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Leaders' Questions

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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Leaders' Questions

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom a rá, ar mo shon fhéin agus ar son mo pháirtí, Nollaig faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise duit féin, a Cheann Comhairle, do Bhaill an Tí agus do gach éinne atá ag obair anseo. Táimid go léir fíor-bhuíoch dóibh as ucht an méid a dhéanann siad ar ár son. Nollaig faoi shéan duit féin agus don Tánaiste. Maraon liom féin, tá an Tánaiste ag súil leis an Nollaig agus leis an bhfaoiseamh agus an sos beag atá ag teacht

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Gan dabht.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin After extending season's greetings and hoping the Tánaiste will have an enjoyable, restful and peaceful Christmas, which I am sure he needs, like all of us, I wish to raise a very serious issue relating to people with disabilities. Looking back on 2012, it is fair to say we have witnessed a significant attack on services for people with disabilities, with cuts across the board. There has been much fear and anxiety developing among parents and families of people with special needs and disabilities. It has been a sustained attack, leading to fear and frustration.

For example, 700 school leavers have no guarantees of getting a place for essential services and the issue is still not satisfactorily resolved. There have been cuts to special needs assistants across the country, with a 15% cut to resource teaching hours and a very ruthless review of the domiciliary care allowance, with up to 63% of all applications rejected in the first six months of 2012 and 50% of children with autism refused a domiciliary care allowance. Last year the Government was forced into a review of cuts it had announced to disability payments. We also witnessed the debacle of the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, in August, when he cut €10 million from personal assistants and people had to camp overnight to get the cut reversed.

There was a further slash and burn cut of €1 million in home help hours, which again affected people with disabilities. That was followed in this budget by a callous 20% cut in the respite care grant. On this side of the House we have noticed a terrible tightening of the screw with medical cards, particularly for children with special needs and children with life-challenging conditions. Such people are now being refused medical cards. When one considers the entire year, the picture is one of targeting people with disabilities, with a removal of any sense of guarantee or comfort.

We acknowledge the difficulty of the finances for 2013. There should be, however, a resolve to protect people with special needs and disabilities in our society. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, at the time of the announcement of the Estimates was not in a position to guarantee that there would not be further cutbacks in 2013 for the disability sector. The HSE service plan is due to be published. Will the Tánaiste guarantee there will not be cuts to people with disabilities and special needs? In particular, will he guarantee there will be places in services for those who leave second level schooling in 2013?

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an Teachta Ó Máirtín agus le gach uile Teachta sa Dáil, agus Nollaig shona a bhronnadh ort féin, a Cheann Comhairle, ar gach Ball den Teach agus ar gach uile dhuine a oibríonn anseo i dTeach Laighean. I join with Deputy Martin in wishing the Ceann Comhairle a happy Christmas.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg He needs a rest.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I also wish a happy Christmas to all the party leaders, Members, the staff of the House and those who work in the press and in servicing the work of Leinster House. I also extend greetings to those who work in our political parties and in our offices. We have had a pretty intense time since the Dáil resumed in early September and everybody is agreed that a period of rest and reflection is due to everybody in the House.

There is a degree of fear and worry among people with disabilities and those who care for them or are close to them. It is a responsibility for all of us to ensure this sense of fear and worry is not added to. When we address the issue of the services provided for people with disabilities, we should do so in a reasoned way, and no Member should seek to exploit any issue relating to disabilities. We should work collectively to address those needs.

Deputy Martin raised a number of issues. The total amount budgeted for disability-related services in the Department of Health alone is approximately €1.4 billion. He also referred to medical cards.

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