Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to present this Bill to the House, the purpose of which is to amend a range of legislation so that Ireland is in a position to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The enactment of the Bill will strengthen the position of people in this section of society even further. I have long been a supporter of rights for persons with disabilities and ratification of this convention is one my own key priorities. I appreciate there are many Members of the House who are also committed to this issue and have sought the ratification of the convention for some time. It has taken longer than expected to get to this stage and I am disappointed we were not in a position to ratify by the end of 2016, as we had committed to do in A Programme for a Partnership Government. However, the Bill before us will, when enacted, bring about changes to a range of legislation that will have a real effect on the lives of persons with disabilities.

The ratification of the convention is the first action listed in the soon to be published National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2011-2020. The process to get to this point has been complex and drawn out. I accept the criticisms of colleagues in this regard. It has been difficult to deal with the many complex issues. However, when we ratify, we will be doing so in the knowledge there is no legislation on the Statute Book that contradicts the convention, as is the case in some other countries. It is essential that the State is in a position to meet the obligations it assumes under the terms of any international agreement from the moment of its entry into force for Ireland. For us, ratification is the end of the preparation and implementation process, not the beginning. That was a crucial aspect of our preparations in bringing forward this Bill.

Ratification of a convention before we have amended domestic legislation that contradicts it makes no sense and does nothing to ensure compliance or to actually protect the people for whose benefit the convention exists.

The Bill covers a range of legislation covering very different areas of Irish life. I thank the Attorney General's office and the many other Departments that have been involved in the development of the Bill because it is not limited just to the Departments that I have responsibility for, but has a much wider reach. Despite the hard work of all involved, it was not possible to include all the heads as set out in the general scheme, which was approved by the previous Government in March of last year. I will outline shortly what remains to be completed. While the primary aim of the Bill is to remove the statutory barriers to ratification of the convention, the opportunity is also being taken to progress a number of other miscellaneous amendments to equality and disability legislation. I will now put on the record of the House the main provisions of the Bill.

Section 1 provides for amendment of the Juries Act 1976 to provide that a person who is deaf shall not be ineligible for jury service by reason only of his or her requiring the services of a sign language interpreter and that the existing prohibition on a person with a mental illness or disability and who is receiving medical treatment or is resident in a hospital or similar institution from serving is replaced with a functional capacity test. Section 2 provides for amendment of the Electoral Act 1992 to repeal the prohibition on a person of unsound mind from standing for election to the Dáil and thereby also removing the disqualifications for membership of the Seanad and for election to the European Parliament.

Section 3 makes two amendments relevant to the National Disability Authority, NDA, legislation. It makes provision for the role of the authority as part of the monitoring mechanism for the convention and provides that staff of the authority become civil servants of the State. The NDA is the only body within the justice Vote whose staff are not civil servants. I thank the staff on the team at the NDA for the magnificent work they have done since I took over as Minister of State. Aside from the impact this anomaly has on the management of human resources within the justice Vote, by limiting the Department's flexibility to move staff to fill priority needs, that the NDA's staff are public servants means the board must meet pension liabilities as they arise from its annual allocation. This is a serious burden for a small body with a relatively small financial allocation. Civil servant of the State status would mean that pension liabilities are met from the Vote for superannuation, and that was the approach adopted regarding the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission when it was established in November 2014.

With regard to section 4, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, provides for reasonable accommodation, that is, practical help to ensure that the person with a disability can, for example, access a service provided for people with disabilities in the areas of employment and provision of services, provided the cost does not exceed a disproportionate cost. The Supreme Court decided in an Article 26 referral of the Employment Equality Bill 1996 that it would be unconstitutional to impose such a requirement where the cost exceeds a nominal cost. The Supreme Court decision hinges on the private property protection provisions of the Constitution. Clearly, these do not arise in regard to the provision of public services.

The Attorney General has advised that the "not exceeding a disproportionate burden" standard is also appropriate in the case of commercial bodies whose activities are regulated for quality of service vis-à-vis banks, insurance companies, telecommunications and transport providers and credit unions. We are then left with a range of smaller businesses, such as shops and restaurants. The provision of the higher standard in the case of the remaining private sector providers can be considered in the light of developments with regard to EU anti-discrimination legislation and will need to be subject in the interim to a reservation.

Section 5 brings civilian staff of the Garda Síochána back within the terms of Part 5 of the Disability Act, providing for a 3% public sector employment quota for people with disabilities. This group of Civil Service staff were inadvertently removed from the scope of Part 5 by the enactment of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. I have also set myself a target to try to get that figure of 3% employment for people with disabilities up to 6% over the coming years. We should be ambitious and have a vision, and we also have a strategy.

Section 6 makes two amendments relevant to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission legislation. It provides for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to act as arnicas curiae before the Court of Appeal, as well as before the High Court and the Supreme Courts as already provided for, but for technical and timing reasons it was not possible to include a reference to the Court of Appeal in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, or to insert a cross-reference in the Court of Appeal Act 2014. The opportunity is being taken now to resolve that anomaly. It also creates a statutory basis for the IHREC's role in the monitoring framework in regard to the UNCRPD.

Section 7 provides for citation and commencement. I would also like to highlight the heads that are to be included in the Bill as Committee Stage amendments but which were not ready in time for inclusion in the published Bill. The main head that is outstanding deals with deprivation of liberty. That is a very important issue and a number of my colleagues have raised it. A draft text for the deprivation of liberty part of this Bill has been prepared by the Department of Health, but it requires further work before it can be submitted to the Government. The Department of Health will sponsor a separate memorandum for the Government on this aspect as soon as the text is at a sufficiently advanced stage and it is intended that these provisions will be brought forward as Committee Stage amendments. I suspect that this aspect of the outstanding work will take the longest to bring to finality. Clearly, depriving a person of his or her liberty can only be accepted as a last resort. An appropriate balance needs to be struck between protecting individuals who may be a danger to themselves or others by ensuring that we can provide social care in suitable settings for vulnerable individuals, and recognising that citizens should be free to make decisions for themselves except where the person’s decision-making capacity is lacking.

