Disability Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. This legislation has had a convoluted history and we should now acknowledge the fact that is being placed on the statute book. I made the point last year that we were approaching this in the wrong way, dealing with the legislation while simultaneously receiving submissions from groups appearing before the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, of which I am a member. I am happier now that some of the submissions have been dealt with. We have had an opportunity to listen to the groups and to deal with the correspondence we have received. I do not mean to be patronising when I applaud the efforts of the various organisations which took the trouble to lobby the committee by addressing it and bringing certain material to its attention. I hope my comments will be taken sincerely because it was important that the organisations took such action.

I note that Mr. John Dolan of the Disability Federation of Ireland, which was particularly helpful in that regard, is in the Gallery. Mr. Dolan is a former colleague from our time together on the Eastern Health Board, the South-Western Area Health Board and the ERHA. I often mention in the House that my life experiences inform my political beliefs. For example, I had the opportunity to work with people from various groups when I was a member of certain organisations. I always consider that my time on the various health boards was a tremendous experience. People like Mr. John Dolan and his colleagues always helped people like me to understand disability issues, which was very important.

I acknowledge the work in this area done by Independent Deputy Finian McGrath, who I have known for a long time. When I was the press officer of the National Youth Federation in Dominic Street, I was aware of his work as a well-known progressive and pioneering principal of a primary school on Dorset Street.

It was not that long ago.

I speak genuinely. In fairness to the Deputy, he has highlighted many disability issues since he was elected to the House, particularly because of his family circumstances. I was in the Chamber when he praised this Bill and I am happy to acknowledge that.

The Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights has received many submissions. Its meetings about this Bill were attended by a substantial and diverse number of organisations, including the Disability Federation of Ireland, the National Council on Aging and Older People, Age Action Ireland, the National Disability Authority, the Forum of People with Disabilities, People with Disabilities in Ireland, Rehab, the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies, the National Association for the Mentally Handicapped of Ireland, Mental Health Ireland, Brainwave, Headway Ireland, the Alzheimer's Association of Ireland, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland and the National Council for the Blind of Ireland. It is important that we applaud the work of such organisations. As legislators, we should stress that we are taking notice of much of what they are saying to us. That is a very important part of the process.

I always take the opportunity to work with various organisations in my constituency. I opened a special conference at the Connections project, which is based at Rehab on Broomhill Road, last week. The conference was funded under the remit of the international year of the family, which used to be the responsibility of the Minister, Deputy Coughlan. It gave people an opportunity to support those who are working with people who are disabled by bringing them forward and supporting their work. It is very important that we should do that.

I am aware that there are mixed views on the Disability Bill 2004. The Government's social objective is to ensure that the people's resources are used to give everyone an opportunity to live life with dignity and access quality public services. That objective continues to underpin life changes and experience. Some organisations have said they have difficulties with the people who wrote this legislation. They consider that the contents of the legislation do not mirror the Taoiseach's comments on it. Certain organisations have argued that greater emphasis needs to be placed on the fact that the Bill is relevant to more than one Department. That is very important. If one examines the Bill, its remit and what it is trying to achieve, one will understand that a number of Departments should be taking a big interest in it.

The Bill is relevant to the Department of Transport in so far as it pertains to access issues. We should ensure that people with disabilities can go about their business on public transport. I would like to reiterate a point I have identified recently about disability matters. Those who do not have the correct fare when they use buses in this city pay a substantial amount of extra money to Dublin Bus each year. The company has put in place a system whereby one can call to its offices to present one's ticket and claim one's change, but not many people avail of it. I have raised this matter in the House and with successive Ministers for Transport. Nobody seems to know who owns the significant amount of money which is accumulating under this system. Nobody seems to know what should be done with it. I am sure various organisations in different communities have countless ideas about what could be done with that money. I have argued that Dublin Bus could use the money for the greater good, on behalf of the greater community, to ensure public transport facilities for the disabled are improved. That suggestion should be supported.

When I was chairman of South Dublin County Council in the millennium year, I spent a great deal of time in Tallaght, elsewhere in my constituency and throughout the rest of Dublin promoting the notion that everything possible should be done by all four local authorities to make it as easy as possible for people with disabilities to get around the city's footpaths and roads. I have not audited it tightly in recent times, but I will do so soon. It is important to understand that a great deal of work remains to be done in this regard. Those of us privileged enough to be public representatives should take every opportunity to highlight such matters. I hope other Members of the House will engage in that process.

When discussing this Bill and trying to respond to the needs of our communities, it is important to consider that successive Fianna Fáil-led Administrations have made commitments in respect of disability. As a Fianna Fáil backbencher, I bear that in mind constantly. I have mentioned the various organisations that have contacted me, including the Disability Federation of Ireland, because they do such great work. Such bodies want the commitments contained in the 1997 programme for Government to be upheld and it is very important that we should do so. They stress that the commitments made by this Government over the years, as articulated by the Taoiseach, need to be met.

It is important to emphasise that many of the provisions of this Bill have been welcomed. Many organisations have said that while they are satisfied with the level of progress being made, more action is needed. They have welcomed the multi-annual investment programme because they believe it supports the development of high-priority disability support services between 2006 and 2009. They are pleased that the programme will involve current spending of more than €600 million and capital expenditure of more than €300 million over four years. An additional 875 residential, respite and day care places will be provided each year for persons with an intellectual disability and those with autism, in addition to the 760 new places which are being provided in 2005.

The organisations have recognised and welcomed the 4,260 new places which will be made available in total. They welcome the establishment of an additional 80 residential places each year for persons with physical or sensory disabilities. When one considers the 60 new places which were provided in 2005, one will note that a total of 380 new places are being provided. Some 250,000 extra hours of home support and personal assistance will be provided each year to support independent living for persons with a disability. These hours will be in addition to the extra 200,000 hours to be provided in 2005, amounting to a total of 1.2 million extra hours. One hundred new places in community-based mental health facilities will also be provided each year, resulting in a total of 400 extra places.

In welcoming this legislation and its progress, it is important to point out that further definition is required. I call on the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who I am happy to acknowledge, to convey to the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Fahey, that the consultative process needs to be continued. In this regard, it is important to respond to the various disability groups, whose work and endeavours I welcome warmly and which are continuing to lobby. Even as this legislation is progressing through the Oireachtas, it is important to state that there is work to be done. I would want to be supportive of the Minister and the Department in that regard. The Bill, when passed, should result in the making of progress in the disability sector and satisfy all the relevant disability groups and families.

I applaud the efforts of the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, who has always been very responsive to the points I have made. I sense that he is now dealing with important legislation and I wish him every success in that regard. He will always have my support. However, he will appreciate that I will not be afraid to address genuine concerns and issues that are brought to my attention.

I have not said much about my constituency of Dublin South-West in this debate. I represent communities in Tallaght, Firhouse, Greenhills, Templeogue and Brittas, I spend as much time as possible in my constituency and I am always happier in it than I am in Dublin city. I go about my business and hold weekly advice clinics. Many people come to me about many issues, to which I always pay particular attention.

