Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are alternatives to amendment No. 1. Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, will be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Disability Bill 2004: Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, lines 5 to 25, to delete all words from and including "ENABLE" in line 5 down to and including "INCLUSION" in line 25 and substitute the following:
"AFFIRM, PROTECT AND VINDICATE THE EQUAL RIGHTS OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, TO ALLOW FOR POSITIVE ACTION MEASURES TO ENABLE PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES TO REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL, TO LIVE WITH MAXIMUM INDEPENDENCE, AUTONOMY, PRIVACY AND DIGNITY, AND TO PARTICIPATE IN AND CONTRIBUTE TO IRISH SOCIETY ON AN EQUAL BASIS, TO GUARANTEE A MINIMUM STANDARD FOR THE PROVISION OF DISABILITY-SPECIFIC SERVICES, TO GUARANTEE THE PROGRESSIVE REALISATION OF THE RIGHT OF EQUAL ACCESS TO ALL PUBLIC BUILDINGS AND SERVICES,".
Bhí mé ag labhairt ar an leasú seo ag tús na díospóireachta. Tá leasú uaim féin agus ceithre cinn ó Theachtaí eile, a bhí ag iarraidh leasú a dhéanamh ar an teideal fada ar an Bhille seo. Tá muid ag iarraidh cur ina luí ar an Rialtas gur ceist cearta í agus gur gá don Rialtas, sa chéad dul síos, meas a thaispeáint sa chuid seo den Bhille ar na cearta atá ann. Tá muid ag lorg cearta bunúsacha. Ní hé go bhfuil muid ag lorg acmhainní, maoiniú nó athruithe bunúsacha. Tá muid ag lorg cearta, agus, sa deireadh thiar thall, bhí an deis ag an Rialtas — agus tá fós — glacadh leis go bhfuil praiseach déanta aige suas go dtí seo de cheist an Bhille um Míchumais atá os ár gcomhair, gur dhein sé praiseach den Bhille deireannach, agus, fós féin, nach bhfuil muid tar éis an pointe a shroichint nuair is féidir liomsa — nó, glacaim leis, Teachtaí eile an Fhreasúra — glacadh leis seo mar Bhille um Míchumais, toisc nach bhfuil an Rialtas ag déanamh na rudaí bunúsacha a iarradh air a dhéanamh, is é sin, cearta a thabhairt dúinn.
The Sinn Féin position in a nutshell is that we support rights-based disability legislation. This Bill is not rights-based. It does not give any right to the disabled in our community. Even with the few amendments tabled and accepted on Committee Stage, this Bill is not good enough for the Government's disability legislative consultation group. It is not good enough for the dozens of disability representative groups that made submissions to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and it is not good enough for me or my party. This legislation should never have made it this far. I urge the Government to reconsider and withdraw it. If it is unwilling to withdraw it, I urge it to adopt the amendment I have tabled to ensure that at least we come out at the end of this process with rights-based legislation.
When we talk about the need for rights-based legislation for people with disabilities, we are not talking about legislation only for the estimated 8.3% of the population, the approximately 325,000 people with disabilities, according to the Central Statistics Office, whom we want this Bill to look after. We are ensuring that not only they, but also all society and their future are looked after through this legislation. It must also look after their families, carers and service providers.
When we talk about rights-based disability legislation, we are talking about legislation that will benefit all society. Any of us could have a disabled child, grandchild, niece or nephew. Any of us could become disabled as a result of an accident, a late onset condition or, what we all face, old age. The same could happen to our parents or a loved one. Therefore, when we talk about rights-based disability legislation we are not talking about special rights for just the 325,000 or some of them. We are talking about equal rights for everybody so that we may never find ourselves in a situation where a physical, mental, intellectual, emotional or sensory condition causes us or our loved ones to be excluded from society and all the everyday abilities that non-disabled people take for granted.