With regard to the other heads on which work is ongoing, head 6 proposes to amend section 4 of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 to provide that in the circumstances that existed in G. v. District Judge Murphy, the District Court will have jurisdiction to determine whether the accused person is in fact fit to be tried. What is at issue here is to ensure that if a person is deemed to be not fit to be tried by the District Court and is sent on to the Circuit Court, and if the second court forms the view that the person is in fact fit to be tried, the lower limit on penalties available in the District Court should still apply to that person. That explanation is in layman’s language, and I have a more detailed legal explanatory text if Deputies have any questions later.

Head 7 provides for the replacement of a number of references in statute to "lunatics" or "persons of unsound mind" where the reference makes the person ineligible for membership or ceases to be a member of certain bodies or offices in so far as those amendments may be required for ratification. This head has an impact on a number of items of legislation.

Head 10 provides for amendments to the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2015. Following the enactment of the Gender Recognition Act 2015, it is desirable to make explicit the prohibition of discrimination against transgender persons under equality legislation to reflect the significance of the establishment of a system of legal recognition of the acquired gender or transgender persons and of intersex persons.

Head 11 provides for amendments to the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015. It follows head 10 in making a corresponding amendment to the Employment Equality Acts.

Head 12 amends the Employment Equality Acts to encompass prospective employees, employers, vocational training bodies, professional bodies and trade unions in the definition of victimisation. At present, the text of the definition of victimisation refers only to an employer-employee relationship.

This is out of line with EU legislation and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice.

Head 13 deals with amendment of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. This amendment was intended for inclusion in the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act but for timing reasons it was not possible to include it. The opportunity is being taken to make the amendment now. The amendment to the Taxes Consolidation Act will include the categories of decision-making representatives and attorneys as persons authorised to handle tax matters on behalf of incapacitated people.

Head 15 is an amendment of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. This is a new head which was not included in the general scheme as approved by the Government in March 2016. The existing legislative provisions in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 empower the Minister for Social Protection to make regulations to appoint a person to act on behalf of a recipient or beneficiary of social welfare payments in circumstances where the recipient or beneficiary is certified by a registered medical practitioner to be a person who is, or is likely soon to become, unable for the time being to manage his or her own financial affairs. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 sets out guiding principles that are intended to safeguard the autonomy and dignity of the person with impaired capacity and it is vital the social protection arena takes full account of these principles.

The Bill will be progressed to enactment at an early date to facilitate ratification of the UN convention as soon as possible. The precise timing of ratification now depends on how long it takes for the Bill to progress through the enactment process and on issues relating to commencement of the deprivation of liberty provisions, which will be included in the Committee Stage amendments, and of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. Considerable progress has already been made to overcome the other legislative barriers to ratification that are not being addressed in the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 was signed into law on 30 December 2015 and is a comprehensive reform of the law on decision-making capacity. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 completed Committee Stage in December 2016 and is scheduled to return to the Dáil for Report Stage on 1 February 2017. When enacted, the Bill will reform section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 to facilitate the full participation in family life of persons with intellectual disabilities and the full expression of their human rights. Achieving the necessary balance between these rights and ensuring appropriate protection is crucial.

The legislation is good news not just for those who are directly affected by disability, but for all members of society, as it seeks to make society more equal and inclusive. Equality and inclusivity are issues I want to push. I look forward to engaging further with Deputies from all sides of the House to ensure an effective Bill is passed and enacted as soon as the outstanding work has been completed.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this important and very long awaited Bill. It is a crucial milestone towards creating a more inclusive society. For my part and that of my party, we are committed to creating a more inclusive society and to dismantling barriers in a range of sectors that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in society. We need to ensure that people with disabilities are given equality of opportunity so they can participate in society to the best of their abilities. For people with a disability, their challenge is often compounded not because of their disability, but because of how society treats people with disabilities. During Fianna Fáil's time in government, we contributed to moving disability policy from a model that was based on management, charity, pity and, in some cases, neglect towards a social care model, recognising that people with disabilities are full and equal citizens entitled not only to dignity and respect, but also to independence, choice and control over their own lives.

We are committed to the removal of barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in society and exercising their rights and entitlements as citizens, but there cannot be any complacency as the latest HIQA reports show very clearly. Fianna Fáil welcomes and broadly supports the provisions of the Bill, the primary aim of which is to address the remaining legislative barriers to Ireland's ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, we are disappointed that the Bill as published is incomplete, with many significant sections to be provided through Committee Stage amendments. The Bill as published contains six substantive sections, and judging by what is proposed for Committee Stage, at least another six sections are in the offing. It would appear that in order to meet the programme for Government commitment on ratification, it was imperative to publish a Bill come what may. However, to publish what is essentially half a Bill is hardly the best way to honour the ratification of this very important United Nations convention.

While the Bill has received a broad welcome, its content, and the absence of other content, has generated some concern among those who campaign for disability rights and inclusion. I will take this opportunity to raise some of these concerns with the Minister of State, and I hope he will reply to them when he is responding to this Second Stage debate. As I stated, while publication of the Bill is welcome, its incomplete nature has generated much concern. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is worried that a significant number of provisions in the Bill are due to be introduced through Committee Stage amendments, which significantly limits the scope for detailed analysis on which the commission can provide meaningful commentary. The commission states this problem is especially acute with regard to the deprivation of liberty aspect of the Bill. It states the human rights and equality implications of how deprivation of liberty is regulated are highly dependent on the processes and safeguards which will accompany the provision. To carry out meaningful analysis of the adequacy of safeguards from a human rights and equality perspective it is necessary to consider the particulars of the proposal including, for example, the scope of the reform, how detention will be reviewed and the particulars of an appeal mechanism together with the remedies proposed to allow a person obtain appropriate redress and reparation. The commission also states that in the absence of published draft legislation it is difficult for it to discharge its function to examine legislative proposals and make concrete recommendations which can be of use to the Legislature, particularly on this aspect of reform.

It should be noted this concern is also shared by Inclusion Ireland, which states that legislative clarity is required on the issue of deprivation of liberty. Inclusion Ireland points out how in the UK deprivation of liberty is defined as when a person is under continuous supervision and control and is not free to leave, the person lacks capacity to consent to these arrangements, and, conversely, that any care that restricts a person's liberty is appropriate and in the person's best interests. If a UK facility wants to detain someone, it must get permission first and the care facility processes the safeguards.

