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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 Ciara Conway: Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway]  As the Minister of State mentioned, we need a realistic implementation plan for the national disability strategy. Strategy and policy documents have laid on shelves gathering dust for years. This is to no one's benefit. Other Deputies will agree that the Minister of State's approach - she is chairing the group - is to be broadly welcomed.

The HSE's core underlying deficits are disturbing. I sit on the health committee and have seen the black hole in terms of health. It is a difficult situation. I have often spoken at that committee and with parliamentary colleagues about the need for an accounting process that would allow the disability budget to be disaggregated from the quagmire of other health spending. The Minister of State made reference to this. This type of reform is boring and technical and has to do with accounting, software, computers and all of the kind of material about which no newspaper likes to write. However, this is the type of reform of our health services that we need if we are to ensure that money is spent where it is required.

This issue is not aligned with disability services alone. It is equally aligned with mental health, primary care and acute hospital services. We cannot continue to throw good money after bad. Until we see this approach to managing money within the HSE, change will be difficult.

I will reference my experience in my constituency. The Brothers of Charity are active in Waterford city and county. Other Deputies have mentioned them. The Brothers of Charity realise that they cannot continue to practise as they have been doing. Carriglea Cairde Services in Dungarvan has been to the fore in removing people with learning and physical disabilities from institutions and into their communities. This is the type of approach to which the Minister of State and the Government are committed.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn One must hand it to Fianna Fáil. While I welcome the motion on disability rights and the funding of services, it is yet another example of that party's unashamed brass neck. With this motion, it is attempting to reinvent itself as an advocate for those with disabilities.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher Thanks.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn When one teases out the text, it says little aside from Fianna Fáil's stunning realisation "that it is unfair and unjust to cut services for people with disabilities". Had it any shame at all, it would have included a line apologising for the harm that it inflicted on people with disabilities and their families through the years.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher What about the people Sinn Féin has disabled?

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Just a few years ago when Fianna Fáil was in government, it cut the disability allowance-----

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher What about the 3,000 deaths?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joanna Tuffy): Information on Joanna Tuffy Zoom on Joanna Tuffy Deputy Mac Lochlainn without interruption, please.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I will repeat myself, as Deputy Kelleher obviously does not want to hear it.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher Sinn Féin does not want to hear a few things either.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Just a few years ago when Fianna Fáil was in government, it cut the disability allowance, the carer's allowance, the carer's benefit and the blind person's allowance not once, but twice.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher We increased them, too.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn The removal of the Christmas double payments also heavily impacted on the disabled and their families and carers. All of this meant that Fianna Fáil cut the income of disabled people and their carers by 10% over two budgets. A brass neck indeed. It is no wonder that Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on social protection and Minister in that Government, Deputy O'Dea, was heckled and booed by disability rights campaigners who were protesting outside the Dáil a few weeks ago.

That Fianna Fáil Government also cruelly slashed funding to voluntary organisations working with the disabled as well as front-line services to the disabled across the State. We witnessed savage cuts to the number of special needs assistants, SNAs, resulting in children with disabilities staying outside of mainstream schools. Was it not the Fianna Fáil Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, who told primary school teachers that resource teachers for children with learning disabilities would be withdrawn if they had less than nine children in each of their schools? That was in 2009, when the then Fine Gael education spokesperson, Deputy Brian Hayes, issued a statement calling it an "attack" on children with learning disabilities. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, was the then Labour Party spokesperson on disability and called for services for children with intellectual disabilities to be protected. It is remarkable how Fine Gael and the Labour Party have changed their views on all of these matters in their alliance for austerity.

The motion "recognises" that there are more than 600,000 people with disabilities in the State and "recognises" their concern regarding cuts to services. It merely "notes" the pledges in the programme for Government and calls on the Government to provide the appropriate funding and services to honour "all" commitments to people with disabilities. It is not unreasonable to ask what Fianna Fáil mean by "all" in this motion. Does it include that party's own commitments to people with disabilities that it failed to uphold in spectacular fashion?

As Members of this House, we must ensure that a threshold of decency on disability supports is developed. There must be a political consensus that people with disabilities will have their dignity and rights maintained and their families will not be abandoned as a result of ongoing cutbacks.

Recently, we have seen images of citizens with profound disabilities who protested outside Leinster House at the cuts introduced by the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly. They struck a powerful chord with the Irish people. The courage and dignity of those who braved the elements to make their stand shone a light on the reality that, despite the promises of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in the final pre­election leaders' debate last year, their Government has proceeded to enforce cut after cut on those with disabilities, their families and their carers.

Their broken promises on disabilities are the cruellest of all. If this Government took a Kango hammer and tore up our roads, there would be uproar, but that is exactly what it has been doing to support services for people with disabilities. Nine leading disability organisations spoke out on this scandal, yet the Government has still done nothing. We should make no mistake about this. Given Fianna Fáil's record in this area, it would not be acting any differently were it still in government.

The disability organisations have outlined a vision for people with disabilities and called on the Government to take urgent action on three key areas. First, halt reductions in the basic standard of living of people with disabilities requiring welfare supports. People with disabilities are most likely to experience real poverty because, on top of the recent cuts in benefit levels and new charges, they must also continue to pay for extras required due to their disabilities. They are among some of the most vulnerable groups that will lay awake tonight in fear at what fresh hell tomorrow's budget will bring.

Second, funding must be guaranteed to the services needed by people with disabilities. Cutting the services required by people with disabilities not only undermines their lives, but also leads to a growing public expenditure in terms of hospital stays and expensive care costs. It does not make economic, let alone ethical, sense to cut their services.

Third, it is a matter of urgency that the Government publish an ambitious implementation plan for the national disability strategy in keeping with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities so that people can have dignity, individual autonomy and full and effective participation in Irish society.

People's faith in Ireland's eventual recovery depends not just on economic measures. Social protection for all people through this long, stressful period needs to be central to the Government's recovery plans. Government actions must address social inclusion and cohesion. Recent Government cuts have heightened these concerns in the run up to the budget. Sinn Féin fully endorses the people's call and we call on the Government to take up this challenge and honour its promises to our most vulnerable citizens.

Last year, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, announced proposals to stop disability payments to new claimants aged between 16 and 18 years. That measure was halted after people took to the streets. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, let the Minister for Social Protection take the fall, famously describing how they would "revisit" the matter. We must wait and see what will be "revisited" in the coming months.

As far as this motion is concerned, I welcome Fianna Fáil's Pauline conversion to the fight for disability rights. We can legitimately question the motivations behind it, but we support the right to full equality for people with disabilities.

The previous Government cut the income of people with disabilities and their carers by 10% across two budgets. The impact is still being felt. The people in question are some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the State. Community employment schemes, social welfare and so on impact on them. We need to put action behind the rhetoric. It is time for a threshold of decency on this issue.

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