Disability Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I highlighted the issue of this Bill in my campaign literature. I have worked with several advocacy groups in the disability area for a considerable period. At best, this Bill requires radical alteration. I will highlight some of its flaws by using local examples to illustrate how it is unworkable in the format in which it is presented. It is not right-based in its currentform.

When people who had worked towards and argued for a disability Bill for many years were presented with the first Bill in 2001, it proved to be a major disappointment. Expectations had been built up about the provisions of that Bill, but it was withdrawn. Those expectations were further cruelly dashed in terms of this Bill. It is a major disappointment.

I was a local representative for 17 years during which time I have met too many families, so to speak, with issues in this area. I am sure the Government parties also met those families and that the number of families affected could be several multiples of the number we met. The family members I met cared for a person with a disability and encountered serious problems with the lack of services in this area. Those families were turned into professional lobbyists and fund-raisers. Often the lobbying led them nowhere because when they tried to find services, they discovered they did not exist. In trying to assist many of those families and individuals, I unpicked the services to ascertain where were the roadblocks. Not only did I discover an absence of basic services, but I discovered great inequity in how the services were provided where they were available. I will give a few examples.

When I discovered we had a serious problem with the disabled person's grant in County Kildare, I contacted the Department and asked for the national figures. I inserted the figures into a table on a per capita basis to see why County Kildare was doing so badly. I wondered if what I was seeing was evident in the rest of the country. I discovered that County Kildare got €5.70 for every man, woman and child to provide for disabled person’s grants, which was at the bottom of the national list. On the top was Leitrim with €103.43. While I accept that geography can come into play, the difference is extreme. A correlation exists between the disabled person’s grant and the local government fund. The lower a county’s local government fund the lower are its disabled person’s grants as one third of the fund is required to be raised locally.

Contradictions exist in this matter. How is it possible to provide services without having the funding for those services guaranteed? I looked at the local government fund to see if we could make a difference in terms of the amount of money we put in. We needed to put in one third if we were to seek the two thirds matching funds. I discovered that the entire increase in the local government fund in County Kildare was used in three areas: to buy water for the increased population; to pay for the wastewater treatment for the increased population; and to pay for benchmarking. The budget had no extra money to put into the disabled person's grant fund. Location in the country defines a person's experience with this grant.

Applicants for this grant from County Kildare are put into three categories. Those in category A are entirely dependent and are cared for at home. Those in category B have some independence and those in category C have more independence. Those outside category A have no chance of receiving a disabled person's grant to modify their homes because the list is closed for everybody else. A means-tested approach is being considered to try to filter those limited funds. A county like Leitrim might have very specific needs and I do not begrudge one shilling that goes towards this service. However, some counties have unspent funds while others have insufficient funds. Where people live defines the service they will receive, which represents unpardonable inequality.

A man whose wife was diagnosed with an incurable progressive illness contacted me yesterday. He said that he had spoken to several professionals and was told there was no point contacting the local authority, as it had no money for a ramp. This man has left work to try to care for his very ill wife and this type of obstacle is placed in his way. The Bill will not make a difference for that person. If it is not possible to get something as basic as a ramp, the Disability Bill will not make a difference.

Unless the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government changes the method of funding of the disabled, nothing will change for these people, hundreds of whom live in my area. I will give a health board example. Even within the same former health authority area, wide differences can exist in the services available. For example, in support services for the elderly I found a wide difference between north County Dublin and County Kildare even though they were in the same former health authority area. When I refer to a wide difference I mean there was a chasm between the levels of services provided. The package of care was radically different.

We have been told the embargo on recruitment into the health service will not make any difference to people. As I live in a growing county, an embargo makes a big difference as the needs are increasing and the area has to deal with an increased population with the same resources. There is a perception that an area with a growing population gets an increase. In 1996, 134,000 people lived in County Kildare. It is conservatively estimated to now have a population of 180,000; we will have the census results in approximately 18 months. The front-line staff numbers in therapy services in County Kildare have not changed since 1996 despite a population increase of 50,000. This is a clear example of an embargo. The lack of speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy radically alters the life chances of people. The Disability Bill will not change this unless a change takes place in another Department and unless the resources are provided to make that change. I see no guarantee of those resources. The expanded needs I mentioned are not being taken into consideration. While I understand people are being trained in therapy services, those being recruited are often very inexperienced. It takes time to be able to provide first class services.

The legislation requires that public bodies should integrate service provision over time. Disability groups and individuals will state that while the building and planning regulations require that for every 15 rooms, hotels must provide one room catering for disabled guests, they do not define how these rooms are used. Often when people with a disability seek such a room they cannot get one. No counterbalance exists in terms of use. Unless all Departments and public bodies have a clear statutory duty and unless the funding is provided, we will not see the difference that people have the right to expect. People have stopped sitting back and accepting that we have never had it so good. We are starting to see advocacy groups mushrooming. We are starting to see people make demands. They have waited long enough, having endured the bad old days of the 1980s when there was no money for anything and we were told that when the economy was put on course and inflation reduced, everything else would follow. This has not occurred and people with disabilities are now taking direct action through advocacy groups.

I and others have been contacted by advocacy groups which have identified two areas of concern that must be addressed. The Bill fails to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the high quality, specialist support service they require to participate and contribute to society. It fails to ensure that all public service planning and provision takes into account the fact that there will always be people with disabilities and their number will increase as the population ages. The legislation should require that the disability issue be incorporated into the design of all public policy and planning decisions.

In addition to these two key areas of concern, advocacy groups have elaborated a further ten fundamental flaws in the Bill. The definition of "disability" is too narrow and excludes certain conditions and early intervention needs. As such, many people will be excluded from the assessment procedure. The provision that disability must be "enduring" is indicative of the Government's failure to take a progressive approach.

Advocacy groups want the Bill to provide an explicit right to independent assessment, which is a positive rather than negative demand. It must also provide for an individual's right to have unmet needs progressively identified in the independent assessment report, either on an annual basis or in the event that circumstances change.

When I hear that a complaints system is too complex, it indicates that complaints are not wanted. This is a valid criticism of the system which must be simplified and made more accessible in line with the demands of the advocacy groups. In addition, the appeals system needs to be independent of the Department of Health and Children. It could, for example, be accommodated in another Department.

