Disability Services: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

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- bring forward modern legislation during 2013 to replace the outdated Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871;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.

To check in regard to Standing Orders, did Deputy Finian McGrath have the permission of the writer of the letter that he read into the record?

Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Teachta Finian McGrath agus gabhaim buíochas leis ar son na hoibre a rinne sé i gcóir an Gnó Príomháideach seo. Aithním, chomh maith, an obair a rinne sé thar na blianta ar son lucht míchumais. Credit is due to Deputy Finian McGrath for this Private Members' motion. There is a need for recognition of him as being a voice for those with disabilities, both in his time on Dublin City Council and also in the Dáil.

One of the most shameful moments that I experienced in my few years here was some months ago when persons with disabilities, in their wheelchairs, including some past pupils of mine from St. Mary's Baldoyle, took part in a protest outside the Dáil. It was an overnight protest to highlight their situation and the implications of the threatened cuts. I must ask what kind of society are we that any consideration or any thought would go to making life more difficult for those with disabilities. We know we are living in challenging times but those challenges are really compounded for those with disabilities. They have so many additional challenges and those challenges extend to their families and their loved ones.

My first point is that we do not define a person by the disability and we must be careful when we discuss disability. There is such a wide range of areas, covering physical, mental, intellectual, environmental, social and medical. We only see the word as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations or participation restrictions. It is vital that we look at the person rather than the disability and equally vital that somebody with a disability is not precluded from taking as full and active a role in society as is possible.

It has been a bad time, particularly recently, for those with disabilities, both mental and physical. It comes from those additional stresses and strains caused by insensitive and, I believe, immoral and unethical, measures taken with regard to personal assistant hours, home help hours, mobility allowance, etc. On purely economic terms, the supports provided by families and carers are much less than if the person was in full-time nursing care and the cost of providing support for persons with disabilities in order that they can be cared for at home in so far as is practicable is minimal in comparison.

Recently I spoke on a Topical Issue matter. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, was not able to take it but another Minister did. I quoted UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Mr. Juan Méndez, when looking at abuses in health care settings, within the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He made the point that community living, with support, is no longer a favourable policy development but an international recognised right. In that regard, there are implications for us as a society.

On mental health, Mr. Méndez, in his report, called for the revision of legal provisions which currently permit detention on mental health grounds in mental health facilities and allow coercive interventions and treatments in those settings without the free and informed consent of the person concerned. The Minister of State and I both remember the late Mr. John McCarthy when it comes to these kind of issues. The report also calls for a ban on forced or non-consensual medical interventions for persons with a disability, such as electric-shock treatment, mind-altering drugs, restraint and solitary confinement. In the reply to the matter I raised the Minister of State indicated the report was being looked at.

When it comes to decision making, as Amnesty International set out in a submission, the ability to make decisions is something that most of us take for granted but there are those whose ability to make decisions is taken from them. There is our archaic wards-of-court system, the Lunacy Regulation Act 1871 and the Electoral Act 1992. No doubt there is discrimination against disability, in particular, those with mental health issues and intellectual disabilities, and that is in our legislation. Those with mental health issues and intellectual disabilities have their decision making capacity compromised in areas of finance, banking, health care, social welfare, education and family law, and in practically every other area where decision making is required. It is time that we, as a country, mainstream decision-making in all legislation as a human right guaranteed to everyone and not the particular few. We must prioritise bringing in that capacity legislation in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as per the programme for Government so that there would be a system of supported decision-making that upholds the autonomy of everyone.

The motion calls on the Government to treat all citizens in a fair and equitable manner. I spoke at the opening of the Constitutional Convention and I want to reiterate a point I made there regarding the areas not covered under the remit of the eight sessions of the convention. One of those is protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

I hope that will be a priority area for the Constitutional Convention at the end when the eight are discussed and it can make recommendations.

We know the effect of the cuts and the austerity measures on the healthy population and it is far worse for those with a disability. In a civilised and humane society, people with disabilities should be sacrosanct when it comes to budgets. Their lives should not be made any worse, in particular in those weeks coming up to the budget when they have the added strain of kite flying about what might be cut for them, which is immoral. The cutbacks take no account of those aspects of the person's quality of life. For example, a person with a physical disability has greater needs for home heating than an able-bodied person who has mobility and can move around and keep himself or herself warm. Dublin City Council is waiting for funding from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government which it will use for adaptations to homes for people with a disability. A lady in Dublin Central, who is an amputee, is in her third year of waiting for an adaptation. The toilet and shower are upstairs in a three storey house. The stairs were built in such a way that they cannot accommodate a chair lift. That she has been waiting for three years is simply wrong and is an example of a person with a disability not being treated fairly.

Deputy Finian McGrath's motion recognises work of the voluntary organisations which have seen their budgets cut by as much as 25%. If they are under severe financial pressure, it will impact on the services they are providing for people with disabilities. St. Michael's House provides services for those with intellectual disabilities. Despite the moratorium on recruitment, the budget cuts and the reduction in staff numbers, all of which are having considerable impact, those at St. Michael's House have continued to expand and develop the services provided there. Those staff are coping with an increase in the number of people who use their day services and receive residential services. Great credit is due to the staff at St Michael's House in respect of the way they continue to deliver high quality services. The major challenge for them now is that St. Michael's House has the largest waiting list for residential care in the country. Disturbingly, 240 of the parents who have sons and daughters with an intellectual disability are over 70 years of age and more than half of them are facing very serious difficulties.

The motion states "according to Census 2011, 13% of the population is coping with a disability". Those are manageable numbers that could be dealt with. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that countries must remove the barriers that prevent participation and inclusion in society. Cuts to funding for those with disabilities are creating further barriers. The capacity legislation needs to be enacted to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are protected and there is a need to update.

