Funding of Disability Services: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

recognises:

— the fact that there are over 600,000 people with disabilities in Ireland;

— the deep concern among those with disabilities that services affecting them may be cut or reduced further; and

— that it is unfair and unjust to cut services for people with disabilities;

notes pledges in the programme for Government to:

— ensure that the quality of life of people with disabilities is enhanced and that resources allocated, reach the people who need them; and

— facilitate people with disabilities in achieving a greater level of participation in employment, training and education; and

calls on the Government to provide the appropriate funding and services necessary to honour all its commitments to people with disabilities.

I wish to share my time with Deputies O'Dea, Browne, Ó Cúiv and McConalogue.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The reason we tabled this motion is that there are great difficulties in the area of intellectual and physical disability. There are major concerns among service providers and users of those services. There is no point in us pretending there have not been cuts to the area of services for people with disabilities, both physical and intellectual. There clearly have been cuts in terms of provision of care and services. We have had repeated statements from the Ministers concerned that front-line services will be protected, but the Minister acknowledged in the context of the budgetary statements and announcements last year and the health service delivery plan that there would be cuts to front-line services in intellectual and physical disabilities.

I attended a meeting on Saturday in Our Lady of Good Counsel national school in Ballincollig. It is very concerned because of the reconfiguration being proposed by the Government in terms of mapping services and ensuring the services and supports are in place such that everybody has access to the service. Quite clearly, if the Government continues as it is, there will be very few services to share among anybody. There is considerable despondency, anger and frustration. Exceptional efforts have been made over recent years to provide services for people with physical and intellectual disabilities. It has been acknowledged that we have made some ground but the idea that because we are now in difficult financial straits, we would row back on any of the advances we have made for the most vulnerable in our communities and society is very distasteful.

We are talking about the service providers being asked to find further efficiencies. Everybody accepts that efficiencies should be to the fore in ensuring there is a quality service and that it is delivered efficiently. However, they are being asked to pay the increments out of the savings. There has been no additional allocation from the HSE to the service providers to fund the increments awarded in the context of the Croke Park agreement. When we talk about a 3% or 5% cut in the provision of services in real terms, we are talking about multiples of that simply because they do not have the ability to increase the efficiencies and at the same time fund their commitments in the context of Croke Park. If we are to be serious and fair on the issue of providing services to people with physical and intellectual disabilities, the very least we should do is honour in terms of funding an increase in allocations this year to cover the increments awarded under Croke Park. Otherwise, we will have a continual diminishing of services required by many people. We are talking about up to 18% of people who have a disability of one kind or another. Many of these people can get on and work their way through life but there are a huge number of people who are completely dependent on their families and the State for support. Unfortunately, the State is reneging on its clear obligation to fund the services and provide the supports for the many people who need them.

We were at the meeting to which I referred and one thing we heard continually from parents of children with physical and intellectual disabilities was that they were tired and burnt out. They were fighting the system and consistently up against it. Every time they thought they were taking a step forward, the State forced them to take two steps back. That clearly is something that is unacceptable in modern times.

I want the Minister of State to put a strong emphasis on services for people with physical and intellectual disabilities, provide a clear pathway of funding and ensure service providers do not incur the cost of the increments awarded to employees under the Croke Park agreement and upheld by the Labour Court and Labour Relations Commission by providing additional funding to cover those increments. Let us introduce efficiencies in the system and make sure we map the resources and apply them in a way that is fair to everybody - those in the specialist streams and those in the mainstream. If one continually divides these scarce resources, one will reach a point where they benefit nobody because they will not receive the specialist training in terms of occupational, physical and speech therapy, for example. Clearly, that is what is happening.

Our motion is very simple and straightforward. It asks that the Government lives up to its commitments as outlined in the programme for Government - nothing more, nothing less. It is simply what it said it would do in the programme for Government.

We are not even asking the Government to live up to the commitments it made before the election given the wild abandoning of such promises made prior to the election. We are asking just for what is contained in the programme for Government. That is a fair and genuine approach from this side of the House to try to encourage the Government to provide the resources that are needed.

There has been a rowing back and almost an attack on people who are vulnerable and need State services. Examples include the issue of domiciliary care allowance and the placement of people leaving second level. There is genuine concern and we have raised this in the Dáil time and again. I know the Minister of State is aware of it. There is considerable concern that the 700 people who will be leaving school next year cannot be guaranteed a place.

They never were.

They cannot be guaranteed a place. The reason prior to this was that funding took account of the number of people who were going to leave and funding was provided accordingly. Regardless of whether the place was guaranteed or not, the funding was in place to ensure they would have those services. That funding has been cut and there is a diminishing budget, which is why the Government cannot guarantee places. It simply does not have the resources applied to the service providers. The key reason for that is that the budget last year was completely flawed, a failed entity from the word go and not sustainable throughout the year. This was exemplified in the decisions of the Minister and the HSE to take special needs assistants from people, resulting in protests outside Government Buildings in September and now the attack on home helps and home care packages.

The critical issue is that the resources were not allocated. The savings and income streams identified in the budget this time last year could not be achieved from the word go. We have highlighted that continually. In this budget, the Government must put a strong emphasis on providing the necessary resources that sustain services and provide opportunity and hope to people with intellectual and physical disabilities. If we continue down the path we are going, we will leave behind a generation of people who need our help and support. We are also asking parents to make considerable sacrifices, and they do so willingly, day in and day out, but the State is not willing at this late stage at least to stand up to its commitments in the programme for Government.

We have a situation where the HSE is writing to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The State is asking voluntary charitable groups to assist families who are under financial pressure. It is unbelievable that we are in this situation. In the 24 hours before the budget, I ask the Minister or Minister of State to make an impassioned plea to provide funding that lives up to no more and no less than the commitment the Government made in the programme for Government to ensure people have adequate supports and services and places will be available for the 700 plus people who will leave second level next July. Otherwise, the Government is reneging on its commitment and on a basic commitment to decency in society.

I compliment Deputy Billy Kelleher on tabling the motion. As I have only a few minutes to contribute, I will concentrate on one aspect of provision for the disabled, namely, the domiciliary care allowance. As the House is aware, the allowance is paid to the parents of children under the age of 16 years who suffer from a serious mental or physical disability to the extent that they need an inordinate amount of care to survive in ordinary society. In the past two years, approximately since the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, took over in the Department of Social Protection, there has been a significant cutback in provision for those in receipt of domiciliary care allowance and this has been done by stealth. Two or three years ago approximately 65% of applicants for the allowance were successful. However, this figure has dropped to 35%. The number succeeding has dropped from two in three to one in three, although the rules have not changed and neither has the incidence of physical and mental disability among children under the age of 16 years. There is no evidence that fewer young people have autism; in fact, all of the evidence points in the other direction. What has changed? Why is only one in three applications being accepted now when the figure was two in three up until two years ago? If one was cynical, which, of course, I am not, one would say a directive must have come from on high to officials to reduce costs. It is the only possible explanation I can think of, but not being cynical, I will not say so.