The Centre for Disability Law and Policy has also expressed concern about key amendments, including those on the deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities being introduced on Committee Stage. It states these are key human rights issues for people with disabilities, mental health service users and older people, but to date there has been no public consultation with these communities about the proposed legal changes. It also states that because amendments are only being introduced on Committee Stage, there will be less opportunity to debate the provisions. The centre is calling on the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality to immediately publish their proposals for legal reform in this area and to engage in meaningful consultation with those who will be directly affected by this part of the law. In light of these concerns, it may be worthwhile for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality to hear in public from interested parties when the amendments are published and prior to Committee Stage.

I will now turn to what is in the Bill. Section 1 deals with jury service. While the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission welcomes the proposed reform to amend the ineligibility condition for participation on a jury, it states the best approach involves an explicit presumption of capacity and that a person should not be ineligible by reason of his or her requiring reasonable accommodation.

The commission states that persons should be presumed to have capacity to serve on a jury and that reasonable accommodation should be provided to secure maximum participation in jury service. Inclusion Ireland is concerned that the section on jury service is not consistent with the functional approach of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. It states that a person’s capacity is assessed functionally and on the basis of his or her ability to understand, at the time that a decision is to be made, the nature and consequences of the decision to be made by him or her in the context of the available choices at that time. A person will also enjoy a presumption of capacity to make decisions. A person lacks capacity if he or she cannot understand information, retain information, use information and communicate a choice. The Centre for Disability Law and Policy echoes this by stating: "A more human rights-compliant approach would be to disqualify a person who does not, in the opinion of the court, have the ability to perform the functions required of a juror, following the provision of reasonable accommodation."

With regard to a monitoring framework for the implementation of the Act when passed, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, welcomes confirmation of its proposed role in the monitoring framework required to be established. The Bill proposes to give the commission the role to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of persons with disabilities. However, the commission points to the heads of the Bill which would have provided that it is a function of the commission to act as the independent mechanism to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the convention. The IHREC states that the function proposed under the Bill should be clearly linked to the commission’s designation as the independent mechanism under Article 33 of the CRPD. This would better align with the view of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that states must "adopt the necessary legal measures to clearly establish the independent mechanism". The Minister might clarify why the reference to an independent mechanism, which was contained in the heads, did not feature in the Bill as published. Furthermore the Centre for Disability Law and Policy has said it is concerned that the Bill does not provide any additional funding to the commission to carry out this work.

Inclusion Ireland highlights another issue which the Minister should address. It states that the proposals relating to an advisory committee are concerning. The Bill states that "at least half of the number of persons appointed ... shall have, or have had, a disability". Inclusion Ireland believes that any advisory body should wholly comprise persons with personal, lived experience of disability and that this committee should be representative of all forms of disability. It should be adequately resourced and facilitated and its members accommodated and supported.

Turning now to the issue of reasonable accommodation, both Inclusion Ireland and the Centre for Disability Law and Policy signal some concerns here. The former states that it is deeply regrettable that Ireland will enter a reservation in regard to reasonable accommodation and that different levels for reasonable accommodation, such as nominal cost for private services and disproportionate burden for public services in employment law, will operate in tandem. The Centre for Disability Law and Policy states that it is gravely concerned that the Department of Justice and Equality proposes to enter reservations or declarations on Articles 12 and 14 relating to equal recognition before the law and liberty. These articles are core to the spirit and purpose of the convention and we urge the Government to commit to their full implementation in line with the guidance provided by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I have raised these concerns because I believe it is critical for the Government to address them. While Fianna Fáil welcomes and broadly supports the provisions of this Bill, we will be tabling some constructive amendments to the published Bill. We welcome the fact that the Bill has finally appeared but its abridged state means that we have to temper our response somewhat.

I welcome the progression of the Bill to this Stage. I am pleased to speak on the legislation and am glad my party will support it to ensure Ireland can finally move to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We engaged with the Minister on Committee Stage and the Minister is trying to meet a self-inflicted timeline. Interaction has been complicated and it has been difficult at departmental level to get it drafted.

It is unfortunate we have not seen the full Bill and that we have to table amendments on Committee Stage. That undermines what the Minister and this House are trying to do as regards full oversight capacity on Second Stage. It covers issues such as adequate standard of living and social protection, independent living, inclusivity, access to services, including health and education and privacy, among a host of other rights. Ireland signed this convention in 2017, ten years ago. We remain the only EU country not to have ratified it. I look forward to the Bill being brought before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, of which I am a member, for further detailed scrutiny and constructive amendments which I and my colleagues, Deputies Murphy O'Mahony and O'Callaghan, will table. The committee has already conducted pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme of the Bill, which has proven very helpful in understanding the strengths and weaknesses reflected by the Bill.

It is crucial the required legislation is enacted so that the convention can be ratified. This will ensure greater rights and dignity for the 600,000 people in Ireland who have a disability. It will remove unfair and discriminatory provisions against people and will provide for better safeguards. It will give people with disabilities a voice and will enable them to become more active players in decision-making around what services and supports they need and receive. It is not only a matter of rights but how those rights are implemented, resourced and reflected in every part of our community, as well as at the departmental level. When the committee engaged I asked the Minister what engagement the Department had had at a cross-departmental level and that has to be a focus. This is the formal part but if it is not given life by the Department and put front and centre from the point of view of resource allocation then it will not deliver on its rights-based and codified approach.

Regular reviews of procedures and process are also to be welcomed. Ratifying the convention will also provide proper mechanisms of oversight and accountability and will allow for complaints to be made and heard where people feel their rights are not being recognised. It is a great shame that it has taken all this time, and will take more, to achieve these basic and fundamental rights and entitlements. Given the incomplete nature of the Bill before us, many questions remain as to how it will progress. How will people with experience of disabilities be resourced and facilitated to play a crucial role in monitoring the implementation of the convention? How will people with lived experience be key constituents in monitoring the UNCRPD in Ireland, as outlined in the convention? These are among a multitude of concerns that I know are held by many human rights groups and stakeholders. I understand and I am acutely aware of the frustrations felt by many over the slow pace of change. I will take these concerns and considerations on board in my own work in ensuring this legislation is properly developed and enhanced and we will table a number of amendments on Committee Stage to deliver the best legislation for people whom it is meant to positively affect.