We are talking about rights for all and my amendment seeks to change the Long Title of the Bill to reflect that. I want to include in the Title the affirmation, protection and vindication of equal rights for people with disabilities, to allow for positive action measures to enable people with disabilities to reach their full potential, to live with maximum independence, autonomy, privacy and dignity, and to participate in and contribute to Irish society on an equal basis, to guarantee a minimum standard for the provision of disability-specific services, to guarantee the progressive realisation of the right of equal access to all public buildings and services.
This is just the start of what we want and does not include all the amendments we hope will be adopted. I hope the Minister of State will accept this amendment. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's argument that disability rights somehow undermine the rights of others simply cannot withstand logical scrutiny. It is little wonder that the Government's attempts to defend its approach on Second and Committee Stages were weak and made little sense. The Government has been trying to defend the indefensible.
Almost a decade has passed since the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, which was chaired by Mr. Justice Fergus Flood, recommended the introduction of a disabilities Bill. He hoped that such a Bill would outline the rights of people with disabilities and specify a means of redress for those who are denied their rights. Such matters are not included in the Bill before the House, but amendment No. 1 is the first in a series of amendments designed to correct such omissions. The ninth recommendation in the commission's report, which established the benchmark against which Deputies should judge this legislation, stated that any disabilities legislation "should outlaw all discrimination against people with disabilities and should require public and private bodies, employers and educators to make reasonable accommodation to meet their specific needs".
The Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International have reminded Deputies that we need to meet Ireland's international obligations as we frame this legislation. The Minister of State and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have failed to meet such obligations in this legislation, which does not give any status to the rights which flow from Ireland's international obligations. The Human Rights Commission has reminded us that the relevant human rights standards are outlined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Revised European Social Charter.
The Human Rights Commission has listed the main requirements of international human rights law which are relevant to the Disability Bill. Opposition Members have tried to meet those requirements in amendments like amendment No. 1. The commission has argued that the provision of disability specific services "must be effectively centred on an individualised assessment of needs". It has clearly stated that "mechanisms for the allocation of funding and the provision of services must effectively guarantee the progressive realisation of the economic and social rights" of people with disabilities. According to the commission, "the human rights of persons with disabilities must be the paramount consideration in the rationalisation of resources and services".
The Human Rights Commission has said that mechanisms for the allocation of funding and the provision of services should "guarantee that basic standards of services never fall below a floor" that is "consistent with the imperative of human dignity" and human rights. The commission has said that disabilities legislation "must provide effective remedies in terms of enforcement", based on "fair and independent" procedures. It added that the State's obligations "extend to ensuring that the proposed systems provide equal participation in society for persons with disabilities".
When I was preparing to table my Report Stage amendments, I read the Human Rights Commission's criticisms of the Bill. The commission stated that "the proposed system of funding under the Bill affords service providers a wide discretion to deviate from the provision of resources identified as being required by persons with disabilities". After I had completed my list of amendments, I noted that the commission stated:
The most important issue in addressing those needs is the putting in place of adequate funding and the provision of services which guarantee—
(i) the ‘progressive realisation' of the economic and social rights of persons with disability; and
(ii) that standards of services never fall below a floor of core minimum standards consistent with the imperative of human dignity.
The commission is urging Members of the Oireachtas "to ensure there is a presumption in favour of providing the necessary resources except in exceptional circumstances". The commission has argued that the current Disability Bill does not guarantee the progressive realisation of rights or core minimum provision. The Bill does not explicitly state that nothing in it will diminish the existing rights of people with disabilities, under the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 or other equality legislation.
The Human Rights Commission "recommends that the definition of disability contained in the Bill should be amended to reflect international standards" and should be inclusive rather than exclusive. It is concerned that the assessment process is not sufficiently independent, that there is no reference in the Bill to services "as of right" and that there is no presumption in favour of the progressive realisation of rights. It is concerned that the proposed appeals procedure creates a number of obstacles to "effective and reasonable access to remedies". In particular, the commission feels that "the general exclusion of court proceedings" violates international standards of justiciability. I have tried to remedy some of these problems in amendment No. 1.
