Recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann takes note of the publication of the Progress Report on the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities which was published by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 13 December 1999.

It is my pleasure to ask the House to note the publication of the progress report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, entitled Towards Equal Citizenship. The Government is committed to improving services for people with disabilities and to putting in place a framework for disability equality. The Government's record of progress on the disability equality agenda since taking office is proof of the seriousness with which we view this commitment.

The report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities was published in November 1996. The recommendations of the commission are broad-ranging and comprehensive touching, as they do, on almost every aspect of social, economic and cultural life. There are 402 recommendations in all covering such areas as access to the built environment, both building and streetscape, income, transport and accessible housing. The Government is working to give concrete expression to the recommendations and has moved on a range of key fronts in achieving this objective.

The progress report is a benchmarking document which establishes how far we have progressed in implementing the recommendations of the commission and points the way to what yet needs to be done. The progress report shows that many of the commission's recommendations have been implemented in full or in part. The positions stated in the report are not immutable and, since publication late last year, the work of implementing the report's recommendations has continued.

Substantial progress has been made in such areas as the mainstreaming of services for people with disabilities, enacting the equal status legislation, improving the accessibility of urban buses and putting the cost of disability payment on the national agenda. These and other developments are illustrative of the steady pace of change and the improvement that is taking place and has been taking place since the progress report was published.

I would like to briefly outline a few of the areas of progress, some of which come within the aegis of my own ministerial responsibility and others whose achievement and development are attributable to the work of Government colleagues. Within my own area of responsibility the establishment of a national disability authority and the mainstreaming of services for people with disabilities are two of the key recommendations of the report. The establishment group for the national disability authority, set up in November 1997, reported to Government in June 1998. Preparations to implement the new administrative and infrastructural arrangements recommended by the group for the national disability authority and mainstreaming of services are now at an advanced stage.

Mainstreaming means that mainstream service providers will now provide services to people with disabilities on the same basis and from the same premises as they provide them to the rest of the population. The policy underlines a maturing in the approach of society in relation to service provision for people who happen to have a disability. The changes being introduced will result in a shift of responsibility for disability services from the National Rehabilitation Board and the Department of Health and Children, to the Departments and agencies with general responsibility for each of the services involved. For example, vocational training and employment services for people with disabilities will be provided by FÁS, under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. A new mainstream information and support service, Comhairle, will operate under the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, and the audiology, psychology and non-vocational services operated by the National Rehabilitation Board will be provided by the relevant Government agencies such as the health boards and the new National Educational Psychology Service.

The national disability authority will be established on a statutory basis in conjunction with these mainstreaming arrangements. The authority will be responsible for research and development of standards and codes of practice for disability services and for monitoring and assisting service providers to ensure implementation of standards and codes of practice. It will also act as a coherent focus for disability-related policy and practice and will play a key role in advising and reporting to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in regard to disability issues.

Legislative reform in the areas of anti-discrimination and positive action measures were key building blocks in the commission's approach. In each of the three years since the Government took office, an item of equality legislation dealing with the rights of people with disabilities has been passed. In 1998, the Employment Equality Act was enacted to prohibit discrimination in the workplace on nine specified grounds, one of which is disability.

In 1999 the National Disability Authority Act was enacted to underpin the new mainstream framework for the provision of services to people with disabilities. This year, these Acts were complemented by the Equal Status Act, 2000, which will come into effect in the coming months and will outlaw discrimination in relation to the provision of goods, facilities and services. Legislation establishing fundamental rights in the area of education has also been enacted.

I am sure Members will agree that at a time when our economy is faced with possible labour shortages, ensuring equality of opportunity for people with disabilities in firms puts a valuable resource at employers' disposal. The legislation not only outlaws discrimination against people with disabilities in employment but also in their role as consumers. Businesses have not yet fully awoken to the fact that by discriminating against or ignoring people with disabilities, they are only injuring themselves. People with disabilities are not isolated individuals but have families, friends and colleagues. Making premises accessible to people with disabilities makes economic sense and enhances their use for a range of customers. In this regard, I welcome the announcement in this morning's newspapers that Aer Rianta now requires all airlines, service providers and other agencies conducting business at Aer Rianta airports to do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.

