Topical Issue Debate

Drug and Alcohol Task Forces

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, for attending. Both Deputy Crowe and I were asked to raise this issue by Tallaght Drug & Alcohol Task Force. The Minister of State will be aware that considerable resources, although not all that were promised, have been channelled into Dublin's north inner city, a project championed by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. As Fianna Fáil's Dublin spokesperson, I welcomed this initiative. What I disliked about it, however, was how the Government isolated its approach to supporting vulnerable communities to Dublin's north inner city. As the Minister of State knows, the most disadvantaged communities in Ireland, in spite of what Rural Independent Deputies might claim, remain in the capital city.

The cuts in recent years have had a huge impact on the provision of front-line support in the areas most affected by problem drug and alcohol use. I represent one such area, Tallaght. The role of Tallaght Drug & Alcohol Task Force in providing supports through projects and initiatives is essential. The effects of the cuts are not limited to, but have involved, the full removal of services in some cases; reductions in opening times of essential services; reduced staffing, with a resultant reduction in the quality of services; and pauses to pay increments for staff. The staff have endured these pauses since 2008. With the recent public pay restoration, projects are now experiencing a loss of essential staff to public bodies where pay and conditions are now far better than in our projects. There are rising costs in other areas, including insurance, and these issues must also be raised. An increase in drug-related deaths and suicides has been documented. The task forces lack the resources to deal with this. We are into December but there is still no allocation confirmed for task forces in the budget for 2018. If it were any other business, the staff would be put on protective notice at this stage.

Compliance visits were carried out in January of this year but the task force is still awaiting the report ten months later. These are just a few issues that I am able to raise in my two minutes. Deputy Crowe will address more.

We want to talk about the task force. It might surprise some of the Minister of State's Cabinet colleagues but it should not surprise him that, in parts of my constituency, there is open drug dealing. There is an increase in the number of drug deaths and the rate of intimidation. Families are being intimidated in the area. There are children acting as drug runners and they are destroying the hope and potential of a whole generation. There are people fleeing their homes and becoming homeless because of intimidation. It probably would not surprise the Minister of State that I am aware of eight-year-olds presenting at services with an addiction problem. I am not referring to an alcohol addiction but to an addiction to cocaine or another such substance. That is the background.

If the Minister of State went to my constituency, he would see that there are posters up referring to Crimestoppers. The organisation encourages people to telephone in if they see drug dealing in the area. The campaign has been successful. The Garda is saying it has already had some successes with it but the difficulty is that, with the posters going up, people's expectations rise. The Garda tells me it does not have the resources to follow up on many of the reports of open drug dealing.

There is currently no superintendent. There are two uniformed inspectors and one plain-clothes inspector. There used to be five. We are short of nine sergeants. We have a reduced drug squad and a reduced number of gardaí in the area. Robbed cars can be seen in the constituency again. We believed this was a thing of the past.

With regard to the drugs task force, who is sitting at the table?

I will be taking this matter on behalf of Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. I thank Deputies Lahart and Crowe for raising the important issue of funding and governance requirements in regard to the Tallaght Drug & Alcohol Task Force.

Local and regional drug and alcohol task forces play an important role in the development of drugs initiatives at local level to provide a targeted response to the problem of substance misuse in local communities. I can assure the Deputies that every effort has been made to protect the budgets of drug and alcohol task forces in recent years. The overall allocation to local drug and alcohol task forces for community-based drugs initiatives from the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive in 2017 was €27.65 million. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is committed to ensuring that funding at this level is maintained in 2018 and to providing new opportunities for task forces to contribute to tackling the drug problem in the years ahead.

In July this year, the Taoiseach, together with the Minister of State, launched Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: A health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland. This document sets out the Government's strategy to address the harm caused by substance misuse in our society up to 2025. The vision of the strategy is to create a healthier and safer Ireland. In recent days we have all heard about the horrific killings. The country is not a safe place to be for many involved or indirectly involved, or people being abused owing to the drugs issue. Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery emphasises a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland that is based on providing safe person-centred services that promote rehabilitation and recovery.