As a public representative, I always want to reach out to families affected by disability. In saying that, I do not mean to be patronising. Families coping with disability really are heroes and deserve our attention and special support. In dealing with this Bill, I hope we continue to remember that. The legislation is about helping to secure services and achieve inclusion for people with disabilities. Regardless of what jobs we do and what representations we are asked to make in our public lives, it is important that we continue to pay special attention to those who are coping with disability. I have sensed this from attending various functions organised by disability groups in my constituency, which is no different from anywhere else.

In my contribution at the conference I attended in Tallaght last week, I stated that those who face challenges associated with illness and disability often need particular supports. They require the support of their immediate families but also that of the wider community. At the conference I stated that I had a little mishap five years ago as a result of which I underwent heart surgery. This helped me to appreciate the vulnerability of those who are depending on family and the wider community to look after them. It is important that we continue with our efforts in this respect.

Some people have made the point to me that while it is important that we respond to crises such as that which occurred on St. Stephen's Day in south-east Asia, we should also remember that there are other ongoing crises requiring our attention. I warmly welcome the appointment today by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, of my good friend, colleague and mentor, Chris Flood, to the position of special envoy to the region affected by the tsunami in south-east Asia. He will be charged with spending the considerable sums of public money that have been made available to address the crisis. Mr. Flood, who I succeeded in the Dáil, served the constituents of Dublin South-West from 1987 until his retirement over two years ago. I am sure the Acting Chairman will join me in wishing him well. This is relevant to the legislation because Mr. Flood, a former Minister of State with responsibility for local development, would have taken a great interest in all these issues even though he was not a Minister in the firing line. I have tried to continue the work of Mr. Flood in the two and a half years during which I have been a Member of the Dáil. It is very important that we continue to take an interest.

I will continue to pay attention to the various contributions being made in this debate. Although we are all entitled to engage in the odd political spat, it is important that we listen to each other across the floor, support each other and state to the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, that he is on the right road. This Bill will be welcomed broadly but I am not afraid to say to the Minster of State that certain groups are still saying to us that there is a need to dot the i's and cross the t's. There is a need to continue with the lobbying. I hope the Minister of State and his officials will take note of this point, which I know has been made by other colleagues, and continue to engage with the groups concerned, particularly those who went to the trouble of making very important submissions to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. The committee, under the chairmanship of Deputy Ardagh, had a crucial role to play.

My colleague, Senator Ormonde, often makes the point that one must give the public what it wants in so far as that is possible. It is important that when groups go to the trouble of making submissions to public representatives, we listen to them and implement their recommendations. I wish the Minister well and look forward to voting on the Bill.

I propose to share time with Deputies Sargent and Ó Caoláin.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Disability Bill has at last come before this House. For the disabled, it should be vitally important and serve as a landmark but, unfortunately for them, it falls remarkably short on both counts. Before I address the Bill, I must acknowledge the recent establishment of a databank for the disabled. Much valuable work was done in this regard. It allows us to ascertain the extent of the problem that exists and to monitor progress in this field. I must also acknowledge that we have come a long way in recent years in terms of disability, but we still have a long way to go.

The main reason we are debating this Bill is the ill-fated Disability Bill 2001, which was unacceptable to a very wide spectrum of disabled and able-bodied people. Unfortunately, the provisions of the Disability Bill 2004, or rather its restrictions, and the language in which they are couched indicate that it was certainly not worth the wait. The principal rights conferred on disabled people by this Bill include the right to an individual needs assessment and service statement, the right to make complaints to a complaints officer and the right of appeal to an independent appeals officer.

The smooth operation of this procedure and the enforcement of these rights depend on that hoary old chestnut "availability of necessary resources", the ultimate opt-out clause. People with disabilities have long struggled to achieve recognition and equality. Prior to this, society disparaged them, hiding them or looking down on them. Officially, they were regarded as medical conditions, labelled and valued only for the curiousity their difference provoked. Social service agencies tend to view people with disabilities primarily in medical terms, as people who are injured or ill needing to be fixed or cured.

Disabled people need accommodation and services that will allow them to reach their fullest potential. They do not need sympathy of the misguided kind offered by a lady who, on meeting a wheelchair-bound man operating his chair with his little finger, said how awful she felt on his account, how difficult life must be for him, how sad was his condition and that she would rather be dead than be like that. This is a common attitude but it must change. A lingering image of the Special Olympics is the giant status of the special Olympians and the triumph of human spirit that so many displayed on that unforgettable occasion.

The publication in 1996 of the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities made the disabled a force with which to be reckoned. The launch by the then President, Mary Robinson, of the report, which contained almost 500 recommendations, emphasised the large gulf yet to be bridged before people with disabilities could claim equality.

Had the recommendations of this bible for the disabled been implemented in the intervening eight years it would have become part of our national consciousness and indelibly marked our institutions and culture. It covered virtually every aspect of life, from the height of drinking fountains to the width of toilet doors, seating arrangements for cinemas and outdoor events, accessible parking, teletext and captioning, guide dogs in restaurants, braille buttons in lifts, public transport access — the list goes on. There were many excellent recommendations in the report. It amounted to a civil rights Act for the disabled which would have had the effect of bringing them into the mainstream of society and placing obligations on service providers and employers. Some of the recommendations have been implemented but sadly far too few, merely those that did not entail too much money.

This is the consideration that permeates every facet of this Bill. It is being introduced as part of a national disability strategy which also incorporates the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004 providing for personal advocates for those who seek a service. The legally enforceable rights of the disabled to services have long been a bone of contention. Successive Governments have crassly and consistently ignored such fundamental rights and opposed the introduction of these reasonable entitlements and urgently needed services. There are several caveats or opt-out clauses in the Disability Bill 2004 that will seriously hinder disabled people from accessing services.

The Bill does not even require the Government to provide the relevant service if it is deemed too impractical or costly in the context of available financial resources. This is a serious gap. Clauses such as "not possible or practical to provide", "appropriate allocations", "availability of resources", "budget priorities" undermine the Bill's commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities receive the necessary service. The Government can use language to opt out of almost any services if it so chooses.

Disabled persons have the right to be treated like all able-bodied members of the community, enabling them to participate fully in, and contribute to, every level in society. It is most regrettable that this Bill merely confers conditional rights dependent on the state of the public finances. It falls very far short of the rights-based legislation for which disability groups campaigned. The undertaking in the 2002 programme for Government to provide for enforceable rights of assessment, appeals and service provision, appears to have been abandoned.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as a chuid ama a roinnt liom.

We have waited a long time for the Disability Bill but those of us who attended large meetings in the Mansion House which advocated rights-based legislation as a basic requirement for the Bill have been sadly disappointed. That disappointment remains at the heart of much of the concern raised and will result in this Bill falling far short of the expectations held by many over a long time.

This Government is not fond of rights-based legislation. Whether it is prepared to enact rights-based legislation is a test of how it cherishes the children and people of the nation. The Government does not seem to recognise the need for this type of legislation and has fallen far short of its responsibilities, not just of people's expectations.

The disability legislation consultation group made clear recommendations that assessment of the needs of people with disabilities must include accommodation. This Bill, however, does not include that need. For example, Part 2, section 7, requires assessment of a person's health and education needs but not housing. This legislation needs to go back to the drawing board. The Green Party will vote against it on the basis of its inadequacies.