As soon as the arrangements for mainstreaming are in place, I intend to begin detailed work on a disabilities Bill. The measures to be covered in the Bill will be proactive in nature and will advance and underpin the participation of people with disabilities in society. In identifying the scope of the proposed Bill, I will be strongly influenced by the recommendations made by the commission with regard to its contents. Such recommendations include access to public bodies, use of telecommunications services, use of transport and participation in the administration of justice, to name but a few.

Turning to achievements outside my direct sphere of influence, there have been significant developments with regard to transport policy. My colleague, the Minister for Public Enterprise, has adopted a policy to ensure that from this year onwards, all public transport purchases under the national development plan will be fully accessible. As a result, new transport stock now purchased is required to be disability-friendly. New and major refurbishment projects at all bus and rail stations will be required to take account of the needs of mobility impaired customers. The National Development Plan 2000-2006 includes significant provisions in relation to the accessi bility of public transport, including the establishment of a public transport accessibility committee to advise the Minister for Public Enterprise in regard to the accessibility of public transport for people with disabilities, including people with mobility impairments. I also understand that this year alone, Dublin Bus is purchasing 205 accessible buses and a further 20 accessible or "bendy" buses.

Under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, the Departments of Health and Children, Social, Community and Family Affairs and Finance have committed themselves to examining the feasibility of introducing a cost of disability payment. Work is under way to establish a working group which will be chaired by an official from the Department of Health and Children at Assistant Secretary level. The cost of disability payment is of vital interest to people with disabilities and a key recommendation of the commission. I am sure the work of this working group will be closely monitored by all concerned.

The role of my Department with regard to the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities is twofold, namely to provide guidance and advice and to monitor and encourage implementation. The progress report was presented on the date of its publication to a monitoring committee chaired by an official of my Department and comprising representatives of the interests involved and of key Departments. The committee has met four times over the past six months and I expect that it will be in a position to report progress to me over the summer.

Members will see that much has been done in the area of disability equality. I am committed to following up this good work with new actions. More remains to be done and I will continue to work to achieve full equality for all our citizens. I commend the report to the House and look forward to hearing Deputies' views on these matters.

I am delighted that, having requested this debate some weeks ago, I now have the opportunity to comment on the progress report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. This original and very comprehensive report and its recommendations have been the subject of many Private Members' debates over the lifetime of this Government.

It is particularly appropriate that this debate is being held on the occasion of the tenth anniversary celebrations of the Forum for People with Disabilities. On behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I extend congratulations to the forum on the occasion of its anniversary in recognition of the sterling work it and the other non-statutory disability groups and organisations do on behalf of their members.

While I recognise that progress has been made, progress in realising equal citizenship rights for people with disabilities has been painfully slow. The fact that the progress report details 81 of the commission's recommendations which have been, or are in the process of being, implemented is to be welcomed but four-fifths or 324 of the recommendations remain unfulfilled.

The main area of progress is in legislation. The Employment Equality Act, 1998, the Equal Status Act, 2000, the National Disability Authority Act,1999, and the Comhairle Act, 2000, are significant legislative milestones on the long road to equal rights and equal citizenship for people with disabilities. In terms of legislation, the infrastructure is almost complete.

There is, however, one glaring omission from the legislative list. There is unfortunately no disabilities Bill, not even the heads of a Bill, on the horizon. The Bill is not expected to be published before 2001 – that could well mean it is another year and seven months away – yet the recommendation has been before the Government since 1996. While the equality legislation already enacted outlaws discrimination on a number of grounds, including that of disability, a comprehensive disabilities Bill – a core recommendation of the original report – setting out rights and giving a means of redress for those denied their rights, would be a major plus for people with disabilities and their families, advocates and carers. For those who have waited so long for so many improvements, a vague timetable of 2001 may seem like they will be waiting forever.

