In response to a number of requests from interest groups, the joint committee has held two days of hearings to hear their concerns about the content and implications of the Disability Bill 2004. I am pleased to welcome two representatives of TV3, Mr. David McMunn, director of government, regulatory and legal affairs, and Mr. Peter Ennis, director of engineering. Before Mr. McMunn begins, I want to tell visitors that whereas all members have parliamentary privilege, this privilege does not apply to them.
Disability Bill 2004: Presentations.
Mr. David McMunn
I thank the committee for giving us this opportunity to address it on the Disability Bill 2004. We intend to inform it of our concerns and suggested amendments. In the first instance, however, we believe it is appropriate to outline TV3's commitment to address the very real issue at the heart of the Bill, the need to embrace fully the disabled in society. This includes allowing them access to the mass media.
The station began broadcasting in September 1998 after nine years of delay due to market and structural issues. TV3 has been a loss-making company and, to date, has an accumulated debt of €30 million. This represents both set-up costs and accumulated net losses. No dividends have ever been paid to shareholders. It should also be noted that within the Irish market TV3 is unique in that it is the only indigenous station, which must rely solely on advertising revenues to survive. We receive no State aid, unlike RTE and TG4 which benefit from licence fee revenue and roughly 60% of the available television advertising spend.
The contract TV3 signed prior to launch made clear in a schedule to the licence that we were to act inclusively in regard to the disabled. TV3 believes it has striven to meet this obligation. Since its launch, we have raised funds and inputted resources of approximately €2 million on behalf of Irish charities. Our premises at Ballymount are disability friendly. We also have on our permanent staff in the corporate department a young woman with Down's syndrome. As recently as last Friday night week, we received an award from the Dublin Chamber of Commerce for corporate responsibility in recognition of the Baby Max Appeal, an appeal with which we have been involved since February or March this year. We have since raised approximately €200,000 for the purchase of machinery and equipment for use on children with meningitis and related illnesses.
We subtitle approximately 10% of our output. While this may appear small, we have targeted resources at our most popular programming, the soaps "Emmerdale" and "Coronation Street". Over 20% of programming in the peak period, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., is subtitled. However, the committee may believe we should be doing more. While we want to do more, we are an independent company wholly reliant on advertising revenue and, as such, unique among indigenous broadcasters. We realise that the Disability Bill is fundamentally about including the disabled in society but if enacted in its present form, it will act to severely limit the only independent voice in Irish television, which will merely limit the choice for everybody, including the disabled.
The Irish broadcasting environment is one of the toughest in Europe in which to survive, let alone prosper. The committee will be aware that it took ten years and numerous legal cases before our chairman, Mr. James Morris, was able to bring the station on air, and that both Century Radio and Radio Ireland tried and failed to make the national commercial radio licence succeed. TV3 faces competition from at least 13 stations directly taking advertising in the Irish market. Ten of these broadcast from the United Kingdom and are exempt from Irish regulation. Only the State-run RTE and TG4 are subject to such regulation. It is a fact that the regulation to which they are subject is of a lesser order than that to which we are subject. RTE is on record as stating the production of Irish programming requires licence fee revenue, from which RTE benefits and TV3 does not. While we have home produced quotas, RTE does not.
On the Sunday following the release of the RTE annual report, Mr. Cathal Goan stated on "Media Matters" on Newstalk that there had been a market failure. He added:
There are revenue opportunities alongside the cost of production, and we're absolutely clear that we need to maximize those opportunities as well, but what we are trying to demonstrate is that if we are to take this [the TV market] simply as a market analysis, then the market itself will not pay for the production of television programming in Ireland.
Although it is the only station on the Irish market that has a concrete verifiable target for the production of indigenous programming, TV3 has not received any aid. The UK stations, which are targeting Ireland operate primarily from digital licences and are not subject to any form of access regulation or requirement. This position was confirmed as recently as July 2004. The UK regulator, Ofcom, will verify that the UK stations do not have a public service obligation.
If section 52 of the Broadcasting Bill 2004 is introduced in its current format, it will be the most draconian measure of its type in Europe, especially when one considers the current state of the broadcasting market. It should be borne in mind that the state-funded broadcaster in the UK does not compete for advertising revenue. Under the UK Office of Communications Act 2002, the UK regulator can increase and decrease its targets. Under section 52 of the Broadcasting Bill 2004, however, the BCI will not have any such discretion. It will have to impose a target and that will be it.