The Bill must also provide for clear ring-fencing of disability specific resources. Without this, it will not make the difference people have a right to expect. The legislation must also provide for a clear statutory duty on all Departments and public bodies to include people with disabilities in all their plans and services and appropriate monitoring and accountability mechanisms. My comments on health boards and local authorities are a case in point but by no means exhaustive. One could draw attention to failures in almost every Department in areas in which it has responsibility.

Public services should include all services provided in the public system by statutory and non-statutory entities. The Bill does not take wider needs into account. For example, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has not addressed housing need, a fundamental issue for those without a roof over their heads or no entitlement to housing. Local authorities often take a two-tiered approach to housing provision by acting differently when housing persons with physical disabilities and persons with mental health problems. Not only is more housing required but the approach to housing allocation must also be addressed.

Clarity is needed on the Bill's impact on section 14 of the Equal Status Act. The advocacy groups also seek a review of the legislation, if it proceeds, after three years, which is a valid proposal given the large number of deficiencies in the Bill. The Government should accede to this request because a review will offer an opportunity to revisit certain aspects of the legislation and, unfortunately, prove that it is not rights based.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the Disability Bill which has been promised for some time. At long last, it has come before the House and Deputies have an opportunity to debate it. However, it is with a sense of disappointment that I address the House because we were promised so much over a long period.

Those with siblings or offspring with disabilities waited a long time in the hope the legislation would give them a sense of security for the future. They wanted legislation to emerge which would give them confidence that their relative or child with a disability would be looked after in the event of their passing. They have been given a disappointing Bill. Why is it disappointing on its second introduction to the House? Were no lessons learned from the earlier Bill?

Before the previous general election, a Minister of State with special responsibility for disability, Deputy Mary Wallace, travelled around the country consulting people with disability and their representative groups and listening to their views in good faith. It was intended that the discussion process would feed into the resulting disability Bill to reflect the concerns, wishes and aspirations of all concerned. The pertinent question, therefore, is whether the former Minister of State did not listen or failed to follow through, or whether her thoughts and ideas were rejected by the Government and its advisers. I have known Deputy Mary Wallace for some time and she is a genuine and committed person. It is my view that the third of the options I outlined is the case and the Government decided not to listen to the views of interest groups or give rights for rights' sake to persons with disabilities. It was for this reason that it introduced a Bill which was rejected out of hand by all concerned.

What happened when the first Bill was withdrawn? The Minister of State became the sacrificial lamb, took the blame and was abandoned by the Government. Let us be clear, the Bill was introduced with the Government's blessing and approval, not off the junior Minister's own bat. Despite this, the Government decided to hang her out to dry.

The Government then started the process all over again. In the run-up to the election and in the subsequent programme for Government, all sorts of promises and commitments were given to people with disabilities. An Agreed Programme for Government states: "We will complete consultations on the Disabilities Bill and will bring the amended Bill through the Oireachtas and include provisions for rights of assessment, appeals, provision and enforcement." Having read this commitment, everyone involved in the area of disability would conclude the amended Bill would provide the answers to all the sector's problems and an assessment of need would be provided for all persons with disability, with a right to appeal assessments that are considered unsatisfactory. In such cases there would be provision and enforcement. I presume "provision" meant the provision of whatever services were recommended and that "enforcement" meant that if such a service was not provided, the people involved could somehow enforce it. However, this Bill does not follow through on that commitment.

There was a fanfare when this initiative was announced. The Taoiseach was present and said all the right things. This followed on from the Special Olympics which captured the hearts and minds of the people. For two weeks, we were enthralled by the focus on sport for people with disabilities and the focus on Ireland. All the communities which hosted delegations from other countries did a fantastic job. We glowed with care for people with disabilities and thought we would get delivery of services. The Taoiseach jumped on the bandwagon to announce the Disabilities Bill, but alas it leaves a lot to be desired.

If one looks at the groups of people caring for those with disabilities, such as one's local wheelchair association, to find out what is happening, one finds they are fundraising frantically. They are trying to gather a few shillings and probably get a bus to look after wheelchair-bound people in their area. Many are volunteers and do a fantastic job in a voluntary capacity. I pay tribute to them and to others who work with people with disabilities in the various organisations.

The Carers Association estimates there are 150,000 carers in the country. Approximately 25,000 carers get some recognition by way of a carer's allowance, leaving approximately 125,000 who do not. In the budget, the Minister announced that he would introduce a respite grant for all carers. If the Carers Association's figures are accurate, in the region of 125,000 people should qualify for the respite grant at €1,000 per person. That would amount to €125 million, which is a large sum. The Minister, however, provided a sum of money in the budget that falls dramatically short of that figure. What will happen? Will the Minister set up a mechanism whereby some carers will be included for the respite grant and others will not? Is that his intention? Will he tell the people who save the State an estimated €1.6 billion a year that they do not count, that he does not recognise them and that they are not useful in society? Will he turn his back on them? Will that continue?

I am sure that the Leas Cheann-Comhairle has come across the centres for independent living that have been established in many areas. In Westmeath, one operates in Kinnegad. Those centres do a fine job. They have given a new lease of life to many people who had been confined to their homes and households by providing for them a new outlet and way of life. The helpers and carers within that organisation were promised that they would be made full-time staff and taken into the mainstream. However, that was not followed through. Again one finds that these groups rely upon volunteers, fundraising and other methods of gathering money to provide a skeleton service.

If one looks at what takes place across the country, we seem to have money for everything. We can spend €650,000 a year storing voting machines that will probably never be used and we spent €53 million purchasing them. Now they lie in warehouses around the country and many of the Government's friends earn big money storing them on an annual basis. At the same time people with disabilities must wait.

I see that the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, from the midlands has entered the Chamber. I am glad he is present because I am about to turn to the midlands. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children is the leader of the Minister of State's party. The former Midland Health Board area consisted of the counties of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford. I have been informed by sources in that area that the budget allocated to provide services for people with disabilities will run out in September. There has been a real cutback in terms of services for people with disabilities in those four counties.

What are the Deputy's sources?

My source is impeccable within the organisation.

The Deputy should give the names.

I will not name people who are outside the House. I have been a Member for long enough to know that such things are not done.

There is no point in speculating or scaremongering.

Let the Minister of State come into the House on another day and tell us that he is wrong, that this is the situation. We have provided——

This is Fine Gael politics.

Let him tell us that having made provision, there will be an improvement in services for people with disabilities in that area. I give this challenge to the Minister of State. If he wishes to live up to his reputation, he will take it up. However, I doubt if he will as he will hide behind what he is doing, as usual.