As part of Ireland's Presidency of the European Union Council and membership of the UN Human Rights Council, Irish Aid should promote and ensure the rights of people with disabilities in developing countries also, particularly in times of environmental crisis and civil unrest. The motion basically calls on the Government to keep the promises it made in the programme for Government for people with disabilities.

I thank Deputy Finian McGrath for tabling this Private Members' motion. I wish to address the Government's amendment to the motion. It refers to the greater participation in employment by people with disabilities. With 450,000 people unemployed, we know it is a very difficult and overcrowded jobs market. The sole function of the Kildare Coalition of Supported Employment Limited is to find work and support people with disabilities in employment. It has been in operation since 2000-01, and up to 2011-12 responsibility for the national supported employment programme lay with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Responsibility has been transferred to the Department of Social Protection, but the transition has not been without very significant difficulties. The employability services across the country continue to deliver the services, even with those difficulties. However, they have certain very practical problems, including the delay in issuing contracts. Last year some of the contracts were not issued until October. Monthly payments that are paid in arrears have been so delayed that in many cases they had to get overdraft facilities, even though the Department of Social Protection do not allow them to get such facilities. They could not pay Revenue on time and ended up having to pay penalties, which is shocking.

More than 3,000 people with a disability are availing of the service nationally and several thousand other people are now in employment as a result of the programme. The difficulties being experienced threaten the programme and the support given to people with disabilities to secure and maintain employment. Staff may need to be put on protective notice and members of the boards of directors are not fulfilling their legal role as members of the company. Is it bureaucracy or a shift in policy? If it is bureaucracy, can it please be sorted out? It is putting at risk a service for very vulnerable people. It is not acceptable that a transfer from one Department to another should present such problems.

The Government amendment "welcomes the total commitment of €1.5 billion this year on health and personal social services for people with disabilities". It is framed in a way that gives the impression that it is an increase, whereas we know that is not the case. We know about the domiciliary care allowance problems last year, the respite care cuts and the changes to the mobility allowance. Even the most basic of front-line services have been cut. For example, home help hours were cut for a second time last year, including 500,000 hours cut in the final two months of last year. That service has become considerably more robotic. The carer gets ten minutes to dress a person and 15 minutes to give a shower. If somebody needs to be dressed and needs to be supervised when having a shower, how can he or she possibly get out to the shops, cook a meal and function safely on those kinds of hours? This must be seen as a front-line service to keep people in their homes and independent for as long as possible.

Private companies, including, for example, Comfort Keepers, are given tax relief. In 2007-08, the amount that company got from the Government was approximately €1 million, and in 2011, it was approximately €3.7 million. Those who can afford to get private companies to provide services are getting tax relief from Government. How can that be right when we are cutting services to people who are very vulnerable?

I accept the Government faced a legal problem in how the mobility allowance was to be provided. However, the way it was handled was the problem, with people not having certainty before it was cut. Even now the ring-fencing of the €10.6 million is happening alongside a review of the rural transport scheme. Some of that will go to the local authorities, but they do not want it. Without the local input it is impossible to tailor that kind of local transport system. In rural areas or even in urban areas where the bus fleet cannot accommodate wheelchairs, it will be almost impossible to deliver a service to people in the timeframe being mentioned. I question whether that will be the kind of service that will meet the needs of those who formerly had that grant.

The "additional funding of €4 million to help address the service needs of school-leavers in 2013" is additional over what was provided in 2012, but not over what was provided in 2011 or 2010 because there was a complete cut in 2012. The way the Government amendment is presented is fundamentally dishonest. The HSE had to meet those needs out of its own budget.

This afternoon I raised the issue of therapy services. The Minister of State, Deputy White, told me that the €20 million would be ring-fenced and would be spent. The longer we go into the year, the more that €20 million is at risk. I am not convinced there is not a risk to it because there was no risk to it last year until it disappeared into thin air. Once we reach the second half of the year, everybody is scratching around their budgets to see where they can get money. If the people budgeted for are not employed, then it gives the HSE an argument. New university courses were added in addition to the TCD course to ensure we had enough speech and language therapists. There is no shortage of people to take up these jobs. However, there is a postcode lottery in terms of the services available.

For example, there is no community-based adult speech and language therapy service in the Kildare-west Wicklow area, which means any person over 18 years who has an impairment receives no service whatsoever. There is no list to which a child with occupational therapy needs who has left primary school can be added. Yesterday, I met a parent of a child with Asperger's, dyspraxia and a morbid mood disorder. There is no service available to that child. A young child on a waiting list for two years for speech and language therapy on reaching the top of that list is given six weeks' therapy on a once weekly basis. This means that a child with communication, eating, drinking or swallowing needs receives the same amount of therapy as a child with a significant developmental delay or disorder. A child who requires further therapy is returned to the bottom of the list and could be years waiting for a further six weeks' therapy.

I am constantly told by parents that there is no service available to their children. These children are not even counted in the system. For example, Beechpark services which offers support services to schools with special classes for children with autism and Asperger's is not taking on new schools because it does not have the staff required to provide the additional service. I hope that these therapists will come on stream quickly.

In my view, there is a system failure in terms of the design of services. I referred to this issue during the debate on the Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2012. Unless we address this issue and have an equality of service across the country we are on a hiding to nothing and will always have system failure.

I join in congratulating Deputy Finian McGrath for once again bringing to our notice the plight of people with disabilities, the continuous neglect of them by Government and its willingness to inflict cutbacks on them.

I was struck by Deputy Murphy's reference to the figure of €20 million in the context of the cutback in this area. The disproportionate chaos and misery caused by cutbacks of this amount is difficult to understand. The sum of €20 million in terms of the overall budget is very little. To a project which aids the disabled, a group of disabled people or voluntary organisation, €20 million is an enormous amount. In terms of the public purse, it is a tiny amount. I am continually surprised by the willingness of this Government to cut back in the disabilities sector when plenty of slack remains in the public purse. For example, it costs €20 million per week to run FÁS. The waste in FÁS is unfathomable yet the Government is still prepared to regard it as a political sacred cow-political protectorate, to appoint people to its board and to pay €20 million per week to subsidise it. There are masses of money to be saved in not giving favoured directorships in semi-State bodies and agencies and other areas of public patronage. They have not been cut back, and where they have, they have been cut to an absolute minimum yet the Government is continually prepared to impose cuts on mobility allowances, respite care and so on. It is staggering that it does so while continuing to promote other areas of naked political patronage which are undoubtedly doing little for the public good.