I am cognisant of the lack of engagement felt by key stakeholders and by the people and families directly affected by this legislation. This, too, is a missed opportunity because the Department had time to properly reach out to those groups which have not been consulted. The Minister is shaking his head but it is not I who say this - it is the groups and stakeholders who are saying it.

I meet them regularly.

They have publicly said that they feel they should have been consulted in a more wholesome way. It is an unfortunate reflection of the public debate.

I thank the many disability groups, including the Disability Federation of Ireland and the Equality Rights Alliance, for their work and advocacy in fighting for the rights of people with disabilities. I pay tribute to the many centres for independent living, including the Blanchardstown centre in my own constituency, which do phenomenal work for people with disabilities. I have been privileged to witness, at first hand, the important work they undertake to support disabled people and I have seen the incredible progress people can make with the right measure of encouragement, support and understanding.

By adopting a rights-based approach, it is important this is imposed on every resource allocation. Before Christmas, in Mulhuddart in my constituency, there was an issue about the angle of a path and how someone was unable to cross the road to access the centre for independent living. In fairness to Fingal County Council, it is trying to rectify the matter but without its positive approach people would be left behind. It is important we couple what we are doing now and in the coming weeks with a real implementation of this approach across every level of Government and every resource allocation.

My party has always been committed to fighting injustice and discrimination in all forms and to creating a more equal and inclusive society. We are dedicated to removing restrictions that inhibit people with disabilities and ensuring that everyone can fulfil his or her potential to participate and contribute to a diverse society. I am proud that Fianna Fáil was the first party to outline a detailed commitment to address the needs and rights of those with disabilities. The first national disability strategy was developed and commenced as a result of the party's work in this area. This saw the creation of more residential and respite care places, the passing of important disability legislation and the setting of targets to ensure this was delivered.

This continues to be followed in our national policy today as we move from an institutionalised approach to a community-based one. The Bill before us is another important step in our support for people with disabilities. It is a significant shift from a medical model to a rights-based system and it is welcome. However, a number of important provisions will be required on Committee Stage. Clarity is required on who has statutory responsibility for a decision on a patient leaving a residential care facility. The absence of a statutory provision regarding deprivation of liberties in such cases means we are unable to comply with the UN convention as drafted. The point is that there is no statutory law here. Other provisions that will need to be brought forward relate to a person's fitness to be tried and the prohibition of discrimination against transgender persons, as well as the definition of victimisation.

I wish to mention an excellent article by Mr. Paddy Connolly, the CEO of Inclusion Ireland, in which he said that people with disabilities are not a diagnosis, they are human. In fairness to the Minister of State, the Department and everyone else involved, we are trying to remove a dehumanised approach that labels people. We should value lives so that those with disabilities are given full resource allocations. An inclusive decision-making approach is required so that people are not seen as a process of existence, but are put at centre stage. They must be given the full capacity to live the life they want within our society.

We must address matters such as the quality of life of those within our communities. This Bill will go some way towards achieving that. An interdepartmental and intersectional approach is crucial to embracing the spirit of what the Minister of State is trying to achieve. The Government should fully commence the Education of Persons with Special Needs Act 2004, the Citizens Information Act 2007 and the Disability Act 2005. These measures were mentioned by Mr. Connolly in his article.

I look forward to working constructively with the Minister of State on this legislation to ensure that Ireland ratifies the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, in order to protect the rights of people with disabilities in Ireland.

I wish to share time with my colleagues, Deputies John Brady and Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sinn Féin welcomes the Bill before the House. In the past 12 months, I have tabled a number of questions to the Minister of State concerning his timeline for publishing legislation which will enable us to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Minister of State put a tight timeline on himself last year when he said he would publish the Bill before the end of 2016. He has slipped by a couple of weeks and probably a couple of heads as well going by the legislation before us.

It is certainly a good day, but not a great day unfortunately. I have to be honest with the Minister of State about that. I am concerned that he indicated he will bring forward a raft of amendments on Committee Stage to address some of the heads that were contained in the general scheme of the Bill, but which were not in the Bill as published. When will we have Committee Stage? I suspect that the debate on Second Stage will conclude quickly because everyone wants to move forward with this. Everyone wants to see full ratification but there are some doubts as to whether we will see that. It is my understanding that a number of reservations will be put in by the Government, although we can deal with them at a later stage.

One suspects that we will not see Committee Stage in the short term. I am sure that despite the Minister of State's own timelines, he would have preferred to hold off on debating this and instead finalise the amendments he will bring on Committee Stage and get them into the Bill. In that case, we could all discuss what needs to be done. Unfortunately, so far, the debate has been about what is not in the Bill, rather than what it contains.

Previous speakers mentioned the issues we need to address. I echo what Deputy Jack Chambers said about the groups and NGOs in this field. They feel they have not be sufficiently consulted. The Minister of State talks to those groups regularly. I talk to lots of people every day but that is not the same as consulting them. Saying that he will talk to them is one thing, but it is quite another to bring them to the table as equals and consult them on this legislation. Some of those groups have expressed reservations and feel they were not fully listened to. They say that their concerns were not taken on board. We need to examine that.

I take Deputy Murphy O'Mahony's point about amendments on Committee Stage. Given the way the legislative process works, those groups will not have an opportunity to appear before the Select Committee on Justice and Equality, which will be dealing with these amendments on Committee Stage, and give their viewpoints on it. If that could happen, however, it would be excellent.

I remind the Minister of State that Article 33.3 of the UN convention outlines how people with a lived experience of disability will be facilitated in the role of monitoring the implementation of the convention within this State. The Minister of State should outline how that will be addressed. The deprivation of liberty will not be addressed on Committee Stage, although that is one of the core aspects that needs to be included in order for this State to comply with the UNCRPD. The fact that it will only be included on Committee Stage, rather than on Second Stage, is a mistake.

Article 14B of the UNCRPD clearly states that persons with disabilities should not be deprived of liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily, that any deprivation of liberty is in conformity with the law, and that the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty. That must be put into a statutory provision. I know it is the Minister of State's intention to do so, but we have not seen how that will happen. I encourage the Minister of State to publish the amendments as quickly as possible. When he replies to this debate he should outline the timeframe for taking Committee Stage and the publication of those amendments.