A key element of the strategy is the introduction of a performance-measurement system for drug and alcohol task forces. The aim of the system is to help the Government assess whether drugs initiatives, including measures developed by task forces, are leading to an improvement in problem substance use across the country. The system also incorporates a resource allocation model to enable funding to be allocated on a more equitable and rational basis that takes account of underlying need in areas covered by the task forces and targets those communities that face a higher risk of substance misuse.

The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is well aware that a significant amount of work needs to be done in consultation with relevant stakeholders and sectors, including the task forces, to bring the performance measurement system into operation. Building the capacity of task forces to participate in the performance measurement system will be a key factor in the overall success of the framework.

Supporting task forces to operate in accordance with good governance will be an important part of the process. In order to start the process, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, intends to announce details of a range of new funding initiatives early in the new year to strengthen the capacity of task forces to support the implementation of Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery during 2018.

On behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, I acknowledge the important role played by task forces, including the one in Tallaght, in providing a targeted response to the problem of substance misuse in local communities. Working with task forces through the structures of the new strategy to strengthen the inter-agency model has been a key factor in the success of Government policy in this area to date.

The response was banal and irrelevant. When the funding is eventually received - it has not been received - the HSE has the final say over where the funding is allocated. There is no level of communication apparent and that irks the task forces because the HSE personnel are not the ones on the front line and they do not have the insight into where the gaps and duplications are. Requests are sent regularly to the HSE and it does not respond. I mentioned the compliance visits that were carried out last January but there is still no report. The HSE's relationship with the task forces must change dramatically from what I would regard as a paternalistic, hierarchical one to one of partnership with projects at the coalface, and other stakeholders such as local authorities and, critically, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

There are huge compliance and governance requirements and responsibilities for board members and chairs with no resources or additional supports. How does the Minister propose to combine governance requirements with volunteer availability and time? Consistent, regular and continuous attendance at task force meetings would be a requirement. There is a real need for a co-ordinating leader to pull together all the strands that are needed to support users, local communities, families and projects themselves. Nothing is being done to address the continuing spate of suicides in west Tallaght and north Clondalkin. Could the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, ask what plans the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, has to provide the essential connectivity that is required to make the drugs and alcohol strategy effective?

I do not know if the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is embarrassed reading such a reply. For example, he stated "every effort has been made to protect the budgets of drug and alcohol task forces in recent years." We know for a fact that they have been gutted, in some cases by 20% or 30%. There is talk of reinstating the funding for drug task forces but what is needed is an increase in funding. As the Minister of State said, the problem is getting worse. If we are serious about tackling the drug problem the pillars must be in place. Let us examine who is sitting around the table. More often than not the Garda is not present. The HSE has not been present at the past two meetings and it has been said it might not be there in the future. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is not present and neither is the Department of Education and Skills. The people involved in all those key elements in terms of policy to tackle drugs are not sitting around the table with the community. Those in the community ask what will be done. We do not have confidence in the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. The problem is getting worse and we do not see anyone trying to come up with new ideas or trying to support communities that are trying to combat the drug problem in their area. The situation is getting worse not better and that is due to the Government.

I value and acknowledge the work of the task force and I accept the point that more needs to be done. However, Deputies Crowe and Lahart must accept that in 2018 we intend to spend €27.65 million so it is wrong to say nothing is being done. When one breaks down the funding it is apparent that €24,250 was allocated to Fettercairn estate management-----

That used to be a full-time job.

A total of €24,250 was allocated to the Killinarden community safety forum.

It is not just about the money.

A total of €5,416 was allocated to St. Dominic's community response. The sum of €37,775 was received by Brookfield addiction support programme. Swan family support received €43,951. Barnardos Rivendell project was allocated €233,596. Those are examples of actions that are happening on the ground. I accept the point the Deputies made but we also have a broader societal issue as well in relation to drugs. Another aspect is that one must deal with the health addiction aspect, which I fully support, but there is also the criminal aspect where people are being slaughtered on the streets. That is a security aspect. There are two dimensions involved. We need to develop the national drugs strategy and to ensure the health promotion sector provides services for people on the ground. The Government intends to do that. I will bring the major concerns of the Deputies back to the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, because I accept there is a problem in tackling the issue overall.