Any hopes of a shorter timeframe are dashed when one reads the progress report. How could they have delayed so long? How could the Government have procrastinated when the progress report states that there may be the need for a constitutional amendment and a referendum in tandem with any such Bill? If the Department has yet to consider a constitutional amendment, consider the wording for such an amendment and put the words of a proposed amendment to the people in a referendum before a disabilities Bill is produced, then the Government's estimate of 2001 is just a fantasy. That is regrettable. It would appear that while some rights of people with a disability are underpinned by legislation, they must wait, yet again, for an exclusive Bill which sets out and guarantees their rights. That is a shame.

I would ask the Government to focus on this important legislative provision and to seek in particular to speed up their deliberations in this regard. The Government has identified a disabilities Bill as one of its key priorities. The Government is already three years in office yet, according to its timetable, people with disabilities must wait at least seven months, if not almost a year and seven months, before even an outline of a Bill is available. This Bill is long overdue. The Government must live up to its commitments and produce this vital legislation at the earliest possible date. As I said this morning on the Order of Business, the Government has shown a willingness to produce legislation quickly to right what it perceives as wrongs done to people whom it favours. It is time those people who were wronged through no fault of their own had their rights vindicated by this Bill. One way in which rights of people with disabilities can be guaranteed is through the enactment of a disabilities Bill.

Within three months of the receipt of the Franklin D. Roosevelt award, which honoured Ireland for "reaching further and doing more" for people with disabilities, people with disabilities were, for the third time in 18 months, protesting at the gates of Leinster House because a vital transport service had to be discontinued for lack of funds at a time of economic boom. The contrast between the international recognition of legislative achievement and the reality of the day to day struggle for even the most basic rights of people with disabilities brings into sharp focus the inherent contradiction highlighted in some areas of the report. The United Nations citation for the international award states that Ireland is "setting the pace" and that "Ireland has reached farther and done more" to advance the cause of people with disabilities. Unfortunately, according to the progress report, the Minister for Finance is not willing to reach far enough.

In the ten minutes allowed to me, it is not possible to comment on every area covered by this comprehensive report. One issue which I consistently highlighted in the House as a barrier to participation by people with disabilities is the lack of accessible transport. Today on "Morning Ireland" Ms Dina Doddrell from Poppintree stated that the lack of transport accessible to wheelchair users is the single biggest barrier to participation in employment and training and in society generally. She said her bus pass is worse than useless because there are no accessible buses for her to use. The same is true of people who live in rural areas. Mr. Dónal Tolan pointed out that only 15 of the 950 buses in the Dublin Bus fleet are actually wheelchair accessible. The theory is that we have reached farther and done more; sadly the practice is far different.

Last year, the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, congratulated herself on obtaining Exchequer funding for 150 new buses for Dublin, none of which is wheelchair accessible. In May 1999, the Vantastic transport service providers, on whom 300 people with disabilities depend for access to their employment, education and recreation, told the Taoiseach that they had capital and revenue funding problems. In June, the Government, which advocates a policy of empowerment through responsive services, let Vantastic close. Shamed into action by a demon stration at the gate of Leinster House and by the Opposition outrage, the Government had a whip around and came up with some loose change to allow the service to continue. The reality is that people with disabilities do not have a public bus transport system.

A submission quoted in the "Strategy for Equality" report reads:

People with disabilities do not want to be pitied, nor do they want their disabilities to be dismissed as of little importance. All that is required is a little respect and basic needs and rights. Surely that is not too much to ask?

This is the essence of the problem facing people with disabilities, and of the slow progress in addressing the reality. They want basic needs and rights, like the right to leave home and travel on a bus without having to be carried on or crawl on, and not legislation, international disability awards or high flown rhetoric.

