I propose to take Questions Nos. 568, 576, 577, 580, 616, 617, 622 and 657 together.
The establishment of an independent living fund has been proposed by the Centre for Independent Living as a means of funding a personal assistance service.
The personal assistance service is part of a range of support services for people with physical and sensory disabilities designed to enable them to live in the community with the maximum possible degree of independence. My policy is to develop the range of services as a whole in accordance with the recommendations of the report of the Review Group on Health and Personal Social Services for People with Physical and Sensory Disabilities, Towards an Independent Future.
To date this Government has provided a total of £72.560 million additional funding for the maintenance and development of services in the sector, including capital developments. This year £7 million development funding has been allocated for services for people with physical and sensory disabilities, rising to £14 million in 2001. This funding will be primarily targeted at the provision of additional day care places and home support services. To this end, I have targeted £3 million, rising to £6 million in the year 2001, for home support services, which include personal assistance services.
I have no plans at present to introduce an independent living fund, as proposed by the Centre for Independent Living, as a means of funding the personal assistance service. Priorities for the allocation of development funding are decided by the health boards in consultation with the regional co-ordinating committees for physical and sensory disability services. Voluntary sector service agencies, including Centres for Independent Living and service users, are represented on these committees.
I am also aware that problems in recruiting and retaining personal assistants to maintain the current level of service provision had arisen in the personal assistance service provided by the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) on behalf of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. These problems were due in large measure to the perceived inadequacy of the rate of pay being offered. In order to help resolve these problems I approved the provision of additional funding to enable the rate of pay to be increased.