That Dáil Éireann:
recognises that, according to census 2011, 13% of the population is coping with a disability;
accepts that the percentage of people with a disability who complete second or third level education is much lower than the comparative figure for the general population;
acknowledges the census figures which show that 4.1% of the population is providing unpaid assistance to others and that 2.3% of carers are under the age of 15;
condemns the Government for its abolition of the mobility allowance, which is a vital and essential resource for so many;
believes that the disability sector has been unfairly targeted and has shouldered a disproportionate cut to income and services;
recognises that many voluntary organisations have seen their budgets slashed by as much as 25% and are now under severe financial pressure;
deplores the 40% cut for grants to help older people to adapt their homes; and
calls on the Government to:
- reverse its decision on the mobility allowance and grant or, alternatively, set up a new scheme with immediate effect;
- fulfil all disability-related promises made in the programme for Government;
- give a guarantee to all those depending on disability supports that their income will now be protected and no further cuts will be made to this sector;
- bring forward modern legislation during 2013 to replace the outdated Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871;
- review access to education for people with disabilities with a view to improving current rates;
- engage constructively with groups representing the disabled and give firm commitments as regards services and personal assistants; and
- treat all citizens in a fair and equitable manner.
I welcome the opportunity to move this Private Members' motion on the urgent need to support all people with a disability. This motion puts down a marker on the way we treat citizens of this State and reminds us of the need for equality and respect and the duty to enjoy and actively support diversity in our society. It also offers a vision for an inclusive Ireland that should guarantee the rights of all citizens. This is about our children, our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our neighbours and family members.
The motion is also about two core issues in any democratic society, health and education. It is also about getting away from the charity syndrome and putting the rights of the disabled at the top of the political agenda. We have had the talk and all the old guff; now we are demanding action. We have set out clear objectives on the needs and put forward common sense solutions. I challenge any Member of this House to say we cannot do this in a clear, transparent and, in particular, a fair way.
I speak as the parent of a daughter with an intellectual disability who wants to see all citizens respected and guaranteed their rights under the Constitution. It is time for clear choices and decisions. Is it right that disabled citizens and their families, who pay their taxes, must fight, kick and scream, or sit outside the Dáil in the cold and rain, to get basic services? Is it right for a young, severely disabled man to have his five day service reduced to three days per week because of the actions of greedy senior bankers or developers? Is it fair that services like St. Michael's House, ChildVision or Prosper Fingal must keep cutting back services while others get pay increases or walk away with a pot of gold? These are the decisions in this debate on funding. These are the fundamental questions and running away from them is not an option. Tonight, the Independent Deputies stand with the disabled. Tonight, we fight to defend their interests and this motion sets ours aims out clearly.
The motion states that Dáil Éireann recognises that, according to census 2011, some 13% of the population has a disability. We also accept that the percentage of people with a disability who complete second or third level education is much lower than the comparative figure for the general population. We acknowledge the census figures that show 4.1% the population is providing unpaid assistance to others and that 2.3% of carers are under the age of 15.
We condemn the Government for its abolition of the mobility allowance, which is a vital and essential resource for so many. We believe the disability sector has been unfairly targeted and has shouldered a disproportionate cut to income and services. We recognise that many voluntary organisations have seen their budgets slashed and are now under financial pressure.
Tonight, I call on the Government to reverse its decision on the mobility allowance and grant or, alternatively, to set up a new scheme with immediate effect. I call on the Government to fulfil all disability-related promises made in the programme for Government, key promises made at the last general election. This Government was elected with that mandate, as I was myself. I also call on the Government to give a guarantee to all those depending on disability supports that their income will now be protected and no further cuts will be made to this sector.
The Government must bring forward modern legislation during 2013 to replace the outdated Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871 and review access to education for people with disabilities with a view to improving current rates. I welcome John Dolan from the Disability Federation of Ireland here tonight and I call on the Minister and Government to engage constructively with groups representing the disabled and to give firm commitments as regards services and personal assistants. Finally, we demand that all citizens be treated in a fair and equitable manner. This debate is about equality. It is about justice and giving people the rights to services and supports.
The following services will be needed in the period 2012 to 2016. Most service needs are recorded as being immediate. A total of 217 people who are currently without support require day services or activities, including home support. Eight of these are first-time requirements for home support services. There are 10,153 day places that need to be changed or enhanced, including 486 people who currently have a day place but have an additional requirement of a home support service. I was given these figures by the HSE in the last few days.
In the next five years, 2,248 people without residential placements will require such a placement on a full-time basis. Most of these needs are immediate. There are 2,865 residential places that must be changed or enhanced, for example, a resident in a residential centre who requires a move to a community group home setting. When it comes to residential services, 2,040 require residential support services for the first time. They will also need 1,701 residential support places to be enhanced. These are the basic issues.
There are more than 13,000 people registered as blind in the State. More than 50% have not had access to mobility training or services that would enable to live more independently. That is one group of people that must be prioritised. The voluntary group Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind is currently in the middle of its fund-raising campaign but is short €3 million. When we hear figures like that, and the €10 million spent on the mobility allowance, and we then hear figures like the €600 million that could be brought in if we took action on the illegal trade in cigarettes, it is clear that measures could easily be put in place that would address these funding shortfalls.