The Deputy cannot make idle accusations like that.

In the midlands, there have been cutbacks in services for people with disabilities. How will this Bill make a difference? What does it contain that will help us all to provide a better service for people with disabilities? I had a brief glance at some of the provisions. For example, the explanatory memorandum on Part 2 states: "This Part establishes an entitlement to an assessment of need and to the services set out in a related service statement." That sounds excellent. Assessments and services will be provided. However, two lines further down, the memorandum states: "The contents of the service statement are subject to a number of considerations including resource constraints." The Bill proposes to provide for assessments and services but only if the resources are available. This is a reversion to the old way of doing things. If there are crumbs to spare from the table, they will be given to people with disabilities, but the Bill will not state that they must have them. They will get them if resources are available. The Bill does not state that disabled people are entitled to them.

The explanatory memorandum, dealing with section 7, states that each assessment will be in writing and will include a decision as to whether a person has a disability, the extent of the disability, a statement of the services needed and the timeframe within which these services would ideally be provided. The word "ideally" raises a doubt as to whether they might or might not be provided. The rider in the explanation of Part 2 stated that the provision of services will be subject to resources. Confirmation that the opening paragraph pertaining to Part 2 was correct after all appears at the bottom of page five of the explanatory memorandum which, dealing with complaints and appeal procedures and so on, states that the chief executive officer of the health board — that has changed since this was printed — is required to implement the recommendation. In other words, if the recommendation of the assessment was that the person needed a certain level of service, the chief executive officer was required to implement that recommendation.

There is, however, a get-out clause that permits the chief executive officer not to implement the recommendation if he or she believed that doing so would lead to expenditure or indebtedness beyond what the Minister has provided for under the Health (Amendment) Act 1996. In other words, the chief executive officer could say that the person had a right to the services but that the money was not available to provide them.

Some observers might say there must be recourse to a higher authority in these circumstances. I can show the Minister of State files that illustrate what can be achieved by appealing to a higher authority. I have a collection of files relating to young people with special educational needs. These young people were assessed by psychologists and educational psychologists and reports were prepared. Those reports, which I am sure the Minister of State is familiar with as a public representative, detail the tests the young people were administered and recommend the delivery of special education services such as special needs assistants and resource teachers. These reports are then sent to the Department of Education and Science where an individual who has never met the young people in question will examine the recommendations of professionals and either reject them or not deliver them in full.

An interesting case I encountered involved a young man in Cork who was assessed and found to require special education services. The report's recommendations were rejected by the Department. I talked to the parents and obtained the relevant documentation under the Freedom of Information Act. The documentation showed that the child had not been assessed by the Department. I contacted the Department but to no avail. I met a very influential member of the Department here one day — this individual was not a Minister, a Minister of State or a ministerial adviser. I explained the facts of the case and told the individual that the parents were initiating legal proceedings. Ten days later, I received a telephone call from the relevant official in the Department who told me that it had decided to agree to the report's recommendations. The Department did a U-turn because of the prospect of legal action, but what about those people who have neither the motivation nor the means to take legal action? All they can expect are the crumbs that fall from the table. They are left with an inadequate service, which is unacceptable.

Further in the Bill, if one looks at section——

Deputy McGrath must conclude.

That is a pity as I am only getting going. Section 19 states that if individuals with disabilities or their families and carers are not happy with the services offered, they can appeal to the High Court. However, they can only do so on a point of law. In other words, they will have no right to appeal when the services they receive are inadequate, except on a point of law. What kind of appeals mechanism is that? What kind of House would this be if we were to implement rules and regulations like these?

My final point concerns section 45 of the Bill, which alludes once again to the aspiration that 3% of people employed by public agencies should be people with disabilities. That aspiration has been in existence for a very long time. Will the Minister or any other Minister review their Departments and let those which have reached the 3% target identify themselves, and we will praise them. Conversely, those Departments which have not reached the target will be named and shamed.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking on the Disability Bill, which has engaged this House more than any other legislation I have seen in my time here. It is legislation in which everyone has an interest. Other than Government Ministers and supporters, it appears there is a consensus that this Bill is fundamentally flawed. This view of the Bill is not based purely on political gamesmanship. This side of the House recognised that the increase in funding for disability-related issues announced in the last year's budget was a positive measure and were sufficiently gracious to applaud it. These same Members, however, in examining this Bill, find fundamental flaws which must be addressed.

These flaws go back almost to the very structures of our democratic society. The Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary provide the checks and balances necessary for a democratic society. While the Executive is crowing about the success of the economy, possibly the leading criticism of our society is that there is an almost universal inability on the part of the Executive to provide the necessary services for people who encounter misfortunes such as health problems and disability. That failure is particularly marked in the provision of services for people with disabilities. I spoke recently to a friend in Killarney who explained that he had become a carer of a near relative because of the relative's disability. He gave voice to a common sentiment, that it was only when he found himself in those circumstances he realised what the situation is like for people with disabilities.

These people depend on society to provide assistance for them. This widespread sense of inability to provide proper public services despite our economic success is one of the reasons this Bill and the issue of how we legislate to try to improve the provision of such services is of interest. It is almost the cornerstone of the real debate in society. If we are such a successful and rich country, why are we so unsuccessful in delivering the quality of life and services we expect to go in tandem with that economic success? The Executive has been getting this wrong and must change the way it provides services if it is to improve our quality of life.

I welcome some aspects of this Bill. We honestly welcome the areas of improvement and the areas of the Bill that provide assessments in certain cases that are not provided at present. Likewise, I welcome the setting of new employment targets within the public service as a good example. I also welcome the provision for access, as even the most simple of things can bar the involvement of people with disabilities in society. I welcome the aspects of the Bill that allow for the provision of services, access and employment.

However, this Bill falls down on the issue of the Executive and the Judiciary. In setting up complex appeals, complaints and assessment mechanisms in Part 2 of the Bill and then precluding access to the courts by people to vindicate their legal rights, the Government is nominally giving with one hand but taking away a citizen's fundamental right to access to the Judiciary with the other. Given that the campaign on this issue has centred on whether we should adopt a rights-based approach, that the State can be seen cynically to provide the type of assessment we need yet remove the most fundamental safeguard we have in society and which forms part of the structure of our democratic checks and balances, namely, the role of the Judiciary, to the extent that all that is left is the facility to question a point of law rather than the ability to uphold one's rights in the High Court, is a remarkable flaw in this Bill which has been universally noted and commented upon by legal opinion. The Government has found itself in some difficult pickles over recent legislation but this Bill will lead it into similar court challenges. The Government has been too long in office, is too arrogant and too certain of its smug ways to accept this and to listen to this part of our democratic society, the Legislature whose job is to highlight fundamental flaws in legislation.

