Topical Issue Debate

NAMA Properties

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for allowing me to raise the issue of unfinished housing estates and the non-engagement of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, with the planning authorities in resolving site issues. NAMA has been mentioned several times in the House today. As an institution, it seems to have an impact on all aspects of life in the country. I have been invited to residents' meetings at which I have been alarmed to discover that where NAMA is a stakeholder, it is apparently refusing to discuss its role with local authorities and residents in reaching solutions which will ensure the satisfactory completion of unfinished housing developments.

The attitude seems to be that because NAMA is a bank, it has no resources to deal with aspects of its business outside that banking role. I accept there is a rationale for this. However, it is not a satisfactory outcome for the many who invested their life savings in their home and are now living in unfinished housing estates. What about the aspirations for co-operation contained in the report of the Government's advisory group on unfinished housing developments published last May? In the section, Partnership Approach with Residents, the report states:

Many unfinished developments are having a serious impact on the living environment of residents. These developments also impact on the wider community, society and the economy. The primary objective of addressing unfinished developments should be to address the needs of residents.

The advisory group considers it imperative that stakeholders work together and co-ordinate their efforts to resolve problems associated with unfinished housing estates. It also believes that local authorities, developers, site owners, financial institutions and approved housing bodies should ensure that, where possible, residents are directly and centrally involved in resolving problems. Progress can be made where the various stakeholders work with residents and use their collective resources. All those involved should work in a co-operative and pragmatic way.

Many of the residents with whom I have spoken are in despair. They have had enough. Some unfinished housing estates are being used for criminal activity, including as hide-outs and for the sale of drugs. Every effort must be made to ensure those living in unfinished housing developments can live peacefully in their homes. The first priority is to ensure that unfinished housing developments are secured to reduce the safety risks to residents and members of the public. In this regard, residents appreciate the recent efforts by Government through the provision of scarce resources to make safe a number of sites around the country.

Residents are entitled to their rights. I ask that the Government instruct NAMA to engage with residents in compiling site resolution plans, as recommended by the advisory group.

I thank Deputy Phelan for raising this important matter.

NAMA has advised me that it has and continues to engage actively with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and local authorities regarding unfinished estates and on the issue of housing in general.

Following release of the report of the advisory group on unfinished housing developments last June, the Minister of State with responsibility for housing established a national co-ordination committee to oversee action on unfinished developments and to monitor and drive progress. NAMA has two representatives on this committee, which meets on a regular basis with the City and County Managers Association. The national co-ordination committee has focused its initial attention on the 243 estates categorised by local authorities as the most problematic from a public safety perspective, Category 4.

It is often assumed that the vast majority of unfinished estates are under NAMA control. However, only 29 of these estates are controlled by NAMA debtors or receivers, which is less than 12% of the total number of unfinished estates. NAMA has committed to fund, through its debtors and receivers,the cost of essential urgent works on these 29 estates, which is estimated at €3 million. NAMA advises that good progress has been made on the public safety issues surrounding these estates. Issues have been resolved in 12 estates and 11 other estates are in receivership, in respect of which satisfactory progress has been made with local authorities on agreeing site resolution plans. It is proposed to appoint receivers as a first step towards resolving safety issues in the remaining six estates.

The national co-ordination committee has now shifted its attention to Category 3 estates. NAMA estimates that approximately 14% of these relate to NAMA debtors. The next step is to clarify the status of each site and to agree a plan and timetable for optimum site resolution. As with Category 4 estates, this will involve NAMA working closely with the relevant local authorities.

On the matter of social housing in general, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, announced on 21 December last that he had agreed with NAMA that 2,000 housing units would be made available in 2012 to people on social housing lists, through leasing agreements with local authorities and volunteer housing associations. The objective behind the initiative is to provide individuals and families on social housing lists throughout the country with new homes provided by the State from properties already built but not being utilised. The agreement between the Minister and NAMA also includes a commitment by NAMA to put more housing units on the market, put aside more money to finish projects pending their sale or leasing for social housing purposes and to assign designated staff to manage legal and other problems that might be associated with completing transactions. In announcing this initiative, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, welcomed the agreement as one of the largest housing allocations made in the history of the State and a welcome boost to those most vulnerable in society.