One of the Minister's first acts on taking office was to get the Department to write to thousands of parents of children in receipt of domiciliary care allowance to ask them to justify why their child should still be entitled to receive the allowance. A number of the people concerned came to see me and I contacted the Department to ask what proof or evidence it wanted to receive. I was told the family doctor should certify it and that if people wanted to submit further evidence, so be it. What has happened in approximately 65% of cases in the country as a whole - I could instance a number of cases I have sent to the Minister - is that the family doctor has so certified and that people have also obtained reports from speech therapists, physical therapists and consultants to certify that not only is a particular child still entitled to receive the allowance but also that it is needed now more than ever. However, a faceless bureaucrat in the Department has written back to state they are being cut off. This is without interfacing with the child, meeting the family or knowing the circumstances involved. Somebody in the Department just ticks a box - I believe it is called a desktop review - and cuts off the allowance to a child. This is tantamount to the Department writing to the parents of a child suffering from a serious mental or physical disability, stating it notes what the experts and the family doctor have stated about the child needing the allowance now more than ever and that it believes the parents but that it has good news because, hey presto, it deems the child to be cured.

I am very glad civilisation has evolved in the past 2,000 years. We are now in the lead-up to Christmas and all remember the biblical tales of cripples who walked, deaf people who could suddenly hear and blind people who could suddenly see after the laying on of hands. As we have now evolved, one no longer needs to lay on hands or even needs to meet the child, as all one has to do is tick a box at a desk in the Department and state the child has been cured. This is a shabby, sordid, sneaky attack on some of the most vulnerable in the country and it is ironic it is happening under the aegis of a Minister of the Labour Party. I remember a time in this House when I was trying to introduce legislation for people with disabilities and subjected to a most horrendous campaign outside Leinster House driven, conceived and led by the Labour Party.

The Deputy has some neck coming out with that.

It convinced people that what people with disabilities were entitled to were absolute rights, regardless of the state of the finances of the country, something that did not apply in any other country and which by definition could not apply in any other country. The campaign was led by people such as Mrs. Finlay and her husband who are closely associated with the Labour Party. I tell Deputy Dominic Hannigan and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, it is a long way from seeking absolute rights, regardless of the state of the finances of the country, to slashing and cutting the inadequate provision made. Shame on the Labour Party. I echo Deputy Billy Kelleher's plea to the Minister for Finance that, for heaven's sake, the relentless assault on the most vulnerable in society should stop.

I remind Members not to refer to persons outside the House.

It is a little late.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the motion tabled by Deputy Billy Kelleher dealing with people with disabilities. We are all aware of the serious difficulties faced by such persons. I have a vested interest in this issue as I have a daughter who suffers from spina bifida and is confined to a wheelchair. Because of this and also through the Irish Wheelchair Association, the spina bifida associations and many others in my area, I am very much aware of the difficulties faced.

In the 1950s and 1960s the late Fr. Scallon who was a pioneer in looking after people with disabilities established the County Wexford Community Workshop, St. Aidan's Day Care Centre and St. Patrick's Special School in Enniscorthy and managed to find solutions to many of the problems faced by people with disabilities. One can imagine what the difficulties were at the time, even in obtaining public recognition that people with disabilities should have a life, be living in the community, receive an education and be able to attend primary and secondary school. Fr. Scallon broke down all of the barriers in Enniscorthy and throughout County Wexford. We still have community workshops in Enniscorthy which 300 people attend on a daily basis to be trained, upskilled and facilitated, rather than sitting at home day in and day out with their parents. They all tell me the same thing as was outlined by Deputies Billy Kelleher and Willie O'Dea, that they are put to the pin of their collar to provide services for people with disabilities. Cutbacks were made last year and further cutbacks are threatened this year. As a result, they will find it very difficult to provide services and I expect that many of the organisations will not be able to take in new applicants to be trained or upskilled.

People with disabilities face many roadblocks in life. They find it very difficult to access many of the services they require from the HSE and we are discussing the HSE making further cuts next year. Most of those looking after young people with disabilities have already been notified to expect cutbacks in 2013, which will make it very difficult for services to be provided. Last week the Disability Rights Coalition held a demonstration outside Leinster House. It is anxious for the Government to implement the commitments in the programme for Government. Many reports have been published, but people with disabilities and their families have not seen the impact of the changed agenda promised by the coalition Government. They continue to believe they have no voice or control over the services they receive and they receive no information on how public moneys are spent on these services. As the parent of a person with a disability, I attend many meetings of these organisations. People with disabilities and their parents have seldom been consulted on what is best for them.

Any decision-making of the future should include in particular the parents who are very much aware of the difficulties and the decisions that need to be made and what is best for those with disabilities. A one-size-fits-all approach certainly does not suit. There are persons with mild disabilities and persons with profound disabilities. Some are able to go to the ordinary primary and secondary school, and some are not. It is important that the families of children with disabilities be listened to and given a voice.

Before the last election both the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, and the Taoiseach stated clearly that those with disabilities would be a priority for this Government. The HSE service plan for 2012, on which Oireachtas Members in the south east are briefed regularly, is not living up to the ambitions of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste prior to the last election. Even on Friday last, I was at a meeting with the HSE service management of the south east where they were telling us there would be major difficulties in home help and help for persons with disabilities in 2013 because of the reduction of the budget in all of these areas.

Deputy O'Dea touched on the domiciliary care allowance. It is practically impossible to get domiciliary care allowance under this Government and many have had their domiciliary care allowance withdrawn. In many cases, the domiciliary care allowance is the difference in providing a reasonable standard of living for families looking after children with disabilities. It is important that the review of domiciliary care allowance would be reviewed to ensure that those entitled to the allowance would get it.

The Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party stated prior to the election that they would provide certain job opportunities for persons with disabilities. I have a criticism to make of local authorities and public bodies generally. They talk about the 3% commitment but from my experience and from speaking to parents of persons with disabilities I can tell the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, that the 3% commitment is not being met anywhere in the country. It is important that the Minister of State speak to the county managers, the town clerks and the public service to see what can be done to encourage them to take on persons with disabilities. Some of those with disabilities who I know are highly intelligent. They are highly educated to second and third level, and yet they are at home without a job or an opportunity. Many of them tell me they are getting €188 and that for a little extra, a substantially smaller sum than would be expected, they would be only too glad to go into the work environment, particularly in local authorities and the public sector.