I wish to discuss some European jurisdictions, which are more comparable to Ireland than the UK in terms of population and market dynamics. The UK is different, obviously, because advertising is not permitted on the state-funded broadcaster. I will refer to Austria, Switzerland and Portugal because they are countries in which the state-funded sector can take advertising, a small amount of advertising revenue is available and the same language is spoken in a neighbouring country from which a television signal overspills. In Austria and Switzerland, there is no requirement on the commercial operator, other than a voluntary gentleman's agreement to do what one can when one can. There is a direct target in Portugal, where indirect aid has been given to the state sector. The advertising minutes, which are available to the RTE equivalent have been reduced so that more minutes are available to the TV3 equivalent.
TV3 recommends to the committee that the New Zealand model should be included in some way. Under that model, a bureau is funded by the state in conjunction with the broadcasters and the disability interest groups. The bureau provides services such as subtitles for certain programmes, which are selected by the groups from a list of the programmes, which are broadcast by the state and private sector broadcasters.
Under legislation that was passed last year, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources can take 5% of the licence fee as a production fund. When that was being considered, TV3 suggested that some of the funds obtained under the 5% levy should be ring-fenced for this kind of project. For its own reasons, however, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources did not pursue that suggestion. TV3 respectfully suggests that it should be reconsidered in the context of the Disability Bill 2004, or the rules, which will be enacted by the BCI thereafter.
Mr. McMunn was given an indicative timeframe for his contribution.
Yes. I apologise for the delay. I will quickly raise two final matters. I have outlined the costs to the committee in a written submission.
We have received that.
TV3 estimates that the relevant cost would be approximately €1 million per year, which equates to a season of hour-long prime time chat shows, or six months of prime time movie programming. Commercial television stations will not get the advertising revenue they need if they do not offer such programming.
TV3 has outlined its thoughts on a possible solution to this problem. It has said to the BCI, which is currently engaged in consultation under the current section 19(11) provisions which will be replaced by section 52, that it can meet the target in the first three years on the basis that a review mechanism will be put in place thereafter. TV3's submission contains some suggestions for changes in the language of section 52. I recommend the suggestions to the committee, as they would give the regulator the flexibility to increase or reduce subtitling targets and other targets as circumstances dictate.
I thank Mr. McMunn. As the Human Rights Commission is due to give its observations on the Disability Bill, I propose, with the agreement of the committee, that two Government members and two Opposition members ask the representatives of TV3 some brief questions. Dr. Maurice Manning and Professor William Binchy of the Human Rights Commission, who are in attendance, will then be invited to speak. We will then wind up the meeting. As Deputy O'Connor is the only Government member offering to speak, I will also allow Deputy Finian McGrath to contribute. I call Deputy Stanton, reminding him to ask brief questions rather than make lengthy comments.
Has TV3 had any discussions with the various disability organisations and representative groups about the matter under consideration? Has it debated the issue with departmental officials? If so, what response did it receive? Can Mr. Ennis enlighten the committee about the possible benefits of digital spectrum technology? If it is advanced, what impact will it have on the issues raised by Mr. McMunn?
Deputy Stanton has asked the questions I was planning to ask. I would be interested to know what TV3 is doing to work with the disability groups in this regard. That is the core issue. I welcome the TV3 delegation.
I welcome the TV3 group. Has it conducted research about the type of programme which is most commonly requested to be subtitled?
I welcome the TV3 delegation to this meeting of the committee. I enjoy the station's current affairs and sports programmes.
The Deputy is singing TV3's praises.
TV3 said that its premises are disability friendly and that it employs a young woman with Down's syndrome on its permanent staff. Does TV3 employ other people with disabilities?
The delegation has explained that its concerns about section 52 of the Broadcasting Bill 2004 relate to costs. How does it respond to people with disabilities who claim that costs and finances seem to be at issue every time they look for services? If TV3 does not provide such services, thousands of people will not be able to benefit from watching its programmes. I hear complaints in this regard from people with disabilities on a regular basis.
