I thank the office of the Ceann Comhairle for giving Deputy Penrose and me the opportunity to raise this important matter.
On Monday of this week a number of other public representatives and I attended a meeting organised by the Westmeath Centre for Independent Living. It was pointed out to us that leaders in that group are about to lose their personal assistants for a period of seven weeks over the Christmas period. I can best describe the disappointment of this group by reading a letter from someone about their life. I do not use the real name as it would identify the person, but Members will find it of interest. She writes:
My name is Patricia. I have multiple sclerosis. I am due to go into hospital on 8 November for a hysterectomy. The recovery period for a healthy individual is from three to six months. There is the possibility that this operation will have a negative effect on my MS as it is a shock to the system. I have a personal assistant that helps me to live an independent life, for example, to work, to do my own shopping. She makes up for numerous shortfalls that occur due to my illness. She is my trusted friend. I could not be the wife and mother that I am if I did not have her in my life.
FÁS has decided that it will close down the service of personal assistants in November for a period of seven weeks, which extends over the Christmas period and into January 2002. If I were to lose my PA there would be no Christmas in my home. Who would do the cooking and the decorating and the shopping and all the things that are taken for granted at Christmas? I would have trouble achieving this on my own with the MS, but trying to do it with this operation is not possible. I am not the worst case scenario. I know many others who are worse off than I am. They have been told that they too will lose their PA for seven weeks. This is a ridiculous situation. Why does someone have the right to tell me that I can have the independence that I need to live a productive and meaningful life and then turn on a whim and tell me that they have the right to take that independence away?
The day of internment for the disabled in this country is past and yet a Government-funded operation is given permission to subject the disabled to the degrading position of having to beg for enough resources to see them through Christmas. It has taken me approximately three hours just to put this letter together. How much time are you going to spend on the problem?
That outlines what is happening. Will the Minister of State please ensure that this lady and others like her have permanent PAs and do not have to put up with these ridiculous circumstances?