The Human Rights Commission has also argued, based on international law, that there is an "imperative for a rights-based approach". It has made clear that "there are basic levels of services which must be guaranteed by the State". It believes that there is a right under international law to the "progressive realisation of rights and the right to certain basic levels of services", including an unqualified right to an independent assessment of needs. The commission has warned that if such rights are not upheld Ireland could end up in the same boat as France, where little progress has been made by people with disabilities despite the enactment of disability legislation as long ago as 1973.
I accept that the Deputy's amendment is very broad, but he is not entitled to make a Second Stage speech at this point.
I know that. I am trying to outline the context in which the rights I would like to see contained in this Bill should be delivered. My amendment seeks to amend the Long Title of the Bill. I quoted from the Human Rights Commission, which seeks the inclusion in the Bill of minimum standards and guarantees. I mentioned that little progress was made in France because the legislation in that country was not based on rights. If the Acting Chairman allows me to finish this point, I will not have to repeat it when we are discussing other amendments which are related to the amendments currently before the House. I could make some of these arguments during the debate on amendment No. 5, for example, but I would prefer to make my points now rather than dragging out the matter at a later stage. Amendment No. 1 is the most important amendment I have tabled. I ask the Acting Chairman to bear with me for another couple of minutes.
Like the Human Rights Commission, the Irish section of Amnesty International has concluded that the Government has not fully met its international human rights obligations in this Bill. In its submission to the joint committee, Amnesty International reminded Deputies that the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was very critical of Ireland's treatment of people with disabilities. In its 2002 report, the UN committee noted the "favourable economic conditions" in this State. It observed that no insurmountable factors are preventing the State from effectively implementing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has been binding on the State since 1989. The UN committee instructed the Government to introduce rights-based disability legislation that does not preclude judicial redress.
This Bill precludes judicial redress and is not rights-based. Such matters are covered in my amendment No. 1, as well as in amendment No. 2 in the names of Deputies Lynch and Finian McGrath. They can elaborate further on that amendment.
It should be noted that the Equality Authority considers that the Disability Bill does not add value to the existing equality legislation. I am addressing such concerns in the amendment before the House. When Ireland signed certain international agreements and the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities issued 400 recommendations in 1996, the Government entered into new obligations relevant to human rights and the equal rights of people with disabilities. I refer, for example, to the Good Friday Agreement, which is important but has been ignored. That Agreement guarantees the adoption in this State of at least equivalent measures to those available in the Six Counties. The Government has not done that, which is another concern I will address at a later stage.
The Deputy will be aware that many Deputies wish to speak on the amendments. You have been speaking for 20 minutes.
As far I as I know, I have the right to speak as long as I address the amendments.
The Deputy could have consideration for other Members.
I hope the Government will have the consideration not to guillotine the Bill, which it intends to do, as I read on the draft Schedule for next week. If it does not do so, it will allow all the time we need to make all relevant points. We tried to impress this point on the Government on Second Stage and Committee Stage but, so far, it has not listened. I will have to repeat the point ad nauseam until it listens.
I want to tidy up one or two points. I referred to commitments to which the Government signed up, including EU equality directives and the European Convention on Human Rights, which tie in to the reason rights-based legislation is needed. The former Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Mary Wallace, established the disability legislation consultation group in 2002, at the time of the previous Bill. That was thought to be a brilliant development. It was thought that the Government had, at long last, listened and then withdrawn the Bill, and that it would come back with rights-based legislation because that was the basis on which the previous Bill was withdrawn. The Government did not do so and that is why we are trying to ensure that the Bill is rights-based.