Community Employment Schemes Administration

Community employment schemes offer people significant opportunities in terms of experience and getting back to work and they also offer a considerable benefit to the communities in which they are located as a result of the services they provide. It has been drawn to my attention by people involved in the scheme, both at administrative level and by participants, that the manner in which CE schemes are being managed currently is making it very difficult to match up those offering positions with people who want to fill the positions. The main difficulty is the manner in which the positions are advertised and in particular the manner in which applicants are to apply.

It is my view that the changes introduced in recent years fail to understand the nature and value of community employment schemes. They undermine the intended outcome, in particular in terms of giving people work experience, reintroducing people to work, and adding to the value of community projects and associations who find excellent uses for people on the schemes, that are of value to both employee and employer.

In particular, I draw attention to the fact that all scheme supervisors must now advertise each position that becomes available on the Intreo website. Any applicant interested in a position, who wants to take part in a community employment scheme must register with Intreo and apply online for each position. While generally there is a certain sense to online advertisement of positions in terms of transparency, the specific context of the scheme has to be taken into account. My concern, which is shared by many CE supervisors, is that many of the people who would potentially benefit from community employment schemes, who might have been out of employment for a considerable period, will not register or apply and will not be aware of the opportunity that may exist. The reality is that a considerable proportion of people who seek employment in a community employment scheme have problems with literacy skills or have limited IT skills. CE schemes give people the opportunity to return to work, perhaps after a period out of work, and to gain skills and experience. That is invaluable to them and allows them to get further work.

The work involved in CE schemes is extraordinary. Requiring applicants to register in the manner I outlined is a hurdle which will put many people off applying for schemes, and will also mean that they are unaware of the opportunities that exists. That is discrimination against people without the necessary literacy skills, and potentially against older people. Just as significantly, many supervisors are finding that very few are registering or applying online, and because they are restricted in terms of other ways to get the word out, positions are going unfilled for extended periods, which undermines the projects and the work they do. I urge the Minister to give the issue serious consideration and to change the system so that the CE scheme is not allowed to be downgraded or undermined, that people can continue to benefit, and the schemes can find people who want to be involved. We should take every opportunity to join up those who wish to work, and those who wish to employ them and not to make it harder, as has been the case in recent times.

I thank Deputy Ó Laoghaire for raising this important issue concerning community employment schemes. The aim of the community employment programme is to enhance the employability of disadvantaged and unemployed people by providing work experience and training opportunities for them within their communities.

The programme helps to break the cycle of unemployment and improve a person's chances of returning to the labour market. That is the objective. Community employment scheme sponsors advertise vacancies free-of-charge on the Department's www.jobsireland.ie website. Posting vacancies is a relatively simple process and a dedicated video tutorial is available on the site to assist sponsors. Anyone requiring further assistance can contact the Department's national contact centre by telephone at lo call 1890 800 024 and (01) 248 1398 or by email at jobsireland@welfare.ie. It is important that this information is available for the many people who are interested in these schemes.

Sponsors can also promote scheme vacancies within their local communities. At a local level, various methods of promoting CE scheme vacancies have been arranged between the Department and local CE scheme operators, including targeting potentially eligible jobseekers for attendance at a CE job fair, where details of CE scheme vacancies and employment opportunities are provided.

No recent changes have been made to the recruitment and applications procedures for CE schemes. Jobseekers receive information about all available employment support options, including CE, through the Intreo service. Jobseekers receive one-to-one support from a case officer and all available and suitable options are discussed. Jobseekers can view CE vacancies online at www.jobsireland.ie as well. Eligible candidates are referred to sponsors by case officers in their local Intreo centres. I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

My experience of the Intreo offices is very positive, especially in respect of the disability sector. Over 60 people are trained in our social welfare offices throughout the country and provide an important service in respect of my personal portfolio. The role of the community employment scheme is important. The idea is to train people with the objective of securing a more reasonable job.