The Minister claims the removal of the right to access to the courts is because the Government wishes to save legal fees. If we have a good system, the right provision of services and the right assessment system, the Government should have nothing to fear from judicial analysis. The Judiciary has played a valid and important role in society by providing many of the significant developments and benefits that exist. When the Government says the State cannot do something because it is unaffordable or too difficult, people's eyes are opened only when the Judiciary states otherwise.

The recent Supreme Court decision on the nursing home charges controversy is a classic point. It took a Supreme Court decision for people to be honest and say that what happened was wrong. Everyone has acknowledged it was wrong. We were able to do so because it was a judicial decision and we live in a society that respects the Judiciary. The Executive does not carry out this role well and should not be in the business of establishing its own quasi-judicial procedures which exclude the judicial structures from defining people's rights.

There is a second fundamental flaw. While the Government gave a welcome increase in resources in its recent budget, there is nothing in this legislation that allows for the continued and consistent support for a lock-in, as it were, of that type of budgetary decision-making regarding this section of society. The disabled are usually our most vulnerable members. There is a profound fear that the politically pragmatic decision of today to support funding of the disabilities area could easily evaporate in changing economic or political circumstances. An alternative issue could take its place. Having met people who have been involved in the disability lobbying movement, people who have pushed themselves to the limit by campaigning assiduously, I know it is difficult for any group in society to maintain such pressure to safeguard the interests of those they support. It will be difficult for them in three or four years' time after this Bill has been passed and events have progressed to get the same attention, guarantees and support that they have a chance to get now.

I can give a current example of the Government saying something but doing otherwise. The Progressive Democrats opened up the taxi market. At the time, the former Minister of State, Mr. Bobby Molloy, made the correct call on liberalisation in giving a guarantee that 100% of all taxis in the Dublin market would be wheelchair accessible by 2003. What do we find in 2005? There are 12,000 taxis, all of which are welcome, but less than 5% of them are wheelchair accessible. Only 2% or 3% are properly accessible. This is a typical example of where the Government gives a commitment in the Dáil while legislating and later abandons and ignores it.

Does the Deputy know the exact percentage?

I imagine 400 to 500 taxis, or fewer, are wheelchair accessible. It is nearly impossible for someone in a wheelchair to get a wheelchair accessible taxi in this city. The figures are not important. The Government should have lived up to its commitment. All taxis should be wheelchair accessible. As a person with a young family, they are the only taxis I can access easily. I can get my children, pram or buggy in and out easily. I am slightly disabled in this regard and wish to have this happen. It will lead to a better taxi service and be a type of controlled point of entry. There is no cost to the State in this. It is not a budgetary difficulty. It is a commitment from the Government but it means nothing.

We are discussing a Bill with grand provisions for plans from the Department of Transport about accessibility. The former Minister of State, before his unscheduled departure from the Ministry, consulted the taxi industry to examine whether one in five taxis could be accessible. Does that fit in with this Bill? Does that contend with the plan outlined in Part 4 and proposed by the Department of Transport? I think not. The Department is in disarray and it is impossible to know what is happening there now.

There is a lack of real commitment. It is a statement in legislation of fine plans that can be removed by the Minister at the stroke of a pen for any reason. For all this fine legislation and all its fine clauses, the reality is that the Department of Transport has no interest. No progress is being made on the taxi issue. It is 2005 and there is not a peep out of the new Minister on this. It is not of interest. It is not a big, sexy €500 million project which is getting his attention. If there is not a lot of money involved — it means only a small legislative change and is an easy regulation to make — it is not done. That is the second fundamental flaw in this legislation, it does not set out the rights, the services and the guarantee of those services on a continual, long-term basis.

While Part 5 in regard to public service is very welcome, as is the 3% commitment in respect of access to employment, the reality is that the legislation is couched in language whereby it is not a definite commitment. There are all sorts of opt-out clauses throughout the legislation. What will the Government do about this? It is interesting to read the various speeches in terms of recommendations. The recommendations of my colleague, Deputy Boyle, and others are that we need to go back to the starting blocks. Some of the flaws in this legislative approach are so significant that no amendment on Committee or Report Stage would address them. The Government is good at getting itself into legislative messes.

It is up to the Government to decide on this. It can ignore what just about everyone in the disability movement and those on this side of the House have said about this legislation. It can wait to see what turns up in the courts in three or four years' time, which will be after the next election and it will have moved on to something else. I hope the Government will at least have the respect for the Legislature and the Judiciary as well as for its own role as the Executive to listen to what people in the disability movement have said, to the legal advice which has been aired publicly and to what Members of the House have said. If it does not discard the legislation completely and start again, which I contend it should do, it should at least see if it can make some significant, radical amendments.

I have seen many Bills in this House where a practically new Bill has arrived on Report Stage. Recently, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform effectively introduced a completely new surveillance Bill which was slipped into another Bill as a Report Stage amendment. It was the most remarkable and scandalous treatment of the Legislature. If the Minister can effectively slip in a surveillance Bill into separate legislation at the last minute, there is no reason the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform should not listen to what has been said on Second Stage and to what people outside the House have said. It should amend the legislation so that people have an unqualified right for an independent assessment of need, a legal entitlement to those services identified by that assessment, that they have a legal right to a legal decision on whether they are being treated properly; that we have fixed targets and enforcement mechanisms rather than just vague commitments without any real lock-in in the long term so that we must go to the Minister for Finance each year cap in hand, and that we widen the definition of "disabled" to include those with mental health difficulties.

They are just some of the amendments I propose the Government addresses. It is difficult for me to even contemplate how I would go about doing that in respect of this Bill in that I see it as so flawed, I would almost start again. However, if the Government will not do that, it has the serious responsibility to table amendments on Committee Stage and to engage in a real debate with the Legislature rather than its usual arrogant procession through the process to a final result which will not work.

Those are my thoughts on this Disability Bill which I am pleased to have been able to give. I look forward to the Minister's response to comments from this side of the House and his view on a proper, structured debate on how we can change this Bill for the better.