NAMA has advised the Minister for Finance that on foot of the announcement made by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, it has provided a list of housing units to the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency, which is, in turn, engaging directly with local authorities with a view to aligning the NAMA listing with their specific social housing needs. In that context, the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency is co-ordinating the response to NAMA. Where a demand is identified by a local authority, efforts will be made by NAMA to secure suitable properties for social housing. Housing units being advanced by NAMA will be provided through the social housing leasing initiative under standard terms and conditions. The local authority will have the option of leasing the properties directly. Alternatively, an approved housing body may secure the properties through direct leasing or in some cases, by purchasing property, using private or HFA finance and leasing it back to the State.

As evident from my reply, NAMA is engaging actively with local authorities on the matter of unfinished estates and social housing. Can it improve that work? Yes, it can. The Deputy's highlighting of this issue and the importance of the strategic role played by NAMA in partnership with local authorities in areas where they have a responsibility, is an important part of that communication.

While I accept what the Minister of State had to say this matter needs to be closely monitored. There are people living on housing estates, in respect of which the developer or NAMA does not engage and the local authorities say their hands are tied and they cannot do anything. These people are experiencing huge difficulties in their estates, with many undesirables, such as people involved in the drugs industry and burglars and so on moving in. Residents of unfinished housing estates are experiencing significant social problems. NAMA appears more concerned about the big developer than with residents working on the ground to resolve these issues. I will be keep a close eye on progress in this area.

NAMA's remit is to maximise disposal, in terms of value, of assets for the taxpayer. NAMA's task is in the first instance to appoint debtors-receivers, whose task it is to maintain these estates. Where this is not being done in a satisfactory manner, NAMA has the power under section 141 of the NAMA Act to apply to the District Court for an entry and maintenance order. NAMA's task should in the first instance be to persuade debtors-receivers to ensure unfinished estates are maintained.

For the information of the House and, in particular, the Deputy who raised this matter, Members of the Oireachtas can contact NAMA through a dedicated e-mail address, namely, If there are specific estates in her constituency or elsewhere about which the Deputy would like information, including whether a particular estate is under NAMA control, whether a receiver has been appointed or whether NAMA is considering taking action under the section 141 proposal to exact more maintenance standards and so on, she should e-mail NAMA direct at that address. That might be a useful port of call for the Deputy.

My understanding is that the chairman of NAMA recently appeared before an Oireachtas joint committee.

At the time, he made it perfectly plain to the committee that NAMA would not give land away but obviously would work with community groups with an interest in particular pieces of land that have remained undeveloped to ascertain the optimum solution in consultation with the local authority. If there are specific issues to which the Deputy refers, she might e-mail them directly to the aforementioned e-mail address to ascertain the status of those lands or estates and to establish what action can be taken.

School Staffing

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle as ucht an seans a thabhairt dom an ábhar tábhachtach seo a ardú. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to the House to deal with this matter. He will be aware that on 3 November, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade announced the Government's decision to close three Irish embassies, namely, the embassy in Iran, the embassy in Timor-Leste and the embassy to the Vatican. The reason given for this initiative was cost savings and Members now are aware the price tag placed on the closure of the Irish Embassy to the Vatican was a saving of €455,000, which comprised the cost of running that embassy in 2010.

Fianna Fáil has made it clear from the outset that it is opposed to the closure of the Irish Embassy to the Vatican because of the strong historical links with that post and its position as an important listening post for international affairs and because it is the religious centre point for the Catholic faith. The Irish Embassy to the Vatican represents one of Ireland's oldest diplomatic ties, with a diplomatic presence to the Holy See being established as long ago as 1929, when the Vatican State itself was founded. This embassy is being closed at a time when other countries, such as Russia, the United Kingdom and Australia are building up their diplomatic links with the Holy See.

The Tánaiste denied that the decision to close the embassy was a consequence of recent strained diplomatic relations and stated that the key consideration obviously was where savings could be made. He went on to state "I was anxious to retain resident missions in countries where there is a clear economic or trade interest". Therefore, it appears as though the foreign policy being pursued by the Government is founded solely on the basis of economic advantage rather than on broader diplomatic goals or on shared values. It is interesting that as I speak, a detailed debate is under way in one of the committees on the matter of Ireland's election-----

I must bring to the Deputy's attention that the issue being discussed is the need to review the decision to combine the general allocation model and language support in primary schools.

I apologise but that is not what I was notified of. Obviously, there is a point of confusion.

I am here to respond to the education topic.

The Minister of State is present to respond to the education issue.

I have been advised that I am here to deal with the Vatican issue. I am afraid I am in the Acting Chairman's hands on that matter.

The Deputy is absolved.

The Minister of State does not have to hand a response to that matter.

In that case, may I raise this matter at another point? Will I be given another opportunity to do so?