People with disabilities have waited far too long only to be given a sop which will pressurise them again to contemplate court action, an expensive, time-consuming and traumatic route. I thought we might be moving on from that phase, having learnt the lessons of the past but it is sad to see that the Government has not done so.

The disability groups and those with disabilities, organising and working together, have managed, despite the Government's foot-dragging, to provide fantastic facilities, albeit with occasional help from the Government, which is appreciated, and to their credit they have also maintained morale and co-operation. The Special Olympics, run by Mary Davis and her team, and all those involved around the country, including my town, Balbriggan, which hosted the Pakistani team, demonstrated that people with disabilities are part of the community. They are to be cherished and hopefully the community will give them priority, which will have political repercussions. If people with disabilities do not secure the rights-based legislation that is their minimum entitlement, it will have repercussions throughout the community.

The Government needs to learn that lesson fast. The issue is not just letting down people with disabilities, but letting down the whole community which has a basic sense of justice in respect of people with disabilities.

The Comhairle Bill is also required and is on the way. It will need to be assessed from the point of view of people with disabilities. Entitlement to services and information in that scenario will also raise questions regarding rights-based legislation.

The Government should recognise and note from countries elsewhere that rights-based legislation is not something of which to be frightened or that would cause concern to the Department of Finance. It is a basic requirement. As a country we are failing not only our most vulnerable but all our people if we do not look after those with special needs. As Ghandi said, the greatness of a nation is to be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable. If that is to be a measure of this Government's performance, it is failing abysmally.

Not only is this Bill not good enough for the citizens of this island with disabilities and their families, it is an insult to them and to all of us for whom equality is a core value. It is not a rights-based Bill, it is a resource-based Bill. For equal rights to be so heavily circumscribed by the dictates of a Minister for Finance, which is sometimes described as the fourth wealthiest state in the world, is beyond my comprehension.

In its comments on the Bill published last November, the Human Rights Commission concluded that our new disability legislation should put in place proper human rights standards and structures. However, it concluded that this Bill does not do this because it does not "guarantee the progressive realisation of the economic and social rights of persons with disability and [guarantee] that standards of services never fall below a floor of core minimum standards consistent with the imperative of human dignity."

The commission also advised the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that:

human rights concerns cannot be viewed as simply one of a number of factors to be considered in the allocation of resources. Considerations of human rights should be moved to centre stage when it comes to resource allocation.

Yet the Bill provides a wide discretion to deviate from this.

It has already been pointed out at the committee hearings that the Bill suffers from a number of fundamental flaws relating to the definition of disability and, thus, eligibility for services, the lack of progressivity in the service regime, the lack of independence and enforceability in the complaints regime and the constrictions on resources, as well as a host of other problems in the detail. All Sinn Féin Deputies will speak to various aspects of this Bill. I will highlight only a few key concerns, dealing primarily with Part 2 on the assessment of need, service statements and redress.

The assessment and service delivery provisions are not rights based and bear virtually no resemblance to the recommendations made by the Disability Legislation Consultation Group in its landmark document, Equal Citizens. The DLCG recommended a fully independent individual needs assessment of the services required to allow each person's basic fundamental needs to be met and to facilitate their equal participation in society. This was to be made available to all people with disabilities as of right and the resulting recommended services provided, progressively if need be, as of right. The group recommended the establishment of a disability support service as an independent statutory agency to conduct the assessment, ensure the coordination of services and where services were currently unavailable to devise a programme of measures to realise the missing services within an established timeframe. It wanted fully independent complaints mechanisms established through the Ombudsman's office, for the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations to be involved in enforcement and for there to be no provision that would preclude the right of peoplewith disabilities to take legal action to enforce their rights if all other remedies have been exhausted.

What does the Government offer instead? It offers an assessment of need only for those who fit the Bill's narrow definition of disability, and that covers only — make no mistake about this — health services and education services. There is no assessment of need for housing or transport, for example, both of which are fundamental to the achievement of equality for people with disabilities. These needs assessments will not be carried out independently but by assessment officers employed by the former health board structure which is now the Health Service Executive. The results are passed on to a liaison officer, another HSE employee, who will prepare a service statement which need not reflect the assessment of need but that must reflect assessed eligibility, resource constraints and the practicability of providing the services. We should focus on the word "practicability". All complaints about this process must be made to a complaints officer, yet another HSE employee, who is subject to the same eligibility, practicability and resource constraints as the liaison officer.

Appeals can only be made to a ministerial appointee, an appeals officer. The appeals officer must also constrain his or her decisions in view of available resources. While people with disabilities can apply to the Circuit Court for enforcement of a decision of a complaints officer or appeals officer, they can only make a High Court application on a point of law.

What will be the result of that? This legislation will exclude people. That is the bottom line. It is arguable that it may cut access to services. It will put no onus on the Government of the day to make resources available for the progressive increase in available services or to increase accessibility. Not one aspect of the assessment, complaints or enforcement process will be truly independent of the service providers and, I emphasise, all aspects will ultimately be subject to the will of the Minister for Finance. Most appallingly, it will prevent redress for those who are deprived of their rights as equal citizens and provide the State with a tailor-made defence against all comers.

This is one of the most cynical pieces of legislation I have ever had the misfortune on which to lay eyes. It is a damning indictment of all those who have been a party to its presentation. I emphasise that people with disabilities deserve positive, fully enforceable rights. This Bill does not deliver to that standard, as recommended by the Disability Legislation Consultation Group in Equal Citizens. It is high time there was a re-referral to the DLCG's publication. Following that, people lost their way in the preparation of this legislation. For this reason, the Bill, as it stands, is simply not good enough for myself, my party colleagues and the people whom I know who are facing life with disability and all the challenges that presents. I have heard other colleagues' contributions on this Stage who will not support it either. It should be brought back to the drawing board.

I welcome the opportunity tospeak on the Bill. I have read carefully the submissions made to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. A consistent trend has emerged in the discussions on the Bill regarding the definitions and the Minister has no choice but to seriously revisit them.

Before going into that in detail I want to raise another disability issue regarding an announcement by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform yesterday that a new prison is to be constructed on a greenfield site, which is welcome. I am utterly appalled that on the site of the new prison the Government has decided to construct a psychiatric hospital. My concern is related to the stigmatisation of psychiatric illnesses. We have endeavoured to promote understanding and awareness of the need to treat psychiatric illness in the same way as physical illness. Traditionally, there were difficulties with this, even with the wording used to describe the condition. This goes back 100 years to a time when we spoke of "lunatic asylums", a description which was followed by "mental hospitals" and then "psychiatric hospitals". We have endeavoured to move away from this. Yesterday, however, the Department of Health and Children announced that in conjunction with a hospital, a psychiatric prison will be built. We know that mental illness was criminalised by successive Governments over the years. What happened yesterday is a further criminalisation of mental illness.

I am not saying that the difficulties experienced with prisoners who have committed crimes are not an issue. I am talking about the message sent to society when a prisoner with a mental or psychiatric illness is treated in prison. We are not making special arrangements for prisoners with physical illness, who will be transferred to a general hospital to deal with their illness. The Government is discriminating. It did not decide yesterday to build a hospital to deal with the physical illness of prisoners. If it did, that would bring a different dimension to this question and would not stigmatise mental illness. However, deciding that only mental illness must be treated in the confines of the prison sends a wrong signal to society regarding the stigmatisation of mental illness.