The Bill deals with jury service, the Electoral Acts and an expansion of regional accommodation, which is welcome. It also provides an opportunity to include persons with a disability in a meaningful way in the advisory committee to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, in a monitoring capacity. That has not been included in the Bill, so it needs to be addressed on Committee Stage.

Deputy Chambers touched on the recent remarks of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the effect that the focal point of the convention should be close to the heart of government such as in the office of a president or prime minister or cabinet office. I understand we have a "super junior" in the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, but some would argue that the equality division within the Department of Justice and Equality is too narrow and too siloed and that it would be better to put this within the Department of the Taoiseach. I remain open to argument on that but Deputy Chambers touched on the interdepartmental collaboration which will be needed and the leadership at Cabinet level. If this came under the Department of the Taoiseach, the Minister of State would probably put himself out of a job.

It is tough enough.

I am not suggesting he do that, but that he at least look at what the High Commissioner's office has said. No doubt, the equality division within the Department of Justice and Equality will not be sufficient to ensure full ratification.

I turn to the long-term prospects for disabled people, their human rights and the ways they can participate in the democratic process. We need to look at all of that in the round, which is why I would welcome the publication of the amendments as quickly as possible. While we will support what is in front of us today, without those amendments we have to ask when we will see the full ratification, which is what people want to know. We cannot see full ratification in this Bill alone. If the Minister of State is talking about just having amendments, I ask him to outline the timeframe. If we are looking at further legislation, such as a second Bill, what is the roadmap in relation to the Minister of State's own role? People deserve an answer on that tonight.

I welcome a number of disability activists to the Visitors Gallery this evening. They have waited a long time to listen to this debate. Unfortunately, a number of them told me that the timing of the debate has meant a number of people could not be here this evening. The example of disability activists from Galway was cited. They would have had to travel here on a Tuesday evening, stay overnight and use up all their critical and hard-won personal assistance hours in the process. They feel very excluded whereas the key to the legislation is inclusion. They would have liked to be here for this critical debate but, unfortunately, it was not to be.

Sinn Féin welcomes any positive move to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is long overdue. It is a real shame that we are reaching the tenth anniversary of the signing of the convention in March 2007 without having ratified it. It is clear evidence that people with disabilities have not been a priority for successive Governments whether led by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Indeed, the deadline for ratification set out by the previous Government in October 2015 has come and gone and Ireland remains the only country in Europe which has failed to ratify the convention. Other countries have ratified without having to change legislation. It is the view of many disabled people and disability activists that there is no legislative barrier to Ireland's ratification of the convention.

The most alarming aspect of the Bill, as cited to me by many people with disabilities and those who have been active over many years, is the sudden absence of the word "equality". Only last month, the Minister of State referred to the Bill at the joint committee as the "equality/disability (miscellaneous provisions) Bill". However, the word "equality" has been removed from the Short Title of the Bill. At the very least, this is questionable and it has raised many concerns among those who have been actively involved in disability rights over many years. Concerns have been put to me directly by many people and I am echoing them here this evening. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has also voiced concerns about that omission from the Bill. People with disabilities have not waited ten years to face a Bill which does not have "equality" at its core. I ask that the reference to "equality" be reinstated in the Title of the Bill to take into account the wider reforms proposed in it because equality must be the cornerstone of the legislation. People have been out there fighting long and hard for equality for those with disabilities and they must get equality in the Bill.

The term "disproportionate burden" must be removed. It reflects the Disability Act 2005 and puts the economy above and before the rights of persons with disabilities. If we are to ratify the convention, we cannot have conditions alongside these rights. It will mean that rights are dependent on available resources and that there is, in fact, no absolute right.

I ask the Minister of State to clarify who will be in charge of the implementation of the ratification of the convention. Many have called for this role to be independent of the State and it is important that the Minister of State outlines his plans in this regard. It is also essential that people with disabilities are included on any advisory committee set up to oversee the ratification of the convention.

Notwithstanding this era of so-called "new politics", we see that many of the most significant provisions of the Bill have yet to be published. Some of my colleagues have outlined that point. The provisions will not be set out until Committee Stage when they will be published as amendments, which is crazy. It is absolute madness. It impedes any proper discussion of the Bill and provides little opportunity for public debate and even less opportunity for provisions once introduced on Committee Stage.

Ratification without real change in our laws and policy of the kind demanded by people with disabilities is meaningless and undermines the hard work of many campaigners and organisations. We cannot rush this legislation through just for the sake of it. We owe it to those with disabilities who have been sidelined by successive Governments to ensure that the ratification of the convention means that those with disabilities are no longer and will never again be sidelined. We support the passage of the Bill on Second Stage but there are key areas which need to be addressed. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien has outlined a number of them and we will be putting forward a number of amendments on Committee Stage. It is clear that the Minister of State needs to address all of those issues which have been touched on here this evening.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo agus táim sásta deis a bheith agam labhairt ar. Although it is not before time to have the Bill, it goes a considerable way towards addressing many issues and opens the door to the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, considers a priority. However, there are very considerable gaps in the legislation. I will not dwell on that any further except to underline the point, which has been well made at this stage, that these gaps are a considerable concern for my party. A great many significant legislative sections remain to be added at a later date and it is questionable whether that is the best way to legislate. I underline also the point made by Deputy Brady.

When the Bill was first published, or at least the heads, the word "equality" was contained in the Title and it has since been removed. I wish to know the explanation or rationale for that change.

As it happens, on 14 December last, I raised the issue of ratification directly with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone. I once again asked that she call on her Cabinet colleagues to ratify the UN convention as a matter of urgency. This was in the context of children facing discrimination due to disability, to a large extent, and, in particular, reports that children in the care of the State were being let down or put at risk in terms of child protection. On that occasion, it had been almost ten years since the publication of the convention. During that period, countries with fewer resources than Ireland, such as Togo, Uganda and Vietnam, along with 153 other countries, ratified the convention. The point has been made about how isolated and unique Ireland is in a European context for its failure to ratify the convention.