I am delighted to get the opportunity to speak on this Bill. During an Adjournment debate at the time this Bill was introduced, I remember saying to my county colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, that there was a fundamental flaw in the last disability Bill. I was in the Mansion House before the last general election and unless one had just come out of a cave, one would have had to acknowledge the combined wisdom of hundreds of disabled people from all walks of life that that Bill was flawed. The Government was right to discard that Bill because it was an insult to the disabled. Time passed and it was expected that a new Bill would be introduced and, in due course, that happened.

I have been a Member of this House long enough to know that a great deal of legislation is based on prior knowledge of its importance to the area concerned. One would have thought that when this new Disability Bill was being drafted, fundamental flash points in the first Bill would not have been revisited. However, that was not the case.

Like previous speakers, I was delighted to hear on budget day that the Minister for Finance had made available sizable sums of money for the disabled sector. I, and everybody in the country, would certainly say it was long awaited, overdue and very welcome. However, this is a different matter. For a long time to come I will remember a meeting of the Irish Wheelchair Association in Tuam in my constituency to which I was invited a couple of weeks ago. This Bill was the matter for debate and various aspects of it were raised. A young fellow, who told me he was 23 years of age and confined to a wheelchair for life, had one question for me. He asked me how I would like to be confined to a wheelchair. That is a very difficult question to answer. I am so lucky I am not confined to a wheelchair. He said that for some strange reason, when it comes to what he needs for his lifestyle, he must compete with people who are better able to get their hands on the available financial resources. He said he would always be last, which is the case in that he has been waiting for two years for a new wheelchair. He has a wheelchair which one would think came from the last war. We must relate what that young fellow in the wheelchair in Tuam said a fortnight ago to what is proposed in this Bill.

There are many good measures in this Bill, and I would be the first to acknowledge that. However, it has two fundamental flaws about which many of the Government backbenchers are talking. The first flaw relates to the right to an assessment. Many of us believe that some people are able to pay for their own assessments, which they are doing, but thousands of families caring for disabled persons are not able to do so. This Bill does not give an absolute guarantee that a person who has Down's syndrome, is in a wheelchair or otherwise has the right to an assessment. Will this legislation mean that the needs of the person in the wheelchair will be met? The answer is "no". The reason is that it is written in stone in this legislation that it is subject to resources being available. When one has been at the bottom of the pile for one's entire life and the horizon is extremely low, one knows there is almost no hope unless there is legislation that ensures services will be provided. We in this country pride ourselves on having one of the better off economies in the world. It is no wonder the disabled community is up in arms. The Minister does not need to be into rocket science to know the basic reason they feel they have been sidelined again.

I happened to be in the RDS when this matter was debated. There was no difference between the atmosphere in the Mansion House three or four years ago and that in the RDS. By and large, it comes down to the question of what a right means. Having got the assessment, is a person entitled by law to the various services — medical, educational and recreational? Will such services be available to that person in future?

Why is it the Government cannot give an absolute undertaking? Is it that there are not enough trained psychologists and social workers? Is it afraid that if it allowed the legislation to go through, people would take it to court the next day because it was not able to deliver? If that is the problem, will the Government spell it out so that we know what it means? There must be some reason for its failure to give an absolute undertaking.

Ireland has got a great name throughout the world following the Special Olympics. The bonuses arising from it have been felt in every parish in my constituency and throughout the country. The disabled and those who look after them have gained a new confidence having seen what could be done in Dublin and Croke Park and every town and village during the Special Olympics. Most people fully understood it at that stage. If one were to ask any group of 100 able-bodied people in Dublin, Limerick or Cork or the smallest rural parish whether the disabled were entitled to an assessment by right and to the treatments recommended by that assessment, I have no doubt the response would be 95% positive. That is why I do not understand why the Government has decided to make the same mistake twice. It was bad enough to make the mistake once. One could argue that everybody gets it wrong on occasion but to get it wrong the second time is unacceptable. Is it that the Government has become arrogant having been in office for so long and expecting to be in office into the future?

What the Government is saying is that it will look after the well-off. Only last week the Fianna Fáil Party sought subscriptions of €4,500 from well wishers. One can rest assured that the people who will be involved with those contributions will not be too concerned about an assessment for the disabled or what will happen in their lives afterwards.

Following all the talk at Inchydoney and the great conversion to socialism at the time, how is it that inequality is coming through every line of the Bill? Surely the Government does not expect those involved in caring for the disabled, who fortunately are able to speak up and have avenues of communication, in an open modern democracy such as ours that prides itself on Christian principles to buy into this Bill without a murmur. They are 1,000% against it. Every person I have met during the past six months who has any involvement with wheelchair associations, school boards of management and so on is opposed to it. If that is what they say to me, I expect they say it to the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, whose constituency is not very different from mine, and to his backbenchers. I have not heard a word from them.

At the end of the day the pressure will be great, but not from inside the House, because at the conclusion of the Second Stage debate, the Government will win the vote. That is how Parliament works. It would be too much to expect that some of the backbenchers on the Government side who have cried crocodile tears would be men and women enough to vote against it. They would not do that. Leaving that aside, public opinion will nail this Bill and I sincerely hope I will be around to see it happen. There are few issues that incense me as much as the one before the House.

It appears the Government's fundamental problem with the Bill is that it is afraid it will be unable to deliver the service and that if it is legal, people can resort to the courts. People have had to go to court already and have fared quite well. Under the appeals system, one appeals on a point of law to the High Court. Let us take, for example, a family where one member is in receipt of disability benefit of approximately €160 or €170 per week, another member cares for that person and is in receipt of approximately the same amount and no other income comes into the house. Can one imagine that family having to contemplate a trip to the High Court? They would not know where the High Court was. They would not be in a position to take a case. It is laughable that this is what that family would have to do if it thought it was not getting its rights under the provisions of this Bill.

People will say this Bill will cost a great deal of money and I have no doubt it will. The Exchequer has always been able to provide large sums of money for miscellaneous matters. The payments in respect of nursing home charges will cost a large amount of money. This will be found and there will not be a word about it. The tribunals, which may be curtailed a little, cost tens of millions of euro but serve an important purpose. Are these more or less important than a wheelchair-bound man in Tuam who is barely able to negotiate a proper floor not to mention an uneven surface? One such person waited two years for the Western Health Board to supply him with a wheelchair. Could that person be in a worse position in so far as this country is concerned?