Many organisations are struggling to stay afloat, incurring financial deficits. There is evidence of reinstitutionalisation and concern about the reduction in the quality and quantity of services. Organisations are experiencing more and more difficulties in maintaining essential services. There are cutbacks in respite at weekends and some respite houses have been closed. There have been cuts in transport and further cuts in funding will result in service reductions. All these fears were outlined in the minutes of a meeting held with parents on the northside of Dublin by an organisation that provides services for 267 adults with an intellectual disability.
Accessible Community Transport Southside Limited has operated for the past ten years on a not-for-profit basis. ACTSLtd. offers door to door transport services for those with disabilities and mobility difficulties across the south and west of Dublin as far as the city centre with a fleet of ten wheelchair accessible minibuses. It has almost 1,600 members, many of them using large motorised wheelchairs, who cannot avail of public transport or wheelchair taxis. Many of the members are dependent on the mobility allowance to pay ACTSLtd to bring them to hospital appointments, doctors' appointments, dental appointments, shopping and social events. If, as seems likely, the Department abolishes the mobility allowance, it will have a catastrophic effect on the lives of many disabled people and rob them of their independence and quality of life. That is the issue that is of concern to me: people being robbed of their quality of life. If we believe in equality and the rights of citizens, these are the key issues people are asking us to raise. Last Christmas day, eight minibuses were travelling south and west Dublin from early morning, with the majority of members using that mobility allowance to pay for the journey. These are vital issues.
Mary Doherty, the parent of a child with Down's syndrome, recently asked me to ask Ministers some simple questions.
Can the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, tell me why a child with Down's syndrome does not automatically qualify for resource hours and a special needs assistant to help him or her navigate through mainstream school? Can she tell me why a Down's syndrome child has to fail assessments in order to have a chance of getting the resources and assistance he or she requires? Can she tell me why a Down's syndrome child is not rewarded for his or her achievements by providing him or her with all the necessary resources and assistance to build on and nurture these achievements? Can she tell me why a child with Down's syndrome is not afforded every opportunity to reach his or her full potential and be the best that he or she can be? Can she tell me why a child with Down's syndrome is getting forced out of inclusion in mainstream school and into special schools? Finally, the parent asked, can the Minister of State tell me why a child with Down's syndrome is denied the right to a fully resourced inclusive education system but instead is left isolated in classrooms without the necessary supports? These are the issues the parents are raising. These are not coming from Members of the Oireachtas. These are coming from parents.
Following the budget, there was a major reaction to the respite care grant being reduced by €325. Is that justice, is it fair? At the same time, there was €3 million spent on special Government advisers, many of whom are paid in excess of the promised limits. When one puts those figures together, this equates to 300,000 home help hours or other hours in support of those with disabilities.
I will read a letter from Ms Aoibheann Gill, who is another person with a disability. She writes:
I am a disabled woman, having acquired a disability ten years ago, aged 29. I have battled for my life, my recovery and against very dark days since 2003. I have even had to fight for a temporary medical card for medication to keep me alive. I know what it is to be able-bodied and I know only too well how limiting life is as a disabled woman whose mind functions but whose body does not respond. It seems that this Government is determined to plunge my already compromised life into the darkest of places.
Why is the Government making it so difficult for those of us who are not even mobile enough to get out and take action? Is it because we're the easy target and we can be scorned in our supposed simplicity? The Government has not challenged the wealthy, it has not targeted the problem in this country; it protects and nurtures the problem ... that is, [many wealthy people] the bankers.
Now the Government has taken away my car. How do I get to work or to the doctors? It will take my medical card when it's due for renewal early next year. Would it like my life too? Is there no man or woman out there that can help the vulnerable, that can walk or talk on behalf of those of us who can't? It's despairing to watch the disabled being targeted again. Are we never in our lifetimes going to see real equality where the wealthy pay as much as the poor?
[This is where she mentions the Minister of State] Kathleen Lynch does not represent the disabled. We don't want 'agony' and 'pity'; we want equal life opportunity. 'Agonising' in the Dail from a minister for disability is inappropriate and inadequate and does not serve the vulnerable. A productive minister would have their replacement policy ready to announce.
My colleague, Deputy Catherine Murphy, has also raised a number of important issues and I am sure she will deal with them later. One is that the prolonged periods spent on waiting lists for vital services such as occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and psychological services by children and young adults has a profound impact on the educational attainment of those in need of those services. Another is the extreme disparity from area to area. I happen to live in an area where down the road there is an excellent disability service but there are many in different parts of the city and country who do not have access to these services.
It is important to point out in this debate that there are examples of good practice in the disability. I commend all the staff who have taken the salary cuts and yet continue to work long hours. I am aware of one service that took a reduction of €10 million over three years. They have taken the hits and still do their job to the best professional standards. I use this opportunity to commend them.
I urge the Government to listen to my colleagues' points. The Independent Deputies in Dáil Éireann are standing and fighting for those with a disability.