I invite Mr. McMunn or Mr. Ennis to respond.
TV3 has not spoken to the disability groups on this specific issue, although it has spoken to them about section 52 of the Broadcasting Bill 2004, which is replacing the existing section 19(11). It sees this issue as an extension of the other issue. It has made its views known to the groups.
Mr. Peter Ennis
TV3 engaged in a long process with the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland as part of a consultative forum. It also engaged with disability groups representing those who are hard of hearing, partially sighted and blind. Mr. McMunn, TV3's CEO and I played a full part in that process, which was useful because it enabled us to hear the groups' views and informed our thinking.
I was also asked if TV3 has spoken to other Departments. It has sent submissions to the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Department with which we usually deal. Mr. Ennis will discuss the impact of the digital spectrum.
One can send much more information down a digital pipe. TV3 is limited in that regard under the current analogue system. Its capacity for subtitles is limited to the teletext-type subtitles used at present. There is no real capacity to stream signing or audio description separately. It is almost impossible to do so on the existing analogue spectrum. To sign all programmes would be to the detriment of the majority who do not need the facility. Our research has shown that people find it intrusive, which may be a little ungenerous to those who need it. If we sign a programme, it appears in a small box on the screen. If the programme is also being shown on the channel of one of TV3 's UK competitors where it can be viewed on the full screen, it puts us at an immediate disadvantage. The digital spectrum takes this away because if one wants to view a programme that has been signed, one can select it. There is a cost implication as there is with any such system but the new additional platforms coming on stream make it much easier.
Do the representatives from TV3 know the programmes that attract the greater number of requests for signing?
By a long shot the programmes most commonly requested are the soap operas. Before we started subtitling "Coronation Street", "Emmerdale", "Heartbeat" and others, we were inundated with requests but these programmes are not the cheapest to subtitle. We could have chosen to subtitle others which would have been a great deal cheaper and allowed us to put up our hands for subtitling 20% of our schedule. However, we subtitle the programmes most frequently requested.
What about the political aspect? I am available and live close to the station.
We can come back again to Mr. McMunn and Mr. Ennis. I now welcome Dr. Maurice Manning, president, and Professor William Binchy, member of the Human Rights Commission.
Dr. Maurice Manning
It is always a pleasure to be here, even if it is on this side of the House.
Dr. Manning is badly missed.
Thank you very much, Deputy. We are delighted to be given this opportunity to speak about the Disability Bill 2004. Members will have received copies of our observations, which Professor Binchy will discuss.
Let me clarify the role of the Human Rights Commission, which is a new body. There may be a misunderstanding about its role in this process. It is not a non-governmental organisation, a lobbying body or part of an alliance or coalition but an independent statutory body. It is independent of the Government as well as any of the groups lobbying for change in this process.
On examining the Bill we believe there are many good provisions in it and that many attempts are made to deal with very difficult problems. However, our remit is specific; our job is to examine the detail of the Bill against the human rights standards set in international law and the Constitution. That is the job we set out to do in our document. We assess whether the Bill effectively establishes a system of service delivery centred on the human rights of people with disabilities. While some constitutional standards may be of relevance in our examination, the key human rights standards we use are to be found at international level, most specifically the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the revised European Social Charter. That is part of the remit given in legislation to establish the Human Rights Commission.
The Human Rights Commission has recently been involved in the drafting process at UN level of a new charter on disability, in which process Professor Binchy and Professor Gerard Quinn of NUI, Galway have played a leading part. The charter is concerned with clarifying and crystallising the human rights norms relevant to persons with disabilities contained in existing human rights treaties. That is the context in which we examine the Bill. We are different from any other group, which will come before the committee because we are working within the specific remit of international and constitutional human rights standards.
Professor William Binchy
I will follow on from the point Dr. Manning made on the treaty being put together in New York. The United Nations convention has not yet been completed and it will be two or three years before it is. What is central to it is the recognition of the principles of equality and dignity that apply to people with disabilities. They are straightforward principles and it is amazing that it should be a discovery that they apply.
We are addressing the Disability Bill on the basis of existing international human rights instruments. As Dr. Manning mentioned, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the revised charter are important in terms of the Bill. I will concentrate on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which creates international obligations to which Ireland is a party.