A number of groups — the Forum for People with Disabilities, the National Association for People with Intellectual Disability and the National Parents and Siblings Alliance — have recently withdrawn from the Government's consultation group precisely because the tenor of my amendment has not been delivered. In keeping with the proposed amendments and lobbying of the groups, I hope the House will adopt some of the amendments I have put forward.
The Bill and its Long Title are fundamentally flawed because a reference to rights or a right to equal participation is not included. I will return to other issues during discussion of other amendments. It is a pity that on Committee Stage and during this Report Stage debate we will not be able to debate many of the amendments which would make these rights——
If the Deputy continues for much longer on amendment No. 1, we certainly will not be able to debate many of the amendments.
We will not debate them this evening because I hope I will get my right to reply.
You will get every right but the Chair can insist on not allowing repetition in a debate.
I repeated what I said on Second Stage and Committee Stage. I intend to conclude by commending amendment No. 1 to the House. I am committed to ensuring that at some stage we will have rights-based disability legislation. I will continue ad nauseam, if need be, affirming the point that the Bill is not what was intended by all the groups which played a role in the consultation process. It is not what those groups hoped for following the debacle of the first Bill. Agus é sin ráite, molaim leasú Uimh. 1 aríst, agus tá súil agam, fiú ag an phointe seo, go n-éisteoidh an tAire linn agus go nglacfaidh sé leis.
Amendment No. 2 states:
In page 5, lines 5 to 12, to delete all words from and including "THE" in line 5 down to and including "NEEDS," in line 12 and substitute the following:
"CERTAIN RIGHTS FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO THE ASSESSMENT OF NEEDS OCCASIONED TO THEM BY THEIR DISABILITIES, AND TO A STATEMENT OF SERVICES COMMENSURATE WITH THOSE NEEDS, TO ENABLE MINISTERS OF THE GOVERNMENT TO MAKE PROVISION FOR THOSE SERVICES,".
I urge the House to support the amendment, which deals in strong language with the broad issue of rights for people with disabilities.
The Bill is flawed. The Government does not intend to deliver rights-based legislation for people with disabilities. That is the core issue underpinning the three amendments, as well as touching on the broader debate. My amendment would give teeth to the Bill because it is strong. It is essential that we remember the time of the Special Olympics in 2003, when the Taoiseach gave a commitment that we would have legislation better than anywhere else in the world. Now is the opportunity for the Government and the State to introduce that legislation. The Government needs to take on board a progressive realisation of rights. It must also take on board the issue of rights for people with disabilities, with the focus on services.
Many people are concerned that the Bill may be unconstitutional and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. For example, the right of access to the courts is covered by Article 34.1 of the Constitution and the right of access to the courts within a reasonable timeframe is covered by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. A further issue, the right to an appropriate education, is covered by Article 42.4 of the Constitution, as interpreted in the O'Donoghue judgment of 27 May 1993. The courts have been the only arm of the State to vindicate the rights of people with disabilities, who have been shamefully and deliberately neglected by a State which has manifestly failed them.
A Department of Education and Science memorandum in 1998 stated that the inadequacies of special education services were being exposed in the High Court on an almost daily basis. It is now well established that the courts are no longer prepared to tolerate the present situation. Rather, they are increasingly directing the State to put the necessary support services in place. In virtually every case, the State has been found to have failed in its obligation under Article 42 of the Constitution to provide for free primary education for all children. It is also well established that the courts will intervene to vindicate the constitutional rights of the citizens. This debate is linked to amendment No. 2.
When discussing the Bill in the context of the certain rights referred to in the amendment, it can be clearly seen that the State is opposed to rights-based legislation. This blatant opposition by the State was made abundantly clear on 13 January 1999 in the progress report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, entitled Towards Equal Citizenship. The report stated, in a manner relevant to the amendment, that the Department of Finance:
cannot accept these recommendations which imply the underpinning by law of access to and provision of services for people with disabilities as a right. This right, if given a statutory basis, would be prohibitively expensive for the Exchequer and could lead to requests from other persons seeking access to health and other services without regard to the eventual cost of providing these services.