The abysmal failure to build adequate and appropriate community psychiatric and psychological services for mentally ill and unwell people has resulted in medical needs going unnoticed in society and the mentally ill being ignored. Many become homeless, commit suicide or become lawless and end up in prison.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust estimated that almost 40% of the prison population may be suffering from some level of psychiatric or psychological illness or disturbance. A considerable number of these offenders are in prison for very minor crimes which are likely to be related to mental or psychological disturbances. The mentally ill prisoner should be treated in an appropriately secure psychiatric or psychological setting. The prison environment as currently structured does not allow for adequate observation, medical or otherwise, of mentally ill prisoners. Many are locked up for as long as 23 hours per day in solitary confinement in strip cells.

The internationally respected psychiatrist, Professor Anthony Clare of St. Patrick's Hospital, Dublin, stated that the mentally ill are now the most systematically stigmatised group in our society and the true lepers of today. This stigmatisation, combined with lack of appropriate care while in detention, means that mentally ill prisoners are the most discriminated against group in Irish society. Their human rights are denied by the State on an ongoing basis.

Professor John Gunn, professor of forensic psychiatry, wrote that not only do prisons generate psychiatric problems but they also collect them inappropriately and act as unofficial mental hospitals for individuals who should be in the health care area. This observation summarises the challenge facing the Government in regard to its failure to recognise and respect the human rights of mentally ill prisoners. For real change to happen, it must occur at society-wide level as well as within the penal system, and the attitude of society towards mental illness must change. This is why we are so concerned with the message sent out yesterday in regard to having a psychiatric hospital in the same area as a prison.

Yesterday's meeting was extremely concerning. The Minister should outline to the House the consultation that took place between the Minister of State responsible for mental health and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in coming to a decision to place a psychiatric hospital in the same area as a prison. Changing society will mean the use of major diversion schemes combined with some form of reformative justice for mentally ill offenders, particularly those who have committed non-violent crimes. In other words, two distinct but co-ordinating systems should be established, one outside the prison in the community and the other inside the prison to deal with those who are ill but who offend, when it is identified that most of their offences are committed due to illness.

The life opportunities of certain people have been practically eliminated at birth because of the circumstances of the illnesses which they suffer, often attention deficit disorder or another childhood condition. One can identify almost at birth those with such a condition, whose life opportunity will be to be homeless, be in prison or take their own lives. This is an unfortunate statement to have to make about the society of today.

I have raised in the House on numerous occasions the issue of padded cells and strip cells for those who are suicidal in prison. Before Christmas, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced a new system of observation cells, which are really upgraded padded cells and not part of a psychiatric service. Somebody who is suicidal or in danger of taking his or her own life should have psychiatric treatment and not be confined in padded cells for up to 30 days, as some prisoners have been.

I was taken aback when the committee to establish observation cells was formed. The committee began its work in 2003 and recently reported. It is accepted that 78% of those who are placed in observation cells are there for their own safety, because of the danger of self-harm or taking their own life. Yet, of the seven members of the committee, no medical person, psychiatrist or psychologist was involved. Its members comprised management directors of the Irish Prison Service, the governors of Cloverhill Prison and Mountjoy Prison and the assistant governor, deputy governor and deputy director of the operations division of the Irish Prison Service. No medical person was on the committee, despite the fact that 78% of those who will be put into the system which will be decided by this committee are suffering from an illness, and are in danger of taking their lives or inflicting self-harm. I appreciate the facility of the House in raising this issue.

I will now deal with the Bill more directly. For years, people with disabilities have been calling for rights-based disability legislation but the Government has given them a resource-based Disability Bill. One of the only rights in the Bill is the right to know what one already knows. It brings disabled people no closer to the services they require. Currently, if resources are not available, one can be refused a service even if one needs it. The same situation occurs under the terms of this Bill because it dictates no change in the provision of services.

According to the Bill, public buildings do not have to be accessible to people with disabilities until 2015. The Bill appears to be based on the medical mode of disability rather than the social one. We do not see anything in the Bill about personal assistants who can empower and enable those with disabilities to achieve a measure of independent living and equal participation in the labour market and mainstream society generally. The assessment of needs for those with disabilities will be conducted by an individual from the health board and, if appealed, the appeals will also be conducted by an individual from the health board or its equivalent under the new system. The health board will be judge in the appeal against its own decision. Surely this is not an independent assessment of needs.

The assessment of needs should be conducted by a neutral body outside the Department of Health and Children and the new health executive. It should then be given to the new executive as a statement of needs. Appeals should be dealt with by an independent organisation, such as the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations, as the health executive is the main source of funding for these services. An independent mechanism is a long-established principle in the area of appeals, including agricultural and social welfare issues. Such an independent mechanism can dictate the investigation into the appeal, thus arriving independently at a decision on the basis of fact. Face valuation is also important in that people should have confidence in an appeals system. No matter how objective it tries to be, any organisation that oversees appeals against its own decisions lacks validity. Consequently, the confidence of those who access that appeals mechanism is severely dented.

I congratulate those witnesses who made submissions to the sittings of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights regarding the proposed legislation. I have read the reports of those meetings carefully.

I wish to revisit the area of mental disability. As the Minister of State is aware, there is a range of disablement with regard to mental illness from very mild to extremely severe requiring constant institutional care. The same variation also arises with physical disability. Illnesses can range from being very mild with little effect to being very severe requiring institutional care. For example, depression may lead to enduring physical, sensory, mental or intellectual impairment. Depression can be extremely debilitating and is often not recognised as such. Depressive illness is disabling. To have one's thoughts and perception of what is happening disabled is surely serious, yet that is not included in the Bill's definition of disability.

For the purposes of Part 2 of the Bill, disability is defined to cover people for whom a substantial restriction is, or is likely to be, permanent. People may suffer from ongoing depression throughout their lives but one could not say that they suffer from permanent depression, which would be an unthinkable and unbearable experience. We must, therefore, have serious concerns about the definition of disability in the Bill.

All the reports and submissions to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights drew attention to the definition of disability in the legislation. The Disability Federation of Ireland reported that all the submissions, of which there were over ten, expressed such concerns. If the Minister does not revisit that area comprehensively, the Bill will be deeply flawed, will not be credible, and will not be accepted by any of the disability organisations. Neither will it be accepted by those who suffer from disability or by society in general. The definition of disability is the one issue that each organisation concerned returned to in their submissions to the joint committee.

Section 7 provides for the appointment of an assessment officer by each health board. I question, however, whether a health board officer would be able to carry out an independent assessment without being constrained by his or her knowledge of the available resources. The assessment of needs must be broad and not confined to health and educational needs but to the holistic care of the individual concerned. People may need it to be labelled but that gives rise to concern about the Bill. People will have a primary health concern but other factors may inhibit their enjoyment and ability to live life to the full.

Section 8 provides that a person may apply to the health board in whose functional area he or she resides for an assessment of specific needs or a particular service identified by him or her. This matter will have to be revisited because it does not take into account those who are homeless and mentally ill. There is a constant problem with mental illness and the homeless. When such vulnerable people are discharged from a mental institution they have serious difficulties because they have nowhere to go and there is no follow-up treatment for them. The proper handling of the homeless is not being dealt with by the Government or by society at large. The Bill must be amended to ensure that homeless people, be they physically or mentally disabled, are taken of. Their treatment should not be based on an assessment as to where they reside, because such people do not have any place of residence.