I agree with what the Minister of State has outlined as the function and value of the community employment scheme. To an extent, this boils down to common sense. We are forcing people to jump through hoops that should be unnecessary. We are making it far more difficult to connect people who want to work and participate in the scheme with those who want to give such people a job. I call on the Minister of State to reflect on this and bring back my message to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty. The scheme could have a position available that could be advertised locally. Someone could contact the provider of the job in question. Yet, someone who might have been out of work for two or three years may not be given a chance on a community employment scheme. At the moment, the person seeking the opportunity must spot the vacancy online and apply for it online. The context of the CE scheme has to be borne in mind at all times. Some people have had difficulty in getting work for a significant period. They may have literacy skills, they may be older or they may have limited computer skills. It is unreasonable, impractical and inflexible to force everything to go through the online process. It should be possible to advertise the positions online but it should also be possible to make the provider and employers use other means, whether advertising locally or whatever, to fill positions and to offer such positions to people who want to work.

Part of the problem is that positions are now becoming available but no one is applying for them or filling them. I have been informed of this from those responsible for projects in my area and from talking to supervisors who maintain the problem is coming up in other areas as well. The problem is that candidates are not aware the positions exist and they have no knowledge of how to apply for them. People can go to the Intreo offices and be walked through it, but that is a slow and laborious process for every application. It is simply unreasonable. I believe it is holding people back from getting jobs in the community employment scheme.

I take the points made by Deputy Ó Laoghaire on the need for more information. If there is a CE scheme experience with particular difficulties in recruitment, the sponsor should contact the local Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection offices to enable the matter to be reviewed.

It is important to know that there are 1,422 CE vacancies advertised on www.jobsireland.ie at present. These schemes are designed to break the cycle of unemployment and maintain work-readiness, thereby improving a person's opportunity of returning to the labour market.

A second point is important. International evidence does not advocate long-term dependency programmes. While researchers accept the role of such programmes in times of high unemployment, they advise that prevalence should be reduced as unemployment falls and employment prospects grow. Some of the evidence points to longer duration interventions being prone to locking unemployed people into programmes rather than engaging them in active jobs.

Those aged between 21 years and 55 years are entitled to one year on the scheme with the potential to extend the period to two years. Those over 55 years can remain on the scheme for three years.

The schemes make a contribution, but now that we have unemployment down to 6% it is a developing situation. In any event, I will bring back the issues raised by Deputy Ó Laoghaire to the Minister, Deputy Doherty.

Garda Deployment

Councillor Paul Ross in Longford has consistently raised the issue of Edgeworthstown Garda station with me in my office. Today and on several previous occasions he has pointed out that Edgeworthstown is now the second largest town in County Longford. The population increased between the 2006 and 2011 census by 42% and there was an additional increase of 19% by 2016. The population now is in excess of 2,500. The town is a centre of connectivity because the N4 and N55 essentially meet in the town and it has a busy railway station as well.

There is concern among residents about an increase in the number of burglaries in the Granard district. Obviously, this has come to the attention of residents. They have examined the Garda numbers assigned to the Edgeworthstown station in greater detail. The population in Edgeworthstown has increased significantly and there has been a major shift in the diversity of the population. This has taken an additional toll on resources in the town, as one would expect in a town of such a size.

I submitted several parliamentary questions, in particular, No. 52 of 23 May 2017, No. 278 of 4 July and No. 255 of 1 November. In the last two parliamentary questions I made clear that I was looking for the numbers of active gardaí at Edgeworthstown station. I was advised in the parliamentary questions that 11 gardaí are assigned to Edgeworthstown station. However, closer analysis of the facts suggests this is not the full picture. I have a list before me with some detail. It seems that one of the 11 is currently on long-term sick leave. Another has been transferred to Dublin. Four are assigned to other towns within County Longford. Essentially, currently only 4.5 gardaí are active in Edgeworthstown.

Councillor Ross has pointed out to me that the gardaí are visible and are doing an incredible job under strained resources. A sergeant is in charge and three gardaí are on the beat. We also have one sergeant who is responsible for crime investigation. I understand he is 50% allocated to Granard Garda Station and 50% allocated to Edgeworthstown Garda Station.

My principal concern is that the population has exploded in the town. Closer analysis of the facts indicates that only 4.5 gardaí are on active duty. We have been told a total of 11 gardaí are assigned to the station. That makes a strong statement. If 11 have been assigned but we have seen an explosion in the population, then we need far more gardaí. This co-relates with the facts raised at the recent joint policing committee meeting on the increase in crime.