The number of job opportunities for persons with disabilities is alarming. If I ask a company to give €5,000 or €10,000 to the spina bifida association or any other association, more often than not it will give the money but if one asks it to employ a person with a disability one will be refused. It is important that we would encourage employers, both private and public, to take on persons with disabilities. They are highly skilled, highly talented and well able to work and they have a role to play in the Ireland of the future. It is important that would happen.

Deputy Kelleher's motion is important. The areas of respite care, special needs teachers, opportunities for persons with disabilities to get what is their right, and to have a say in what is their right, are important. The Government has failed to live up to the promises of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste before the last election. It is important that there be no further cutbacks. Rather, there should be an increase in the budget tomorrow for persons with disabilities. I am sure the Minister of State has fought at the table for that. It is no more than they deserve.

This is a major topic in need of very serious consideration and detailed changes.

The first issue we must confront is that every year, as the hospitals overspend in the health budget, funding is withdrawn, not only from the hospitals to try to deal with the overspend but from primary care. When one looks at primary care, all of the permanent staff have salaries, yet the Government moves on the easy touches such as respite care, home care packages and home help. I believe that one structural change we need now is that from 1 January, no funding given to primary care can be removed to shore up overspends in the hospitals. It is a simple structural change but it would avoid the constant shifting of funding by the HSE from the primary care front-line services to the hospital services.

The second matter I want to deal with is work that I was doing as Minister for Social Protection. I brought in the partial capacity provisions under invalidity pensions and for the first time, we were grading or separating those with a very severe disability, those with a moderate disability and those with a mild disability. The idea was that those on invalidity pension could go back into the workforce and, depending on the level of disability, they could retain part or all of the payment. The Minister has developed the regulation but I do not see any push to implement it on the ground. That was meant to be the first step in trying to look at what we can do to help those with particularly severe disabilities or moderate disabilities.

There had been talk for a long time about the cost of disability allowance. Given the numbers who are in receipt of social welfare disability payments between invalidity pension and disability allowance, the payment of such an allowance across the board has significant cost implications. It also, at the margins, has implications of migration. However, if one follows what the Department was developing and what it advised me could be done, and one separates and grades it in the way that we were doing for the partial capacity scheme, then it would be possible to ensure there would be a disability payment or whatever one would like to call it that would be graded according to the level of disability.

On the Order Paper today there is a large Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Social Protection. It understates the position because whether by accident or design, the Department of Social Protection takes inordinate amounts of time to process simple forms. It takes a year to process an application for carer's allowance, and that is unacceptable. It could not take that long to check the income details and the medicals. In some cases, the medicals are so obvious there is no checking to be done on them. The only logical explanation is that this is a handy way of kicking the can down the road in terms of payments, and this is unacceptable. There was somebody in contact with my office in the past two days about a person who was caring for a person with a terminal illness and it was put bluntly by the family to me that the person will be dead before a decision is made on the carer's allowance application. That is unacceptable.

It is important that we look at the effect of possible cuts on the disability service. I was given details by the Brothers of Charity in Galway of the services they provide and the effect of a possible cut in the funding provided to them.

At the moment, they provide services for 943 people, comprising 428 children and 515 adults. That does not include the 386 children in the Galway early intervention service provided in partnership with the HSE and Enable Ireland. They have had budget cuts of €8.3 million or 18% in the last four years, which totally ignore pay cuts and the pension levy. Therefore these are extra cuts outside the pay cuts because they are paid as public servants.

They have done everything to achieve efficiencies, including restructuring and reducing management and administration posts. Staff posts have been reduced by 98. They have also restructured rosters and have achieved savings of approximately €1 million on the skill mix. Their back office support, that is, human resources, finance, IT and quality, is about 2.61% of budget. The Minister of State can look at her own Department to check how much that back office costs. In my view, 2.61% of the budget is very efficient.

Some 85% of the budget is pay, while 91% of the jobs are exclusively front line. If there is a 5% cut it will require the closure of 24 residential places, which would mean a discharge of 24 people, making them homeless. It would mean the closure of 34 day places and, consequently, individuals would have to remain in residential services at an even greater cost. It would mean the loss of 506 respite beds and the loss of 4,939 family support hours.

One would have to let 52 staff go but since these are covered by the Croke Park agreement there is no mechanism for doing it, even if the Minister of State wanted to cause all this devastation. They have been benchmarked against a value for money report and the average costs have already been achieved in full. Some 85% of the budget is pay and therefore there are no savings.

There has been a lot of loose talk about extra efficiencies and that they will somehow survive. It is important to understand that whatever savings were there to be made by efficiencies have been made in recent years. Possible savings in shared services which I am very keen on, including amalgamations, would be totally inadequate, slow to implement and insignificant. I have a lot of data from the Department on how little money is being saved from all this quangoitis they told us they would get rid of.

There cannot and must not be any cuts to disability services this year. The easy answer we will get is whether we cut money, and yes we did, but there comes a point when there is no more to cut. There comes a point when an organisation does not have any more to give because it has cut everything that could be cut. Therefore this year it is vital that there is no further reduction to organisations like that.

If the Minister of State goes around the country to other similar organisations dealing with people with moderate or severe disabilities, she will find that story repeated everywhere. This year, no money was provided for school leavers and parents are wondering what will happen to next year's school leavers. That was always looked after until 2012.

We have a decision to make about values. We support the Labour Party in putting the extra 3% on the top rate of self-employed PRSI. If that was done tomorrow, a fair cut could be given to people with disabilities. We will back the Minister of State on this side of the House because we have already said she was right in that particular proposal. In fact, I think we published it first. We do not mind if the Labour Party steals our good ideas, as long as it ensures the most vulnerable in our society are looked after.

I join with my colleagues, and in particular our spokesperson on health and disability, Deputy Kelleher, in supporting this motion. We are asking the Government to stick to the pledges it made in the programme for Government to protect disability funding and ensure that those who most require such support are provided with it. I remind the Minister of State that the programme for Government is committed to ensuring that the quality of life of people with disabilities is enhanced and that the resources allocated reach those who need them. The programme is also committed to facilitating people with disabilities in order to achieve a greater level of participation in employment, training and education. Unfortunately, however, in the 18 months since taking office we have not seen the Minister of State live up to those commitments.

While we know it is a difficult task in the current environment and these things are not easily done, we are asking the Minister of State to stand by that pledge in the programme for Government to ensure that funding for the disabled is not cut and that they will be supported as necessary. We have put together our own pre-budget submission which does ensure such funding. We accept the fact that there needs to be a €3.5 billion adjustment in the national spend this year, but we have ring-fenced a few important key areas which we feel need to be protected. They are education, mental health services and disability services, which is the subject of our Private Members' motion. We have taken hard decisions elsewhere in the budget in order to achieve the required targets. I do not underestimate the difficulty in putting a budget together but we are asking the Government to ensure that this happens in tomorrow's budget. We should not see the same mistakes being repeated that we have seen recently.