My apologies but certainly this issue is what I was informed of.

If the Deputy wishes, he may revert and talk about the other issue.

No, I am not in a position to start the other one. I will be at a later date.

Very well. I will advise the Ceann Comhairle.

While I will give way to the next speaker, will I have the opportunity to revert in respect of these two matters given there was a communications breakdown?

I will communicate it to the Ceann Comhairle's office and will request that this be allowed.

Excellent. Thank you, Acting Chairman.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

There obviously is septic confusion coming from the Acting Chairman following his exploits in Dundrum over the weekend.

It was not his fault.

I raised this topic for debate because it is causing considerable concern within the Gaeltacht part of County Kerry and in other Gaeltacht areas nationwide. While there have been adverse changes to the pupil-teacher ratio across the board that will have a similar detrimental impact, that on Gaeltacht schools is being aggravated by the abolition of the discretionary ratio that used to be in place. This means the minimum number of pupils required for a four-teacher school has risen from 81 to 83 but in Gaeltacht areas, where the minimum previously was 76 pupils, a school now requires 83 pupils to qualify for a fourth teacher. As this number will be increased to 86 for all schools by 2014, the consequential increase in Gaeltacht areas will be 10 pupils, compared with five pupils elsewhere.

The increase in the required enrolment means Scoil Naomh Eoin Baiste, Lispole, will lose one teacher next September. This is a serious blow for a small rural school that will have a serious impact on the education provided. This impact was worsened because the school authorities had thought they had fulfilled the necessary criteria up until last September, when 80 pupils were enrolled. While this number exceeded the criterion of 76 pupils, it was then arbitrarily and without prior notice increased to 81 pupils. Subsequently, the school was informed it would need to have 83 pupils enrolled next September or it would lose another teacher. According to information in my possession, unless rescinded the new pupil-teacher ratio will mean that 13 of the 14 schools in the County Kerry Gaeltacht will lose teachers over the next three years. This will have a further detrimental impact on Gaeltacht areas in general and obviously, any movement of children and families to other areas, which might be one of the consequences, will accelerate the decline of Irish as the first spoken language in these regions.

As with other cutbacks that are being made, the bottom line appears to be solely financial. People who support increasing the pupil-teacher ratio always will be able to produce evidence that it makes no difference. Apart from the existence of a large body of evidence to support the opposite, it is strange that some people only discover the scientific argument for increasing the ratio when their own party does so. Apart from the educational argument in favour of retaining the lower ratio, there also is the argument in favour of retaining the schools, which many believe will be forced to close. I have heard some teachers and parents express the suspicion that this is the real object of the exercise. That would have a great impact on local communities in general and an even greater impact on Gaeltacht communities in particular, given the central role of the language in the education of children, who may in future be forced to travel to schools outside their own communities. I ask the Minister to reconsider the changes to teacher-pupil ratios across the board and that in addition, at the very least, he should restore the discretionary ratio for Gaeltacht schools.

I am taking this topical issues debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn. I thank Deputy Ferris for raising the matter as it affords me the opportunity to explain to the House the reasoning behind the changes to the staffing schedule.

Schools in Gaeltacht areas historically have operated the same staffing schedule as ordinary schools for the creation of a classroom teaching post at primary level. However, a slightly more favourable schedule operated for the Gaeltacht schools to retain a post between the bands of four and 12 classroom teachers. There was no increase in the budget in the general average of a pupil-teacher ratio of 28:1 used to allocate teachers to primary schools, including Gaeltacht schools, and this is something for which many people across the education sector had called. However, the budget did include a phased increase in the pupil threshold for the allocation of classroom teachers in small primary schools.

The only thing that is changing for small schools is that their average class sizes will no longer be as advantageous as they have been in the past due to the phased increases in the pupil thresholds in the staffing schedule. I am aware that some schools claim they will have more pupils in the school next September than they had last September and that some allowance should be made in such a situation. The existing staffing appeals process can be accessed by those schools that are projecting increased enrolment that would be sufficient to allow them to retain their existing classroom posts over the longer term. Details of this appeals process and how it will operate will be made clear as part of my Department's forthcoming circular. It will issue shortly to all schools on the staffing arrangements for the 2012-13 school year.

Even when all of the phased increases are implemented, the threshold for a second teacher at 20 pupils still will be significantly lower than the minimum of 28 pupils that was required for the appointment of a second teacher in rural schools prior to the late 1990s. I stress strongly that school communities should have no reason to feel there will be a forced closure or a forced amalgamation of their local schools. Rural communities, including those in the Gaeltacht, represent a cornerstone of Irish heritage and the schools in rural Ireland are in turn the cornerstone of these communities.

