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

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] Home help hours have been cut to the point at which the service has become robotic. How is a vulnerable person who cannot even get out of bed supposed to go to the shops? Ambulance services, the carer's allowance and the chaos around the processing of same are all features of this.

Often, the cut to home help hours does not make sense in a cost-benefit analysis. According to the Centre for Independent Living, CIL, which protested outside Leinster House's gates in August due to cuts in hours, if services were provided directly, they would cost multiples of what is spent on home help.

The cuts to domiciliary care payments started in 2009, predating this Government. However, they have continued. Even children with conditions that will not improve are subject to reviews, which is cynical.

I know of a couple of cases. For example, I have been following a case of a parent who is seeking occupational therapy for a child with autism. The parent was told that the child could not receive it because another support service was providing it. The child has been discharged from the service and will only be provided with it if he or she is an inpatient case. This means that the parent is running around in circles seeking a service that should be available. There should be safeguards to ensure that these services are provided. It is being delivered in a dishonest way.

The ambulance service has been scaled back considerably. I have seen this happen in my area. Transport may only be provided if, in the clinician's view, the patient would be unable to make the journey without clinical assistance or where the patient must be transported on a stretcher. In the past two weeks, I have dealt with a case about which the doctor involved was tearing his hair out. A man aged more than 90 years suffered complications after an operation, but it took a week to get an ambulance to bring him to hospital. If this is the type of service that we are providing to vulnerable people, we need to question what we mean by "vulnerable".

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I call Deputy Jerry Buttimer, who is sharing time with Deputies Gerald Nash, Simon Harris, Áine Collins, Jack Wall and Eamonn Maloney. The Deputies will have five minutes each.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer In 2012 we, as a Government and a State, spent €1.4 billion on people with disabilities. This debate is about people with disabilities and their families. It is not always about money, but it is about how we allocate resources while respecting the rights and needs of service users and people with disabilities, which is what this motion should be about. It is cynical of Fianna Fáil to table this motion, given its record in government for 14 years.

The programme for Government in its content and delivery is strong in its commitment to people with disabilities. I commend the Minister of State with responsibility for disability services, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. Due to her knowledge, experience and leadership of the Department in this regard, we will see reform, a continuum of change and an evolution of policy that will have at its core people with disabilities. In everything we try to do in politics and in government, it is important to keep service users at the core. It is a question of their needs. It is also important that we listen to and engage with people with disabilities. I welcome the fact that, in the delivery of the value for money report and the policy review of disability services, the Minister of State will engage with people.

With many of my colleagues, I spoke with members of the COPE Foundation about its pre-budget submission. To give the Minister of State, Deputy White, a flavour, the COPE Foundation is a service provider in Cork that deals with 2,150 people. The quality and quantity of its services, the evolution of its facilities and the continuum of care provided by it are extraordinary. In a five-year period, it has seen a reduction in its budget and an increase in the number of people availing of its service from 1,700 to 2,150. Despite having €4.5 million less and a reduction in staff numbers, the COPE Foundation continues to provide an excellent service to people who need it. This shows that we can make a change.

In supporting what the COPE Foundation has done and is doing, we must consider value for money. If our assertion is that more must be done with less, the COPE Foundation has done that. The main issue is that, as 85% of its budget relates to pay and cannot be touched because of the Croke Park deal, it must find savings from the 15% of its budget that involves transport, energy, food, medicines and maintenance. This will impact on those who require its services and their families. If one views the COPE Foundation as an example of what is occurring across the country, one must recognise that significant challenges are being met.

In the value for money report on and policy review of disability services, we must protect and support organisations such as the COPE Foundation that live within budget, provide extra services and, as the COPE Foundation does, facilitate and cater for people with disabilities, be they early school leavers or people involved in crisis situations. The COPE Foundation is an example of an organisation that has seen no closures, no changes, no charges and no deficits. It must be looked after, as it is the benchmark for value for money, good management and providing for families and service users.

In the minute that is left to me, I will refer to Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Ballincollig where families are concerned about changes to therapy interventions and the impact of same on the children who need them. The people with whom I have spoken would like to know whether there will be a service and whether the changes will impact on their children severely.

In this debate on disability, parents need to know that there will be a service, that access will not be a problem and that provision will be made to have their opinions listened to. They must plan. Disability is from the cradle to the grave and affects people who need all of our care.

I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on her work. I also commend the programme for Government. This issue is about people and delivering a continuum of care like the COPE Foundation's model, which has the person with a disability at the core.

Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash None of the Deputies present would disagree on what our main objectives should be in terms of people with disabilities. We all recall when Ireland hosted the Special Olympics in the mid-2000s. It was an extraordinary time for our country. Our then President, Mary McAleese, regularly refers to it as "Ireland at its superb best". What made it particularly special was how communities opened up and took in athletes, their coaches and their families from across the world. Some people viewed this as a great act of generosity on Ireland's part. In many ways, it was, but we, as a country, were the ones who gained. For the first time, the scales fell from our eyes and the event helped to challenge some widely held misconceptions about disability. Importantly, it challenged prejudice. It asked questions of the sort of paternalistic way that we as a society viewed people with disabilities. We realised that there was nothing special about people with disabilities playing a full part in our community and that, far from being extraordinary, it should be considered to be the norm in any republic worth the name. We came to focus on possibility, not disability, and on potential, not problems.

However, do we, as a State, show true solidarity with all of our citizens, treat everyone as equals and view everyone as a valuable resource who can contribute to society or do we treat such people as an issue to be addressed? As I stated initially, there will be little division over what we should be doing - we must do all in our power to assist, where required, with independent living for people with intellectual or physical disabilities. Despite the awful economic circumstances, some progress has been made and continues to be made in this respect.

That said, it would be remiss of me not to put on record my disgust at the way in which some people who have access to personal assistants were treated by the State just a few short months ago. Clearly, this issue has been resolved, but I was horrified at the time, and not just at the attempt to cut off a lifeline that enabled people to play a full and active role in society and the economy.


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