Over the last 12 months many people with disabilities have been concerned about cuts. They have had reason to worry. In last year's budget the Minister attempted to remove the disability allowance from those aged 16 to 18. Fortunately, due to pressure from many Deputies, including many in the Labour Party, that decision was rolled back on. It was not consistent with what had been promised in the programme for Government.

It has become increasingly difficult for the families of those aged under 18 to get the domiciliary care allowance. In the first six months of this year, 63% of all applications for the domiciliary care allowance have been refused. Up to half of applications for children with autism have been refused. Such families have additional strenuous care needs, which are required for their children. In many instances, it makes it more difficult for them to work and carry out everyday duties. The domiciliary care allowance is there to assist them with the support their children need. Unfortunately, the Government has adopted an approach of stealth, making it more difficult for those in need of the payment to receive it.

The position of people leaving secondary education and seeking to continue in further education demonstrates a failure to deliver on promises in the programme for Government.

I refer to the position that obtained at the end of last year, where of the 700 people who were continuing on to further education, 57 young adults had not secured places by the end of August. These young adults were left in a position in which they had no security regarding what would be their next step. These are young adults who depend on Members at State level to ensure places are available and who will find themselves in similar positions in the future, unless Members can ensure the necessary hard steps are taken to ring-fence the funding and resources required to cater for their needs.

Finally, I commend the motion to Members. I acknowledge the Minister of State's intentions are good in this area and that it is not an easy task but as a party that greatly values looking after the disabled in society, Fianna Fáil is stating she must make the hard decisions required to ring-fence the budget and ensure the resources are kept there.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“recognises:

— this Government’s commitments to people with a disability in the programme for Government, including greater participation in employment, training and education in accordance with a revitalised national disability strategy; and

— that around €1.4 billion will be spent in 2012 on health and personal social services for people with disabilities – this is in addition to transfers to people with disabilities from the Departments of Social Protection and Education and Skills and other Government services;

notes that the Health Service Executive, HSE, national service plan for 2012 has been drawn up against the backdrop of significant funding challenges and that while the allocation for specialist disability services has been reduced by 3.7% nationally, in 2012 the level of service reduction will be less than the level of budget reduction as a result of the efficiencies that will be delivered;

acknowledges that some reductions in disability services have been unavoidable in 2012 and welcomes moves by the HSE to tailor such reductions in such a way that minimises the impact on service users and their families as much as possible; and

notes:

— that within the serious resource constraints imposed by the current budgetary and fiscal conditions, the Minister for Health is doing all possible to ensure that as much protection as possible is afforded to the disability sector and the social care area as a whole; and

— the publication of the Value for Money and Policy Review of Disability Services in July 2012, which includes recommendations to ultimately move to individualised funding for disability services so as to provide greater choice and control for people with disabilities.”

I thank the contributors thus far and note there will be many more. I welcome the opportunity to put on the record of the House the efforts that are being made to provide effective, accessible and responsive health and personal social services for people with disabilities. At the outset, I note that Members in government share the concerns of Members opposite and of the concerned parents, individuals, relatives and friends of people with disabilities who are present tonight and throughout the country. I strongly reaffirm the Government's commitment to the national disability strategy and to doing all that it possibly can to give persons with disabilities the services and support they need.

I will begin by addressing the national disability strategy and other current developments. The growing recognition by society of the right of people with disabilities to participate in and contribute to social and economic life has underpinned the development of services in recent years. In line with the commitment in the programme for Government to publish, following wide consultation, a realistic implementation plan for the national disability strategy, I have established and am personally chairing a new national disability strategy implementation group. This group includes representatives from across the Government, as well as the County and City Managers Association. In this context, I take on board Deputy Browne's point on where people with disabilities live and on what has the greatest impact on their lives. I believe local authorities do so, which is the reason the County and City Managers Association now has a representative on the national disability strategy steering group. It also includes representatives from the National Disability Authority, a broad range of disability organisations and a number of individuals appointed in their personal capacity to bring their lived experience to the table. I was astonished to find that until I was appointed Minister of State, the group did not include people with disabilities to speak for themselves. I also convened a disability forum, under the stewardship of the National Disability Authority, to ensure the voices of people with disabilities, as well as their needs and concerns, are being heard. In addition, a number of significant developments are ongoing, which touch on all aspects of services and supports for people with disabilities. These include strategies for transferring people with disabilities from congregated residential settings into the community, putting in place a system of registration and inspection of residential centres, reconfiguring day services and supports, implementing the recommendations in the national policy and strategy for the provision of neuro-rehabilitation services, reconfiguring autism services and services for children with complex disabilities and, of course, implementing the recently published value for money policy review of specialist disability services.

At a time when the Government is trying to achieve more with less funding, changing attitudes and leading by example often can be achieved without any additional funding. Some of the best practice on disability in both the public and private sectors has been as a result of a positive attitude, particularly if it comes from senior management. I see examples of this nationwide every week. The terms of reference of the national disability strategy implementation group include promoting positive attitudes towards people with disabilities and I will work with this group to develop an effective, measurable plan of action to achieve this.

The HSE's national service plan for 2012, drawn up against the backdrop of significant funding challenges, was designed to reflect the changing priorities of the new Government and the significant programme of reform being undertaken. The allocation for disability services has been reduced by 3.7% this year. However, the level of service reduction has been less than the level of budget reduction as a result of efficiencies that have been delivered. Again, this is very much down to the service providers. While the aforementioned service providers have achieved some efficiency savings, reductions in services also have been unavoidable in day services and in residential and respite services. The necessary reduction in 2012 unfortunately mirrors that applied across all areas of the health sector. However, it is timely for me to remind Members of the highly significant levels of service provided for people with disabilities through the substantial investment of €1.4 billion by the Health Service Executive in 2012. I note this is just part of what is spent on disability. Without deviating from the script, I continually make the point that were all the money spent on disability concentrated in a single pot, there would be better outcomes.

At present, more than 9,100 people receive care in residential places, most of whom are living in homes within their communities. Moreover, 6,300 people are receiving respite residential support, 18,600 people are attending day services and 1.64 million personal assistant and home support hours are being provided. Overall, the national intellectual disability database annual report for 2011 states that 26,831 people with intellectual disability were in receipt of services, representing 98% of the total population registered on this database and the highest number of people in receipt of services since the database was established.

