I again welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, to the House. Yesterday I dealt with the issue of rights-based legislation. This morning I would like to deal with other issues, the first of which relates to consultation.
The Government is frequently accused of not listening, a subject on which I would like to expand. During the preparation for the legislation, the Government facilitated extensive consultation with the Disability Legislation Consultation Group, chaired by the National Disability Authority. It comprises eight members representing more than 500 disability interest groups nationwide. As the Minister of State explained in his opening remarks yesterday, the DLCG met him. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights heard the views of more than 30 interest groups on the Bill last November. It received more than 40 submissions from the public. By any standards considerable consultation has taken place and as a result the Bill was fully reviewed in light of concerns expressed by DLCG and during its passage through the Dáil. Substantial amendments have been made and the Minister of State indicated that he might be in a position to accept more amendments in this House.
While the Government proposed the option of an ombudsman, the appeals system was the preferred option. The complaints system has been simplified with greater emphasis placed on the review of the service statements. The implementation and progress on the legislation will be reviewed in five years. While it was suggested that this should be three years, to allow the legislation be fully implemented and fully assessed, many people in the disability sector regard five years as preferable. While one can always argue about how long it should be, in any event a timescale has been defined.
Consultation is about listening. It falls to us to legislate. There is an opinion in some circles that the people who are consulted should be the legislators. In other words everything they recommend should be adopted. In some cases that is possible and in other cases it cannot be done. It is the job of the Government to legislate as appropriate.
The experience definitely underlines that the Bill is necessary and needs to be disposed of by the Houses of the Oireachtas. Having listened to those with an interest in the outcome in various fora, the Government engaged in consultation and is satisfied that it has accommodated as far as possible the proposals made by the public, representative groups and Members of both Houses. A point must come at which the consultation ends, the Bill proceeds and the legislative process is disposed of. Consultation and amendment have continued during the process as the Minister of State has indicated. I believe the Taoiseach met the groups as recently as 25 May. I welcome that we have reached this juncture following an extensive consultation exercise.
I would like to address the matter of funding. Again it is necessary to put certain facts on the record. An additional €205 million in current funding will enhance services for people with disabilities in 2005. As the Minister of State explained yesterday, €2.9 billion, representing 7.5% of gross current public expenditure, has been allocated this year. This is considerably more than the €800 million of public expenditure in 1995. We have seen a 3.5 fold increase in eight years, which by any standards is quite phenomenal. I fully accept that more remains to be done and that the situation is not perfect. However, a dramatic and welcome improvement has been made in the amount of money allocated to the sector.
Figures have been given for the number of additional places for people with intellectual disability, and additional respite places, day care places, etc. Some €2 million has been allocated to meet costs associated with moving people to more appropriate placements. On physical and sensory disabilities, an additional sum of €15 million has been allocated. There are 60 new places for people with significant disabilities, more than 2,000 extra hours of home support and personal assistance, an additional funding of €3 million for aids and appliances, approximately 90 extra rehabilitative training places and additional funding to voluntary organisations. The record of funding exists. This is an important point that must be made quite strongly.
We frequently equate resources with funding, but they are not the same. Sometimes we think of matters in simple monetary terms. The danger is that we neglect the question of the people involved. If we do not have properly-trained and experienced people — there is some evidence that we do not have the required numbers — it does not matter whether there is additional money, since the service will not be effective and funding alone will not suffice.
We must be mindful not to get so far bound up in the issue of financial resources that we neglect human resources. The two are interlinked, but there must be an increasing emphasis on the quality of personnel in the service, their capacity to deliver and their professionalism in the specialist areas with which they deal. Extra funding will expand community-based adult mental health teams and provide additional community residential places, but it is not the whole story.
I would like briefly to address some of the other criticisms that surfaced when the Bill was being discussed. One of them did so most recently this morning through some of the e-mail correspondence we received, to the effect that the Bill may be unconstitutional. In the first place, the Attorney General would not recommend legislation knowing it to be unconstitutional. However, it is not for us to determine the constitutionality or otherwise of the Bill. We can express a view on whether it is constitutional, which in my view it is. However, it is the job of the courts not the Oireachtas to determine constitutionality. This can be done by the President referring the Bill to the Supreme Court or by any group or citizen that considers it unconstitutional taking a court action.