We must ask the reason this is happening and why it is continually left to the Opposition to be the voice of the disabled. Deputy Finian McGrath and a few others aside, the disabled have few voices in this House. This is partly because acknowledgement of disability is only still coming out of the dark ages. When I was young, autism was not a big problem because people would not acknowledge it was a problem. I do not believe Asperger's was even spoken of and dyslexia was pretty well ignored. All of these disabilities are now in the public arena thanks to Deputy Finian McGrath and others. We have come out of the darks ages in that way. However, we have not done enough for the disabled.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan mentioned that she was particularly surprised by a demonstration by people in wheelchairs outside this House. It should not take, as it did some weeks ago, an extremely vivid demonstration by people in wheelchairs in front of this House and Government Buildings in full view of the cameras to move Government some way down the road to helping people with disabilities. Government did move as a result of that demonstration and media exposure of the heartlessness of what it was doing. It did move because of the imagery of that demonstration. While it is good that it moved, why in the name of God did it in the first instance inflict these cuts on people who undoubtedly had no strong voice within Government to represent them? The disabled are soft targets. It should not take an all night vigil by people with disabilities to change the Government's mind.

There is in the Government philosophy behind this proposal a type of silent acceptance that everybody must take their share of cuts. I do not understand why people who were born with a disadvantage should take a share of cuts: they have already taken their share of cuts. I have no conception of the reason parliamentarians have not given an in-built and rights based voice to the disabled in these Houses. The Seanad, which has heard representations from voices of all types of different organisations and interests, has never given ex officio the right to the disabled to have a voice there. Representation of the disabled in the Seanad would have been an extraordinarily suitable gesture. Also, it should be provided in the Constitution that a particular percentage of the budget every year be put to one side for the disabled so that governments do not have the discretion to pick on this easy target, as they do from time to time. The Government should not have the ability to make cuts in this sector and should be tied to having to give a particular amount to people who cannot help themselves. This would provide the disabled with constitutional protection financially on an annual basis.

For some time, there has been in place a target for aid to under-developed countries, although it is not one to which we have adhered as it is not a constitutional issue. The idea that we should aim to give a percentage of our budget to the Third World and not be prepared to give the same percentage to people here who are disabled is totally and utterly unacceptable, particularly at a time when Government is prepared, as mentioned earlier by other speakers, to throw its weight behind paying vast sums to bankers in State banks who do not deserve it. A cutback in the amount paid by the State to the directors of State banks would make a direct difference to the disabled.

In the light of the announcements this morning and yesterday about vast payments going to bankers, I ask the Minister of State to pledge on behalf of the Government to vote against any increases in bankers' pay at Bank of Ireland, as the Government has the power to do, and pledge to give this money to the less well off, in particular those who are disabled.

I call the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is sharing time with Deputies Jerry Buttimer and Derek Nolan.

I move amendment No. 1:

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

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

notes the considerable efforts to reform existing legislation to bring it into line with international standards and good practice;

welcomes the total commitment of €1.5 billion this year on health and personal social services for people with disabilities;

acknowledges that the Government has honoured its commitment to maintain the rates of core weekly social welfare payments to recipients, including people with disabilities;

notes the position of the Ombudsman with regard to the legal status of the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant;

acknowledges the Government’s commitment to:

— finding a solution to the issues identified, involving representatives of people with disabilities, relevant Government Departments and agencies; and

— protecting the €10.6 million allocated to the schemes, which will be reinvested in total in solutions to address priority mobility and the transport needs of people with disabilities;

supports the commitment to maintaining personal assistant services for people with disabilities this year at a level consistent to that provided in 2012 and the additional funding of €4 million to help address the service needs of school leavers in 2013;

welcomes the recent publication of the National Implementation Framework for the Value for Money and Policy Review of Disability Services, which provides an overarching framework for the implementation of recommendations to ultimately move to individualised funding for disability services, in order to provide greater choice and control for people with disabilities; and

notes the Government’s commitment to introduce national standards for residential centres for people with disabilities in 2013."

The HSE national service plan for 2013 reflects the priorities of the Government and the significant programme of reform being undertaken, in the context of significant funding challenges. It is timely to remind the House of the significant levels of specialist services provided for people with disabilities. Personally I believe we have moved away from language such as "disabled". The Government provides funding of €1.5 billion to the disability services programme. We are committed to protecting front-line services, and the HSE is seeking to maximise the provision of services within available resources. In 2013 the following specialist services will be provided: residential services to more than 9,000 people; day services to more than 22,000 people; respite residential support for more than 7,500 people; and 1.68 million hours of personal assistant and home support hours.

A total of 700 school leavers will require services in 2013, and this will continue to present a challenge. Last year the HSE and the voluntary service providers rose to meet this challenge without additional funding and I would like to acknowledge the efforts they made in this regard. Organisations such as St. Michael's House stepped up to the plate to provide a service with no additional funding. For years previously, significant additional funding was provided but it was used on a year by year basis with no substantial sustainable service being put in place to meet future needs. This is the challenge for all of us. In 2013 an additional €4 million has been allocated to provide training places and day services for school leavers. This is outside of the €1.5 billion funding referred to.

A major commitment in the programme for Government is to ensure we get the best outcome for people with disabilities from the resources we put into the health sector. I recently published the national implementation framework for the value for money and policy review of disability services. The review recommends a significant restructuring through migration 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. Choice and control will therefore shift to where it rightfully belongs, with the individual and his or her family.