A major issue for the Government is to ensure it gets the best outcome for people with disabilities from the resources it puts into the health sector. I published the report of the value for money and policy review on disability services on 20 July last. The objective of the review was to assess how well current health and personal social services for people with disabilities meet their objectives and to recommend how these services should be delivered in the future. Many of the most fundamental changes needed to support the full participation of people with disabilities in society will be achieved through the implementation of this review. From the outset, public consultation was an important feature of the review. The review team listened carefully to what people had to say, as well as to the advice of the expert reference group on disability policy and the thoroughly researched advice provided by the National Disability Authority. As a result, the review recommends a significant restructuring of the disability services programme through migration from an approach which is predominantly organised around group-based service delivery towards a model of person-centred, individually chosen, supports and implementation of a more effective method of assessing need, allocating resources and monitoring resource use. This will represent a seismic change in how services are funded and provided and will result in shifting choice and control from professionals and administrators to where it rightfully belongs, namely, with the individual with a disability or his or her family. Work is now under way to put the necessary implementation plan in place to move forward the recommendations of the review in 2013.

Even before the drawing up of the value for money review, major changes have been under way for disability services in recent years. There has been a definitive move from an institutional and segregated model of service delivery towards a community-based and inclusive approach that aims to support people with disabilities in community-based living with maximum independence and choice. A number of ongoing policy initiatives support this commitment. For example, in July, I jointly launched with the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, the national implementation framework to support the Government's National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability 2011-2016. The development of the implementation framework underlines the successful collaborative approach involving my Department, the HSE and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in addressing the housing and related support needs of people with disabilities.

While the Government continues to support people in institutional and other residential settings, the issue of standards and appropriate services arise.

I am pleased to say that progress has been made by HIQA on finalising draft standards during 2012. The most recent draft was subject to a five week consultation process which ended on 21 November. I expect to receive the final version of the standards document in the coming weeks and a likely launch date is envisaged in January 2013. Work is also under way on the regulations required to bring the standards into law and further discussions are taking place now on the resources and staffing required by HIQA from 2013, with a view to having the new regulatory system up and running by mid-2013.

The Government is fully committed to facilitating people with disabilities in achieving a greater level of participation in employment, training and education. In the area of special educational needs, the protection of front-line services for pupils is a priority. Approximately 15% of the entire budget of the Department of Education and Skills - some €1.3 billion - was spent in support of children with special educational needs in 2011 and on training initiatives which I will also outline.

In line with the Government's commitment to front-line services for pupils with special educational needs, the current overall level of funding for special education has been retained at last year's level. Services being provided from the education budget to support the care needs of pupils with special needs, including children with disabilities, include 10,575 whole-time equivalent special needs assistant posts in primary, post-primary and special schools; approximately 9,950 learning support and resource teacher posts to provide additional teaching supports; more than 1,100 teachers in specialist schools at much reduced pupil-teacher ratios; and early educational intervention for children with autism from 2.5 years.

The Department of Education and Skills now funds 76 early intervention classes for children with autism attached to mainstream schools, as well as the home tuition programme for children with autism who are unable to access placement in an early intervention class. Funding is also provided for school building adaptations, special school transport arrangements and enhanced capitation rates which are payable to most special schools and special classes. This funding underlines the Government's commitment to special education provision for children with special educational needs, including children with disabilities. In addition, the education sector is working very closely with the health sector on the HSE's national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people, which was the issue at hand last Saturday.

In the health sector, the needs of school leavers have also been met this year. Under the auspices of its national consultative forum, and with the co-operation of many agencies, the HSE has worked hard to accommodate the demand for school-leaver and rehabilitative training places, managing to find almost 670 places in 2012. I wish to thank the HSE disability service and service providers for achieving this without any additional funding. Contrary to Deputy Martin's comments, I have at no stage boasted about this. The effort came through very hard work and the people in question must receive thanks for it.

In the area of training needs, the aim is to facilitate people with disabilities in achieving a greater level of participation in employment and training. Along with the option of FÁS mainstream training, training places are also provided specifically for persons with disabilities through specialist training providers. In 2012, FÁS will provide the same volume of training places allocated to these providers as in 2011. The total FÁS budget for specialist training provision in 2012, including training allowances, is €53.7 million, representing 12% of the overall FÁS budget of €453 million.

Meeting training needs is only part of the journey that people with disabilities and special needs generally must face in order to obtain longer-term sustainable employment. In the area of disability activation, the Government is committed to supporting people to participate more fully in training and employment in view of the particular challenges faced by people with disabilities. The integration of the employment services and community services divisions of FÁS into the Department of Social Protection is enhancing the delivery of employment services for all people, including people with disabilities, and will assist in overcoming some barriers in this area. The Department of Social Protection provides an extensive range of income and work-related supports for people with disabilities and employers to facilitate greater participation in employment by people with disabilities.

The recently launched disability activation project, which aims to identify the optimum approaches to mainstreaming labour market activation measures for people with disabilities, is an important first step in this regard. Funding of just over €7 million has been allocated for 14 projects in the Border, midlands and west region to run until April 2015 which are aimed at providing practical insight into how best to engage with people with disabilities and increase their employment prospects. The four strands of the disability activation project include improving access to employment; progression for young people with disability; progression for people with an acquired disability; and innovative engagement with employers.

A number of programmes formerly operated by FÁS are now operated by the Department of Social Protection, including the Employ Ability service, which was formerly the supported employment programme; the wage subsidy scheme; the disability support and awareness grants and schemes; and community employment. The Department also operates a number of other income and employment support schemes, including the partial capacity benefit payment scheme mentioned by Deputy Ó Cuív, the back-to-education allowance and the disability allowance income disregard. The Department of Social Protection is committed to supporting people with disability to participate more fully in society and to become more self-sufficient by providing supports that address barriers that they may face.

I welcome the opportunity provided by this debate to put on the record the Government's position on the numerous and wide-ranging issues raised in the motion before the House. This is a time of change for the health sector as a whole and not just for people with disabilities. Although the changes we have signposted in the value for money and policy review are challenging in the current economic circumstances, they contribute towards the Government's overall vision for a more integrated health service, which can only be to the benefit of each and every citizen of this country, with or without a disability. During this time of change, the Government acknowledges that there will be significant demand for new services and a continuing requirement to make existing services more efficient. The Government is committed to working collaboratively to realise the vision of a more inclusive society for all, where services and supports will be tailored to meet the needs of the individual citizen while at the same time being provided in an accountable and cost-effective manner.

The Bills that will be dealt with shortly, taking in mental capacity and assisted decision making, will have a serious and positive effect not just on all of us but on people with disability. We will be legally obliged to listen to what such people have to say.

I understand the Minister of State is sharing time with Deputies Nolan, Connaughton and Conway. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am delighted to speak on this extremely important topic and I commend the proposers of the motion on bringing it forward for discussion tonight. We often speak as politicians in what can be a glib way about the most vulnerable people in society, and every group can in some way lay claim to that title. Boiling it to the core, the people who are the most vulnerable in society are those with disabilities and particularly those with profound and severe disabilities. In my own experience in national politics, which extends to a short two years, this is the group with which I have had the most serious engagement. I have also experienced the steepest learning curve in this role.