The spin-doctors are having a bad time with this legislation because the people for whom it was intended have caught on to it. I notice the spinning has stopped now and the defence of this Bill is becoming more muted. I hope the Government will see the light of day and will return the Bill to the drawing board before the public turns on them. I have no idea how a matter such as this would fare in a general election. However, from discussions I have had with people with disabilities and with their carers, any Government which tries to push this legislation through will reap a very poor reward. The Government deserves to be severely penalised if it does that.

I refer to another related matter which was raised at the recent teachers' conferences. I have spent a lifetime advocating the importance of good resource and learning support teaching in schools. Great progress has been made by various Governments over the past ten years. Students with learning disabilities will soon discover a problem in schools in that pupils qualifying for resource teaching will be required to have a more serious learning disability than applied in the past. These are the more acute cases. I have no problem with this but other children with a learning disability will be moved on to the resource teacher. Because resource teachers are being shared between a number of schools, the number of children requiring that support is increasing but the pupil-teacher ratio has not been changed. A child will be given two or three hours teaching by a learning support teacher and then will be dropped back into the ordinary classroom which might have 25 to 35 children, depending on the location. The child has no chance in the world.

I have said many times in this House that there is no greater gift to be given to children at that age than to present them with the opportunity of catching up with their classmates. When the time comes for them to go out into the big, bad world, they will be able to fend for themselves. There is no greater gift for any child; it is better than winning all the lottos. I know of many cases where people were given the right support at the right time and the outcome was nothing short of a miracle.

I ask the House to consider those who are not given such an opportunity. They are confined to a darkness and they will never see the light at the end of the tunnel. This Bill should be an opportunity for all those people to have the best possible chance in life. I do not envisage that some of these young people aspire to be pilots, scientists or chemists. If they are given professional support in good time they will be able to live independent lives and make their way in life. If we achieve this for just one child who would not normally get it, it is a good day's work in this Parliament.

Every society changes over time and this change may be evident over ten years or over half a century. This change is sometimes dictated and led by intelligent and broad-minded politicians but all too often it is the politicians who are dragged along in the wake of change with little regard to what they can do about it.

The issue of disability is an issue over which politicians should be in control. We should be seen to lead in the changes in society. For example, Dr. Garret FitzGerald was the prime mover of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s when he brought the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom together. This was the beginning of the changes in Northern Ireland which brought about the peace process. When Dr. FitzGerald spoke in favour of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the then Opposition was composed of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. It lambasted him from a height for talking to the old enemy and criticised every move he made. He was accused of giving in to the British Government and to British feelings at the time. The Government changed but Fianna Fáil continued with the Anglo-Irish Agreement and it eventually culminated in the Good Friday Agreement which is now accepted by all, despite its shortcomings.

It has been the case that changes occur in society which politicians choose to ignore. In this regard I refer to illegal nursing home charges. The Department of Health and Children was aware of the illegal charges but for some reason the Minister in charge, the Ministers of State and their advisers continued to peddle the line that they knew nothing about it. What was happening then was wrong. It started in 1976, but that was a different time in Ireland. The case of the illegal charges shows what can happen when a Minister is not capable of handling his brief, not capable of handling the daily challenges he must face.

I suggest a history lesson about disability issues. The National Rehabilitation Institute, otherwise known as Rehab, was founded in 1949, 56 years ago, to improve the independence of people with special needs. The Central Remedial Clinic was founded by Lady Valerie Goulding in 1951. We have come a long way from the era of Christy Brown. He was a man whose physical disabilities were very obvious but whose intellectual capacity was totally ignored for many years. It was only the will of his mother that allowed him to show his literary capabilities to the rest of the world. That is what Ireland was like in the 1940s and 1950s, when disability was treated in the same way as cancer, as something that was not talked about and about which very little was done. We should question how far we as a society have progressed in regard to issues of disability.

The early 1950s was also the time of Dr. Noel Browne's mother and child scheme. He wished to improve the lot of mothers and their children. The scheme was shot down by the politicians, the church and the medical profession. However, attitudes have changed since that time. Has our attitude to people with disabilities changed as fundamentally as our change in attitude to other things in the past 50 years? The tenor of much of the debate in this House shows that we have not changed. When the Central Remedial Clinic opened, farmers still used horses to carry out much of the work done in the fields. No farmer would dream of using a horse for such work today. However, we deny people with disabilities the most fundamental and basic civil rights. Each of us in this House must examine what we are about in this regard. In particular, the Government must look closely at this issue because it has the opportunity to change the way society thinks by showing itself to be more broad-minded. The Disability Bill is a narrow-minded exercise which indicates how limited the Government is in its scope of thinking and presents a poor sense of what should be done for those with disabilities.

The National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire looks after those who are unfortunate enough to suffer a severe disability as a consequence of accident or illness. The centre has three specialists who must meet the needs of patients from throughout the country. Many young people who are unfortunate enough to suffer severe disabilities and who have no hope of a full recovery are treated badly by the system. Access to these services, even for those who have some hope of improvement, is woefully inadequate. I have contacted the centre on numerous occasions in attempts to secure the transfer of patients to the facility and to inquire about delays in obtaining appointments. This is an issue that affects many families.

We have seen some improvements from the medical point of view in terms of the manner in which we view disability. There has been an improvement in stroke and cardiac rehabilitation in hospitals throughout the country. Such rehabilitation is somewhat akin to what Christy Brown's mother did for him in that it allows patients to reach or restore their potential. Stroke patients who are properly rehabilitated have managed to reintegrate themselves fully into society. They are able to work and drive, for example, and to continue their lives as they were before they suffered a stroke.

Likewise, cardiac patients can make a complete recovery. Even some who have suffered severe heart attacks can make an excellent recovery because of the combination of medical treatment and proper, well structured and well funded rehabilitative services. One of my patients, after suffering such a severe heart attack that one of the walls of his heart is no thicker than a sheet of paper, is now functioning quite well and is living his life to the full.

However, we deny the same level of rehabilitative service to those with disabilities. It seems to be embedded in our collective psyche that these people are second-class citizens and are incapable of reaching their potential. In the 50 years since these organisations were formed by forward-thinking people to try to seek out the potential of people with disabilities, we have not come far in our own minds. It was long after the foundation of these organisations, as recently as the 1960s and 1970s, that the clothes and bed sheets of a person who had died from cancer would be burned to prevent others from somehow being infected with cancer cells and suffering the same fate. We have come a long way in the treatment of cancer patients who can now hope to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy if they are available.

