I welcome the Minister of State and compliment him on the considerable volume of work and time he has put into preparing this legislation. He took over from the former Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Dea, who was also involved in legislating in this area. The original Bill was introduced by former Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Mary Wallace. We appreciate her introducing it to deal with this vital issue.
By any comparison, the Bill is very comprehensive. There are in excess of seven Parts and 58 sections. It deals with very specific issues. If I had a criticism of the Bill — I do not disagree totally with Senator Ulick Burke in some respects — it would be that it is cumbersome and involves many people doing work that should be done in another way. Nearly every Senator, including the Acting Chairman, could put forward views on how this issue might be dealt with. I believed it might be possible to establish a semi-State organisation or body, such as those involved in food safety and other health and safety issues, which would be given the power and budget to deal with the issues the Bill addresses. At present, there are various Ministers and Departments involved.
The Bill underlines the importance of the financial commitment the Government is making in this area. I have had some discussions with organisations that deal with people with disabilities. I appreciate the invaluable work such organisations are doing and I appreciate their care of and dedication and attention to people with disabilities. I refer especially to carers looking after people with disabilities, many of whom have considerable problems, some of which legislation will never address.
This Bill presents an opportunity to put on record our appreciation for the various organisations and individuals working with people with disabilities. I refer in particular to their families, who are going through traumatic times and, in some respects, face a very bleak and threatening future. I say this because many people with disabilities have a longer lifespan that they used to, thus putting considerable pressure on their carers, particularly elderly people, who worry about what will happen to their children when they are no longer able to take care of them.
This issue is above and beyond party-political issues and contentious issues that might arise in consultations between the Department and disability organisations. I hope this legislation will put an end to the disagreement that has been evident in the consultation process for many years.
Many of us who have been Members for quite a while have always been very wary of getting involved in court cases because we all know the courts are very expensive places in which to settle grievances. For many years, politicians have advised people, in so far as possible, to try to reach agreement without necessitating litigation. Litigation is very expensive and time-consuming and is not sometimes not very productive.
The amount of work done by the Government in preparing this Bill demonstrates a very serious commitment, both legislative and financial, to coming to grips with one of the major issues requiring attention. I am a little surprised by the attacks that have been made on the legislation. I read some of the speeches made last night. The Minister of State gave a very detailed, comprehensive assessment of the legislation and therefore it is not necessary for us to outline every detail of every section. In some of the speeches of the Opposition Members, I could not find any meaningful proposal to amend the Bill that should be promoted by the Minister and supported by this side of the House. The speeches were mainly a continuation of the criticisms to the effect that the Bill should be rights based. I will not elaborate on this as it has been dealt with adequately by other speakers, particularly Senator Maurice Hayes, who put his case very clearly. Given his experience in other jurisdictions, I could not put the case more clearly than he did.
It is important to note that in this legislation, we are not only dealing with issues associated with access to buildings and opportunities for employment in the public service but also with basic issues such as the provision of services and the need to ensure people are satisfied with their assessment of need.
I partly agree with Senator Ulick Burke that bureaucracy may result from so many people having an influence in the decision-making process. In our efforts to get this legislation right, we should endeavour to use existing resources to the benefit of people with disabilities and their families. We should avoid unnecessary bureaucracy in so far as we can.
I am aware that provisions for appeals officers and other personnel in this area are included in the legislation at the direct request of some of the disability organisations. It was not merely the decision of the Government to make such provisions. The decision was made after consultation with the disability organisations, which felt it important that there be an appeals mechanism in place for those who are not satisfied with the outcome of their assessment. Those representing people with disabilities have been pressing for a provision of that kind in the legislation.
It is difficult to divorce some of the other legislation we discussed in this House from the Bill. The special educational needs Bill was considered a few months ago and many of the issues raised in that have a bearing on this legislation. This is why I believe it might be better to have a single semi-State body to take care of all the areas involved because it so wide and complex and covers so many Departments.