The same problem applies to taxis. It is evident that while the specially issued taxi licences were contingent on the provision of wheelchair accessible taxis, there is no similar onus on the individual taxi owners or on taxi companies to actually use their accessible taxis to transport wheelchair users. Recent evidence would suggest that the owners and drivers of wheelchair accessible taxis would rather use their vehicles for transporting people with lots of luggage or those encumbered by sets of golf clubs than for those wheelchair bound people for whose needs their taxis were supposed to cater. This is a scandal which must not be allowed to continue. The licensing authority for taxis is a publicly accountable body. The taxi drivers' and licence owners' lobby has a powerful voice in this city. Let us hope that progress will be made and that wheelchair accessible taxis will be available for hire to those who really need them.

How much more empowered or mobile are people, even in a brand new wheelchair, if they cannot get on a bus? How much more independent are they if they cannot get a taxi? How mainstreamed are they if they cannot travel down main streets or if they cannot access public buildings?

A recent report on the service for people with disabling neurological conditions identified the lack of accessible public transport as the major barrier to the mobility impaired. The report states that this lack causes social isolation and reduces access to employment and education. Without this basic service is it any wonder that 70% of people with disabilities are unemployed?

The same report also highlighted shortfalls in service provision regarding aids and appliances. It mentioned long waiting times for equipment and the provision of inappropriate equipment. In these days of economic boom, this is a scandal. We as a nation are now better off than ever yet many citizens are denied the right to a hoist to help them to get out of bed. They are denied basic rights like personal assistants to assist with dressing and feeding. Their families and carers cope alone without comprehensive, responsive and accessible support from the State.

A recent conference on the rights of carers, organised by Care Alliance, heard harrowing evidence by carers who feel abandoned by the State, unrecognised, ignored, unsupported and unvalued. They spoke of the disappointment of having their precious annual two weeks respite care cancelled at the last moment because another case, deemed more urgent, had to take their place. They spoke of the inequities and anomalies of the carer's allowance system. One carer summed up her feelings by saying, "The State puts barriers in our way and in the way of the people we care for. They should concentrate, not on what we have but on what we need".

Basic rights and needs must be addressed for people with disabilities, for their families, for those who care for them and for those who are their advocates. There is no doubt that good intentions exist. On every page of the progress report there are good intentions and fine words. Good intentions and fine words are there in plenty. Action is lacking. Transport, aids and appliances, residential care, day care, respite care and employment are lacking.

The Government needs a timely reminder that the services for people with disabilities are lagging behind the legislation. For people with disabilities to achieve and exercise their economic and political rights, we need to speed up the progress. The Government must provide the resources as well as the legislation.

Let us hope that any future progress report will contain more practical action as well as aspirations.

I regret that this debate has been scheduled for late on Thursday afternoon and that so little time has been allowed for it. The report is large and contains a number of recommendations. We cannot deal with them all in the time available.

I acknowledge the progress made. The Minister of State has outlined various aspects of this progress in legislation and funding. The most important demand of people with disabilities is that we move from the medical model to a rights based approach to the needs of people with disabilities. The representatives of people with disabilities speak of the need to establish fundamental rights so that people with disabilities can participate in work, travel and housing as the rest of us do. This rights based approach is the most important demand of people with disabilities at present.

Earlier today I attended the celebration of ten years of the Forum of People with Disabilities. The chairperson of that organisation spoke of this issue. NAMHI, the Centre for Independent Living, which held a conference recently in Clontarf, Parents Alliance and many other organisations are calling for a disabilities Act and for a constitutional amendment to give fundamental rights to people with disabilities.

While we can acknowledge progress in many areas, until we address this issue we will not have given people with disabilities the power to run their own lives.