The Government recognises the importance of strengthening cross-sectoral collaboration with regard to disability. In the case of children with disabilities, responsibility spans a number of Government Departments, including Health, Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs. It is vital these Departments co-operate on a regular basis to ensure their services are as integrated as possible and targeted to the areas of greatest need. A dedicated cross-sectoral team, comprising representatives from these three Departments and the Health Service Executive, plays a key role in this regard. These Departments are collaborating on children's disability issues, including autism.

Many organisations provide excellent support and interventions for children with a disability and their families. However, they have developed independently and were often established to serve one specific group of children only, resulting in a wide variation in the services available. I take very much on board what Deputy Catherine Murphy said. Some areas have very good services while other areas have quite poor services. We can speak about this later.

To increase the level of consistency and standardisation in the way early intervention services and services for school-aged children with disabilities are delivered, the HSE is engaged in a reconfiguration of existing therapy resources. This aims to achieve a unified approach which will result in a clear pathway for all children to the services they need regardless of where they live, what school they go to or the nature of their disability or developmental delay. While the programme supports the principle of providing access to mainstream education, it also recognises the continuing role of special schools. Significant progress has been made since the programme was established in 2010.

The Government and I are committed to ensuring vulnerable people with disabilities in residential services are safeguarded and protected, and that their quality of life is enhanced. The programme for Government includes a specific commitment to put these standards on a statutory footing and ensure the services are inspected by HIQA. I expect the standards will be approved and published in the coming weeks. Work on the regulations required to bring the standards into law is under way while further discussions are taking place on the resources and staffing required by HIQA from 2013 onwards. It is anticipated that the new registration and inspection regime will commence in the third quarter of this year.

The HSE's report, Time to Move on from Congregated Settings, proposes a new model of support where people will move to housing in ordinary communities, provided mainly by housing authorities. They will have the same entitlement to mainstream community health and social services as any other citizen, along with specialised and hospital services based on an individual assessment, to help them to live independently as part of their local community. The HSE also supports a number of initiatives throughout the country to expedite moving people from institutions. The not-for-profit organisation Genio supports the move of up to 170 people to more appropriate settings through projects which commenced in 2011 and 2012.

The Department, together with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, has developed a housing strategy for people with disabilities. We are working closely together to ensure that at a strategic level those who are currently in institutional or congregated settings will be eligible to be assessed for access to appropriate housing. The joint departmental approach aims to develop proposals on how a housing strategy can contribute to the implementation of a deinstitutionalisation programme, in parallel with the planned implementation of the congregated settings report. In 2013 initial funding of €1 million was given to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to support progress on the transitioning programme. The funding has been ringfenced to meet the housing needs of people leaving institutions in 2013 and will enable housing authorities to provide up to 150 new homes in the community for people with disabilities.

The Government is very conscious of the needs of people with a disability who require mobility and transport supports, and we are also conscious of the position of the Ombudsman on equality issues regarding the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant schemes. A special review group has been established to seek an alternative method to provide for the needs of people in a manner that does not run counter to equality legislation. The initial phase of the group's work will concentrate on issues regarding the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant. The results of the review will be presented to the Government before any final decisions are made on future arrangements. The payment of mobility allowance will continue for a period of four months for existing recipients and the funding of €10.6 million remains committed to meeting the priority transport needs of people with a disability.

In so far as such supports are concerned, the primary focus in budget 2013, as it was in budget 2012, is to maintain the level of weekly primary social welfare payments. Expenditure on social welfare payments and services reached approximately €20.8 billion in 2012 and expenditure in 2013 is expected to be approximately €20.26 billion. Maintaining rates for all core weekly payments represents a real achievement and demonstrates the Government's commitment to protecting those who are most in need of the support of the Department of Social Protection, including in particular people with disabilities. The Government's commitment to supporting people with disabilities is also reflected in measures which enable those who are able to secure employment to participate in the labour market. The partial capacity benefit scheme was introduced in 2012 and recognises that some claimants can be facilitated in taking up employment opportunities while continuing to receive income support from the State. In addition, with the support of the European Social Fund, the Department is investing more than €7 million under the disability activation project between now and 2015.

Some 14 separate projects are being funded within the Border, midlands and west region, which aim to create enhanced linkages between employers and people with disabilities, and which will better enable the untapped potential of people with disabilities to flourish.

On coming into office, this Government made a firm commitment in the programme for national recovery to introduce a mental capacity Bill that is in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The enactment of new capacity legislation is one of the core elements of the remaining work to be completed before we can ratify the convention. Consultations on reform of the law in this area were initiated by the Law Reform Commission which published its report on vulnerable adults and the law in 2006. The report's recommendations informed to a great extent the scheme of the mental capacity Bill as published in 2008.

Work is being completed to properly align the provisions of the Bill with the principles contained in the UN convention on supporting people with impaired capacity in making decisions and exercising their basic rights. The amended title of the Bill, the assisted decision-making (capacity) Bill, which I think everyone will agree is a much better title, reflects this approach. The guiding principles in the Bill reflect convention principles of respecting the dignity and autonomy of each individual person, including the presumption of capacity unless the contrary is established, and the freedom to make his or her own choices. Drafting of the Bill is being finalised with a view to meeting the commitment in the Government legislation programme which indicates that the Bill is expected to be published in the current session.

The intention is that the assisted decision-making (capacity) Bill will specifically support the right of all persons to equal recognition before the law, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Bill will reform the law in respect of adults who are vulnerable in that they lack some or all mental capacity to make important decisions for themselves. It will also provide a legal framework to support such persons in fully exercising their decision-making capacity. It will modernise the law on capacity and bring Irish capacity legislation into line with current thinking and modern legislative frameworks worldwide.