Effectively, the covenant requires that there be progressive realisation of the rights recognised under it. While it recognises that states cannot just simply wave a magic wand and provide full resources everywhere in respect of all the rights mentioned, it imposes an obligation to turn on the tap or resources and, having done so, not to turn it off again but to increase the measure of water that comes from it. In other words, there is a progressive obligation under the covenant to address the rights recognised under it by the provision of resources. There is also a requirement that they be effective and progressive. A state, which commits itself to progressive realisation must continue to do so and cannot turn back from this path. It is true to say the Government deals with emergencies of an economic nature but even in such situations, a state does not have carte blanche to abandon its obligations. It must also adopt a proportionate approach in such circumstances.
Our attitude to the Bill is that when one reads through it there are many good provisions in terms of the provision of resources and the structure of administrative decision-making but something is missing. What is missing is that there is no guarantee we can see an effective commitment by the State on the basis of the law being brought forward to the provision of particular resources. There is no commitment to the provision of a minimum floor, below which the provision will not sink, and to a progressive realisation of the rights in question. We think the Bill is deficient in that regard because it lacks that character and the quality the covenant requires.
Another aspect that might bring out the point a little more is that section 5, a crucial provision, starts with the relevant Minister cutting the cake of resources of which he or she might have control in a particular year. There is an obligation to cut the slice to deal with disability that is appropriate in the view of the Minister. Our concern is that the cake given in these circumstances may be big or small and that there will be no obligation prescribed by legislation that the Government or the Minister for Finance should provide adequate resources. If the cake given to the Minister is too small, regardless of whether he or she does his or her best in the circumstances, there will not be enough. Whereas the general presentation of the Bill is surrounded by good things in terms of the commitment of high sums of money, if we look at it over the medium term, there is nothing in it that requires a specific minimum or progressive commitment.
The focus of section 5 is ministerial. No remedy is provided in the Bill to counteract a failure to provide a Minister with adequate resources. In such circumstances, a person with a disability has no legal recourse. Whereas the general covenant itself does not necessarily require a judicial structure for the affirmation of remedies, if legislation takes an administrative route, that route must be effective and timely from the standpoint of the receiver of a service or benefit. The problem we see with the legislation is that while the Government says the covenant will be effective and commits to the provision of certain impressive sums of money, no provision is made in the Bill to guarantee the effectiveness of the structure or provision in these circumstances.
We argue for a philosophic shift in the legislation, which could be easily accomplished from a drafting perspective and is important to make. It would be tremendous if the philosophic change were made in this Bill as it has implications in other areas. Ireland must recognise its international obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and commit itself to a minimum floor of provision of resources and to the progressive realisation of the rights it is obliged to recognise under that covenant. If Ireland does that, it will make sense to talk about the future convention in this area on equal rights, dignity and the entitlement of persons with disabilities to have vindicated the entire panoply of human rights we would all wish to enjoy for ourselves.
Thank you very much indeed, Professor Binchy. I realise members have many questions. I invite Mr. Ennis and Mr. McMunn of TV3 to return from the Public Gallery to face the members. Questions may be directed to them and they may like to discuss matters they did not get to mention previously. Initially, questions will be directed to the witnesses from the Human Rights Commission.
The Human Rights Commission witnesses are saying what we have been saying ourselves about section 5 of the Bill and its consequences. I will be very brief as I know we are stuck for time. Human rights is the area of expertise of the witnesses, not mine. While I am not particularly dim, I have yet to find anyone who can explain to me in terms I can understand how we can define people according to ability or disability. How does the State get away with putting people in a category in which they are not entitled to the same rights as the rest of us? While it used to be the case in respect of women, we got over that a long time ago. How can the State place people in different rights categories?
Article 40.1o of the Constitution outlines the notion of equal treatment and of unequal treatment for unequals. It works on the principle that equality involves those who are equal and allows for, and in certain circumstances may call for, distinctions to be made where a person's context is different. I agree with Deputy Lynch. She has identified the heart of what "equality" means.
It is fair to say that in the past there was a perception that people with disability were different. There was an inability to see that everyone had equal entitlements and that a particular impediment or inhibition of a personal nature, exacerbated somewhat by social response, was irrelevant to one's entitlements as a rights holder. As perceptions in the past were otherwise, a degree of social change was required. People with disability were perceived as being without rights but with a possible entitlement to charity. A significant cultural change is involved which has been more clear in some respects that in others. The change goes right to the heart of the Bill.