I was disappointed by parts of the report and particularly by the reaction of the Department of Finance regarding the legal right to services. It was recommended that there be an assessment of needs which would be followed through so that a person with a disability would receive what he or she needed from the various Government Departments. The Department of Finance rejected the legal right to services. The commission recommended that every disabled person get a comprehensive statement of needs which would entitle him or her to services without having to argue his or her case again and again with numerous Departments, health boards, agencies and sub-sections of such bodies. The Department of Finance said it, "cannot accept these recommendations which imply the underpinning by law of access to and provision of services for people with disabilities as a right. This right, if given a statutory basis, would be prohibitively expensive for the Exchequer and could lead to requests from other persons seeking access to health and other services without regard to the eventual cost of providing these services".

The Department of Health and Children objected to the provision of a cost of disability payment. The Department said it would be costly and difficult to administer and that other groups, such as Travellers, the homeless, unemployed, old people and children could seek equality of treatment. These reactions were extremely disappointing because they reject much of the core of the commission's recommendations.

The report is very much the response of a Government Department and is not in the same spirit as the report of the commission. The commission mainly consisted of people with disabilities, their carers and families and was chaired by Mr. Justice Flood. A number of sub-committees dealt with housing, transport, employment and so on. The approach was hugely participative and many of the people who took part have been very disappointed by the dry departmental response which concentrated on what could not be done. This is led by the thinking of the Department of Finance. I ask the Minister of State to challenge this thinking in the coming months and years. We must move to a rights based approach so that people do not have to chase from one Department to another as they grow older and their needs change but automatically receive the ser vices they require. Recommendation 217 is that 1% of the educational budget should be set aside for people with disabilities and should follow their needs rather than their category. There should not be a set amount for each category of disability but the need of each child should be assessed and met.

I note that a monitoring committee has been established but it consists mainly of officials of Government Departments. It is chaired by someone from the Minister of State's Department and other Departments are represented. I know that others have been appointed to the committee and I hope the Minister of State can tell us the balance of its membership. Even the chapters at the end of each section which are headed "The Way Forward", are written from the point of view of Government Departments rather than in the spirit of the original report.

People with disabilities are frustrated by not being able to go to work because of lack of transport, for example. Nevertheless, I acknowledge the progress that has been made with regard to transport. Seven out of every ten disabled people are still unemployed while we are forced to recruit workers throughout the world. Many people with disabilities cannot work because they do not have a personal assistant, access to transport or suitable facilities in their place of work. The vast majority of people with disabilities want to work.

Until a rights based and individual approach is taken, these problems will persist. We have examples in the United States and in some European countries of how the legislative way forward can work. Next year will be too far away for a disabilities Act. The commission's recommendation that Article 41.1 of the Constitution be amended is side-stepped by the report. There will be a need to amend the Constitution. We must deal with the nominal cost issue now rather than spend a great deal of time examining the issue and then find that a disabilities Bill must be rushed through in order to meet a time limit. These are the quality rather than the quantity issues in terms of what people with various disabilities have said to me, as spokesperson, and to the Minister and have debated within their groups. They want to move forward in terms of the Constitution and legislation. Until we do that, we will make slow progress which will not be as effective as it should be.

While I welcome the report, the focus must not be on doing things for people with disabilities but on debating with them and giving them the power through legislation and the constitutional change proposed so that they will have rights and will be able to take part in society in the same way as everybody else. Until we reach that point, we will make slow progress which will not address the core issue of equality for people with disabilities in our society.

My colleague, Deputy Ahearn, has covered the main points but I would like to raise a number of points on disability with the Minister of State. There is not enough flexibility in the application of various facilities and schemes for people with disabilities. It is all very well having a scheme which allows people taking up employment to get transport tickets, but if a person cannot access transport, it is not worth the paper it is written on. The Minister might as well keep the £60 transport ticket in her pocket. More flexibility must be given to those judging people's transport needs. What is the point giving a transport ticket to a girl in a wheelchair in Skerries who has to get to Swords but who cannot get onto a bus? The bus ticket is no use. We should give people the £100 per month so that they can get a taxi to work.