The Bill proposes replacement of the wards of court system with a modern statutory framework to support persons with impaired decision-making ability. The wards of court system is regarded as unsuited to modern conditions and incapable of coping with projected demographic growth and increased need for the management of the affairs of persons who lack capacity. The terminology and concepts used in the existing legislation of 1871 are inappropriate to the modern understanding of mental illness and capacity.

The national disability strategy was launched in September 2004 and its implementation continues to be the focus of Government policy for the sector. However, a specific implementation plan for the strategy had not previously been developed. The Government is now addressing this. I have established and I am chairing a national disability strategy group to develop an implementation plan for progressing the national disability strategy in line with the commitment in the programme for Government. This new group maintains the cross-departmental focus and is also strong on collaboration with stakeholders.

Deputy Finian McGrath said that we should listen to people with disabilities, and we are doing so. We are listening to them at the centre of Government. Discussions are ongoing between the disability stakeholders group, DSG, and Departments in an effort to reach agreement on the suite of actions contained in the plan. I am pleased to inform the House that one of the main aims of the implementation plan is engagement with the disability sector and building on the traditional problem-solving and constructive approach of the community and voluntary sector to make progress to achieve our common interests.

More targeted, innovative and flexible services, designed and delivered on the basis of the evidence drawn from systematic evaluation, will help to ensure available resources are used to deliver services that meet the needs of the community as efficiently and effectively as possible. A broad representation of disability organisations and individuals is included on the national disability strategy interdepartmental group, NDSIG. It also includes a representative from the National Disability Authority, NDA. While acknowledging the current economic climate and diminished resources available across Government, the implementation plan will seek to ensure available resources are used to best effect in ensuring living standards and access to essential services for people with disabilities are maintained.

As an additional means of engagement, I set up a disability forum under the stewardship of the NDA which will operate in a similar manner to the social inclusion forum. It has the specific aim of engagement with individuals as opposed to organisations. People whose lived experience of dealing day to day with disability, either as a person with a disability or a carer for some one with a disability, can be taken on board. In this manner, the voices of people who might be overlooked in a more formal structure are heard and considered.

The first meeting of the disability forum was held in June 2012 and the views expressed at that meeting form part of the considerations of the NDSIG in relation to actions in the implementation plan. The NDA is helping Departments in setting performance indicators and outcomes for the plan's targets. These targets give firm commitments throughout the wide range of Departments, agencies and local government. These targets are tied into timelines and monitored for success or blockages. Where there are blockages, these can be identified early and whatever new approach is required can be put in place. The NDSIG process is also identifying actions which will be required to ensure Ireland will be in compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when ratification takes place.

We are not just listening but are also deeply committed to mainstreaming. If people want to be part of society, and we should insist they are, then we should give them all the supports we can. We should get away from the segregated thinking that has gone on. We need to listen to people with disabilities, not just organisations and those who purport to represent them.

As regards the lady who wrote to Deputy Finian McGrath, I have never claimed to speak on behalf of people with disabilities. I would not dare to do that. I simply listen and, I hope, put in place policies and actions to ensure their voices are heard in their own right and not through anyone else.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion. I recognise that the issue of disability is both emotive and complex. I accept that at times people who are disabled, their families and those who purport to represent them feel disenfranchised. In addition, they may feel they are the victims of a game of political football and feel badly treated by all of us in this House. In the main, however, my experience of talking to people with disabilities and their families is that they recognise the Government is trying to make a difference. The Government is undertaking a new way of politics regarding disability by putting the person who is disabled first.

We are privileged and fortunate that we have a Minister of State of the calibre of Deputy Kathleen Lynch. She has had a long-standing interest in the disability sector, attending and addressing conferences. In addition, she has visited and spoken and listened to people with disabilities. I want to put that on the record because Members opposite can throw political brickbats but will not give recognition where it is due.

I want to remind Deputy Finian McGrath and Deputy Ross that I have spoken on disability issues both in this House and previously as a Member of the Seanad. I come from a family that is deeply immersed in issues of disability. I am proud to be an advocate for the disabled in this House. Like the Minister of State, I listen to them every day of the week. I understand the frustration and annoyance people feel, but they should not have to feel that way.

While this motion is timely, I had to scratch my head when I read it because I saw nothing positive in it at all. All I saw was negativity and emptiness.

In his summation tomorrow night, I challenge Deputy Finian McGrath to come forward with solutions. While it is all fine to be critical and to be giving out, Members opposite should give solutions. They should come forward with their programme, blueprints and workable meaningful solutions. This is the challenge I put forward to Deputy Finian McGrath and his colleagues on the Technical Group benches, wherever they are at present. I do not see them. Deputy McGrath also has an obligation to do this and contrary to the remarks of Deputy Ross, he does not have a unique capacity of understanding and meeting people. I did not need to be told about disability by Deputy McGrath, as I live it every day of the week in my office, in my community and in my city of Cork.

The Government has a duty to treat all the citizens in a way that is fair and equal and this is what the Government will be and is doing. The Government will spend €1.5 billion this year on disability services. I note the complete absence, in the motion before Members tabled by the Technical Group, of a mention of the additional €4 million to provide training places. There is not a line on it, just as there is no mention of the €20.26 billion the State spends on social protection measures. As the Minister of State rightly noted, in budget 2013 the key aim was to protect and maintain the core social welfare payment, which affects and is needed by people with disability and this has been done. There is no easy way, magic formula, fairy godmother or tooth fairy to give us money. In his remarks, Deputy Ross made reference to FÁS. He is driving a clapped-out train and should move off that model. The Government has reformed FÁS and is changing FÁS and while there is a new mode of being there, Deputy Ross does not recognise that. The Government will protect and is protecting the most vulnerable in society.

Much comment has been passed on the issue of the mobility allowance and the motorised transportation grant. In this context, I note the Minister has appeared before the Joint Committee on Health and Children with the Secretary General of the Department. In addition, the Ombudsman has made known her viewpoint and I greatly welcome the establishment of a review group under the chairmanship of Ms Sylda Langford. I hope that sooner rather than later, an alternative model of funding will be put in place. I also greatly welcome that €10.6 million still is available to be given out again and I hope those who require access to public transportation will not be denied it.