Gaps in how statutory authorities deal with children with disabilities were raised in the public domain before Christmas. It was stated that the HSE believed that Tusla was failing on child protection measures for children with disabilities. This applied in particular to children in the care of the State. Serious concerns were raised. I hope that these failings have been rectified and that child protection is now robust, and safeguards now exist and will continue to exist in the future.

My party has campaigned on the ratification of the convention for a considerable number of years, and it is something that we consider a necessity. This is a small victory for all those who have campaigned on the issue, even if its ratification will be so belated. Perhaps final judgment will wait until the later Stages of the Bill. However, there is much to be done. My colleagues have already articulated that much greater steps can be taken. My colleague, Deputy O'Brien, will table a number of amendments to strengthen the Bill in a number of areas, in particular the deprivation of liberty or, to put it simply, independence for people who happen to reside in residential care centres, something which may require further legislative clarity.

Reference was made to the changes that will be made to the Electoral Act 1992. I want to draw attention to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2016, which was published by Deputy Gerry Adams. It so happens that it was the first Bill I co-signed on entering the House. It provides that any location designated a polling station must be wheelchair accessible, something which is not currently legislatively required. While the number of such locations that are not wheelchair accessible is limited, absolutely none should be.

Likewise, I believe action should be taken to ensure independent voting by persons with impaired vision. Much of the convention and the Bill is about ensuring that people have equal rights in terms of employment, education and a wide variety of areas. That must be absolutely safeguarded in terms of the fundamental right to participate in the democratic process.

Tá daoine faoi mhíchumas tar éis a bheith faoi mhíbhuntáiste sa tír seo ar feadh i bhfad agus leatrom déanta orthu i go leor slite. Faraor, i roinnt slite tá sé fós ag tarlú, go mórmhór ó thaobh fostaíochta agus oideachais de. Tá súil agam go gcabhróidh an reachtaíocht seo ina dtaobh sin agus go dtabharfaidh sé cothrom na Féinne do shaoránaigh atá faoi mhíchumas. Is mór an náire é nár éirigh leis an Stát an coinbhinsiún UN seo a daingniú níos luaithe agus gur thóg sé deich mbliana dúinn é a dhéanamh agus gur éirigh le roinnt Stát atá i bhfad níos boichte ná Éire é a daingniú i bhfad níos luaithe.

This is an opportunity to speak to citizens of our country who have disabilities and to let them know that they will be treated as equals in the eyes of the State. It is an opportunity to let children with disabilities know that Ireland is a country in which they are highly valued and given an opportunity to prosper and grow in seeking and reaching their full potential. It is an opportunity to set the record straight and put legislation in place to ensure that Ireland ratifies the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I hope we get it right.

As a person who has worked in the field of disability and has always advocated for the rights of people with disabilities, it is imperative that the Bill is debated. I welcome the Bill which, it is to be hoped, finally addresses the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Ireland. It is now almost ten years since it was signed but, as of yet, Ireland has failed to ratify the convention.

Over 150 countries around the world have ratified the convention since its conception. Many people find the length of time it has taken to comply and ratify a convention that stops discrimination on the basis of ability quite extraordinary. Other countries have ratified the convention without adhering to every single piece of legislation. The very principles of ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be a major step forward for the 600,000 people with disabilities in Ireland, who comprise 13% of the population. It will also send a very clear signal that their rights are respected and vindicated.

There has been a decade of delay or, more aptly, a lost decade during which persons with disabilities were discriminated against disproportionately in terms of health, poverty, education and employment. Part of the Bill is to be welcomed as it will amend outdated legislation and include people with disabilities who were excluded. The hard of hearing have been excluded from jury duty. We need to introduce a standard in regard to reasonable accommodation. The quota for the employment in the public sector of people with disabilities needs to be extended to Garda civilian staff. More responsibility needs to be given to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

I disagree with the introduction of certain sections on Committee Stage, in particular those dealing with the Social Welfare Act and the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act. People with disabilities have been waiting over ten years for this country to ratify the convention. Perhaps there is a fear that the State will be sued because it is breaching the legal requirements involved.

I hope ratification of the convention takes place in the next couple of weeks. It is to be hoped that people with disabilities can finally become part of a society which has largely forgotten about and discriminated against them over the past ten years. It is to be hoped that the Bill will finally ensure the ratification of the convention.

The UN convention moves towards a rights-based model for those with disabilities. We welcome the Bill as a step forward in the ratification of the convention. Disability campaigners have been seeking ratification for almost ten years. The only reason we are here now is because of their work which involved dragging successive reluctant Governments along the road.

While the Bill is to be welcomed, we do not feel it goes far enough. There is need to go further and reverse all austerity measures that have impacted on those with disabilities. To its shame, Ireland is the last of the 28 EU states to ratify the convention. This has been a disgrace and illustrates where disability lies in terms of Government priorities. It is not just the current Government that has delayed the process for ten years. The convention was signed in March 2007, when a Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democratic Government was in power, followed by almost four years of a Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government and over five years of a Labour Party and Fine Gael Party Government. All of the establishment parties have been hesitant about the rights of people with disabilities.

There have been savage cutbacks to services for people with disabilities. The Disability Federation of Ireland has illustrated that those with a disability are at a high risk of poverty. The at risk of poverty rate is 22.8% for disabled people. There is a 51.8% deprivation rate and the rate of involvement in the workforce is just 30%.

This is not just because of an absence of rights, but is the result of decisions by Governments to make targeted cuts that affect those with disabilities. There have been targeted attacks on people with disabilities by the Fianna Fáil, Green, Labour and Fine Gael parties which I will outline, but, before I do so, I point out that the general austerity measures have impacted disproportionately on those with disabilities. When the Government cuts transport services, people with disabilities are more affected than many other groups. When there are general cuts to education, health and housing, it is those with disabilities who often feel the pinch the most. The targeted cuts that were aimed at those with disabilities were extensive and, despite the so-called recovery, are far from restored.

Between 2008 and 2015, there was a €159.4 million cut to disability health services. The disability allowance, blind pension, invalidity pension and carer's allowance were cut by an average of 8% from 2009. The budget for 2017 provided for a delayed €5-a-week increase. In responding to the budget in October, the Anti-Austerity Alliance outlined that this was inadequate after years of cuts and poverty. The €5 increase does not go nearly far enough in terms of keeping in touch with the rise in the cost of living. It is calculated that the extra cost of living per week for a person with a disability is somewhere between €207 and €276.