Achieving savings in my Department's budget has required the making of some very difficult decisions at a time when the school-going population is increasing. We want to be as fair as possible in making such decisions. One third of all public sector employees in this State work in the education sector. It is simply not possible, therefore, to completely exempt staffing levels in education from the Government's need to reduce expenditure. I have trust and confidence in the capacity of school principals and teachers to play their part in making the best use of their available resources in order to achieve the best possible educational outcomes for pupils.

I take no comfort from the Minister of State's reply. The population in the Gaeltacht areas in my constituency is declining as a result of emigration. For primary schools with eight classes, the loss of one teacher can mean that those who remain on the staff are obliged to cover a range of classes. Stating that the pupil-teacher ratio in the schools to which I refer is less than 28:1 does not take into account the number of classes which the teachers employed in those schools must take. There is a belief that what is being done here is a ploy to force the amalgamation of schools. As a result of the declining population to which I refer, many schools in the Gaeltacht areas in my constituency will have to close. As a result, it will be necessary for pupils from those areas to travel outside them to obtain an education. The Government's policy in this regard is contributing to the forced decline of the Irish language. Essentially, that policy is one of discrimination against the language.

In the context of the negotiations that will take place with principals in Gaeltacht areas in the coming days and weeks, I hope there will be an understanding with regard to the major role the schools to which I refer play in trying to ensure our language survives. In addition, account must be taken of the fact that the loss of a teacher from one of these schools exacerbates the problems experienced by those he or she leaves behind.

I reiterate that there is no attempt on the part of the Government somehow to set aside the very important work being done in furthering the national language and ensuring those who wish to pursue their education through it are given support in every way possible. The preferential pupil-teacher ratios that exist in the small rural school system are in place for a reason. Deputy Martin Ferris outlined the fact that teachers in these schools are obliged to teach in a multi-class environment. My mother taught four classes - quite successfully, I hope - in a small rural school for 42 years. The pupil-teacher ratios that will obtain in small rural schools following the introduction of the various changes by 2014 will still be significantly more advantageous than those which exist across the remainder of the rural school network. By that date, it will still be possible for a teacher in a two-teacher school teaching ten pupils. That will remain - and rightly so - a significant advantage to such teachers and it reflects the fact that they are obliged to teach in a multi-class environment.

At a time when the public finances are under great strain, we must ensure that the very valuable but limited resources available to us will be used in the very best way possible. I do not believe, and I am sure Deputy Martin Ferris will agree with me in this regard, that it is sustainable to have someone teaching only six pupils. Such a scenario can arise under the current system. I have every confidence in the capacity of school principals to play their part in making the best possible use of the resources to which I refer.

On numerous occasions in recent months, both the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, have stressed that on their watch no rural school will be forced to close or amalgamate without the express wish of the local community involved. Our policy in this regard is directly opposed to that being pursued by Deputy Martin Ferris's colleague, the Northern Ireland Minister for Education. The latter recently stated that any school with fewer than 105 students cannot operate properly and cannot provide a proper educational experience to the children who attend it. In September of last year, the Northern Ireland Minister for Education indicated that it would not be possible to plan in respect of the education system in that jurisdiction on the basis of school buildings but rather that such plans would have to be based on the needs of pupils. He said: "One third of our 863 primary schools have fewer than 100 enrolled", and that "difficult, sometimes unpopular, but necessary, decisions" would have to be taken to reduce that number.

The Government has never stated that it will forcibly close or amalgamate any schools. However, Deputy Martin Ferris's colleague, who works less than 100 miles from this House, is about to engage in a process designed to do precisely that. A little honesty and less hypocrisy in respect of these matters would, therefore, be appreciated-----

-----and would make what Deputy Martin Ferris and his colleagues in Sinn Féin have to say seem much more credible.

The Minister of State is obviously not very well acquainted with the Six Counties. I can understand that because he has hardly ever visited the place. He probably does not even understand who is responsible for funding the Six Counties. In this State, taxpayers - including the Minister of State, me and everyone else in this House - are responsible for funding education.

We must move on to the next topic.

Who is responsible for-----

The Deputy is not talking about funds.

The victims of the Government's policy will be school-going children.

The Deputy should not be denying his party's policies.

Teachers who are removed from the type of schools to which I refer will be employed elsewhere.

That is correct.

However, the pupils attending those schools will be victimised as a result of the Government's policy and those opposite do not give a good goddamn about that.