This is an extremely sensitive issue and as one must not discommode or disempower those who require the Government to assist them, this review group will report back promptly.

Much has been made of the HSE service plan that was announced in recent weeks. If I may, I will make reference to the area of Cork from which I come. I greatly welcome the initiatives included in the HSE's service plan under the heading of disability services. In particular, I again commend the Minister of State on the issue regarding Grove House and how the first group of ten clients are to relocate to what is now termed more appropriate accommodation with the COPE Foundation. In a collaboration between the HSE and the COPE Foundation, gargantuan change will now occur on behalf of those who require such change to take place, which is to be welcomed. Equally, in the south of Ireland, regional eight-bedded specialised therapeutic services are about to be opened in the Cork and Kerry area. HSE south, in partnership with COPE Foundation, will do something that could not be done by the Government of which Deputy Kelleher was a member but which will be done by the Government. At last, it will open the eight-bedded regional specialised therapeutic service to support adults with intellectual disability, which constitutes progress and change. I will conclude by making a point in the context of the issue of congregated settings. Members must move with care and caution on behalf of those whom they represent because they are aware that moving into a community requires more than just a name on a plate or a door or a line in a report, as it also requires support. However, I commend the Minister of State's amendment and Members should support it.

In common with Deputy Buttimer, I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this topic. It is one that is debated regularly in the House and rightly so, because it certainly is extremely important and has an impact on many people's lives. I revert a little to a point made by the Minister of State, which is that when Members talk about people with disabilities, they do so as though they were discussing a country or a generic group of people who all have the same wants, needs, desires, abilities and so on. However, Members actually are discussing a collection of individuals, each with vastly different experiences of life and with different needs. This was brought home to me when I got into this job, in which one meets so many different people from many different walks of life. As Deputy Buttimer observed, the Opposition Members are not alone in meeting people in this country. At one end of the scale, one could have children with profound and severe intellectual and physical disabilities who will spend most of their lives in bed, with a few hours per day out of bed, and who probably will never leave their houses for their entire lives. At the other end of the scale, one may meet another person with a disability with whom one will engage and talk without ever knowing. In other words, the breadth of individuals under discussion is extremely wide. This is the reason I thought the suggestion by Deputy Ross that there should be a Senator for the disabled was such a stupid thing to say. I am sorry to say it in that way but each Member of this House and all Members of the Seanad should be representing people with disabilities and to suggest that one person could represent such a vast array of individuals or that it would be one person's job to be the spokesperson is a nonsense. It betrays a lack of understanding of the degrees and variance of those who have disabilities in this country. Moreover, this does not simply pertain to the individuals themselves. They have family members, carers, brothers, sisters and children and this involves so many different families with such widely differing circumstances that Members really must have a grown-up and informed discourse when discussing the issue of disabilities.

As for the question of resources and so on, Members opposite asked whether it was fair that people with disabilities should be obliged to suffer or whether it was fair that people should want for this or that. No, it is not fair. No Member on this side of the House wants that or considers it to be fair that the country should be on its knees or that there should be a financial crisis. However, they are trying to fix it and to do their best to sort it out. I never tell anyone that the state the country is in at present is fair or right because it is totally unfair. Moreover, people here must pay and are paying for an extremely unfair situation. However, just because something is unfair does not mean one can simply wish it away. One must deal with it and do one's best and try to protect people as best as one can.

I wish to discuss the concept of individuality a little, as individuality links to choice and choice leads to freedom. This is the subject about which Members should be talking and in fairness to the Minister of State - all credit to her - it is what she has spoken about from the first day since she came into this job, that is, empowering people to live the lives they wish to lead and perceiving them as individuals and as people with different wants and different needs. I remember the Minister of State travelling to Galway to attend an Ability West annual general meeting, at which she spoke about money people might have and the purposes for which they might use it. She referred to little things, such as how people might use it to go to the park for the day or to the cinema or to have a cup of coffee in town. These are the kinds of real activities people do in their lives about which Members should be discussing. If they talk in the abstract about services and so on, they should bear in mind that people with disabilities have lives, wants, needs and aspirations, which is what Members should be servicing. I like the approach towards which the State is moving of person-centred funding, in which the family or the person can decide what he or she wishes. That is what it is all about and when this is done, it will change completely the manner in which such services are provided because when one has choices, one is giving people the option to decide they do not want this or are not happy with that service. They will have the freedom to express their unhappiness with particular services or the manner in which they were treated or the accommodation they were provided and so on. Moreover, standards will improve when people are being reacted to and listened to as individuals. This approach also will solve another major problem, which again has been pointed out by the Minister of State, namely, the scattered approach wherein one can have excellent facilities in some areas but not in others. However, when people have choice and the ability to pick, the services will come to those people because funding will be available to provide it and it will sort out, once and for all, that institutional-centred approach that is in place at present. I acknowledge that getting there is a long way off and one thing I have learned in politics is that change takes time and is slow. One must dismantle what is there at present and put in place a new system, while not hurting those involved in the meantime while going through that transition.

The service providers with whom I deal in Galway on a regular basis include the Brothers of Charity services, based in Renmore but with facilities throughout the county, and Ability West, which does excellent work in community homes and is based in Salthill. While the motion states the disability sectors were targeted, I will provide an example of how I believe the disability sector was protected. I know of and can vouch specifically for the work of the Minister of State in reducing the proposed budget cut for disabilities this year to 1.2%. This was done having listened to service providers in Galway when the Minister of State visited them and having listened to the troubles they were in, the difficulties they faced and so on. This year, the service providers have told me that while it will be challenging, it is something they can manage. This is the kind of engagement that is needed and on which the Minister of State must be commended.