Those with a disability have a right to access education but the funding to make it a reality is not in place. The number of special needs assistants was capped in 2011 and, although altered, is still in place. This shows that the Government is unwilling to take a rights-based approach. Instead of looking at each child's educational needs and providing for them, it prefers to give a minimal service and pass it off as meeting the right to education. A real right to education, like all rights, needs to be underwritten with finance.

The cuts made are too numerous to list in the limited time available but those with disabilities paying attention to the debate will be acutely aware of the 10% cut in the blind tax credit, the incapacitated child tax credit and the home carer tax credit; the change in the threshold for medical cards and the reduction in the number of discretionary cards granted; the 19% cut in the respite care grant in 2013 under the Labour Party; the cut to the household benefits package that massively hit the disabled; the 21% cut in the budget for the National Council for Special Education in 2011; and the 56% cut in housing adaptation grants in 2010, the restrictions on eligibility in 2014 and the very long assessment waiting times that many applicants for the grant experience. Since 2007, there has been a reduction of 2.5 million in home help hours. Thousands are waiting for occupational therapy and speech and language therapy and we have had the increase in the threshold for the drugs payment scheme while prescription charges for medical card holders have also risen significantly.

The UN convention is concerned with establishing a rights-based model as opposed to a medical model. The idea behind it is to recognise the rights of people and then to provide the resources to deliver on those rights. This should be welcomed and implemented fully. There are two reforms in the Bill that implement change, but they do not go far enough. This illustrates the general approach of the Government which is to go so far but then to stop short.

The Bill will change the Juries Act and change the blatant discrimination of disallowing all deaf people from serving on a jury. It will also end the current practice of disqualifying those with a mental illness. However, there should be careful attention to the wording as there should be a presumptive capacity to serve on a jury, as called for by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The other reform I welcome is the removal of the "unsound mind" disqualification from being a public representative under the Electoral Act. However, the Act is not changed in a way that it introduces a rights-based approach to voters who are disabled. There should be an explicit right to secrecy of the ballot for blind people with, for example, returning officers being obliged to provide for stencils in polling stations. This would be a minor change, but it is not provided for in the Bill.

The major omission from the Bill relates to the deprivation of liberty. I refer to both actual deprivation and de facto deprivation of liberty which can take place in the State. The convention prohibits detention on the grounds of disability and requires a process outlined in law and a right of review and appeal. I understand that the Minister may bring forward amendments on Committee Stage to deal with this, but that is not acceptable. The purpose of the debate on Second Stage is to discuss the principles and identify problems with the approach of the Bill. Deprivation of liberty is a major issue that should be debated fully in this House and the discussion should not be curtailed by having it in a committee. It also means that Deputies have less time to advance amendments to what is being proposed.

Many people who have a mental illness feel coerced by the system that is now in place. There is a power imbalance for many patients, even voluntary patients, and others in residential care. The Bill should have explicit rights in place for people with disabilities and those with diminished capacity, such as the right to ongoing review of their situations, independent oversight of deprivation of liberty and access to redress.

The Bill does not go far enough in terms of the provisions on reasonable accommodation, which has disappointed many of those with a disability. At present, there is a get-out clause for service providers. If they can show that there is a cost other than a nominal one with it, they can get away with not providing access to those with a disability. The Bill strengthens the position vis-à-vis the public sector and in important areas such as the position of financial institutions, but it remains weak vis-à-vis the private sector. There should be a far stronger wording that gives rights to those with disabilities to access services. Large private operators should be obliged by law to provide access to their services. There should, of course, be some consideration for the size of the provider, as there is a difference between a small family-owned corner shop and a large retail outlet or supermarket. However, if the Government contends there are constitutional issues with such provisions, we should have a referendum to secure these rights to reasonable accommodation for those with disabilities.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance welcomes the Bill but we would like to see its provisions strengthened. Those campaigning for rights for people with disabilities should increase their campaign work in the crucial weeks ahead, while the Bill is going through the various Stages, in order to secure the strongest possible Bill from what is a hesitant Government that is accustomed to delay on the issue of rights for people with disabilities.

The Independents 4 Change have 20 minutes. I call Deputy Pringle. I also remind the House that we will adjourn the debate at 8 p.m. for Private Members' time.

I am sharing time with Deputy Broughan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The primary purpose of the Bill is to address the remaining legislative barriers to Ireland's ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Bill has been widely accepted. It is quite a straightforward Bill that deals with the issue of capacity to serve as a juror, removes references to "unsound mind" for persons standing for election, provides for the Department of Justice and Equality to be a focal point for implementation of the convention and deals with, among others, the issues of reasonable accommodation costs and the deprivation of liberty. These relatively achievable goals are not without problems, however. I will deal with them in more detail, but I first wish to make the point that the Government has had ten years to get the drafting and consultative process right for the Bill. This is why I find it difficult to understand how it is that the Bill is still incomplete, with the Government proposing to introduce a swathe of amendments on Committee Stage.

Did we not see this previously when Report Stage amendments to the rent legislation introduced by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, rendered the Bill unrecognisable? Most worryingly, however, was that this left a democratic deficit in the Dáil because many Members could not analyse or decipher the Bill before it was pushed through the House and into law.

Why has it taken ten years to introduce such a mediocre Bill? Last month, during Leaders' Questions, I raised the personal hardship caused by the failure to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for people such as Frank Larkin, a disability activist in County Donegal. I read out Mr. Larkin's letter which highlighted the frustration he has experienced during this long wait. People such as Frank Larkin deserve nothing less than completed, tightly written legislation which ties together all the loose ends blocking the process of ratification.

I will repeat some of the concerns about the Bill expressed by many disability advocacy groups. One curious change was the removal of the word "equality" from the original general scheme. The word should be reinstated, as advised by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, to recognise the wide-ranging aspects of the UN convention, including the protection of transgender individuals from discrimination.