Is it any wonder that the State proposes the Bill? After all, the State will be the only beneficiary should the Bill be enacted. That is the core issue with regard to amendment No. 2.
In the High Court in October 2000 Mr. Justice Robert Barr, when referring to the State's pleading of scarce resources as an excuse to deny disabled person's their rights, stated:
It seems that the reason for that unhappy state of affairs is a lack of understanding by finance providers of the status and implications of the constitutional obligations of the State and in consequence an inability on their part to prioritise in constitutional justice claims made on the resources of the State by those having such rights which the State has an obligation to vindicate in full and as a matter of urgency.
I understand where the Minister is coming from. Anybody who believes in rights for people with disabilities can see the fingerprints of the Department of Finance all over the Bill. Many other Departments are unhappy with this situation.
I strongly support the groups which have expressed their clear opposition, some of which have walked out of the consultative group. I remind the Minister of State that delegates from NAMHI, an organisation which represents 28,000 intellectually disabled people, recently voted at one of their conferences on a motion which stated that this Bill is so fundamentally flawed that merely asking for it to be amended is futile and that it should be replaced with rights-based legislation. The motion was proposed by Pat O'Hanlon, mother of Ryan O'Hanlon, and Marie O'Donoghue, mother of Paul O'Donoghue, and unanimously passed at the NAMHI conference in Sligo. This organisation promotes the rights of people with disabilities. My second daughter has a disability and the people who work in NAMHI are parents and service providers and know what they are talking about.
I urge the Minister to carefully consider my amendment.
We are at a different stage with regard to the Bill. We did not hold out any great hope that there would be any huge changes. Those of us who sat through Second and Committee Stages realised the Minister was not for turning and asked many questions but nothing happened.
My amendment relates to the Title of the Bill and asks for the deletion of lines 5 to 12 on page 5 and the insertion of the provision of certain rights for people with disability, including the right to the assessment of needs occasioned to them by their disability and to a statement of services commensurate with those needs, to enable Ministers of the Government to make provision for those services. If one was not aware of the background to this Bill, and had just dropped in from outer space or another country, one might think that on the face of it the amendment is very balanced and fair and not hard-hitting. However, if one knew the background to the Bill one would also realise that the amendment goes to the very essence and heart of the Bill.
This amendment refers to the person and how one deals with a person who has a disability. This Government would like to regard people in terms of their disability. However, that is not what this legislation should be about in any way. It should be about the person and how we can provide services to ensure he or she can live as normal a life as possible. People should have a right to be able to come in to the House and listen to us, not that we always make much sense. We should not have superior rights to others and this is what my amendment is about. It is concerned with treating people as equal citizens and dealing with the difficulties which we have placed in their way.
The list of amendments is possibly longer than the Bill itself, and I would like to get through as many of them as possible. There are certain elements of the amendments which the Minister should examine. He promised to come back to the committee with regard to the issue of the Ombudsman and the DLCG. What happened with regard to that undertaking? Was it agreeable? Has it fallen apart? I was speaking to somebody involved in one of the groups that has walked away from the consultation process. He was not angry or annoyed, just completely disillusioned. He finds it very difficult to cope and feels that the Government is like the Grand Old Duke of York in that it marched the group up the hill only to turn around and march it down again. He said that the Government kept the group within a consultation process for two years, always holding out the promise and expectation that it was listening. However, it did not listen. Its mouth was shut but its ears were not open. As a result we have legislation that bears no relationship to the needs of people with disabilities.