I propose to share time with Deputy Tony Dempsey.

I commend my colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, for his work on this Bill and on the national disability strategy prior to his recent and long overdue promotion. I pay tribute to my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Fahey, who has been engaged in ensuring that those working in the sector, in addition to those with disability, continue to be involved.

In 1997 Fianna Fáil committed itself to introducing legislation for people with disability. Legislation published before the last general election contained much that was modern, innovative and radical. While it substantially improved the position of people with disability, it attracted a firestorm of criticism and was withdrawn. The two principal difficulties were that it did not provide for an independent assessment of need or for a right of redress. The withdrawn legislation gave a right to assessment, but it was to be conducted by the body that would deliver the service. The suspicion was that the assessment would be influenced by the fact that the organisation assessing the need would ultimately have to bear the cost of delivering the service.

This new legislation will provide for an independent assessment of need by the health board. It will establish a body to ensure that the assessment is genuinely independent. This body will set standards. It will also provide training for those assessing need. This is a very positive development for those with disability in our society. I stress that the system being put in place will be genuinely independent and will be constantly monitored to ensure this. Persons living in a particular health board area will not have their needs assessed by the same health board.

This does not mean that specialists, such as physiotherapists and child psychologists will work exclusively on assessing need. As everybody knows, there is a severe shortage of people with these skills. Critics of this Bill would do well to take a long-term view of the issue. With the best will in the world, we cannot train and roll out extra numbers of trained individuals to work in this area overnight. It will take time and patience. That might not be much help to the people out there. However, these are the facts, and we should face the facts.

Another aspect of the Bill that is worthy of praise is the provision for redress. The withdrawn legislation was criticised for not being rights based. This criticism was based on a very narrow interpretation of the term "rights based". This interpretation was that if a person with disability did not get what he or she considered appropriate redress from the State he or she should be entitled to go to court and have a judge assess both needs and delivery of service. In practical terms this would mean that the courts could decide on the amount the State spent each year on disability. A significant percentage of overall disability expenditure would be swallowed up by legal fees and would, therefore, not improve the lives of people with disability. Furthermore, professionals and the courts would allocate resources without reference to the Oireachtas or the availability of resources. Disability groups were widely consulted in the drafting of the Bill, which is a sign of this Government's commitment to improving the lives of those with disability. However, the Government is unable to write a blank cheque. Money must be accounted properly. A rights-based approach as described is not in place anywhere in Western Europe, including those countries which are more socially advanced than Ireland, for example, Sweden, The Netherlands and France. The same applies to Australia and America.

In recent years tremendous amounts of money have been provided by this Government and by the previous Government. In 1997 there were only 100 resource teachers for children with special needs. There are now in excess of 2,000 resource teachers in the primary system.

Are they being taken out of the country and put into the towns under the new weighting system?

That is not correct. I understand the Minister has rowed back on that.

Has he rowed back fully? Thanks for the announcement.

Yes. The Deputy is welcome. It was the Minister for Education and Science who rowed back on that.

I refer to the significant level of investment by Government in disability. Special services are being provided through a number of Departments. Currently some €2.5 billion, representing 7% of gross current public expenditure on services, is provided specifically for people with disability. This includes health sector services specifically for persons with an intellectual disability or autism, physical or sensory disability and mental illness; first and second level educational needs funded through the Department of Education and Science; specialised training and employment support services provided by FÁS; the cost of various tax relief schemes; and local authority spending to adapt accommodation specifically for people with disability.

The figures do not take account of the income support and other services provided through the Department of Social and Family Affairs or the fact that many people with a disability participate in or benefit from mainstream public service programmes and services. For example, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and other similar key services for people with a disability are provided as part of the mainstream health services. Similarly, improving access to public transport for persons with mobility and sensory impairment is an integral requirement of all Exchequer funded new investment in buses, rolling stock and station infrastructure.

Furthermore, publication of the Bill was accompanied by an announcement of the new funding arrangement for capital and current spending on disability support services. In accordance with the request of those in the disability sector, funding is based on a five year multi-annual programme. This is the first time the Government has adopted this approach in the case of spending on services and I am sure my colleagues in the House would agree that this is a positive step forward. The new approach shows the Government's commitment to funding for disability support services and to implementing the initiatives announced with the publication of the Disability Bill. I commend the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, who provided extra funding in the recent budget.

This new legislation is worthy of merit. It is an important step in what has been a long and arduous journey for those with disability. It is by no means an end in itself but a step in the right direction in achieving equality across the country.

Tááthas orm seans a fháil labhairt go gairid ar an mBille seo atá chomh tábhachtach do mhorán daoine. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis na hAiríéagsúla a bhí páirteach i gcumadh an Bhille seo.

This Bill is about inclusion, and people are included by facilitating their participation in every aspect of life. The main aspects with which the Bill will deal are education, employment and social activities. I am delighted to see students from the educational sector here today because this must surely be of interest to them.

Regarding education, there is a need for a dramatic and imaginative approach not just by the politicians in Dáil Éireann but by the people who are charged with dispensing education, particularly at post-leaving certificate level. I will speak later about what the GAA has done in terms of its attitude to inclusion of people with physical and mental disability and how we have learned from the Special Olympics, and I include myself as a member of the GAA. In educational circles we need to concentrate on "ability" and ignore the prefix "dis". It is possible to make available post-leaving certificate courses to enable those who may be wheelchair bound to get training in telephonic communications, telemarketing or in areas such as hairdressing, beauty therapy or the world of massage. There are many courses for which a physical disability should not disbar membership or training.

Politicians engage in budgetary activity and spending. While the Bill transcends the importance of party political involvement, because all parties are cognisant of the need to be inclusive, I am pleased the Government of which I am a member sees fit to spend €2.5 billion on services dedicated to people with disabilities. That is a huge step forward. Eight years ago there were 100 resource teachers. Tuigeann na mic léinn an bhrí atá le resource teacher. Today there are approximately 2,300 such teachers, which is a huge step forward. We also have special needs assistants to help children who may have a physical disability. Special classes for those with a disability have increased from 350 to 500 but at the end of the day the role of educationalists will be to culturally change our perception.

I am pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, is happy to listen to comments from the Opposition. This is not just about Government but society at large. It is vital that we listen to comments and that we are prepared to include them because it is about inclusion.

The Bill is the first part of a four pronged strategy to deal with disability. Later on, le cúnamh Dé, we will speak about the Comhairle amendment Bill. The multi-annual investment programme is vital to the success of that strategy. The Bill has to be viewed as an integral part of that multi-annual spending, the six sectoral plans and the Comhairle Bill.

In the area of social activity I was privileged that Sean Kelly, Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael, asked me to chair a committee on social and recreational games. I was privileged also to be asked to present medals at the Special Olympics. My GAA colleague, Deputy Wall, will be interested to hear, and will no doubt help spread the gospel, that part of the role of the social and recreational sub-committee of the GAA is to develop games people with disabilities can play. Approximately four weeks hence there will be an inter-school game between children playing hurling who are wheelchair bound. That is a huge step forward. It is the GAA saying it has moved into the 21st century.