I can think of the members of two families I have met. One family has a son in his mid- to late 30s who will always be in residential care. His parents are in their mid- to late 60s and as they are getting older, interaction with their son is becoming more difficult, as they are less able to handle a grown man because they are becoming more frail. Another family has a son who just turned 18 and is in a wheelchair and severely disabled. He will never live a life that we as able-bodied people will but the love and devotion of the family to the son is just as strong as it would be for any other child in a family.

I will speak about the service provider in my constituency, the Brothers of Charity Services and Ability West, which provide great and immense care to some of the most vulnerable citizens of Galway city and county.

The Brothers of Charity has a staff of 1,000 who do their utmost to serve the highly vulnerable people who avail of the organisation's services. They have dramatically changed their service model in recent years and I commend them on reducing back office staff and restructuring to deliver a more efficient and dedicated service. No one can deny the need to dispense with the institutional model for providing services to people with disabilities. However, making the transition to a new model will require additional resources if it is to be completed properly.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to Galway to meet those involved in the Brothers of Charity services. She was generous with her time, going through the organisation's budget, strategy and management systems and discussing individual cases. We must always remember that disability services are provided to individuals. I observed the immense joy felt by the parents of eight children in Galway who were informed that places would be available for them. The Minister of State was in weekly contact with the relevant officials to ensure these places became available.

Delivering the national disability strategy will be the next significant plank for transforming the system. The Minister of State's decision to chair the implementation group on the national disability strategy demonstrates the political commitment and importance she attaches to the issue. I have heard her speak about the necessity for a strategy to drive disability services. Other services and areas of Government have strategies, whereas the area of disability has lacked a strategy and suffered as a result.

Service providers are engaged in change but it must be radical and profound and everyone in the system will have to buy into it. We cannot continue to fund the system in its current form, where one has several service providers, all with head office functions, competing with one another in one city. Integration is needed, as is a shift towards a new funding model under which the service user is given the freedom to choose what he or she wants.

In all of the contributions I have heard the Minister of State make on the two areas of her portfolio in which I have an interest, namely, older people and disability, I have not heard her use the term "people with disabilities" or "older people". Instead, she refers to individuals and what they want or need to lead their lives. She recognises that service users are part of family structures in which their relatives provide care and support. It is vital that when discussing vulnerable persons we do not forget that they are individuals with their own concerns, wants and desires. I am always delighted to hear the Minister of State speak in this manner and commend her on doing so. I am pleased she is in her current portfolio because she is a woman of determination and tenacity with an intolerance of inflexibility. These qualities will be needed if, rather than tweak services, we fundamentally change the way in which they are delivered.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the motion. It is important, even on the eve of what will be one of the most difficult budgets in the nation's history, to reiterate our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable in society, namely, those with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The debate over who made the mistakes that led to the financial crash of recent years will continue for years or decades. However, one group that will not figure when blame is being apportioned is people with disabilities. They did not over-indulge, borrow excessively or engage in reckless lending and for this reason they should not bear the brunt of cuts. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has conceded that the next two years will be particularly difficult in terms of the health budget and that expenditure on services for people with a disability, which cost in the region of €1.4 billion this year, will face difficulties. Notwithstanding this, expenditure on areas such as residential care, respite care and placements for school leavers must remain a top priority in 2013.

The Minister of State is committed to the implementation of the national disability strategy and chairs the new implementation group for the strategy. She has included in this group a number of individuals who will be able to bring to the table their experience of living with a disability. The implementation group will also take on board the views of the disability forum, which met for the first time in June.

I note that 15% of the budget of the Department of Education and Skills is spent in support of children with special educational needs, including on the employment of 10,575 whole-time equivalent special needs assistants in primary, post-primary and special schools. We must not overlook the invaluable role special needs assistants play in our education system in ensuring children with special needs are educated among their peers in a local setting.

Understanding of the need for early intervention in respect of autism is growing internationally. It is heartening that there are now 76 early intervention classes for children with autism attached to mainstream schools. Under the home tuition programme, funding is also provided for children with autism who are unable to access placement in such classes. Such early intervention is crucial as it often addresses behavioural difficulties and allows children to attend their local national school. Without such early intervention, more supports would be needed for such children in school and valuable learning time, which cannot be replaced, would be lost.

The need for proper services for adults with disabilities is another crucial issue. In recent months, members of Ballinasloe Advocates group have been to the fore in highlighting the need to retain and strengthen adult services for people with disabilities. Deputy Nolan and I have observed at first hand the tremendous work being done across the west by organisations such as Ability West and the Brothers of Charity. In recent years, these organisations, through the help and goodwill of members of the local community, have steadily built up the services on offer and their hard work must not be negated by a shortfall in funding in the coming years.

Family members of persons with a disability will stress the need for respite hours to be retained at all costs. These hours are often the difference between a person with a disability being able to live at home or moving to a community setting. In many cases, parents who are becoming increasingly frail are able to cope with living with the extra demands of an adult child with a disability because of the support provided through respite care. Reducing respite care hours would result in a major increase in the number of applications for housing in a community setting.

I note the Minister plans to move into the community next year 150 of the 3,600 persons with disabilities who are living in an institution. While progress is slow, it must be acknowledged that the provision of housing is difficult in the current climate. The element of the national housing strategy aimed at people with a disability will come under much more pressure if the current level of respite care is not retained.

Organisations and staff working with people with disabilities have done a tremendous job. Alongside people with disabilities and their families, they have provided a strong voice in advocating for those with disabilities. It is imperative that we continue to hear these voices and direct the money available towards ensuring vital services are retained throughout the country. We must ensure that people with disabilities are not punished for the sins of others. The only real way of measuring justice in any society is to examine how society treats its most vulnerable citizens. While we all acknowledge that further cuts must be faced in the years ahead, we must shield disabled people from such measures.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. No one can deny the level of commitment and dedication the Minister of State has shown to the area of disability.

The question is whether she can deliver.

Not only is she committed to an inclusive approach but the inclusion for the first time of people with disabilities in the decision making process constitutes anti-discriminatory practice. Service users, their families and the providers of services welcome this approach as it has been absent from the formulation and implementation of social policy through the decades. Pleas by advocates to adopt anti-discriminatory practice have fallen on deaf ears over the years. For this reason, we should not underestimate the commitment the Minister of State has shown in this area. While we all know that stark and difficult budgetary decisions lie ahead, we must commend the inclusive and anti-discriminatory practice at the forefront of the Minister of State's approach to disability. It is not lost on those who work in disability services or the families and individuals who avail of them.