I welcome the two members of the Human Rights Commission to the committee. We could probably spend a couple of days debating the various sections of the Bill with them if the Chairman gave us time. However, we do not have that time. I have a number of questions. It has been suggested that we should enact what has been termed "rights-based legislation". It has also been suggested that this could lead to a clash between the Judiciary and the Executive on the allocation of resources. I have heard the matter debated by Ministers and others. We have been told the Judiciary should not determine the allocation of resources as that is the function of the Executive and the Oireachtas. How can one have rights-based legislation if a judge might determine where the resources come from? I would like the matter to be clarified. It would be useful if the witnesses from the Human Rights Commission could throw some light on it.
What is the commission's understanding of the meaning of "rights based"? As representatives of the commission, can the witnesses say what the rights in this instance are? Professor Binchy mentioned the Constitution. Are the rights mentioned in that document? Is it possible that, as outlined in the Human Rights Commission's report, people may not be able to go to the courts to have rights vindicated? This Bill makes the same provision as the last one whereby people can only go to court on a point of law.
The definition of "disability" has been referred to time and time again. There are different definitions of "disability" in a number of different Acts. Many have said we should have one definition. As the witnesses are probably aware, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 amended the definition set out in the Education Act 1998. I would like to hear their views on the question of definitions. Has the commission considered the matter and do its representatives have anything to say to the committee on it?
As Professor Binchy has said himself, people do not expect a magic wand to be raised and to have everything tomorrow. To provide for a progressive realisation of rights suggests the process will happen over time. I do not see that articulated in the Bill, nor am I sure it could be. Professor Binchy mentioned a minimum floor of services, which is a novel idea. Is such a floor provided for in the Bill? I cannot find it.
Multi-annual funding has been promised over five years, though it is not referred to in the Bill. What will happen at the end of those five years? The Bill places no obligation on the Minister to provide resources. Section 5 appears to contain what one might term "left-overs" provisions. Am I right in saying that people with disabilities will receive what is left over when everything else has been done by the Minister and the health authorities? Is that a fair interpretation of section 5?
I ask the witnesses to bank the questions. Some of them can be responded with the single syllable "No".
I welcome Professor William Binchy, Dr. Maurice Manning and our guests from TV3. My question concerns Europe and I will link it to the presentation the representatives of TV3 made today. Can Professor Binchy and Dr. Manning tell us what is being done in Europe to address disability? TV3 spoke about the impact of an obligation to provide subtitling in the face of keen competition especially as companies operating from the United Kingdom are not bound by regulations in this area. Surely, as members of the Community we should work to ensure that services are provided not just in Ireland, but as standard across Europe. I am especially interested to hear from the gentlemen from the Human Rights Commission what is happening across Europe in this area.
I welcome the delegation from the Human Rights Commission and commend it on its work. Its submission is excellent. I thank the commission on behalf of those involved in the disability sector. On a broader note, if legislators and politicians nationally and internationally were to listen to some of the recommendations emanating from the Human Rights Commission, we would have a more peaceful world.
Page 24 of the submission states: "Clause 24 provides that where "practicable and appropriate" the heads of public bodies shall ensure that services are accessible to persons with disabilities...." Is the legislation weak in this respect in that it does not guarantee a right to services for persons with disabilities?
Page 25 of the submission states:
In relation to the reference to the Ombudsman as having an oversight role in respect of the sectoral plans which is to be welcomed, the IHRC believes it is questionable whether recourse to the Ombudsman for failure to implement a commitment contained in a Sectoral Plan would constitute an effective means of vindicating rights with reference to the powers and resources available to that institution.
This raises a question about the authority and depth of the role of the Ombudsman.
Many of the groups which came before the joint committee have stated the Bill does not include a right to an assessment. Is that correct?
I have a question for the delegation from TV3. How close are we to achieving the digital spectrum? What is the current state of play? The presentation emphasised the cost of the analogue system. Would digital, if it were in place, make a major difference as regards the provisions in the Bill?