We recognise that those who may be intellectually challenged still have many talents. The success of the Bill will be about how we approach it socially, educationally and in terms of employment. Enniscorthy vocational college has built on its campus the Enniscorthy Enterprise Centre. Last Monday I attended a meeting with my colleague the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Browne, at which I chaired the management committee of that centre. We have dedicated a unit for people with disabilities to start their own business. Why not start a hairdressing salon? Being wheelchair bound or having other physical disabilities should not debar us. It is about training and identifying opportunities and as politicians we have the challenge of making facilities available in those enterprise centres.

If is not easy to synopsise the Bill, because like most Bills it is quite broad. However, there are a few points to which I wish to draw attention. A person with a disability will have a right to an independent assessment. That is important. Members will not decide and the decision will be independently taken. He or she will be given a statement of the services to which he or she is entitled. I listened to Deputy Ó Caoláin earlier saying it is not rights-based. Any of these rights can be enforced through the legal system. While the Bill is not meant to enrich lawyers the approach in the Bill is rights-based. The courts can be the ultimate enforcer of an independently assessed service or right. The appeals process will deal with complaints and there is the ultimate access to the courts.

An important element is that there will be a transparent multi-annual budget. In the 1995 budget there was no reference to disability. It was referred to in the 1996 budget and in 1997 approximately €500,000 was dedicated to a study of the services. We have moved forward and hopefully the provision of €2.5 billion will make a dramatic change.

There are a few other important points of which we have to take cognisance. Apart from trying to change culturally what people are about we need to change the attitude of those charged with providing employment. On that front, I reiterate the importance of accessing funding, as a result of this Bill, to provide entrepreneurial training to those with a disability in education in order that they see themselves as the employers of tomorrow and not dependent on employment from others. The public service is committed to 3% of its employees coming from people with a disability. Tá sé de dhualgas orainn go léir smaoineamh ar na daoine nach bhfuil in ann na rudaí atá sinne in ann a dhéanamh agus cabhair a thabhairt dóibh na rudaí gur féidir leo a dhéanamh a dhéanamh go maith. I remember reading that attitude is infectious and there was a comment which asked if yours is worth catching. The attitude of the Bill, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, and the strategy emphasises we are about change. Tá mé cinnte go mbeimid ábalta ant-athrú sin a dhéanamh.

I wish to share time with Deputy Wall.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This Bill is a betrayal of the work and hopes of the various people who have worked with disability rights organisations during the past ten or 15 years. The start of this process was the setting up of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities and its sizeable report, A Strategy for Equality. That commission was set up in 1993 at a time when there was a Minister and Department with full and specific responsibility for equality. The Minister was Mervyn Taylor of the Labour Party, in a Fianna Fáil-Labour Government. That there was such a Department says much about what has happened since because now there is no Department of equality but a Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Clearly equality has gone down the list of priorities. That commission said, among other things, there should be rights-based disability legislation and that was the intention of the people at the time. Many of those people were brought together recently in the Mansion House, including Mr. Justice Flood, who was chairman of the commission. They reiterated their views on what disability legislation should contain. Mervyn Taylor introduced equality legislation but it had to be reintroduced because certain constitutional issues arose. Deputy Mary Wallace introduced the first Disability Bill when she was Minister of State in the Department. It is worth recalling that before that Bill was introduced, a conference was held in Dublin on 3 December 2001, called Get Our Act Together. It was organised by a number of disability groups and was addressed by Deputy Mary Wallace. Proposals for disability legislation were discussed.

The disability groups have been working together to create disability legislation appropriate to the needs of people with disabilities, which will put them in control of their lives. Rights legislation will facilitate those with disabilities to control their own lives and bring them to the point from where the rest of us start in terms of education, health, housing. It is to provide for their needs and give them the start needed to help them participate in employment as Deputy Tony Dempsey said. We must be aware of their rights, as opposed to giving them whatever the system decides can be afforded. They want the power to control their own lives.

When the Bill was published in early 2002, the disability groups expected it to contain the rights that had been discussed at the conference. However, a section of the Bill stipulated that a person could not seek redress in the courts when looking for his or her rights. There was a sense of disbelief that following all the talking, representations and promises, the Bill did not reflect what they had expected and had been led to expect.

I refer to two individuals from my constituency. Ger South, who will be known to anyone involved in the disability sector, has consistently campaigned over many years on this issue. John Ryan, who is recently deceased, attended and participated in all these conferences. We are letting people down when we do not produce the rights-based legislation they were led to expect. That Bill was withdrawn and the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, lost her position. She did no worse than what has been done in the case of the current legislation and yet both Deputies Fahey and O'Dea are well ensconced in their ministerial positions. The reason may be that people have been worn down and have realised they may have to amend the existing legislation or otherwise wait years for what they expected to get in a rights-based Bill. Up to recently, people expected more than they have been given.

The disability legislation consultation group produced the report on proposals for core elements of disability legislation. It highlighted the need for an independent assessment of disability needs, the need for a statement of needs and the right to services. Those provisions are not in the Bill. Those rights are circumscribed by available resources, by the Minister for Finance and all sorts of curtailments. The appeals system is contained within the health board system. I challenge Deputy Tony Dempsey's statement that persons have the right of redress to the courts. They only have the right to go to court on a point of law and technical questions of interpretation in accordance with section 19 of the Bill. They do not have the right to go to court to seek redress for their needs.

I refer to an article written by Gerard Quinn, professor of law in NUI Galway, who may be known to the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey. Gerard Quinn has been a consistent campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities for over ten years. He also spoke at the conference to which I referred. He writes about the reasons the Human Rights Commission has problems with this Bill. The commission is of the opinion that there is no progressive achievement of socio-economic rights in the Bill. He states in the article, "the tap of resources can be turned on or off, or up or down." I acknowledge good funding was allocated in the recent budget but there is no guarantee of this continuing in the future and therefore no future right for people to have their needs addressed.

The second point made in the article is, "there is also an international legal obligation to secure a floor of rights and services beneath which people should never be allowed to fall. And yet this safety net or floor is absent from the Bill." He also makes a point about the right to redress in the courts. He states, "In this light, the courts seem left with gums not teeth." In an effort to include some rights-based provisions in the Bill he states:

An opportunity still exists to give statutory expression to the international legal ideal of "progressive achievement" and to place a floor of provision beneath people. It should be grasped in keeping with the spirit of the budget. To do this we need to take our international legal obligations seriously and to be unafraid to resume the political high ground we had on the issue in the 1990s.

I ask the Deputy to refer to the title of the article.

The title is "International Human Rights Day — Still Rhetoric for Disabled People". It was published in a disability magazine calledForum News.

The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act contains the prescription of resources. Even though this Act has been passed, an attempt is being made within the education system to introduce a weighted system for children with special needs so that the Department of Education and Science does not even guarantee an assessment. As Deputy Neville stated, many schools will lose out on resource teaching because of the weighted system being introduced. This is in contravention of the concept of an assessment of needs for the individual child. A system is being introduced whereby schools are allocated a certain amount of resources within which the children's needs are to be catered for. This is totally against the spirit of focusing on the needs of the individual whose needs are not being addressed.