I have discussed the matter with people and I have checked the numbers. I have a detailed statement on the numbers assigned and why there is a disparity in the figures.

People who have been transferred out of the station, who are on long-term sick leave or working in other towns or who have been assigned to other areas are included in the figures. As a public representative, my job is to respond to concerns raised by residents. Councillor Paul Ross has been putting me under considerable pressure to obtain accurate information on what lies behind the figures. I would be grateful if the Minister set out such detail. I also thank him for coming to the House to respond to this Topical Issue.

I thank the Deputy for raising the important matter of policing in County Longford. The Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance for citizens and deter crime. To achieve these objectives, it has put in place a plan for an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Garda Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. We are making real and tangible progress in achieving this goal.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of resources, including personnel, among the various Garda divisions and I, as Minister, have no direct role in the matter. Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure the optimum use is made of these resources.

I am informed by the Commissioner that, with regard to the deployment of Garda personnel, a distribution model is used which takes into account all relevant factors, including population, crime trends and the policing needs of each individual Garda division. Where a deficiency in resources is identified, the matter is considered fully and addressed accordingly. In addition, as the Deputy will appreciate, to deliver an effective policing service, it is essential that Garda management have the flexibility to deploy Garda resources to meet operational policing needs and address critical issues as they arise. For this reason, the number of gardaí available in any one Garda station on a particular day is subject to the operational requirements of the overall division.

Edgeworthstown Garda station, to which the Deputy referred, forms part of the Granard district in the Roscommon-Longford division. I am informed that the number of gardaí assigned to the division on 31 October 2017, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 309, of whom 47 members were assigned to Granard district and 11 to Edgeworthstown Garda station. I note the Deputy's point that 4.5 Garda members, namely, one sergeant and three gardaí, are available at the station. This figure is somewhat at variance with the figure given to me of 11 gardaí being assigned to the station. There are also nine Garda Reserve members and 29 Garda civilian staff attached to the Roscommon-Longford division.

I listened carefully to the Deputy's comments on crime in the locality. When appropriate, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. I am also informed that the divisional traffic corps and the drugs unit carry out patrols in the area.

I am conscious that the Deputy cited the Longford-Westmeath constituency which is similar in profile to the adjacent constituency of Laois-Offaly. I acknowledge the challenge facing the region, with particular reference to the motorway, ease of travel and mobility. In so far as the number of gardaí on active duty is concerned, the Commissioner has advised that for operational and security reasons, An Garda Síochána does not comment on the number of personnel on sick leave in a particular station.

The district headquarters at Granard is open 24/7 and members stationed at the headquarters are available to attend to calls for assistance by members of the public when Edgeworthstown Garda station is closed to members of the public or in circumstances where members may require back-up or assistance.

I am further informed by the Commissioner that since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, close to 1,400 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide. Of these, ten have been assigned to the Roscommon-Longford division. I look forward to attending the attestation of another 200 trainee gardaí this Friday, which will see Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, increase to approximately 13,500 by year end, a net increase of 500 since the end of 2016.

I assure the Deputy of my ongoing attention to this issue.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I also appreciate the work he is doing with regard to various Garda operations and the funding assigned to them. I welcome the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore and the recruitment of more gardaí. The Minister has advised that 11 gardaí are assigned to Edgeworthstown Garda station and made it clear that the Garda Commissioner makes decisions on the deployment of gardaí for operational duties. It is vital that Deputies are given information on which they can rely and stand over in their constituencies. Unfortunately, I will be unable to stand over the information provided as I have been clearly advised that 11 gardaí are not assigned to Edgeworthstown Garda station.

The Minister has stated he cannot give figures for the numbers of gardaí on sick leave. I have been informed that one garda has transferred to Dublin, with a further three transferred to different areas. I ask the Minister to provide some clarity on this issue and would appreciate it if he reverted to the Garda Commissioner on the figures provided. It will be difficult for me to return to my constituency with figures that are being genuinely contested. From the information provided for me and visiting Edgeworthstown and speaking to residents of the town, they clearly believe they are under serious pressure in terms of resources. If Edgeworthstown Garda station requires a complement of 11 gardaí, it shows the considerable demand for Garda resources in the town and I expect this demand to be met. We fully accept that gardaí will sometimes be on sick leave and that other circumstances will obtain. I hope we will be able to get a clearer picture of the position in Edgeworthstown. For that reason, I would appreciate it if the Minister reverted to the Garda Commissioner to seek further information and present an update to us thereafter.

