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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 Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary] The very reason the allowance was introduced in the first place should also be considered in the way decisions are dealt with.

I will raise a number of local issues. I have the privilege of coming from County Mayo which has been served by the Western Care Association for over 40 years. This is a voluntary organisation established by parents in Castlebar that now has a county-wide remit to provide education and enterprise services. It does an excellent job alongside the HSE but has suffered significant cuts in recent years. It managed to maintain very strong service provision and an excellent range of enterprise supports until this year. This was the first year when it was not in a position to give training opportunities to those coming through the education process by means of its excellent education centre because the places and funding were not there.

We agree with the Minister of State when he talks about the wish of families that disabled people be treated equally, but when they are not given the opportunities to proceed from second level to third level education, the wheels come off that ambition. In respect of funding, let us start ring-fencing training places that may prepare people for work and funding for organisations like the Irish Association of Supported Employment which provide enterprise, job shadowing and other work initiatives for people with disabilities. If they have that training, many of them will be able to play their full part. Some cannot but those who can will be able to play a full and independent part in society. It is all very well to talk about independent living and dealing with the housing and home care requirement but a job requirement is part of the process and seems to be lost.

The Minister of State referred to a cross-Government approach and different Departments being involved. The difficulty is that this is still happening on a silo-by-silo basis. There is very little co-ordination in this approach. The housing policies of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government do not necessarily relate to policies of the Department of Education and Science, while the latter Department's policies on ABA and autism education are often not what the Department of Health think they should be. We need somebody to bring all of Government together to have one approach that assists people to live independently where they can and gives support to those who cannot. We need a cross-Government approach to fast track this instead of forcing people to jump through so many hoops to get basic requirements and entitlements.

I do not doubt the commitment of the Minister of State nor that of the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, equality and mental health. The difficulty in the Department is at the top - a difficulty pointed out by the Minister for Education and Science and by many of the Minister of State's colleagues. The commitment of both Ministers of State is getting lost and both of them, especially the Minister of State with responsibility for this area, need to stand up and be very strong for the rights of those they serve in their areas of responsibility.

The Department of Social Protection last year reduced the additional weekly payment that people on disability benefit received for participating in the community employment scheme. This scheme allows them to play a part in the community and gain skills that it is hoped will allow them to move into employment. The additional payment is just €20 per week on top of the disability benefit compared with JobBridge which pays around an additional €50 per week. Why can we not bring it up to the JobBridge level and treat them equally as if they were in JobBridge? There are extra expenses and difficulties involved for those with disabilities. That is a very solid and practical initiative the Government can undertake at minimal expense to send a signal that we are serious about giving an independent future to people who are looking for it. Enterprise Ireland recently launched a range of schemes to encourage different sectors to start up businesses and move into different sectors. An initiative targeting women in business is one example. We should look at an offering something similar to disabled people who want to set up their own businesses. Many organisations have excellent enterprises. The Western Care Association runs Abbey Enterprises which provides services to local multinationals. Many other disabled people have a vision of setting up a business, have the skills to do so and could do so with financial and practical support from Enterprise Ireland or the new local enterprise offices. This would also facilitate independent living.

On a non-budget basis, the Government introduced the heads of the mental capacity Bill to the Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The committee considered the heads of the Bill and its first recommendation, which was agreed on an all-party basis, was that it should be called the capacity Bill. The committee dealt with the heads of the Bill last April and I have not seen it in the House since. That Bill would bring legislation in the area of disability into the 21st century, and bringing it before the House early next year should be a priority. That would spark the debate about whether we should opt for fully rights-based legislation and the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. People do not fully understand that. If we can use the mental capacity Bill to kick off that discussion, it will do some service not just to the country but to ourselves, as legislators. I hope we would get the commitment to introduce the Bill early in the next session.

The difficulty for the Government does not lie in manifesto commitments. It made these commitments in full knowledge of the difficulties this country faced. The difficulty lies in the commitments it made in the programme for Government, which were made with full briefing from the Central Bank and the European Central Bank. The Government made various commitments in this area in the programme for Government on which it has attempted to row back this year. It forced people to sleep on the streets to prevent their personal assistant service being cut. Non-budget issues such a the mental capacity Bill are being long-fingered. We need a sense of urgency within the Government on the disability issue. If it does that, it has the capacity to deliver much in a relatively short period. The Government's approach could encompass all of Government instead of the disparity and silo-by-silo basis it uses. If it could do that, it would begin to make a difference.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher I welcome the contributions from everybody in the House regarding the motion I placed before the Dáil. I have only five minutes in which to sum up and there is no point in thinking that if I make a very fine and elegant speech, I will convince Members opposite to come over to our side and support our motion. I will dwell on a few important issues that have been emphasised by all sides of the House.

I am fully aware of the constraints under which the Government is working. I understand the pressures it is under in terms of budgets, but the key issue with regard to funding for people with intellectual and physical disabilities is the arbitrary value for money review that has been carried out. This root and branch review of services and supports for people in either mainstream education, specialist schools or independent living is too arbitrary. While the Government is trying to extract as many efficiencies as possible, which is the obvious and correct thing to do, those who are most efficient are being penalised to the detriment of the service providers. That is clearly what is happening.

The point I am making in a non-partisan and non-political way is that the Government needs to look at the individual service providers providing care in the community, in specialist schools or for independent living. Those providers who have reached the efficiency levels the Government assumes are acceptable should no longer be penalised and should be allowed to get on with what they are doing, namely, providing care and facilities for people who need and want them. We should focus on this issue over the next few minutes. Everybody has consistently pointed out that there are problems with the Department of Social Protection assessing the domiciliary care allowance, carer's allowance and other social welfare payments. The problem is that the rhetoric does not fit with what is happening on the ground. It is not a criticism of the Minister of State or anybody else but a criticism of the system, which we must address.

The same issue arose with home helps. We were told that everybody would be independently assessed and that there would be no cuts in services. Despite this, there was not a Deputy in the House who did not find people who had been badly treated in terms of the system withdrawing supports. This is beginning to happen in the area of disability. The Government has carried out the value for money review, has the figures in the Departments and knows the service providers who are carrying out a very efficient system and delivering an excellent service. They are all over the country. I agree that some could do more but there are many who can do no more because they are not being given the resources.

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