It is certain that this Bill will end up in the courts, some elements quicker than others. We cannot afford to do it but we cannot afford not to — I am of a generation that heard that argument in respect of equal pay for women. The same economy now demands that women go out to work but states that it cannot afford child care or to give equal rights to people who happen to have a disability. I do not accept that argument. Of all of the things we can afford, we can afford justice.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on these amendments which state strongly what needs to be in the Bill and what is lacking, namely, the equal right of people with disabilities to be guaranteed services. The amendments tabled by Deputies Ó Snodaigh, McGrath, Lynch, Stanton and Murphy go to the core of what is lacking in the Bill. This Bill could more easily be called the resources dependent disability Bill. There is every sort of weave and dodge to try to ensure that the Government does not have to make the necessary commitment to ensure people with disability have some chance of a normal existence.
The rejection of these amendments flies in the face of what the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have said in their speeches regarding disability. The Taoiseach stated that he wanted a disability Bill that was the best in the world and the Tánaiste talks about supporting and reinforcing equal participation in society by people with disabilities. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, to accept the amendments because they represent what the Bill is about.
People with disabilities strongly state that the Bill was thrown out in 2002 for the very reasons that these amendments attempt to address. There should be a right to services and an obligation on the Government to ensure that if somebody has a disability they have the right to access the services they need. The Government is giving the wrong message in rejecting these amendments. Everybody thought it would be third time lucky, but people are very concerned about the outcome. There is a feeling that the entire Bill should be thrown out once again. There would have been no shame in doing so considering the Government is going back on its promises. It went to the trouble of setting up the DLCG as a consultation forum in which to identify all of the issues that should be included in the Bill. I cannot understand why the Government went to the trouble and expense of setting up such a forum and then did a complete volte face and denied everything that was clearly outlined by the forum. People were consulted and they had high hopes. The Government has a case to answer for letting down the people who thought it would help them and who elected it to do the job. People will remember if these amendments are not accepted because they have been clear in their views.
There is a complaints system in place but it must be simplified and made more accessible. On the appeals system, there is a right to an assessment but once the assessment is complete there is no right to services. That is leading people up the garden path, so to speak. We are telling them the services they should have yet there is no obligation on the Government to provide them. The Government has every reason, be it political or financial, to decide a person would not get those services. That is not the type of society we want or the one everybody felt would be created with the introduction of a proper Disability Bill.
The Bill must clearly ring-fence disability specific resources. These amendments would go some way towards doing that but that will not happen. We have had much talk about mainstreaming disability services and disability proofing legislation and Departments but a recent survey showed that only 60% of Government buildings had proper accessibility for disabled people. Without a clear statutory duty on all Departments and public bodies to include people with disabilities in their plans and services, with appropriate monitoring and accountability, this Bill accounts for nothing. These amendments would have been the way forward. Public services should include all those provided in the public system by statutory or non-statutory instruments. The Bill does not take account of the wider needs of people with disabilities.
People with disabilities need housing, health services and all the other services, which they are not guaranteed in the Bill. If they have a problem with the assessment of needs, there is no proper appeal system in place for them.
Clarity is needed on the impact of the Disability Bill and on section 14 of the Equal Status Act. There is a need for Government to re-examine this issue. The Government has done a gross disservice to disabled people and to itself. Some might cynically say the Bill is a way of stopping further cases being taken such as the Sinnott case, which was the only means whereby disabled people could get the services they needed. It is a terrible indictment of Government that disabled people have to go to such an extent. The only appeal available now will be on a point of law, which is not acceptable. I strongly support these amendments.
I call Deputy Stanton and apologise for not calling him before Deputy Cowley.
I wish to speak to amendment No. 3. It has been said that this Bill is fatally flawed. I do not say this lightly but it probably is flawed. There is a flaw at the heart of the Bill and my advice is that it may not withstand a challenge.
Line 3 of the Long Title appears to blame people with disabilities for their disabilities. The phrase "occasioned to persons with disabilities by their disabilities" is superfluous. It does not serve any purpose and is insulting. It is like Old Testament language because it is blaming the sinner for the sin. There is no need for it and the Minister should delete it from the Long Title. We know people with disabilities have needs. We do not have to indicate in the Long Title that they have needs because they have disabilities. We know that and people with disabilities know it. I do not understand the reason for that phrase in the Long Title.