Public Attitudes to Disability

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for providing me with the opportunity to raise this matter. I recognise the work of the National Disability Authority in the context of the national survey of public attitudes to disability in Ireland. That survey is quite disturbing in many ways. There has been a drive on the part of many NGOs, Government organisations and others to remove the stigma relating to and encourage a better understanding of disability and create opportunities and promote equality for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, the survey to which I refer indicates that our attitudes in respect of these matters is not good.

We must be concerned in respect of this survey, particularly as it shows that negative attitudes towards disability are actually hardening and that there has been a deterioration in attitudes towards people with physical and intellectual disabilities in the past five years. Among the survey's main findings are that 34% of people with disabilities face restrictions in socialising and that almost 24% of people in general would object if children with mental health problems were in the same classes as their child. In addition, some 21% stated that they would object if a child with an intellectual disability or autism was placed in a class with their child. The survey further indicates that only 37% of people agreed that adults with intellectual disability or autism should have children if they wish. This is down very significantly from a figure of 64% in 2006. In addition, only 56% agreed that people with mental health difficulties had the same right to have sexual relationships as those without disabilities.

The Government should take immediate action in respect of the findings contained in the survey in order that we might stop people with intellectual disabilities slipping further away from mainstream society. The entire objective in respect of destigmatising the area of disability was to ensure people would reach their full potential and play a full role in society. It can be inferred from the survey that the will to achieve this objective is slipping.

Deirdre Carroll, the chief executive of the society, stated society needed to ask whether it is progressing or regressing in its treatment of people with disabilities. She stated we are going back to the days "where children with an intellectual disability didn't attend their local schools and mix with other children, and adults were pushed into institutions at the edges of communities".

The survey shows people with disabilities continue to face significant barriers in all areas of their lives, in schools, at work and in their neighbourhood, which precludes them from becoming valued and integrated members of society. Perhaps the Minister of State will address the objective of the Government that 3% of positions in all public bodies would be available to those with levels of disability and outline the progress that has been made. I know in some public authorities, particularly local authorities, substantial progress has been made and the percentage of people who have been employed is far more than 3%. Perhaps the Minister of State will make a general comment on the area because this issue seems to have slipped down and receives less attention.

These barriers in many ways are central to the isolation experienced by people with disabilities and we must ensure in every way possible that people with disabilities are seen as highly valued and equal members of Irish society, which they are. Will the Minister of State comment, if she has information, on See Change, the national mental health stigma reduction partnership which deals with stigmatisation and the same issues with regard to mental health. We recognise mental ill health and disability are two separate issues but there is a commonality with regard to the stigma surrounding them.

I do not intend to restate the statistics provided by Deputy Neville. I fully accept his commitment not only to this area but also to mental health. Not alone has he spoken about this issue through the years when no one else wanted to speak about it but he definitely educated many people with regard to mental health and the topic of suicide.

The National Disability Authority, NDA, conducted surveys of attitudes to persons with disabilities in 2001, 2006 and 2011. The 2006 survey showed marked improvement in the public's attitudes towards people with disabilities, save in relation to those with mental health difficulties. Unfortunately, the NDA's survey completed in 2011 shows a serious deterioration in attitudes towards persons with all types of impairments, although there is some evidence that gains made in 2006 regarding attitudes towards those with mental health issues have been retained. The survey found a general hardening of attitudes towards people with all types of disabilities, whether in schools, the workplace or in community life. Some of the survey findings are truly worrying.

Only 48% of respondents agree that children with sensory impairments should attend the same schools as those without disabilities. This is down from 58% in 2006. Almost a quarter - 24% - of respondents said they would object if a child with mental health difficulties was in the same class as their child. This is up from 21% in 2006. We are meeting somewhere in the middle and attitudes are definitely hardening. Only 62% believe children with physical disabilities should attend the same schools as children without disabilities. A total of 21% would object if a child with intellectual disability or autism was in the same class as their child. This is up significantly from 8% in 2006. Only 37% agree that adults with an intellectual disability or autism should have children if they wish, and this is down very significantly from 64% in 2006. Only 56% agree that people with mental health difficulties have the same right to have sexual relationships as those without disabilities.

The survey also demonstrates that people in general are less comfortable living beside a person with a disability, whether physical, sensory or intellectual, but have most difficulty living beside those with mental health difficulties. All of the statistics will be on the record but at this point I would like to state that regardless of whether people have difficulty living next to a person with a disability, and the survey shows the greatest difficulty is with regard to those with mental health difficulties, it is a fact that people with mental health difficulties live either with us or near us in communities.