There will always be occasion for maintaining that it is necessary that legislation of this kind contain various provisions, to the extent that it would never be enacted. In the circumstance it has been a major achievement of the Minister of State in getting the legislation to this Stage. I compliment him and the Government on this and also on the spending initiatives of almost €3 billion that have been put in place, with ongoing commitments to ensure there is multi-annual investment. The Minister of State mentioned a figure of around €900 million per annum. These are substantial sums.
In making such provision it is important to ensure, as far as possible, that the financing and funding is directed to the areas that most need them and that duplication and bureaucracy are avoided. In some respects I foresee the possibility of some duplication over what is being proposed, both in terms of the education Act of 2003 and this Bill. Before the legislation is finally passed, it would be useful if the Minister of State considered whether it would be possible to correlate more fully the activities of both Departments responsible in order to enhance co-operation and consultation between them and also with the representative organisations for people with disabilities. This would facilitate the best possible results from the legislation.
Government guarantees are very important. I do not wish to be confrontational but I recall that solemen commitments were given in the past by a Labour Party-Fine Gael coalition Government to provide £25 million for people with disabilities. That never materialised and ultimately, some £4 million was spent.
Given the enthusiasm we saw from the Labour Party at the weekend, I would remind its members of the time Labour Party Ministers stood on the steps of Government Buildings and walked out of the Government they shared with Fine Gael because they could not agree on policies or on issues. Not much has changed since that time. If the mad rush of enthusiasm for a new partnership with Fine Gael displayed by some members of the Labour Party, though not all, is an indicator for the future, they should be reminded of past events and the attitude of the late Frank Cluskey when he walked out of Government. At the time Labour Party Ministers said they could no longer work with Fine Gael. Current party members should not forget that.
We should also not allow the Labour Party to forget that it made promises in this area which it did not honour or respect. Party members should therefore be slow to come into the Houses of the Oireachtas to criticise what the Government is now doing. They do not have a proud record in this area.
The Minister of State referred to the necessity for training and employment. Will he indicate the number of people with disabilities who are currently unemployed? Will he also indicate the number of public authorities and State bodies that have not fully committed to the objectives, as set out for them in the legislation, to provide employment for people with disabilities? Greater attention must be paid to the whole training and employment area. The legislation should be used, in particular, to expend substantial funding, especially in the technology training of people with disabilities, where there are far greater opportunities for employment than in the past.
I am also anxious to see some funding put into research. I do not mean research on the type of access to public buildings and so forth but rather inquiries into some of the causes of disabilities, which seem to be occurring at an ever increasing and alarming rate. I was recently taken aback in a discussion with people in west Clare to hear of the escalating numbers of people with disabilities in particular parts of the country, especially in that region. In this regard, I am particularly conscious of the work that is being done by carers' associations and other organisations in west Clare who are still seeking some basic facilities.
Mention is made in the legislation of early intervention. This is very important, but it is also crucial that when needs are identified and quantified, remedies are available. Very often they are not. That is why in some of the other Bills that came before the House reference was made to a necessity to increase the intake into the colleges of the skilled personnel required to deal with some of the people who do not have a service at present. While it is fine to have such provisions in the Bill, unless the necessary skilled personnel are available, especially to provide the expert advice that families need, particularly in the early days of disability detection, then much of the legislation being put in place will be in vain. It is important over the coming years not only to devote resources to these areas but also to provide funding to encourage people to become involved in the relevant professional areas to be highlighted in the assessments of people with disabilities.
I again refer to the organisations involved in this area such as the health boards and local authorities. It is crucial when the legislation is finalised that the Minister of State accelerates the important work that needs to be done, especially as regards access to buildings. There is no reason — engineering, structural or otherwise — why access to public buildings cannot be improved. We as public representatives get more complaints about this than anything else. I deplore the attitude of certain individuals who, at the last election, attended meetings of children and adults with disabilities and made false promises on the basis of using particular circumstances to gain electoral support. This is deplorable conduct and we saw a good deal of that in my constituency during the last election campaign.
This is a good Bill. It has been worked on diligently and thoughtfully by the Minister of State. I compliment Deputy Fahey on getting the legislation to this Stage. I hope it will be successful and, above all, that it will have an impact on the lives of people disabilities and their families, for many years.