In line 4 of the Long Title the Government is inserting a reminder to everybody that this is not a rights based Bill but a service Bill that deals with health and education needs only in a very limited way. It reminds us that the Bill is "to enable Ministers of the Government to make provision, consistent with the resources available to them and their obligations in relation to their allocation, for services . . .". That is an immediate reminder that the Bill will be resource constrained. Problems arise with that later in the Bill which I have identified and to which I will alert the Minister of State.
I suggest deleting the insulting phrase which blames people with disabilities for their own disabilities because it serves no useful purpose. Nor is there a need for a reminder that the Bill is resource based. To keep the Long Title simple and straightforward it should read: "An Act to enable provision to be made for the assessment of the health and education needs of persons with disabilities and to enable Ministers of the Government to make provision for services to meet those needs . . . " and so on. That section of the Long Title should be deleted.
The other two amendments mention rights. Perhaps the Minister of State will tell us, having thought about it over the past few days, whether the Bill gives rights of any sort to people with disabilities. The right to an assessment is mentioned but that is resource constrained. There is no actual right in the Bill to anything. There are certainly no rights to services of any sort. It is totally dependent on resources. People will have assessments of their needs carried out and the liaison officer will then have to determine the services that can be made available. The Minister might tell us how the liaison officers will do that because there is no reference to it in the Bill. The way a liaison officer will carry out that function is not clear in the Bill. The Bill is silent in that regard. Will the liaison officer have to carry out an audit of the accounts of the Health Service Executive to determine if there is the necessary funding to make a service available? How will the liaison officer do that? The Bill states that a liaison officer will have to do that. That comes back to the issue of resources. We are reminded in the Long Title that the Minister has to make provision consistent with the resources available but it does not explain how the liaison officer will do that. The Bill states that the Minister will devolve his or her authority to the liaison officer but it is unclear how the liaison officer will act. That is an impossible task to give a liaison officer.
My amendment would simplify the language in the Bill, remove the insulting phrase I referred to and the reminder about resources, which are not necessary in the Long Title. If the Minister has to insert it later in the Bill, fair enough but it is not necessary to include it in the Long Title. I will conclude as I am conscious that there are many amendments to discuss and I am interested to hear the Minister of State's reply.
The Bill is exceptionally and fundamentally flawed.
We are on amendmentNo. 1.
To that end, amendment No. 1 is an attempt to try to introduce a better definition in the Bill. I am concerned, however, about the very limited movement that has been made by the Government to deliver on rights. I am concerned that organisations are walking away from the Bill, so to speak. I am concerned that the Minister for Finance threw money at disability organisations in the budget last December in an attempt to win the consent of those organisations but it is not working. I am disturbed that the attempt to indulge in pork-barrel politics last December has led to divisions within the ranks of those organisations working in the area of disability.
The rights that disability groups sought should not be watered down to a right merely to an independent assessment. People with disabilities must be entitled to the same civil and human rights as others. It is not rocket science. The Americans With Disabilities Act was signed by President George Bush senior in 1990. That law mandated that local, state and federal Government buildings and programmes be accessible to employees and people using the services, that businesses with more than 15 persons make reasonable accommodations for disabled workers and that public accommodation such as restaurants and shops make reasonable modifications to provide access for disabled members of the public.
It seems curious that George Bush senior, hardly a paragon in the defence of human rights, made more provisions 15 years ago in the United States than the Irish Government is prepared to make today. This Bill should be about accessibility, mobility and ability, and should provide for obligations and participation. Most of all it should provide rights and I am concerned the Minister of State has not gone the extra mile to deliver that.