The Minister for Public Enterprise announced the privatisation of Bus Átha Cliath and various elements of CIE. Will the Minister ensure that Department, in introducing such a scheme, will not disenfranchise those who, under social welfare, have free transport tickets? People who are partially sighted, for example, and have full transport tickets on which there are no limits, unlike those placed on older people, are worried they will lose those facilities when the bus service is privatised. The Minister's Department should ensure they do not lose out.

I am concerned about the 3% employment quota in the public service. I do not believe there is enough flexibility in this regard. Recently I wrote about a young man who is disabled and who applied to a local authority. He received the standard letter that there would be a competition and that he could apply and go on a list. If a local authority has reached the 3% quota, there should be flexibility in terms of employing people who may not be able to match exactly what is needed because of their disability.

I am grateful to Deputies for their contributions on the progress report, Towards Equal Citizenship, and for the opportunity to respond to the questions raised. As I stated previously, this report benchmarks the progress made in implementing the original commission's report, A Strategy for Equality. The original commission's report made 402 recommendations covering many areas, including access, income, transport and education, to name but a few, many of which have been implemented in whole or in part. This is to be commended and I assure the House that I and my Department will continue to seek the implementation of the commission's report. Some 20% of the commission's recommendations have been implemented in full and progress has been made in relation to a further 66% of the recommendations at the time of publication. I stress that work has been ongoing since December in a number of the areas to which I referred earlier.

The report made a number of recommendations in regard to my Department. I assure the House that preparations are in train for the establishment of the National Disability Authority this year under the National Disability Authority Act, 1999. In addition, the Employment Equality Act, 1998, and the Equal Status Act, 2000, have been enacted and the Equality Authority and the Office of Equality Investigations have been established to ensure that equality in employment and the supply of goods and services is accorded to all our people. In addition, the Human Rights Commission Bill, 1999, is currently before the Oireachtas.

Deputy Ahearn and Deputy O'Sullivan asked about the proposed disabilities Bill. The proposals for the disabilities Bill, which are contained in the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, have, in part, been enacted. Many of these proposals focused on equal opportunities legislation and a means of redress in the case of discrimination. These have become law through the Employment Equality Act and the equal status legislation. The disabilities Bill will go further and it will be a targeted measure to enhance the participation of people's disabilities.

Given the strong legislative performance of my ministry in relation to people with disabilities, equality and human rights generally, I am confident in defence of that record and about my commitment to publish a disabilities Bill next year. I stress that a disabilities Bill has been published in each of the years of this Administration, commencing with the Employment Equality Act, the National Disability Authority Act and the Equal Status Act.

Issues in regard to transport were raised by Deputies Owen, Ahearn and O'Sullivan. These are important issues because, as the Deputies rightly pointed out, they are the key difference for people with disabilities. Deputy Ahearn mentioned Vantastic and the financial difficulties it had last year. I assure the Deputy that my Department is providing a grant of £350,000 to Vantastic which was announced in the budget. Deputy Ahearn referred to the money that was obtained this time last year to take Vantastic out of its immediate difficulties. In addition to that, a formal grant of £350,000 was announced in the budget. An instalment of that grant has already been paid to Vantastic this year. Once its application has been finalised, payments will be made on a phased basis.

The other transport issues raised are important. What Deputy Owen said about taxis was interesting, as was what Deputy Ahearn said. The Deputy was concerned that, although more wheelchair accessible taxis had become available, people with disabilities were still unable to get one. She raised some important points in regard to the licensing authority being a public body and the fact that hundreds of wheelchair accessible taxi licences had been issued. All of us share that concern. There are more wheelchair accessible taxis on the streets of Dublin and people with disabilities should be able to access them. I will ask officials in my Department to bring to the attention of the relevant authorities and the Department of the Environment and Local Government the points raised in regard to taxis because they are important. We are doing all we can to put taxis on the streets but they are not available to people with disabilities.