There is, therefore, a changed attitude to many illnesses which can strike us down, but we are stuck in a timewarp when it comes to the development of disability services. The Government has a significant role to play in leading change in this area. In considering the available services, I do not wish to differentiate between those who suffer disability because of a medical illness, mental illness or accident. The issue is how society views those with any and all types of disability. It is not merely a question of the number of doctors and psychologists who carry out assessments but also a matter of the services available for those with disabilities.

For example, physiotherapy services are not available in the way in which they should be. Only those who can afford it can avail of them while those who cannot pay must go without. General practitioners often cannot refer patients to hospital for such treatment because the physiotherapy department will inform them there are not enough physiotherapists and that they are only available to see hospital patients. One may strike gold occasionally in locating a physiotherapist who looks after a day care centre and provides physiotherapy in a piecemeal and ad hoc fashion. Overall, however, physiotherapy is not considered a core element of medical treatment but rather as a privilege or luxury which one receives only if it is available.

Occupational therapy is viewed in a similar light. Most politicians seem to believe occupational therapists are people who are trained to make assessments for the grants which disabled persons require to make changes to their homes. It is often only in this capacity that public representatives have any contact with these professionals. It all comes down to the question of funding and how much is spent on providing the most basic services to allow people, often elderly, to live in their own homes. Again, this service is seen as a luxury and is available only in a limited and unsatisfactory manner. It is not considered useful to train occupational therapists other than as a means to provide a narrowly defined service.

Occupational therapists could provide a fantastic service to elderly people in maintaining their independence at home, helping them to prevent falls and improving the overall quality of their lives. Services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy must be made a more integrated part of the health system. It is not all about doctors, nurses, operations and cancer treatment. The health system should encompass a much wider scope than this. The question of cost is important to the Government and is the basis upon which it limits medical services while frittering away money in other areas. We do not have large health budgets such as those of France and Germany but we are capable of providing many of these services rather than allowing them to exist as luxuries which are available only to a few.

One reason the BreastCheck service has not expanded and developed is the lack of trained radiographers. I have been aware of this problem since 1997 or 1998 when I began working as a GP and was forced to wonder why there was no CT scanner in some of our larger hospitals. CT scans were already becoming obsolete in other countries such as Canada and the UK while we considered them the great white hope for the Irish medical service. The scanners were switched off at 4 p.m. because there were not enough radiographers to administer the scans. It is crazy that this remains the situation when it is clear that in another decade or two, technology will have moved far beyond the CT scanner.

The Government has shown zero vision and is concerned only with what will happen after the next election. Crises are dealt with as they arise and there is no forward planning. We must begin to consider disability services in a different and better way. In the context of the Disability Bill, we have got into an argument about whether access to such services should be rights-based. The Government knows it could not afford to implement rights-based legislation because of the total neglect of the disability sector, not over the past five or six years but possibly over the past half century. Very little has been done about this situation in the past seven years. Many organisations are concerned about this. For instance, the Disability Federation of Ireland alone represents 150 voluntary organisations providing services for people with disabilities. There are possibly another 150 statutory organisations providing such services.

We need more joined-up thinking to make disability services work better for the people involved. There is considerable public anger and I know exactly what many of the other speakers were talking about. I do not need to go to the RDS or Mansion House to know how people feel about disability because I hear them every day. In the past, I heard them in my surgery. I have met many disabled people since becoming a politician and noted the anger they feel over the way we look at and treat them compared with ordinary citizens. They are extremely disappointed.

There are many people whose expectations have increased because of a booming economy. In some regards, perhaps our expectations have risen too high. The expectations of those with disabilities are often associated with what the rest of us have taken for granted, not in the past six or seven years when this economy really started to take off but possibly over the past century. We should start treating people with disabilities with much greater respect than we do.

Before I became health spokesperson for Fine Gael, I was a member of the Committee on Finance and the Public Service. I remember the former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, attended a meeting of the committee at which we discussed disabled drivers. He stated he could not allow more disabled drivers to claim back vehicle registration tax because the existing regulations were too generous. He implied that any increase in the number of people who could benefit from the regulations would be regarded as such and stated that one would not get as much money back on the purchase of one's vehicle in other countries as one would in Ireland. Mr. McCreevy felt some people with fairly significant disabilities were not entitled to reclaim their VRT because we were already being too generous to those who were doing so. This creates its own form of apartheid within what some consider to be an apartheid system for treating those with disabilities.

There was no great outcry over Mr. McCreevy's remarks. Many of us on the committee felt it was terrible and that something should be done but the former Minister more or less shook his head and implied that was the end of the discussion, that the matter should be forgotten about and that there would be no change. I noticed that the present Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, who in some respects values his credentials as one with great respect for people with disabilities, has been part of the same status quo given his response to drivers with disabilities. He has not done anything to change the regulations either. These are small matters but they greatly affect those involved. What I have outlined is part of the mindset that characterises the Government. It should seek to address this matter and make progress.

It was just after Christmas that an issue arose regarding the St. John of God service in Dunleer which provides respite care for 1,500 families in the north east. A report was commissioned by the Government to determine what was required by the organisation. Funding was not provided to it and it was more or less told that it would have to survive without it. It provides residential, day care and respite services. However, without having had any major discussion on the issue, the Government was quite happy to leave 1,500 people without respite care. It did this through the Health Service Executive which is a great barrier between the Government and patients involved. In spite of the Government's leaving 1,500 people without respite care, it made a great brouhaha at budget time over increasing the carer's respite allowance. In spite of this increase, facilities do not exist in many cases to provide the necessary respite services.

It is as if the disability issue is very much media-driven or as if the Government is saying: "Look what we are doing." It is felt that any increases or improvements to people's lives depend on how they translate into some media soundbite for the Government. This is my belief in respect of what is happening in the health service. It is a question of ten-point and five-point plans. We all know what will happen when the national treatment purchase fund brings itself to bear on the waiting lists. They will decrease but, ultimately, patients who wait for a rheumatology appointment in the north west, an orthopaedic appointment in the south east or a urology appointment in some parts of Dublin will still have to wait three or four years. Patients are still not being seen by neurosurgeons quickly enough, regardless of what may be happening in respect of waiting lists.