I compliment the Minister on the good work he is doing in reforming the Department of Justice and Equality and providing key resources to fight crime in rural areas where they are most needed.

Whatever about having no direct input into the distribution of Garda numbers or operational matters which are wholly under the jurisdiction and domain of the Garda Commissioner and Garda management, I have responsibility for the provision of accurate information for Deputies. Having regard to the Deputy's comments, I will, immediately following this debate, ensure the issues he has raised are fully checked out, with a view towards accurate verification. I assure him that, with regard to the Government's plan for an increase in Garda numbers and having regard to the fact that the Garda College in Templemore was closed during the years of the great recession, with the economic recovery having taken hold, we are now in a position to ensure a progressive stream of new Garda recruits. Ambitious, energetic gardaí are taking up positions in Garda stations across the country. I look forward, on Friday next, to the attestation and graduation of a further 200 gardaí, all of whom will, I expect, be assigned to Garda stations before 1 January 2018. I assure the Deputy that the Longford-Roscommon area which includes Edgeworthstown will have a certain focus in that regard.

I note that €330 million, including €205 million under the capital plan, is being invested in Garda information and communications technology infrastructure in the period from 2016 to 2021. This major investment will allow An Garda Síochána to deploy the latest cutting edge technology across the country.

In terms of the Garda fleet, the Deputy will be aware that new vehicles were recently provided in the midlands. In the period from 2013 until the end of this year, almost €44 million will have been invested in the Garda fleet, with some 2,000 vehicles coming on stream in that period. This investment will facilitate the provision of a more effective policing service. I expect County Longford and the Roscommon-Longford division, like all Garda divisions, to benefit from these new resources becoming available. I will revert to the Deputy on the specific issue he raises concerning the verification of the figures supplied.

UN Conventions

I seem to have been struck by the curse of Dáil déjà vu because I recall raising the issue of Ireland's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, this time last year, almost to the day. One year on, we appear to be in exactly the same position, unless the Minister of State is about to tell the House otherwise.

Last Sunday was International Day of Disabled Persons and after 11 years, we still have not ratified the UNCRPD. In fact, Ireland is the only country in Europe not to ratify the convention. Over 200 countries in the world have ratified the convention. Last year, I emphasised that key legislation underpinning the convention could be passed by this House even before the convention is ratified.

The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has a track record on this, but he has staked his reputation on this matter and it has still not been ratified. Waiting for the convention to be ratified is like "Waiting for Godot". This is a human rights issue. This is about equality in Ireland.

Last week, as the Minister of State will be aware, a good campaigner, John Doyle, who was incredibly vocal on disability, passed away. I will read what he stated in a blog about the non-ratification of the UNCRPD because it is poignant. He wrote:

December 3rd is International Day of Disabled People. I hate this day for what it has become. It was to be a day of celebration of inclusion and equality but instead every year we get an endless parade of politicians lining up to put a positive spin on having done nothing to really address the inequalities faced by disabled people.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability (UNCRPD) was signed in 2006 by the Irish Government and a full ten years later and several governments on, it has still not been ratified. The lack of ratifying this document has left disabled people with no recourse to enforceable laws which would have given some protection against the myriad of institutional abuses we have seen over the last 10 years.

We still have not ratified the UNCRPD. It is incredible. People in this country are extremely angry and they will voice their protest on Saturday at 12 o'clock at the GPO. Has the Minister of State any good news for the 600,000 people with disabilities in this country who want to see this ratified?

I have just come from a Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet has agreed to formally ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Today's Government decision is a significant milestone. I am delighted that my colleagues in government have supported me in deciding that the Convention should be ratified by Ireland. We will be returning to this at the next Government meeting to put the formal process in train and I am confident that all the necessary administrative processes will be completed within a few weeks.

