided a strong voice in advocating for those with disabilities. It is imperative that we continue to hear these voices and direct the money available towards ensuring vital services are retained throughout the country. We must ensure that people with disabilities are not punished for the sins of others. The only real way of measuring justice in any society is to examine how society treats its most vulnerable citizens. While we all acknowledge that further cuts must be faced in the years ahead, we must shield disabled people from such measures.

Deputy Ciara Conway: Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. No one can deny the level of commitment and dedication the Minister of State has shown to the area of disability.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath The question is whether she can deliver.

Deputy Ciara Conway: Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway Not only is she committed to an inclusive approach but the inclusion for the first time of people with disabilities in the decision making process constitutes anti-discriminatory practice. Service users, their families and the providers of services welcome this approach as it has been absent from the formulation and implementation of social policy through the decades. Pleas by advocates to adopt anti-discriminatory practice have fallen on deaf ears over the years. For this reason, we should not underestimate the commitment the Minister of State has shown in this area. While we all know that stark and difficult budgetary decisions lie ahead, we must commend the inclusive and anti-discriminatory practice at the forefront of the Minister of State's approach to disability. It is not lost on those who work in disability services or the families and individuals who avail of them.

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