In terms of buses, accessible transport and the difficulties faced by people with disabilities when travelling by public transport, I am aware of the difficulties in this regard. It is the policy of the Minister for Public Enterprise that all transport operators, in particular State transport companies, should provide the highest possible degree of accessibility within overall resources available to them. Procedures in relation to investment decisions and the purchase of trains and buses are to take account of that policy. From this year onwards, new and major refurbishment projects at bus and rail stations, together with any purchases of trains or buses, will take account of the needs of mobility impaired customers.

The National Development Plan 2000-2006, includes significant provisions relating to the accessibility of public transport, including the establishment of a public transport accessibility committee to advise the Minister for Public Enterprise on the accessibility of public transport for mobility impaired customers and other customers with disabilities. It includes a special provision of £10 million to part finance accessibility improvements to existing public transport infrastructure and facilities. In addition, all railway rolling stock and buses as well as new and upgraded rail and bus stations financed under the plan will be accessible to mobility impaired customers and to other customers with disabilities.

Deputy Ahearn referred to the 150 buses that have often been talked about and that last year, only 15 accessible buses were in use. I reassure all Deputies, regarding this year's purchase by Dublin Bus, that all those technical difficulties of the past have been overcome. I understand that Dublin Bus currently has approximately 30 low floor, accessible buses but that a further 225 low floor, accessible buses are on order for delivery this year. While Bus Éireann currently has 44 low floor accessible buses, there are a further 66 on order for this year. I hope, this is a sign that, at last, we have cracked that nut.

Deputy Owen raised important points regarding the 3% quota of people with disabilities in the public service and the Civil Service. It is important we keep our own house in order in terms of the employment of people with disabilities and that we provide all the necessary opportunities. The Civil Service figures are somewhat better than the public service ones although they have slipped behind to a degree as well. The 3% quota in the Civil Service was reached for the first time on October 1993. It was maintained in 1994 and 1995 and has not been maintained since 1996. It currently stands at 2.7%. One explanation for that, which is reasonable to a point, is that there was a tighter definition of disability back in 1996. If a person came in with a certificate detailing back trouble, he or she would not be counted in the disability sector. Genuine cases of people with disabilities are now being recorded in the figures. The figure as of 1 April 1999, which seems to be the most recent figure here, indicates that there were 743 people with disabilities employed in the Civil Service.

The public service, to which Deputy Owen referred, which includes the local authorities, health boards and so on, is just as concerned about this matter. My Department has set up a committee which is doing considerable work chasing up those figures. We have increased the figures from 0.6% of local authority staff in 1990 to a figure of 1.7% at the end of 1998, which is the most recent figure available. I hope the 1999 figures will be better because much is happening to address this in the local authorities and we want to ensure that it does happen.

I hope I have covered all the main points. The main point made by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan was that people with disabilities should be included in discussions and should be empowered to be involved in decisions affecting them. That is happening in the health boards with the co-ordinating committees. I want to be sure that people with disabilities countrywide realise the importance of those co-ordinating committees because, as more money comes down from the Department of Health and Children to the health boards, people with disabilities at the co-ordinating committees in the local health boards are determining the priorities. It is important that people with disabilities take part in all that is happening at that level.

Deputy O'Sullivan asked about the members of the monitoring committee on this report. I will send the names to her. The monitoring committee was set up under the former Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Mervyn Taylor, and it has not been changed. Many people with disabilities are involved in it and there will be a new monitoring role for the new National Disability Authority which is being established. Meanwhile, the existing monitoring committee has met four times in six months, is active and will report to me in the summer.

We could talk all day about disability but I thank all the Deputies who contributed, whose commitment to equality for all citizens is evident from what they have said. It is of the utmost importance that society be made inclusive and we are all assured that we want to make a difference to the lives of people with disabilities. I give a commitment that I will continue to work to achieve a truly inclusive society for all our citizens, including those with a disability.

Question put and agreed to.