As the Minister of State mentioned, we need a realistic implementation plan for the national disability strategy. Strategy and policy documents have laid on shelves gathering dust for years. This is to no one's benefit. Other Deputies will agree that the Minister of State's approach - she is chairing the group - is to be broadly welcomed.

The HSE's core underlying deficits are disturbing. I sit on the health committee and have seen the black hole in terms of health. It is a difficult situation. I have often spoken at that committee and with parliamentary colleagues about the need for an accounting process that would allow the disability budget to be disaggregated from the quagmire of other health spending. The Minister of State made reference to this. This type of reform is boring and technical and has to do with accounting, software, computers and all of the kind of material about which no newspaper likes to write. However, this is the type of reform of our health services that we need if we are to ensure that money is spent where it is required.

This issue is not aligned with disability services alone. It is equally aligned with mental health, primary care and acute hospital services. We cannot continue to throw good money after bad. Until we see this approach to managing money within the HSE, change will be difficult.

I will reference my experience in my constituency. The Brothers of Charity are active in Waterford city and county. Other Deputies have mentioned them. The Brothers of Charity realise that they cannot continue to practise as they have been doing. Carriglea Cairde Services in Dungarvan has been to the fore in removing people with learning and physical disabilities from institutions and into their communities. This is the type of approach to which the Minister of State and the Government are committed.

One must hand it to Fianna Fáil. While I welcome the motion on disability rights and the funding of services, it is yet another example of that party's unashamed brass neck. With this motion, it is attempting to reinvent itself as an advocate for those with disabilities.

When one teases out the text, it says little aside from Fianna Fáil's stunning realisation "that it is unfair and unjust to cut services for people with disabilities". Had it any shame at all, it would have included a line apologising for the harm that it inflicted on people with disabilities and their families through the years.

What about the people Sinn Féin has disabled?

Just a few years ago when Fianna Fáil was in government, it cut the disability allowance-----

What about the 3,000 deaths?

Deputy Mac Lochlainn without interruption, please.

I will repeat myself, as Deputy Kelleher obviously does not want to hear it.

Sinn Féin does not want to hear a few things either.

Just a few years ago when Fianna Fáil was in government, it cut the disability allowance, the carer's allowance, the carer's benefit and the blind person's allowance not once, but twice.

We increased them, too.

The removal of the Christmas double payments also heavily impacted on the disabled and their families and carers. All of this meant that Fianna Fáil cut the income of disabled people and their carers by 10% over two budgets. A brass neck indeed. It is no wonder that Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on social protection and Minister in that Government, Deputy O'Dea, was heckled and booed by disability rights campaigners who were protesting outside the Dáil a few weeks ago.

That Fianna Fáil Government also cruelly slashed funding to voluntary organisations working with the disabled as well as front-line services to the disabled across the State. We witnessed savage cuts to the number of special needs assistants, SNAs, resulting in children with disabilities staying outside of mainstream schools. Was it not the Fianna Fáil Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, who told primary school teachers that resource teachers for children with learning disabilities would be withdrawn if they had less than nine children in each of their schools? That was in 2009, when the then Fine Gael education spokesperson, Deputy Brian Hayes, issued a statement calling it an "attack" on children with learning disabilities. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, was the then Labour Party spokesperson on disability and called for services for children with intellectual disabilities to be protected. It is remarkable how Fine Gael and the Labour Party have changed their views on all of these matters in their alliance for austerity.

The motion "recognises" that there are more than 600,000 people with disabilities in the State and "recognises" their concern regarding cuts to services. It merely "notes" the pledges in the programme for Government and calls on the Government to provide the appropriate funding and services to honour "all" commitments to people with disabilities. It is not unreasonable to ask what Fianna Fáil mean by "all" in this motion. Does it include that party's own commitments to people with disabilities that it failed to uphold in spectacular fashion?

As Members of this House, we must ensure that a threshold of decency on disability supports is developed. There must be a political consensus that people with disabilities will have their dignity and rights maintained and their families will not be abandoned as a result of ongoing cutbacks.

Recently, we have seen images of citizens with profound disabilities who protested outside Leinster House at the cuts introduced by the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly. They struck a powerful chord with the Irish people. The courage and dignity of those who braved the elements to make their stand shone a light on the reality that, despite the promises of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in the final pre­election leaders' debate last year, their Government has proceeded to enforce cut after cut on those with disabilities, their families and their carers.

Their broken promises on disabilities are the cruellest of all. If this Government took a Kango hammer and tore up our roads, there would be uproar, but that is exactly what it has been doing to support services for people with disabilities. Nine leading disability organisations spoke out on this scandal, yet the Government has still done nothing. We should make no mistake about this. Given Fianna Fáil's record in this area, it would not be acting any differently were it still in government.

The disability organisations have outlined a vision for people with disabilities and called on the Government to take urgent action on three key areas. First, halt reductions in the basic standard of living of people with disabilities requiring welfare supports. People with disabilities are most likely to experience real poverty because, on top of the recent cuts in benefit levels and new charges, they must also continue to pay for extras required due to their disabilities. They are among some of the most vulnerable groups that will lay awake tonight in fear at what fresh hell tomorrow's budget will bring.

Second, funding must be guaranteed to the services needed by people with disabilities. Cutting the services required by people with disabilities not only undermines their lives, but also leads to a growing public expenditure in terms of hospital stays and expensive care costs. It does not make economic, let alone ethical, sense to cut their services.

Third, it is a matter of urgency that the Government publish an ambitious implementation plan for the national disability strategy in keeping with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities so that people can have dignity, individual autonomy and full and effective participation in Irish society.

People's faith in Ireland's eventual recovery depends not just on economic measures. Social protection for all people through this long, stressful period needs to be central to the Government's recovery plans. Government actions must address social inclusion and cohesion. Recent Government cuts have heightened these concerns in the run up to the budget. Sinn Féin fully endorses the people's call and we call on the Government to take up this challenge and honour its promises to our most vulnerable citizens.

Last year, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, announced proposals to stop disability payments to new claimants aged between 16 and 18 years. That measure was halted after people took to the streets. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, let the Minister for Social Protection take the fall, famously describing how they would "revisit" the matter. We must wait and see what will be "revisited" in the coming months.

As far as this motion is concerned, I welcome Fianna Fáil's Pauline conversion to the fight for disability rights. We can legitimately question the motivations behind it, but we support the right to full equality for people with disabilities.

The previous Government cut the income of people with disabilities and their carers by 10% across two budgets. The impact is still being felt. The people in question are some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the State. Community employment schemes, social welfare and so on impact on them. We need to put action behind the rhetoric. It is time for a threshold of decency on this issue.