I will take the questions in the order in which I remember them. A major question concerned rights and whether one should look to the courts or the Legislature for their vindication. If the courts tried to take over the role of the Legislature with regard to the tax code, for example by starting to prescribe tax rates, there is no doubt they would have gone too far and would be invading into the legislative role. There are barriers, therefore, beyond which the courts cannot go. This proposition does not, however, indicate for a moment that the courts cannot or are not obliged to move into the area of making orders and vindicating rights where there is an economic resource implication for doing so.
We would all recognise, as mentioned in the submission, Mrs. Airey's right to civil legal aid. This has significant resource implications. Almost any civil right one could name, for example the right to privacy, has resource implications. What we are talking about here is the rights of disabled persons and the international obligations under international human rights law. International human rights law is law to which the State has signed up. In these circumstances, it is obliged to vindicate the rights that are recognised.
The rights recognised under the covenant do not go down to euro and cent. While they do not have that degree of specificity, they require a tangible commitment by the State which is measurable in resources. If the State does not give and execute this commitment, it is in breach of its obligations under international law. The obligations, as I noted, are that there must be a minimum floor and a degree of progressivity. If the State is delivering on these obligations, it is acting compliantly with the covenant in question. We are concerned that this legislation does not include any provision, which requires the State so to act. It may be that the State will act in this way as a matter of choice but there is nothing in the legislation which requires it to do so. It does not amount to a courts take-over of the Legislature, although the courts have a function in that area, but effectively amounts to the vindication of rights. All rights have resource implications, some more obviously than others.
The question was asked as to whether the definition of disability is too narrow. It is correct that disability can arise in many statutory contexts. In the New York convention, which is being drafted, the question of the definition of disability is regarded as a formidable challenge. The commission's concern in regard to this definition of disability in the Bill is that it is narrow. There is no doubt that the terms in which it is framed are qualified. This has caused a concern among various groups, which have come before the joint committee that they might conceivably be outside the scope of the Bill. While I am sure the purpose was to ensure the Bill focused on people who are unambiguously disabled, the definition is too narrow in these circumstances and does not fit in comfortably with the statutory code in areas where human rights are particularly important, such as equality legislation.
The question was asked as to whether the concept of "appropriate" used in section 5 means that provision will be made after everything else has been considered. We discussed what the definition could mean and it is conceivable that it could mean as described. My understanding of section 5 is that a decision of appropriateness is made against the background of the commitments the Minister has in the totality of his or her portfolio. There is an obligation on the part of the Minister to give not less than what he or she considers to be appropriate. The Minister is, therefore, entitled under section 5 to give more than what he or she considers to be appropriate. This is, however, against the background of other competing considerations, which rest on him or her in the discharge of his or her portfolio. Our primary concern about section 5 is that the Minister is slicing a cake but there is no insurance in the legislation that the cake will be sufficiently large to ensure the slice for disability will be appropriately large to vindicate the rights of people with disability.
The Deputy raised one or two other issues. Our point regarding the Ombudsman was not in any sense intended to denigrate the Ombudsman. However, as members are aware, ombudsman functions in every country tend to reflect the stature of the ombudsman and the shame factor of non-compliance with the ombudsman. The ombudsman does not usually have civilly enforceable remedies. Our concern is that whenever reference is made to the Ombudsman in this context, the concept of effectiveness, which should underlie the legislation but does not, will be absent. There is nothing in the legislation which places an obligation to vindicate effectively the rights of people with disabilities. Forgive me if I have missed one or two points.
I thank Professor Binchy for his comprehensive reply. I ask Mr. McMunn and Mr. Ennis to respond to members' questions. If they wish to make any points, they should please do so.
I will address the digital spectrum issue. How close are we to a viable digital platform? The short response is that I wish I knew the answer. The matter is under discussion with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. We have made a number of submissions to the Department in this respect. As members know, the tender process held 18 months ago failed. I cannot say we are any closer to getting a digital terrestrial system in place than we were 18 months ago. This is a shame for a number of reasons, partly because it is through a digital terrestrial platform that we will also address some of the other areas of disadvantage among our viewers, namely, those viewers in certain areas who cannot receive TV3. This is a major issue in parts of counties Cork, Kerry, Donegal, Mayo and the area where I live in County Wicklow.