One of the best examples I encountered in this regard was when one of my patients entered my surgery and asked me, in my capacity as a politician, to write a letter to Beaumont Hospital to ask the medical staff to see him. The patient was due to return to the hospital for investigation after having been an outpatient and the hospital said it would call him back after six to eight weeks in this regard. I agreed to write the letter. I asked the patient when he was seen by the staff at the hospital and he said that it had been three years previously. I hope the Government takes on board some of the points we make.

Tá áthas orm cúpla focal a rá ar an mBille tábhachtach seo. It is accurate to say the issue of disability has had a rocky history as far as the Government and its predecessor are concerned. I remember when the first Disability Bill was published in 2001, which was prior to the previous general election. The then Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary Wallace, was responsible for the Bill but one could stay it was still-born because it made no progress after its introduction. There was an outcry about the inadequacy of its provisions. The Government regrouped and promised a new rights-based Bill after the general election. Today we are discussing the provisions of the present Bill which are too little, too late.

The Disability Bill 2004 is far from perfect in its current form and may exclude more people with disabilities than it includes. Without exception, the 40 representative groups, including People with Disabilities in Ireland, which have made submissions on the Bill to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights expressed serious reservations about the legislation and called for substantial amendments to its provisions.

We have rafts of good equality legislation outlawing discrimination and advocating equality for people with disabilities. In this context, it is, sadly, all the more ironic that the only legislation before us that contains the word "disability" in its title should have the effect of excluding rather than including the very people it is supposed to protect. There is real concern among representative groups and in the Equality Authority that this Bill could undermine current equality legislation and may have the effect of diminishing the equal status of people with disabilities.

I hope the Oireachtas will be able to reach agreement on amendments to this Bill. The manner in which it is eventually enacted will dictate the kind of society we have and the extent of our commitment to inclusiveness. It is our responsibility as legislators to ensure that when this Bill is enacted it is the best possible Act in this area. It is our duty and moral responsibility to ensure the delivery of quality service and support to remove barriers which hamper full participation in society. We want the Government to work with us during the remaining Stages of this Bill to improve this vital legislation.

The Bill falls far short of the rights-based legislation promised to people with disabilities. The legislation fails to incorporate many of the core principles and recommendations proposed in the report published by the disability legislation consultation group, Equal Citizens, in February 2003. This report represents the collective, agreed vision of the disability sector on disability legislation. Given this process, we are very disappointed with this Bill.

The Bill requires major reconsideration and amendment if it is to vindicate the rights of people with disabilities. The definition of disability in the Bill is too narrow and inconsistent with that in other Acts. For example, the definition in the Equal Status Act 2000 is much more inclusive. The definition in this Bill would exclude many people with disabilities who require services. The Bill does not provide for a right to an independent assessment of need and does not adequately address the individual's right to have his or her needs met as identified in the consultation group's report.

The appeals system proposed in this Bill is far too complex and cumbersome. Not alone will the procedures be difficult and frustrating to get around but it will create a great deal of unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy, resulting in resources being diverted from the provision of service for people with disabilities. The appeal system should be independent of the Department of Health and Children which is responsible in this area.

The barriers we place before people and our attitudes to their participation are more disabling than any impairment they may have. Our State has treated people with disabilities shamefully over many years. This was not done out of malice but because public systems, policies, administration and service delivery did not consider that people with disabilities also had a reasonable expectation of engaging in the opportunities and challenges of life in this State.

In the past people with disabilities were viewed as people who must be cared and catered for in exclusion. The old medical model of care for people with disabilities is changing to the socially inclusive model. We now recognise that we must uphold the right of people with disabilities to participate fully in society. The key issue is to rectify for the future the continuing wrong that has reduced the life chances of people with disabilities, their families and carers.

Change is happening and the major catalyst for this has been the actions of people with disabilities and their families. They have come out of the shadows to declare themselves citizens of this State who want to be included and have much to offer. They emphasise that they have the same rights and needs, hopes and expectations, fears and problems, as everyone else. They can contribute and want to be enabled to do so. It is our responsibility that they be so enabled.

Last December I had the privilege of launching a report on access to education for people with disabilities in my county, Donegal. Some of the research findings were positive, others were very negative. It is shocking that over half of the schools in Donegal are inaccessible to people with disabilities. It is even more shocking that there are almost 450 young people with disabilities studying in these inaccessible schools. The education system is a challenge in itself. The added burden of inaccessibility and inappropriate accommodation demands extra effort and sacrifice. This must be addressed.

The national disability strategy published last September and underpinned by budgetary measures since then goes some way to address the issue of inaccessible buildings, but the timeframe envisaged is too long. We cannot afford to exclude present and future generations from education and life chances by physical barriers. We must play catch-up as soon as possible. I would take this one step further, all schools, regardless of whether they have pupils with disabilities on their rolls, should be made accessible without delay. This is an important principle of public policy.

For whom are the public services, financed by our taxes, designed? Are they for everyone or only those who fit into the narrow definition of normal, the people who fit into a certain mould? How would we react if our public services suddenly became inaccessible or resource dependent for people with brown hair or blue eyes, or a particular accent? What would we say if our children were suddenly deemed to be too expensive or too different to cater for, or if we were told we would not be allowed access to education because people like us did not come often enough to such buildings to justify accommodating us?

The Department of Education and Science must concentrate not only on refurbishment but on accessibility and must recognise the additional cost of maintenance of special facilities. The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 began as very different legislation. Many disability advocacy groups opposed many of its provisions. There was concern about many definitions and it was hotly debated here. The then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey, did not stand on ceremony, for which I give him credit. He engaged with the Opposition, particularly my colleague, Deputy Stanton, amended his legislation and accepted many Opposition amendments, in fact and in spirit, even to the point of changing the title of the Bill from the inappropriate Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill.

The legislative process did what it was supposed to do. As someone said afterwards, the system did work. The Oireachtas produced an Act which has the capacity to improve equality of opportunity for people with special educational needs. It may not be perfect and a lack of resources may hamper its provisions, but with political will it can effect change. It needs, however, to be implemented.

The Government should treat this Disability Bill in the same spirit. We will propose reasoned amendments to this defective Bill that has incurred opposition from every disability group in the country. I have their distilled response to the Bill in which they address ten key issues of concern to the members of the disability legislation consultation group.

Debate adjourned.