However, this movement towards individuality will not be done easily and will require a change in structures. When one is reducing a budget to try to change a structure or making something more efficient or taking money from an area to provide it somewhere else, it is not necessarily a cut. Reform is not always a cut, but people can play on that type of budget change.

This is a very important topic. I commend the Minister on her work. Her speech detailed the actions that have been taken, the resources that have been allocated and some of the positive steps that have been taken.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and compliment Deputy Finian McGrath and the other Members of the Technical Group for tabling it.

I do not question anybody's integrity or ability to advocate, campaign on or highlight the issue of disability in this House. In fact, one would think that it should be an obligation and duty for Members to do that, as elected representatives. The idea that one group or party has a franchise in this area is just disingenuous, to say the least. We are talking about disability among a large cohort of our people and every Member of this House has a duty to ensure that they are well represented and protected.

The difficulty, and where I perhaps part company with what has been said by some Members, is that we must ensure we protect the services available for people with disability, older people and others who might not and are not able to advocate for themselves. Clearly, how one would assess and adjudicate on any government or democracy is on how it caters for and allows people to fulfil their full potential during their lives. That, in essence, is what this motion is about. It is about asking the Government to reverse certain cuts that are unacceptable, to ensure that certain provisions are put in place so people with disability can live as independently as possible and to ensure that supports are tailor made for that reason. When one looks at the HSE's disabilities services plan, it is hard to reconcile the words with the actions. As Deputy Keaveney said, acting on verba in this case is critical. While we all advocate, what is necessary is substance to that advocation in terms of delivery of services.

The last two budgets, for example, have been regressive. There is no point in pretending otherwise. Being regressive means that those at the bottom must carry a heavier burden than those at the top. All independent adjudication and commentary, including that of the Economic and Social Research Institute has stated that those two budgets were regressive. That simply means that services to people with low or no incomes are hit hardest, and all the statistical data show that people with disability are largely in that category. We talk about protecting, ring-fencing and ensuring that services and supports are maintained, but the way to adjudicate on that is by assessing what happens on the ground. When one examines the service plan for the HSE nationally, break it down on a regional basis and looks at the wholetime equivalent numbers of staff, one can see quite a large reduction in the area catering for older people and for physical and mental disability. There is no point in pretending this is not the case.

The question that must be asked is whether we can deliver the same service with fewer people at the front line. At a certain time one reaches a tipping point, and I believe we are at that tipping point. We simply do not have the resources in terms of personnel to deliver front-line services to the people who need them most. The national disability strategy is very clear, as are all the other strategies that have been published in recent years, in terms of tailor-making a suite of services for the individual needs of the physically and intellectually disabled and of older people. Those supports must be put in place. However, if one looks at the budgets that have been provided and the level of services committed to in the service plans, it is clear there will be a reduction. That is not just me saying it but also the HSE. It has stated that there will be a cut to services. It stated as much in the last service plan as well. No matter what way it does its work there will be a cut, because the efficiencies expected by the Government will simply not accrue. If the efficiencies do not accrue, the quid pro quo is cuts to services. Otherwise, a supplementary budget would be sought at the end of this year.

Last year, when there were pressures on the health budget, the first services that were cut were special personal assistants, home help hours and other services for disability. While we all advocate and highlight, as is our duty, the fact of the matter is that what is voted on in this Dáil and what happens on the ground are sometimes at variance. No group that advocates for, represents or works with people with disabilities says the services have improved. They patently have not improved. At best they have stagnated and in many cases they are worse.

When we debate these issues it is important that we are honest and robust in highlighting our perspective of where services and supports are deficient. Equally, however, we must be objective in how we go about ensuring a better delivery of services. Clearly, that must be done in the context of the policies of the various parties. In the meantime, people with disabilities and older people cannot wait forever and a day for verbal commitments from the Government to be translated into action through services. That is why this motion is important. It highlights and keeps a focus on the Government's policies and actions.

Elsewhere, one can look through the service plan and how it goes about the delivery of the national disability strategy. It is of huge importance that there is an implementation process in place. The same applies to A Vision for Change, if we intend to be serious. For a long time there has been a debate about the ring-fencing of €35 million for mental health. There is no doubt it was not available last year but let us hope it will be this year. The prospects so far are positive in the sense that the recruitment has taken place. However, last year that budget was snaffled and put into the central budget. There is no point in saying otherwise or in denying it. It clearly happened. We must ensure that the HSE, which is the main service provider, will have the flexibility to ensure that if there is a deficiency in savings, cost realisations or income streams, the first people to be hit again next September will not be those who need personal assistants, special needs assistance and learning supports. People who need supports should not be the people who are affected first.

I commend the motion. It keeps to the fore the accountability of the Government for the provision of funding for services for disability.

I compliment the Technical Group on tabling this motion. I do not believe we can discuss disability issues too frequently in the Dáil.

There are hard choices to be made when money is scarce. The idea that we should throw endless money at a problem is a fallacy. However, there are things we could tackle and things we could do better. I believe the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is genuine in her concern, so I will put forward a number of ideas that could be taken on board and point to where I believe things have gone wrong.

The first thing we must do is ensure that the primary care budget, from which disability money is provided, is totally immune from any overspend in the hospital sector affecting that budget once it has been decided for the year. Time and again over many years, the hospitals have overspent and the hand is put out to the primary care budget. People involved in primary care tell me that is exactly what happens. When the hand goes to primary care, one cannot get rid of all one's fixed overheads half way through the year.

I will now address home help hours and all the other areas where it is easy to make a cut. In using the word "easy", what I mean is that one can make adjustments because the people in question do not have permanent, long-term contracts. When the most vulnerable sectors are cut, it always impacts on the disability sector. At one stage, I suggested to my colleagues that we should have two separate Departments of Health, one for hospitals and one for primary care, as this would prevent the perennial robbing of the primary care side to fund the overspend in hospitals.