I hope in the debate which starts with these fundamental amendments on how we define the Bill he goes that extra mile. While I am keen to participate fully in the discussion on the amendments it is only possible to do so if we see some sign of a commitment from the Minister of State to engage, take on and proceed with some of the amendments. I hope he tries to provide some olive branch to those who sincerely wish to see those rights delivered on and vindicated within the Bill.
I proceed to this Stage of the Bill with a heavy heart because I have not seen much sign of a thawing from the Government side. We all have met representatives of organisations concerned about this Bill. The more one meets them the more one realises this is not about delivering a charitable act of compassion for a group in society. It is about allowing those groups of people and individuals to participate freely in society and have rights delivered. Surely that can be done in the Ireland of 2005.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on amendment No. 3 moved by my colleague, Deputy Stanton. Sadly the Bill and the definition in the introduction of the Bill are fatally flawed. That is disappointing because we had all hoped this draft of the Disability Bill would succeed where the previous Bill fell down — it left us with a situation whereby people had to go through the courts to vindicate their rights — but that has not happened.
The other speakers are correct in stating that the only right in the legislation is a right to an assessment. It is pointless to have an assessment if the resources are not there to deliver upon it. Implementing the recommendations of an assessment is solely dependent on the resources that will be made available and even though the right to an assessment is set out in the legislation, the assessment is also resource dependent. That causes significant frustration among people who had hoped their rights would be vindicated through this Bill.
To copperfasten that difficulty, there is another aspect of the Bill which makes the current position worse. Up to now a person could go to the courts to vindicate his or her rights but under this legislation that right will be taken away. A person cannot take the Government to court over the lack of implementation of an assessment and because of that the Title of the Bill is flawed.
I am glad that Deputy Stanton raised the issue of the Title of the Bill. He is correct that it turns the table and states to a disabled person that it is his or her fault for being disabled in the first instance. The Minister of State needs to examine that as I know that is not his intention. I ask him to seriously consider Deputy Stanton's amendment on that basis. None of us wants to insult anyone with a disability. People with disabilities do not seek charity.
They have had enough of that.
Exactly, they have had plenty of charity. They want to be treated as individuals and citizens of this State, in the same way as everyone else. The majority of them want to live independent lives in so far as they can. They want to have the same rights as each of us, such as the right to an adequate education, which many of them have not had in the past.
I will make one point on a particular section of people with disabilities, those in State institutions and psychiatric hospitals. They have not had the right to an education. Many of them were dumped in those places and, while I do not want to stray off the point, I hope that can be addressed.
The issue of delivery is critically important but that does not seem to come across in the Bill nor in its Title. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the amendment tabled by Deputies Stanton and Murphy. It is a balanced and reasoned amendment and more aptly defines the Title of the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, propose to insert a new Long Title into the Bill and deal with equal rights of people with disabilities. Employment equality and equal status legislation already exists in the State. The present legislation is a positive action measure and I consider, therefore, that the present Long Title reflects that fact accurately.
The two main issues are that the Bill is predicated on resources and a justiciable right in the courts. If the Opposition Members who spoke were in government, every decision they took would be dependent on resources. No legislation has been put through in the history of this House that did not have a clause making it dependent on resources. It is not realistic for the Opposition to call for legislation to be passed which is not dependent on resources. In no country in the world——
Equality legislation was passed.
I did not interrupt Deputy Cuffe.
I am making the point that equality legislation was not dependent on resources.
In no country in the world——
Let us make history.
Justiciable rights are not found in legislation in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Britain and Sweden, which are the most advanced countries in the world in terms of legislation on disabilities and other human rights.
They are not barred from doing so.
If those Members of the Opposition speaking were in government it still would not be possible to provide for justiciable rights which are not dependent on resources. I must reject those amendments put down this evening. I wish to retain the current Long Title of the Bill which adequately describes the intent and purpose of the Bill. The Bill places obligations on the State to provide the many rights contained therein, which will demand a massive expenditure of resources.
There is no provision for them.
They have now been provided in the multi-annual package being provided by the Department of Finance.