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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 12 Oct 1999

Vol. 509 No. 1

Priority Questions. - Recruitment of People with Disabilities.

Brendan Howlin


53 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of people with disabilities employed by his Department; the proportion this represents of total employees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19710/99]

On 1 April 1999, the latest date for which official figures are available, there were 80 staff with disabilities employed in my Department and associated bodies. This represents 2.4 per cent of the total number of staff serving. These figures exclude the Garda Síochána and the Prison Service which are exempt from Government decisions in relation to the recruitment of people with disabilities in the public service. In accordance with Government policy, I will of course continue my endeavours to increase the percentage of staff with disabilities to a minimum of 3 per cent of overall staffing levels.

Does the Minister of State accept it is incumbent on her Department, above all others, to meet Government guidelines and that two and a half years into her Ministry, it is disappointing, to say the least, that the 3 per cent minimum target has not been reached in the staffing levels of her Department? As regards the recent announcement of a clerical officer competition for people with disabilities, will the Minister tell us the number expected to be recruited? Is it expected that people with disabilities will be recruited to other grades in the public service?

The Department of Finance has responsibility for the 3 per cent quota in the Civil Service while my Department has responsibility for the quota in the public service. The Department and the Civil Service Commission announced the recent competition in order to notify people with disabilities of its existence. As regards numbers, Department of Finance officials and other civil servants who attended the official announcement of the competition predicted that more than 100 people could be recruited. However, it is a difficult figure to ascertain and people are guessing as it depends on the number of clerical officer vacancies in the various Departments. The competition was advertised on 28 September. People will be examined through the various mechanisms in November and the results will be issued at the end of January. People with disabilities will be recruited in the spring.

The Civil Service Commission has worked diligently to remove all the barriers involved in applying for these positions. Many people with disabilities may be well able to enter data in a computer. However, the difficulty may be in completing the application form for the job. They can telephone in their application forms and complete the examination through Braille and other mechanisms. It is important to note that people with disabilities can apply for all grades in the Civil Service provided they fulfil the regular entry requirements. They can enter through special panels, which have always existed. However, the focus of the special competition is to send a clear message to Irish people with a disability that we are openly recruiting clerical officers. There are vacancies and we want people with disabilities to fill them.

Will the Minister of State reply to my first question? Is it not a profound disappointment that the Department with specific responsibility for equality has not yet reached the minimum targets it has set for recruitment? The Minister of State says it is the responsibility of the Department of Finance. However, although she does not sit at Cabinet, all proposals are equality proofed and the Minister of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will ensure Government targets of equality recruitment are met. As regards the Minister of State's responsibility for the public service quota, has there been an audit of public service buildings to ensure all of them are accessible to people with disabilities? Is a report of such an audit available for scrutiny? As regards the clerical officer entrance examination for people with disabilities, why is it not proposed to have a similar examination or recruitment process for other grades?

The quota has improved in my Department. The figure has increased from 2.2 per cent in October to 2.4 per cent at present. Obviously, all Departments are committed to reaching the 3 per cent quota. The statistics have decreased from 1996 to date. The 3 per cent was achieved in 1994-95 but it was difficult to achieve from 1996.

It is not that we are employing fewer people with disabilities but the definitions have been made clearer. Previously, for example, if somebody broke their leg three months previously and was using a crutch, they might have been included in the statistics. We got tougher with regard to who could register with the National Rehabilitation Board or come through specific panels to ensure people with a genuine disability were included as distinct from the previous position. Interestingly, that yielded the information that 82 people across the Civil Service were being included who should not have been included.

Have the buildings been audited?

With regard to the audit of buildings, the monitoring committee has been in touch with every organisation where people are working in the public service, including the Legal Aid Board, which has 3.3 per cent—

Acting Chairman

I must now call the next question. Question No. 54.

The code of practice has been published. The monitoring committee's job is to proceed with auditing the buildings and checking the statistics. There is also the policy that all new buildings should be—

Acting Chairman

I am required to call Question No. 54 in the name of Deputy Jim Higgins.