The independent living movement has been a strong advocate for the right of people with disabilities to control their own lives and the right for those who use wheelchairs and those with special needs to have a personal assistant. The person with the disability should be in control of the employment of the assistant. The Disabled People of Clare organisation was threatened with the loss of funding by the local health board, the Mid-Western Health Board. The health board had decided to put out to tender the provision of services for people with physical disabilities. A different organisation won the tender, in other words, it will assume responsibility for providing services to all those in County Clare with physical disabilities. While the Disabled People of Clare group has nothing against the organisation in question, which does good work, its approach is different in that it addresses the individual needs of the person in a particular way, applying the philosophy of the independent living movement. The health board decision to stop funding the group means it will no longer be able to continue its work. This sounds a warning about giving health boards control over the assessment of need.

There is a fear that attempts will be made to streamline what is being done and impose a one-size-fits-all approach, which would result in the philosophy developed in the disability movement being lost, bureaucratised and controlled. I ask the Minister to take into account the example I have outlined because it exemplifies the different kinds of thinking in the disability movement and possible attempts to streamline them.

As other speakers have noted, the assessment relates only to health and education. Contrary to the remarks of the Minister's colleagues, it does not relate to housing and employment. The disability movement expected the assessment of need to be much broader and to be followed by a statement of need set in a much wider context than provided for in the Bill.

The Education Act deals with children from school-going age onwards, that is, from primary school until the age of 18 years. As Deputy Stanton will recall, when the Joint Committee on Education and Science debated this issue, members were told that the needs of the pre-school child and those aged above 18 years would be addressed in the Disability Bill. There is no sign of joined up thinking in the Bill. It is important, particularly for pre-school children, that provision is seamless. This means an assessment of need should be carried out early in the child's life when a need is detected and support for the child continues throughout childhood and into adulthood. The Bill does not provide such continuity, I ask the Minister to ensure it does.

The introduction of the weighted system in the Department of Education and Science indicates a lack of awareness of the need to provide for individual children from an early age, through the education system and beyond. Problems arise with regard to children starting primary school. Although they may have received services provided by the relevant health board before starting school, these services do not automatically continue, which means the school must apply to have the child's needs met, despite the fact that an assessment of needs will have been carried out by the health board prior to the child starting school.

The Bill does not give rights to people with disabilities. Groups which have invested considerable work in preparing for the legislation are disappointed. I hope the Minister will respond to their concerns by ensuring the Bill, when enacted, is much stronger than at present and contains real rights.

I thank my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, for sharing time. As one who has been involved in the GAA over the years, I listened with interest to Deputy Tony Dempsey's comments on the organisation. The sporting associations should try to provide some recreational facilities for those with disabilities who are less fortunate than most of those who participate in the relevant sport. It is wonderful to see people with mental or physical disabilities participating and getting enjoyment out of the sport they follow, rather than watching others participate. This was never more relevant than during the Special Olympics, which had a clear impact on the disability sector.

In awarding sports capital grants, a strong emphasis is placed on the ability of the applicant to facilitate persons with physical and mental disabilities. This approach should be expanded.

The scope of the Bill must extend beyond its current focus on education and health to cover all aspects of physical and mental disabilities. This will ensure people with disability improve their health and education. When one examines the current position, alarm bells start to ring. Families applying to a local authority for a disabled person's grant are frustrated from the outset. If they are placed in categories B or C, as opposed to A, they will not receive a grant because funding is not available.

The Minister has done a considerable amount of work on this Bill. He must ensure that disabled person's grants are placed on a statutory footing and the relevant Department, whether Health and Children or the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, funds them in full. Rather than being contingent on the amount of finance available to a local authority, grants approved under the local authority assessment procedure should be funded in full. The current system is a major obstacle that will affect the success of the Bill. Families of persons with mental disabilities try to do everything possible for their son, daughter, brother or sister. In addition to the pressure and frustration they face, they will be disheartened by what the Bill proposes to do to address their circumstances.

I am not aware of many local authorities which have examined the issue of housing from the perspective of independent living. The Simon Community, in a submission on the Bill, stated that the housing needs of those with mental and physical disabilities have been ignored. This, too, leads to frustration. The Disability Bill, of which everyone had high expectations, has been found wanting as regards vital issues, apart from education and health needs, which would make life better for people with disabilities. The overall picture must be addressed if the Bill is to be successful. Advances are needed and the scope of the Bill must be widened to include environmental factors.

The disabled person's grant, the essential repairs grant and the home improvement grant must also be covered. The Minister may ask what they have to do with the Bill. They relate to elderly people, many living alone in difficult circumstances and in poor health. Basic issues, which would ensure they do not have to spend long periods in hospital, are not addressed. Will the Minister refer to this aspect of the Bill when responding?

I welcome the comments made recently on this and ask that this aspect of the Bill be investigated to see what mechanism can be put in place to ensure housing needs, the disabled person's grant etc., are addressed.

My first comment on the Disability Bill is that the definition of "disability" is too constricted to cover the broad spectrum of disabilities evident in our society. In reality, this Bill leaves disability open to the interpretation of employers, service providers and those making assessments.

The Bill has little chance of working if other essential elements of the disability rights strategy are not enacted. These elements were set out by the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities in 1996 and, as yet, are not fully operational. "Disability" is defined in the National Disability Authority Act as "disability, in relation to a person, means substantial restriction in the capacity of a person to participate in economic, social or cultural life on account of an enduring physical, sensory, learning, mental health or emotional impairment".

After consulting a number of people involved in putting forward submissions on this Bill, I have been left dismayed that the essentials for equality and for decency have been ignored and those people who invested time and energy in this process have been left saddened, frustrated and very angry at what they see as a wasted process, which was widely expected to meet most of their expectations and aspirations.

We all know disability and special needs cross all divides and affect all sectors of society. When left undetected and under-protected, a person can suffer from low self-esteem, a sense of isolation and can turn to drug abuse, crime and many other destructive lifestyles. We are all entitled to basic human rights under the Constitution, however if one has a disability, one does not have all one's basic rights under this Bill. There is little hope that disability rights will be guaranteed without a change to the Constitution. This Bill is not even a rights-based Bill, as promised by the Taoiseach. A purely rights-based Disability Bill will not achieve the essential function of completing the commission's strategy for an inclusive society. To have these rights respected and implemented, they must be clearly stated in legislation and laid bare in this Bill.

It is difficult to conceive how a rights-based approach will work when existing legislation relates to the "reasonable accommodation" requirement. A firm commitment by the State to implement the actions specified is imperative and the phrase "resources permitting" should be removed once and for all. Equally, a rights-based Bill that does not locate responsibility within the Department of the Taoiseach has little chance of achieving interdepartmental cross-cutting and the co-ordination of services.

This Bill is based on a medical model and not on the social model as expected. The philosophy of independent living is not mentioned once. Funding is based on budgets. The independent assessment of needs is a joke. How can it be independent when it appears that everyone involved in the assessment process works for the health board? There is no independence from a Government when it controls a person's salary, pension and promotional prospects, which brings me to another point. The Garda, the Defence Forces and the Prison Service are exempt from the 3% quota in this Bill.