The mobility aid fiasco did not arise overnight or without warning but is indicative of the lack of urgency that bedevils the system. Whereas everyone knows there is a problem, one cannot get the system to deal with it or provide a viable answer. The result is that one hits a wall which, in the case of mobility aid, meant the Government pulled the payment. Some have argued that we should issue people aged in their 30s, 40s and 50s free bus tickets in lieu of mobility payments. Such arrangements are not a substitute for cash payments because the mobility payment provided a flexibility that other arrangements cannot provide.

On the issue of social welfare reform, as Minister for Social Protection I was criticised for cutting the disability allowance. I explained the dilemma I faced in my contribution on the relevant budget. The reason I had to cut disability allowance and invalidity pension was that the number of recipients of these schemes was so high that failure to reduce the two payments would have prevented me from achieving a raft of savings and resulted in migration between schemes. I stated that I was working on a concept to which the Department was strongly wedded that would have categorised recipients of the invalidity pension and disability allowance as profoundly, moderately and mildly disabled. This proposal offered many advantages. For example, the creation of a mild category with a payment set at a level similar to payments for the unemployed would eliminate the temptation to secure a disability rather than unemployment payment. One could then shield people with profound or moderate disabilities because the numbers in these two categories would be small and one could target available moneys at people with more significant disabilities. If we are not willing to make these types of decisions, the numbers involved will be so large that the Minister will not have any room for manoeuvre when faced with budgetary pressure.

As I stated, one also must face up to the migration issue at the margins. We all know from our constituency clinics that people just about manage to get over the line to qualify for a disability payment. Such individuals are much different from people who cannot walk, talk or do anything for themselves, but the system does not recognise this distinction. The model I proposed was being developed and is evident in the partial capacity benefit, about which I hear very little. The model I proposed should be implemented now.

I would prefer to take €1 from everybody than take the Government's approach of writing to everybody on invalidity pension and domiciliary care allowance informing them that their entitlement is being reviewed. Large numbers of people have had their payments withdrawn. Most of them appeal the decision and in 90% of cases they win their appeals by presenting overwhelming evidence. The sudden withdrawal of a payment from people who have depended on payments for years is causing serious worry. This issue needs to be addressed. In cases where people have a payment reinstated on appeal, they should be classified in the manner I outlined in order that we can protect them forever and a day, except at the margins.

Disability allowance should not be paid to children. As Minister, I intended to switch this payment to a domiciliary care payment because I considered it wrong to give a disability allowance payment of €188 to a teenager. I planned to hermetically seal this money in the domiciliary care allowance budget. It would have been paid directly to parents because no one under the age of 18 years should receive a direct payment of that magnitude from the State. This argument was made to me by many parents of children with disabilities when I was Minister. I would have decreased the payment for 16 year olds and allocated the money saved to early intervention. In other words, I would have maintained the budget and allocated savings to three and four year olds. By providing additional money to parents, one allows them to pay for early interventions that would have long-term benefits for children. As I indicated, I do not agree with giving any substantial payments directly to young people under 18 years. The payment should be made to parents rather than children.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. In many respects, this is an issue unlike any other in that it highlights the extraordinary lengths to which the Government is willing to go to appease its European masters. What rationale would see differently abled people and the State supports that allow them to live with dignity as fair game when it comes to Government cutbacks?

Unfortunately, the facts speak for themselves. As a result of Government policy, disabled people are now more at risk of falling into consistent poverty than they were two years ago. I am not suggesting this diverse group ever had things easy to begin with. The 2011 census shows that of the 13% of people with a disability, more than 16% of those aged between 15 to 49 years had not completed a level of education higher than primary school. In the general population, the comparable figure is 5%. In the area of employment only 30% of people with a disability are active in the labour force compared to 61.9% of the overall population. Even more startling is that according to census figures just under 200,000 people or 4.1% of the population were providing unpaid assistance to others in 2011. Of these, 61% were women and, even more shocking, 2.3% were children under the age of 15 years.

I have no wish to engage in a bleeding heart rant about all the different areas of society where disabled people are under-represented or excluded. Suffice to say that on all the key indicators, including education and employment, people with a disability experience higher levels of exclusion than those in the general population. Furthermore, when it comes to accessing health care and housing, all the evidence suggests further exclusion and discrimination.

Differently abled people are not some special species. They are Irish citizens who have, in theory at least, the same rights and responsibilities as the rest of us. However, if one happens to have a disability or one is the parent or sibling of a disabled child or adult, the future is bleak. It does not have to be like this because the Government could, if it so wished, exercise its power to change this dreadful situation.

The figures I cited are all taken from the 2011 census. Since then, the Government has slashed home help hours and reduced by an estimated 25% funding to many of the voluntary organisations that work with disabled people and their families. As if to symbolically tear up its programme for Government, it also scrapped the mobility allowance recently. While we should never confuse ethics with politics as they are distinctly different fields, as elected representatives, we have nevertheless a duty to ask why someone would defend such draconian and downright cruel policy decisions.

In my constituency of Cork East I know of one 40 year old man who has worked in sheltered employment for the past 22 years. The individual in question, who has cerebral palsy, lives with his elderly mother and going to work is the highlight of his week. Outside of his mother, it provides him with his only other source of social interaction. He was in receipt of €50 a week towards the cost of a taxi which took him to and from work. In total, the fare came to €100, with the additional €50 coming from his disability allowance. Such was the importance of work to him that he told me he simply had to get to his place of employment. What, one wonders, does the Government expect him to do now that his allowance has been withdrawn? How, in heaven's name, is he supposed to get to work?

Sinn Féin supports the motion and calls on the Government to immediately restore the mobility allowance and give an undertaking that it will, for the duration of its time in office, ring-fence all services for the disabled. People with a disability did not cause the economic crash and they should not be made pay for it with cruel and ill thought out policies.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 21 March 2013.