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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 2 May 1996

Vol. 464 No. 8

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities.

Robert Molloy


6 Mr. Molloy asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform whether he has received the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities: and the progress, if any, the ad hoc establishment group has made with the draft provisional constitution. [8860/96]

Michael Woods


12 Dr. Woods asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform if he has decided on his approach to the achievement of equality for people with a disability; and whether he will pursue this goal through mandatory legislation rather than through voluntary incentives. [8727/96]

Eric J. Byrne


15 Mr. E. Byrne asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform if he will report on his most recent contacts with IBEC with a view to increasing job opportunities for people with disabilities in the private sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8919/96]

Ivor Callely


18 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to inequalities in the provision of services to any particular sector of society; if he has satisfied himself that people with a disability can avail of all services, particularly people with a mental handicap; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8850/96]

Ivor Callely


32 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform the issues identified by the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities; the progress, if any, made in this respect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8941/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 12, 15, 18 and 32 together.

I have not yet received the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities although I understand that the commission expects to submit it to me shortly. Good progress has been made by the ad hoc establishment group since I set it up in April of last year and I am advised that the work on drafting the provisional constitution for the Council for the Status of People with Disabilities is close to completion. The interim council is due to be set up at a national convention in Dublin Castle on 25 June next.

The commission has been examining the current situation of people with a disability, including people with a mental handicap, and the organisation and adequacy of existing services, both public and voluntary, to meet their needs. The commission's report is expected to recommend the most far-reaching proposals for ending the marginalisation of people with disabilities since the foundation of the State. Its recommendations will, I am informed, involve a combination of legislative solutions, new policy initiatives and new structures for delivery of quality services within a framework of rights, not charity. Until I receive the report, however, and have had the opportunity of considering its specific recommendations, I do not consider it appropriate to comment further on what it may contain. I am looking forward to receiving the commission's report and will give its recommendations very careful consideration to see what measures will be required by me, and my colleagues in Government, to improve the position of people with disabilities.

An officer of my Department is a member of the monitoring committee on the employment of people with disabilities which operates under the terms of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. IBEC is also represented on this committee which pays particular attention to the issue of facilitating the employment of people with disabilities in both the public and private sectors. My Department also maintains contact with IBEC with a view to exploring possibilities for improving the employment prospects for people with disabilities in the private sector. In this way, I am kept informed of developments and can consider any actions, in my area of responsibility, which might be appropriate.

The commission's report, I understand, will deal comprehensively with the issue of the training and employment of people with disabilities and will be making recommendations geared towards significantly improving the employment prospects of people with disabilities.

We are all looking forward to the publication of the commission's report. The Minister seems to think, if I understood him correctly, that it would be inappropriate to act on a variety of issues which may have been raised with the commission in the many submissions it has received, including access, mobility and the implementation of building regulations, until he receives its report. Has a watching brief been kept and recommendations made in the interim, such as the dishing of footpaths, to alleviate these difficulties?

I understand that a large number of submissions on a wide variety of matters have been made to the commission. We must await its report and recommendations on how best they may be implemented.

I do not have the data to enable me preview the recommendations or their manner of implementation. However, when I receive them I will examine them carefully. The commission will deal with a wide range of matters covering all aspects of the lives of those with disability. I am proceeding with the Employment Equality Bill and the Equal Status Bill without awaiting the commission's report. Both measures will impact substantially on the lives of people with disability. Other matters will need to be examined when the commission's report is published.

Will the Minister pursue his goal through legislation or incentives for voluntary action? Since the early 1980s we have been encouraging the development of access to buildings, sporting facilities, education, jobs and so on. Deputy Keogh mentioned footpaths, roads, etc. Although a great deal has been done voluntarily, progress in these areas is far too slow. Legislation must be introduced to ensure that there is access to all new buildings and facilities. It should not be an option at this stage. How is Part M of the building regulations monitored?

Building regulations are a matter for the Minister for the Environment and I suggest the Deputy raises them with him. As regards legislation and voluntary incentives, both have a role to play. Every possible step will be taken to change attitudes. The response has varied from firm to firm and agency to agency. For example, Aer Rianta has done wonders in this regard. My Department introduced an incentive scheme, which culminated in a series of programmes on RTE dealing with the work done by many companies in the public and private sectors. It was remarkable to see what was achieved on a voluntary basis. The scheme is being renewed this year. I agree with the Deputy that voluntary incentives on their own will not achieve what is required. The legislative element involved must be provided in a calculated and measured way. The legislation being prepared will provide a reasonable balance and we will discuss the detail during its passage through the House.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Like others, I eagerly await the commission's report. As regards equality of services, particularly for those with mental handicap, the Minister is aware that thousands of people are inappropriately placed. Such people cannot fight their case and are unable to avail of the services they require. The Minister for Health would be able to give the numbers involved off the top of his head. We do not need reports or recommendations but rather a Government that is prepared to make funds available. Will the Minister do so?

Deputy Callely is talking in vague and general terms. If he wants to put a specific question I will deal with it. I do not know to what he is referring.

I am referring to people with mental handicap who wish to avail of State services. They are denied that as the services are not in place through lack of funding. The Minister for Health is well aware of this. Surely as a member of the Government with collective responsibility the Minister for Equality and Law Reform could ensure adequate funds are provided for such services.

I do not know what service the Deputy is speaking about. He seems to be talking in riddles.

I am talking about services for the mentally handicapped.

As far as I understand it he is talking about a service which is relevant to the Minister for Health. He should be specific in his questioning or raise the issue with the appropriate Minister.

What about equality?

The Minister rightly referred to the wide range of areas being examined by the commission. However, I am flabbergasted by an answer he gave earlier on building regulations. This was specifically mentioned in the commission's update last November. Building regulations might be the specific responsibility of the Minister for the Environment but is the Minister saying that the recommendations, which would make life easier for people with disability, will be ignored until the final report is issued? My father is disabled and most of the time he is a prisoner in his home because of the lack of facilities in this city. I accept that there are wide ranging issues but the Minister's Department should act upon recommendations which could make life easier for the disabled.

I do not understand the points made by Deputy Keogh. The report has not been issued nor have any recommendations been made. A large number of submissions was made to the commission but I cannot act on the recommendations until I receive them, which I understand will be soon. As far as building regulations are concerned, the Minister for the Environment and his staff are responsible for building and construction matters, local authority issues and so on.

If Deputy Keogh has a specific complaint or information about that matter she should raise it with the Minister for the Environment. If the reply is unsatisfactory from an equality point of view she can then refer it to me and I will be happy to consider it.