With regard to the question of whether we employ any other disabled people, a senior member of our management team is also registered disabled. I will not say who the person is in deference to his privacy. We have employed other disabled people in the past and will continue to do so. We take a proactive approach to disability, which is no more than we should do. We also have a firm equal opportunities approach to hiring in general. We would be delighted to work towards recruiting more disabled people. We are not looking for a pat on the back for that — it is what we should be doing.
I apologise for jumping from question to question. In terms of subtitling, unfortunately cost is an issue for us. Professor Binchy made a comment about the resources applied to providing equality for those who need the help of the State, or need help in accessing certain services. The State provides aid in one form or another to every other television broadcaster to provide access services. It does not provide any State aid to TV3. We are being asked to do this from our own resources. Despite the fact that we have yet to make a profit or pay any of our shareholders a dividend, we are being asked to adopt the same or similar codes to other broadcasters. We have to be mindful of costs. If we are not, we will either have to reduce our programme schedule or go out of business, which will actually reduce the choice for the greater population.
To put it in perspective, as Mr. McMunn already said in his presentation, the cost of providing subtitles at the level proposed equates to the cost of six months prime time movies which we estimate to be in the region of €1 million per year. What he did not identify is the lost revenue from not having six months of prime time movies, which would probably be twice that. This is a not insignificant cost for a small broadcaster like TV3. We cannot go out of business, or we would rather not.
Listening to the Human Rights Commission, the Government has made it clear in sections 4 and 5 that whatever is appropriate should be done. No precise figures are given and there appears to be a great deal of discretion about what is allocated to disability, where as there is no discretion at all in the section of the Bill dealing with broadcasters. It is stated that we will do X, Y and Z. We respectfully suggest that the Government probably has more resources than the average television station.
And more responsibility.
Yes, and more responsibility.
We have produced a very detailed document and if anyone wants any elaboration, explanation or discussion my phone number is 858 9601. We can also be contacted by e-mail. We would be more than happy to provide further information or explanation.
If there are any suggested amendments it would be appreciated if they were put forward in language that is user-friendly for parliamentarians.
Are we anywhere near reaching a situation in Europe where the provision of services such as subtitling would become the norm rather than the exception?
I do not know the answer. Perhaps Professor Binchy can help.
I do not know. If one speaks in broad brush strokes, the European Union is moving strongly in the direction of vindication of equality in terms of directives coming out of Europe and with greater degrees of specificity. That is certainly the path forward. We did not actually speak about the European Convention, which is interesting in terms of specific rights which are normally seen as civil rights like the right of privacy, for example, and the right against inhuman treatment. Such rights are being given a fullness which was not previously perceived. Those rights then translate in practice into enforceable indicateable rights. I could not speak with confidence about the Deputy's specific point about the television sector.
It has been argued that this Bill comes from a medical model. If one looks at the Long Title, it refers to the assessment of health and education needs occasioned to persons with disabilities by their disabilities. In other words, it is the person's fault he or she has a disability so the situation he or she is in is his or her fault. There is also a social model whereby the view is that society erects barriers to people who have impairments. The human rights model goes beyond that again. Where would one place the Bill in terms of these three models? Is it based on a medical, social or human rights model?
It is half way to the right one, in the sense of one that recognises that a disability is a product of an impediment and social prejudice. By social prejudice I mean against the realisation of the very simple fact that we are all equal. We all have equal entitlements to the vindication of each of our human rights. It is terribly simple in one respect; in terms of the vision that is necessary to get the Bill right, it goes some distance. I do not think one could say it is simply a medical model. It goes beyond that.
It is veering towards a socialist model.
I hear the Chairman.
I thank witnesses from the Irish Human Rights Commission and TV3 for their contributions on the Disability Bill. I thank Dr. Manning, Professor Binchy, Mr. McMunn and Mr. Ennis. The meeting has been most informative and useful, which we appreciate very much. I am sure we will see Dr. Manning and Professor Binchy on a regular basis, as we have in the past. We are delighted to see them and they are always very welcome.
Next week the Equality Authority and the Irish Insurance Federation will appear before the committee.
The joint committee went into private session at 6.27 p.m. and adjourned at 6.38 p.m. sine die.