The fundamental issue covered here is health, but what of education, income, employment, transport, communication, social inclusion, access to all public buildings etc.? The current domiciliary allowance paid to disabled young people is only paid until a young person reaches 16 years of age. He or she must then sign on for a disability allowance. This is unrealistic and the allowance should remain in place until the young person reaches 18 years of age and, therefore, his or her special needs status remains intact.

Education does not stop at 18 years of age for anyone, particularly for those with special needs. Education also includes training and sheltered workshops. Parents now have the extra burden of trying to fight for the rights of their special needs young people. However, they are used to doing this as they have done so for the past 18 years, fighting for their children's entitlements as equal citizens of this country. This Bill does nothing to ease their concerns and to diminish their fight.

This Bill only includes services the health board already provides and services it believes it can provide comfortably within the budget. Will the next budget provide for all those special needs and for disabled children who are currently awaiting speech therapists, occupational therapist and special assessment? I hope it does, because this Bill does nothing to push forward the rights or fulfil the needs of these people. What about the provision of a school-workshop personnel in place five days a week as opposed to the one or two days currently available? What about the provision of interpreters for the hearing impaired in schools? This Bill does not make provision for the diverse culture of disabilities.

How will this Bill be enforced because, as far as I can see, the intended process is layered with newly created bureaucracy and appears to protect the State from its obligations to persons with disabilities? This Bill leaves a person with disabilities with fewer rights than a person without a disability.

The Bill must specify clearly the way in which this system is managed and evaluated. It must enforce the rights of the disabled person, whatever the disability, and should make everyone aware that when someone has the fundamental right to something, this right is vindicated, regardless of the cost. It must be person centred and needs driven and must provide an independent appeals system that provides a right of redress to those who feel unfairly treated. This type of process could well be established under the remit of the National Disability Authority.

I refer to the point Deputy O'Sullivan made on disabled people in Clare. They have set up a model for the rest of the country to follow. The Department of Health and Children singled out Clare as another pilot scheme in the Hanly report. Responsibility for services for the disabled in Clare is being handed over to the Irish Wheelchair Association. The Irish Wheelchair Association does excellent work but why change something which disabled people in Clare have enjoyed for several years where they have personal assistants and leaders? Now they will be given a personal assistant who they may not like. Will the Minister of State investigate that and return the situation to thestatus quo? If he wants to see a centre for independent living, he should come to Clare. I would ask the Minister of State not to fix something which is not broken. The system in Clare is not broken but the health board is trying to mend it. Will the Minister of State give a guarantee that he will investigate that?

I will come to Clare.

I agree entirely with my Sinn Féin colleagues that this Bill cannot be supported because it is regressive and will not deliver equal rights for people with disability, but why should we be surprised at that when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is on record as stating that he thinks inequality is good for the economy? That has been raised by at least one of my colleagues in the course of making a contribution. That is an important flaw that needs to be addressed by the Government.

All Sinn Féin Deputies spoke on various aspects of the Bill and I wish to highlight a few key concerns regarding Part 3 on access to buildings and services. The Disability Legislation Consultation Group, DLCG, correctly asserts that people with disabilities must have access to all buildings and services open to non-disabled persons. The DLCG wanted public services to be held accountable to specific timeframes within which accessibility and mainstreaming would have to be achieved. This was a reasonable request but the indications are that the Government will not meet it. We should be given a reason if this is the case.

The Government claims also that the Bill's provisions will "oblige public bodies to arrange for disability access". This is extremely misleading. If the Government wanted public bodies to provide such access, it would have specified as much in the Bill, which it clearly has not done. Section 23 states that public bodies must ensure that public buildings are accessible, but only "as far as is possible". This last clause renders the Bill absolutely futile in terms of the accessibility issue. Public bodies are also given until the end of 2015, more than a decade away, to comply with even that weak requirement.

Furthermore, a Minister can decide to make an order that part M of the building regulations does not apply to a public building for reasons such as that ensuring compliance would be too expensive or that the building is seldom used by persons with disabilities. This entirely undermines the concept of equal access as a right. Under this legislation, exclusion will continue. A recent statement from Dublin Bus illustrated this point in its announcement that wheelchair-accessible buses would not be available in Ballyfermot for several years to come. The Bill has turned on its head the concept upon which it should be based, that of providing real rights for persons with disabilities and obliging the public sector to become involved.

That there is still no unequivocal statutory duty on the public service has been identified as one of the ten fundamental flaws in this legislation by the DLCG. Many Members on this side of the House would agree that there are a great number of flaws in the Bill but the DLCG has identified the ten most significant. I have time to cite only a small number of them. A key recommendation of the DLCG is that the accessibility obligation and the complaints system should also apply to the private sector. The Bill ignores this recommendation and exempts the private sector totally from its accessibility obligations. This has a profound effect for another reason. As we see the Government increasingly rolling out the privatisation of services, the provision for an opt-out by the private sector will have an even more significant effect on services for persons with disabilities. It is grossly unfair that this is the case.

I cannot address the entire issue of disability and this legislation in particular without referring to an issue in my own constituency which is of profound importance to people, particularly those with intellectual disabilities. This is the situation in regard to St. Mary's respite services at Drumcar. In late 2002, a report was commissioned and completed within a month. All parties to that report agreed that 94 staff positions were necessary to provide the level of care required for an adequate respite service for persons with intellectual disabilities and their families. By early 2003, there was agreement by the Department, health board, management of St. Mary's and the families of those requiring the respite service that those 94 positions would be provided over a three-year period.

However, two years later, only 30 of the positions have been filled to date. Funding from the Department has not been forthcoming with the consequence that St. Mary's will have to terminate its respite services from 14 February 2005. The families of those persons who require constant care on a daily basis must try to manage on their own without any let-up. One such mother told me she was "worn to the bone" attempting to take care of her son who is a large man of more than 6 ft. tall. This unfortunate woman is solely charged with trying to manage her son and deal with all the health issues surrounding his case. She will be crucified in her struggle to provide adequate care because the Department has not provided the promised funding to St. Mary's.

This demonstrates the lack of commitment on the part of the Government to people with disabilities as much as any item in this Bill. It is most unfortunate that the Government is at best engaged in window-dressing. I hope some backbenchers will call the Minister aside and point out that this is unacceptable. It is wonderful to hear the Taoiseach claim he is a socialist for political reasons. However, we want to see the colour of his money in this area in particular.

The families about which I have spoken in Drumcar, which serves the entire north east, are in dire straits, worn to the bone in their efforts to look after a member with intellectual disabilities. All they are looking for is seven days respite two or three times a year. Even that limited provision will be cut off in a fortnight. I ask the Minister of State to raise this matter with his senior colleague and impress upon him the profound effect this will have on families in the area. I am aware the provision of services is in poor supply throughout the State but in this case the services will be terminated from 14 February. This matter has reached a critical point. I hope for some Government intervention to save the day before that date.

In conclusion, persons with disabilities deserve positive, enforceable rights. We want legislation that guarantees equal right of access to all people without discrimination. This Bill does not deliver to that standard. It is not good enough and should be sent back to the drawing board. I call on the Minister to do the right thing by withdrawing the Bill and consulting with the NGOs in the disability sector. Unlike the previous occasion on which they were consulted, the Minister should listen to what people in the NGOs have to say. The reports are already there and all we need is some action from the Government in this regard.

Debate adjourned.