I repeat my call to all parties, despite their previous and ongoing record, to examine the issue. What citizen, on being informed by elected Members that we would make an all-party, all-grouping consensus that no matter what happens we would not make further cuts to disabled people, their carers and families but we would maintain a threshold of decency, would disagree with the proposal? The issue is how we get to that stage. There has been a shameful history of failure to meet our obligations to citizens with disabilities in recent years. Perhaps we could start to reverse that, treat them as equal partners and give them their rights once and for all.

As Deputy McLellan was not present, I did not include her previously. Is it agreed that she can share time with Deputy Mac Lochlainn? Agreed.

An estimated 750,000 people in Ireland have a disability of one form or another. That amounts to 18.5% of the population. In numerical terms that constitutes a significant section of Irish society. However, in spite of that, successive Governments have paid only scant attention to the needs and rights of disabled adults and children. The end result is that people with a disability are more likely to be living in poverty, to be unemployed and to be dependent on State benefits. They are also more likely to be highly reliant on public services especially for health, housing and public transport. All in all, people with a disability are more likely to be excluded from Irish society, or at risk of such exclusion.

However, to suggest that such a situation came about through mere indifference is to ignore the impact of policies enacted by successive Governments on the lives of disabled people. Therefore, with this important caveat to the forefront of the current discussion, Sinn Féin supports this Private Members' business, but it does so reluctantly. I say that because Sinn Féin is of the view that people with a disability should be automatically entitled to participate fully in all areas of Irish life. More important, we believe that the State has a duty and a responsibility to ensure that all necessary resources are put in place to ensure that is the case.

Successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments have repeatedly and cold-heartedly implemented policies that make a nonsense of tonight's Private Members' business. While in power, Fianna Fáil presided over the slow but deliberate dismantling of the welfare state. As we know only too well, that had a disproportionate impact on people and children with disabilities who are almost totally dependent on the State for the provision of key services. There is a huge degree of hypocrisy and opportunism in the fact that the very same party, namely Fianna Fáil, that is responsible for pushing people with a disability to the margins of society, is proposing tonight's Private Members' business as if its hands were clean and its conscience were clear.

The current Fine Gael and Labour Government has not only failed to implement a national housing strategy and a comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities, it has also failed to ensure that all public policy measures are disability-proofed. Lest we forget, when Fianna Fáil was in government it too failed miserably in all of those key areas. On all of the key indicators - access to decent health care, decent education at primary, secondary and third level, meaningful employment, and suitable and adequate housing - differently-abled people are discriminated against by policies enacted by the Government, but also by successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments. People with disabilities deserve to be, and should be, treated as equal citizens when it comes to accessing life chances. They should not, as has been the case with the current Fine Gael and Labour Government and successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments be seen as a soft option when it comes to slashing vital services in order to save money to pay off private bondholders and support zombie banks. Unfortunately, the political landscape is littered with countless examples of where people with disabilities have had their real and pressing needs ignored in the interest of rescuing foreign speculators and dead financial institutions. In a mature and politically sophisticated state all those with a disability, be they adults or children, would be guaranteed the necessary services and resources required to live a life with dignity and purpose. That would mean ensuring people received as a right adequate benefits and that the public services on which they depended were adequately resourced and of a high standard. Such supports are imperative if people with disabilities are to be enabled to live full and autonomous lives. In other words, we must support self-determination of people with disabilities by building their capacity and that of their families.

Sinn Féin supports this Private Members' business, but it does so reluctantly. Disabled people are not pawns in a game of political cat and mouse. They are human beings who deserve to have their rights as citizens fully vindicated. Sinn Féin will continue to speak out in favour of that and to oppose all cuts to services and benefits which impact negatively on them.

I wish to share time with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on this important motion on disabilities and the urgent need to protect front-line services to all people with an intellectual and physical disability.

I also speak tonight as a parent of a daughter with an intellectual disability who is a service user. It annoys me and many families that we have to fight each time for services. People in power or in authority do not seem to get it when we talk about the rights of our children with a disability. They do not seem to get it when we demand equality and justice for all people with a disability. Cutting or removing services to people who did not cause the crash is an absolute disgrace. It is wrong and does not protect the vulnerable.

It maddens me when I hear some politicians or Ministers saying it is only a 3% or 6% cut - that it could have been worse. What planet are they on, and do they realise that, for example, in the St. Michael’s House services a 1% cut means taking €700,000 out of the system? A 3% cut is €2.1 million. That is the reality. Recently, St. Michael’s House suffered cuts of €11.2 million. Less money means fewer staff and that existing staff have to provide more services. That is the case with a disability organisation that has reduced absenteeism from 6.5% down to 3.5% and reduced administration costs by 34%. There is an example of productivity. We cannot take any more cuts. Any further cuts to the budget will have a devastating effect on the service. In real terms, a total of 317 people are on the priority list for residential places and 45 of those are in serious difficulty. There is also the added problem of 283 adults with an intellectual disability who are living with one or more parents aged 70 years of age or over. A 1% cut would be a nightmare for many of the families concerned.

Many other groups such as Prosper Fingal are also facing huge problems if the cuts are implemented. At Prosper Fingal in Swords there is considerable uncertainty at present about funding. In the current climate the only way to access HSE funding for residential places is if someone is in a dire crisis. Staffing and running costs are the major issues and worries. Those are the realities on the ground for people with disability. Their voices must be heard. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister for Health should not cut the services. There are other options and choices because we must build a republic based on equality and supporting all people with a disability.

As the Independent speaker at the Constitutional Convention last Saturday one of the points I made was that when the eight topics have been dealt with that there is a need to examine human rights. I specifically mentioned people with disabilities, both mental and physical. I also made a point about the rights of prisoners because their mental health has been very much neglected.

This has not been a good year for people with disabilities, both mental and physical, because added to the obvious difficulties of living with a disability and the stress and strain of coping with that both for the person affected and their loved ones, there are also the additional stresses and strains caused by insensitive and unethical measures for personal assistant hours and home help hours. Those measures are also uneconomic because various organisations have made calculations on the cost of keeping someone in hospital or a nursing home. The cost of providing supports for people with disabilities in order that they can be cared for at home, in so far as that is practicable, is minimal in comparison.

There are varying degrees of disability, both physical and mental, and some require 24-hour care, but the general agreement is for community care in so far as that is possible. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, agrees with that. Allied to that is the absolute necessity of respite for the family members doing the caring. People with significant disabilities need more services in order to live independently. The philosophy of independent living is that every person is important and has the right to live a fulfilling life. The role of the personal assistant is vital to that.

Cutting personal assistant and home help hours will be much more costly in the long run, in addition to the awful effect on the person with a disability whose quality of life is being affected.

In terms of mental health, we are aware of the disproportionate relationship between the number of people with mental health issues and the financial allocation to services in this area.

Debate adjourned.