While the Bill aims to fix most of the outstanding obstacles to the ratification of the convention, many issues are not addressed and the Bill is, as I stated, incomplete. Amendments dealing with Article 14 of the convention, which upholds a person's right not to be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily, will not be introduced until Committee Stage. How will those living with disabilities be able to give their perspective on the legislation if it remains so incomplete? What are the reasons for the delay in publishing these amendments? Is it to allow the Minister of State to argue that he is doing something, however half-hearted? The Government needs to come clean on any reservations it may have on disability legislation in general.

Some discriminatory language persists in legislation and this Bill presented the Government with an opportunity to repeal or replace outdated and offensive terminology. The term "of unsound mind" was used as recently as 2014 in the Companies Act. The Bill was supposed to amend such terms across all legislation but this has not been done. Will the Minister of State make a commitment to remove discriminatory language from our legislation in the near future to coincide with the ratification and implementation of the UN convention? I ask him to respond before we conclude the Second Stage debate.

The Bill does not address the outstanding issue of a person being found in a District Court to be unfit to plead guilty because he or she lacks decision-making capacity and the case is referred to a higher court with a harsher sentencing regime. In 2010, the High Court found that this caused a constitutional issue for people with disabilities who become subject to a harsher sentencing regime purely because they have a disability. This matter has not been resolved in the Bill. Why has it not been addressed?

The Bill recognises that people who are deaf should not be excluded from participation in a jury simply because they need the support of an Irish Sign Language interpreter. Reasonable accommodation should also be extended to people with other disabilities. Section 2(b) amends a provision in the Juries Act 1976 on ineligible persons by relating ineligibility to capacity rather than disability. This does not go far enough. It would be more appropriate to create a system in which a person would be ineligible for jury duty if he or she did not, in the opinion of the court, have the ability to perform the functions required of a jury following the provision of reasonable accommodation.

It will be some time before Ireland ratifies the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. For example, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 has not yet been commenced. On 26 January, the Minister of State suggested in the Chamber that the Act would need to be commenced before ratification of the UN convention could proceed. This is a cause of concern because a great deal of work must be done to prepare for this new, wide-ranging legislation which fundamentally reforms how people are supported to make decisions.

While oversight of the implementation of the UN convention is given to the Department of Justice and Equality, this has not been placed on a statutory footing. Furthermore, the convention recommends that the focal point be placed at the heart of government such as in the prime minister's office or with the cabinet - in Ireland's case, the Department of the Taoiseach - to ensure cross-departmental collaboration and leadership in meeting the task. It is imperative that the remit of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is expanded to include a truly independent capacity with a clear link to the designation of the commission as the independent mechanism under Article 33 of the convention. The Bill does not explicitly define the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality and Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission beyond their administrative duties. Given that this issue could be easily addressed, I wonder why the Bill does not provide for this change and other small but important changes to legislation.

The significant role of people with disabilities in the monitoring and evaluation process of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities cannot be understated. Not only is this role of vital importance, but it is a requirement in the convention. Article 33.3, which sets out the requirement to involve people with a disability in the monitoring process, states: "Civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully in the monitoring process." The Minister of State must outline how those with lived experience will be resourced and facilitated to play a crucial role in monitoring the implementation of the UN convention and will continue to be key constituents in the monitoring of the convention in future. This is of vital importance.

Overall, I am concerned that the Bill is incomplete and may have been published prematurely to make it appear the Government has been doing something on the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I am also concerned that, with amendments to be made on Committee State, we may wait for a long time for the Bill to progress and lose at least another year before ratification can begin. After ten years of waiting, how does the Minister of State justify allowing more time to elapse before the proper ratification and implementation of the UN convention takes place?

This debate presents the Minister of State with an opportunity to speak out on the real reasons ratification has been slow. Cost has always been the key issue for the Fine Gael Party. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have never factored in the physical, financial and emotional costs placed on people with disabilities by the burden imposed on them by the failure to ratify the UN convention. It is time the Government factored in these types of costs and recognised that ratification of this vitally important convention will benefit all citizens as it would further emphasise the principle of equality.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Mr. Paddy Connolly, the chief executive of Inclusion Ireland, wrote a moving and impassioned piece in the Irish Examiner today under the heading "People with disabilities are not a diagnosis, they are human". I presume the Minister of State read the article but if not, I urge him to do so. Some of the words in it struck a chord with me, including, for example, the statement that the "greatest threat to the wellbeing of people who have disabilities is their invisibility" which "renders them non-agents of their own fate, passive recipients of care rather than rights-holders".

Mr. Connolly also called out the statement by the Minister of State that Ireland is "in advance of other EU states" when it comes to persons with disability. A study by the European Institute for Gender Equality showed clearly that this statement is simply not true. Furthermore, Ireland is the only EU state that has not implemented the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Mr. Connolly also stated that he recently resigned from the national disability strategy implementation group, which he described as a "bureaucratic echo chamber". As legislators, we must ensure that people with disabilities do not feel invisible and we must enhance and protect their right to live full and equal lives. While I will support the Bill and welcome that it has finally come before the House, it is time the Government stepped out of the echo chamber and put words and promises into action.

I recently questioned the Minister of State on the amount of funding he had secured for disability in budget 2017. As Deputy Pringle stated, the implementation of the UN convention revolves around cost and the unwillingness of the Fine Gael Party, with which the Minister of State is now allied, and the Fianna Fáil Party in the past to spend the funding required to fulfil assessments for citizens with disability.

I have some questions for the Minister of State on the legislation, as it stands. Will he outline what legislative provisions will be made to ensure that people with disabilities have equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds, as provided for in Article 5 of the UN convention? The civil legal aid scheme does not extend to people with disabilities wishing to make complaints to the Workplace Relations Commission and thereby enforce their protection against discrimination. The lack of legal aid renders the protection ineffective for many. Given the limitations of the legal aid scheme, people with disabilities do not have access to legal advice and representation before other tribunals such as the social welfare appeals office. How will the Minister of State address this issue?

This is most extraordinary legislation. I cannot remember a Minister describing the introduction of a Bill in the House as an historic day before stating that it is proposed to introduce a raft of amendments at a later stage. As Deputy Mick Barry stated, we will not have an opportunity to invigilate these amendments. From that point of view, I hope the Minister of State is serious about this legislation and that it will mark a watershed of huge improvements for our 600,000 citizens with disabilities.

Debate adjourned.