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Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions debate -
Wednesday, 5 Nov 2014

Decisions on Public Petitions Received

The committee will now sit in public session in its capacity as the Joint Sub-committee on Public Petitions to record the decisions of the committee. We have deliberated on a number of petitions before us today. We will take the first two petitions together - petition No. P00014/13 from Ursula Witmer on the medical criteria for the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994, SI No. 353/1994; and petition No. P00020/14 from Mr. Thomas Mackey questioning the harshness of the eligibility applied to applicants as a result of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994.

We are always grateful to members of the public who take the time to bring their petitions to us. These petitions were brought to us by people with disabilities who have difficulty getting grants under the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations. Given the difficulty that arises here and given that the original legislation and any subsequent amendments date from a long time ago - 20 or 25 years - we would like to see the legislation being reviewed. On that basis it might be wise for us to ask the Minister to appear before the committee to discuss how that might happen and in the interim for us to gather some more information on the sorts of difficulties facing drivers regarding whether they might be missing an upper limb or a lower limb, or have a problem with a foot or whatever.

If they are looking for modifications for their vehicles, we feel the current system is inequitable. I propose that we invite the Minister to come before the committee to discuss the matter. In the interim we might invite written submissions from the relevant organisations that deal with disability and driving to see what recommendations and information they might supply in order to have an informed conversation with the Minister and see if we can reach some conclusion. As it stands, these petitions are very strong.

I agree that the present system is not fit for purpose. One clear example is that a person who is registered as blind cannot qualify as a disabled passenger. That shows the total nonsense of the medical criteria at present. I reiterate the example of a person without an upper limb being told they did not fulfil the necessary criterion. Why should a person without an upper limb not qualify as a disabled person to be, perhaps, a disabled driver? They should be perfectly entitled to it. It is crazy for a blind person to be told that he or she does not qualify as a disabled passenger. Of course the entire scheme should be reviewed.

I welcome the Senator's proposal that the scheme should be overhauled. It is outdated and has not been looked at for a long time. One very important purpose for this committee to fulfil is creating circumstances whereby it would be looked at again. It is not opening the floodgates; the scheme is either fit for purpose or it is not.

We have agreed to the Senator's proposal to invite submissions from the relevant disability sectors and stakeholders and to invite the Minister to deal with our position that the situation needs to be changed.

The next petition is No. P00032/13 from Mr. Richard Daly who calls on the Government to consider introducing a supplementary primary education tax, payable by non-EU nationals employed on working visas in Ireland, as a result of the current financial burden this country is experiencing. The committee has deliberated on the petition and agreed the following two options. First, we will refer the petition to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection with a number of recommendations. Second, we will write to the Minister for Finance requesting that where revenue generation proposals are made by the public, they should be fully evaluated and he should report to the Dáil annually on such proposals and evaluations. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The final petition is No. P00004/14 from Ms Miriam Owens entitled Voiceless Survivors. The petitioner has attempted to raise an issue with Caranua, an independent Irish State body for survivors of industrial abuse. She has withdrawn her petition and the committee has agreed to accept her decision. Two other petitions were listed to be debated today and we will deliberate on them when we return.