My focus, as the Members all know, has been to promote and protect the enjoyment of human rights by all of our citizens and in this case, on the UN Convention, for all people with a disability.

I also welcome the progress made in recent weeks and months on the drafting of legislation by the Department of Health on the deprivation of liberty. It is a positive development and testament to the fact that genuine progress on meeting the needs and rights of people with disabilities is being made.

Deprivation of liberty is a sensitive and important matter which goes to the heart of fundamental freedoms and human rights. Legislative proposals in this area will have significant implications for families, the operation of the health services and the courts. It is important the people fully understand what is being proposed. In this regard, I will be inviting submissions from stakeholders and the general public.

We are making good progress in making all of the Convention's requirements operational in Ireland in an appropriate manner. Considerable progress has been made to overcome the remaining legislative barriers to Ireland's full implementation of the Convention as set out in the 2015 roadmap. 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. Section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 was reformed through a 2017 Act of the same name to facilitate the full participation in family life of persons with intellectual disabilities and the full expression of their human rights.

There are two further priority implementation issues. These are the enactment of the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 and the commencement of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 which requires the Decision Support Service to be operational and ready to roll out the new decision-making support options. The 2018 budget provided an allocation of €3 million for the establishment of the Decision Support Service. I am also delighted to announced that we appointed the director of the Decision Support Service in October.

In the meantime, I am continuing to take a wide range of practical measures to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The report of the Make Work Pay Group was published in April of this year and already action, as announced by the Minister, Deputy Harris, has been taken on its recommendations. We have a comprehensive employment strategy in place and 2017 has seen positive action measures being taken to support public sector recruitment of people with disabilities. In July of this year I published the disability inclusion strategy containing a wide range of practical commitments to improve the lives of people with disabilities. There are over 114 recommendations and already many of these are being implemented.

I promised that we would ratify the UNCRPD and I am delivering on that promise tonight with the support of the Government.

That is all well and good - I do not want to be sceptical because I am not a sceptic by nature - but I heard all this, last year and in February. I asked the Minister of State when would this be ratified and he stated it would be a couple of weeks before Christmas.

The reply is ambiguous. Can Deputy Finian McGrath give an exact date when the UNCRPD will be ratified? To say that it will be as soon as possible could mean anything. I heard that last year. It could be another year. I am not questioning the Minister of State's bona fides but the reply is too ambiguous.

Deputy Finian McGrath must give an exact date when this Convention will be ratified. If he waits for all the legislation and by-laws, we will be waiting forever. The Minister of State even stated this morning in the media that does not have to happen, we would ratify it and then the primary legislation can be legislated for. Can the Minister of State give an exact date when this Convention will be ratified? As I stated, 600,000 people are relying on the Minister of State's words and they are very important words.

The major announcement today is that the Cabinet - I have just come from that Cabinet meeting - formally adopted and supported my proposal to ratify the UN Convention.

The other issues that are in place are as follows. As I stated previously, the €3 million for the Decision Support Service has been allocated. The legislation will be published tomorrow and we will move on from there. The key point here is we will move on this as quickly as possible and we will be bringing another memorandum to Cabinet before the Christmas break.

The direct answer to the Deputy's question is I see us formally ratifying the UN Convention in early January, and sooner if possible. However, it also has to do with logistics. We have got to bring a memorandum to Cabinet. We have to bring a formal motion before the Dáil.

It is the exact same.

It is not exactly.

It is the exact same.

We have moved on a significant distance over the past number of months. There have been major improvements, a major move in direction.

There is something important I want to point out to Deputy Gino Kenny on the key aspect here on the deprivation of liberty. I want to have space and time to have consultations with every disabled person, every civic group, every senior citizens' group, people with a mental illness and others who might come to me and propose amendments on the deprivation of liberty. I have an open door but I want to ensure that we consult. This is a sensitive matter, particularly for the vulnerable. I want to ensure that the legislation is right. The legislation will be published tomorrow and people will have an opportunity to examine it.

It is wrong to say it is the exact same. Two things have happened today. The Government formally agreed to ratify. That is the key message I want to send out today. The second message is we are moving on the legislation. We are moving on the consultation process.

The Minister of State said exactly the same last year.

I would say early in the new year.