We should be grateful the Government is determined to push on with the changes and advances being made not only in mental health but also with regard to people with disabilities. We need to confront these attitudes. We have funded programmes such as See Change, Make a Ripple and other fine campaigns. Advertising on mental health issues has had a profound effect. Funding local groups with regard to the social interaction that needs to take place with people with disabilities and people with mental health difficulties has made a huge difference.

A total of 26% of people with disabilities said people's attitudes posed a barrier to their participation in life activities. This contrasts with only 3% of people without disabilities who reported such attitudinal barriers. One argument constantly made with regard to attitudes is that one cannot legislate for attitudes, and this is true. One cannot legislate to force someone to change his or her attitude. However, as Jack Straw once said, one cannot legislate for attitudes but one can legislate to ensure someone's attitude will not detrimentally affect someone else's, and this is the course we should take. The survey also found that people with disabilities are twice as likely to be socially isolated from family and friends than those without disabilities.

International evidence outlined by the NDA has shown that personal contact and collaboration with people with disabilities on an equal basis is the most successful way to achieve attitudinal change. We have funded SHINE to co-ordinate the two year See Change campaign to promote positive attitudes to those with mental health difficulties. The survey would suggest this has been significantly successful.

We now have the national disability stakeholder group, which is a cross-departmental group at the centre of government. Up to this point its membership was comprised only of service providers and Government agencies. It now has a range of people, including those representing the mental health area, people with physical disabilities and those with life experience of what it is to have a disability. Recently, two people with intellectual disabilities were appointed.

We are pushing out the boat and we are determined that attitudes, legislation and how people live their lives with disabilities will change. However, I agree fully with the Deputy that we have so much more to do.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. While we cannot legislate for attitudes, as she stated, we can campaign to change them. We saw the result of significant investment in the very successful campaign on road safety, which is often quoted as a headline. The level of finance is not available for similar investment in this area, but there should be a level of support for attitudinal change. Often people use the word "stigma" very loosely but do not fully analyse or understand exactly what it means. It means using negative labels to identify people with mental health problems and disability. It is at the root of fear and misunderstanding of these issues. People hold negative opinions towards people with disabilities and mental health problems simply because they do not understand the issues involved and because they rely on myths and misconceptions about the areas. International research and policy documents identify stigma as one of the most persistent barriers to understanding the problems with mental health and disabilities and the importance of these areas.

The Minister of State mentioned the objectives of See Change and the examination of their effectiveness. It is important to put those on the record. See Change wants an environment where people can be more open and positive in their attitudes and behaviour towards mental health; greater understanding and acceptance of people with mental health problems; greater understanding and knowledge of mental health problems and of health services that provide support for mental health problems - that would also apply to people with disabilities; and a reduction in the stigma associated with these issues and the need to challenge discrimination.

Unfortunately, attitudes towards mental health create a misunderstanding among people and that misunderstanding leads to people with a disability or a mental health problem having low self-esteem. They feel isolated and hopeless, and that can deter them from seeking help. Responding to that stigma people with disability or mental health problems can sometimes internalise the public attitudes to which I referred and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal the symptoms and fail to seek treatment. There is a knock-on effect from those attitudes in terms of the way people provide and obtain treatment for conditions that can be treated. Improvement can be obtained in terms of quality of life and contribution to society.

I do not have any additional back-up notes but everything the Deputy said is correct. It is about continuously speaking out in public and treating the issue in its normality. That is what we must do. People with disabilities are contributors to society. They work, are part of our community and contribute, not just to the public purse but to the social discourse as well.

The emphasis in terms of mental health and disability is often compared to the road safety campaign. Deputy Neville rightly said it is the insidiousness of stigma, and the hidden attitude, that is difficult to deal with. I am not dismissing the people who did such an exceptional job in terms of road safety but there are physical things that can be done in regard to road safety to make the roads safer and prevent accidents happening. There is a different attitude towards mental health and disability and the greatest barrier is the insidiousness of that attitude. The Deputy is right. The attitude sometimes can prevent people from reaching out for help, and seeking that help too late can mean one is left with an enduring condition. I agree with everything the Deputy said.

May I briefly respond?

Both the Deputy and the Minister were given a good deal of latitude.

Regarding the campaign against attitude and stigma, it was a former Minister in the Minister of State's party, Noel Browne, at another time who destigmatised and changed attitudes towards tuberculosis. It can be done. The examples exist of how that can be achieved.