Disability Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, and his officials to the House.

This is important legislation. When passed, it will significantly advance the position of people with disabilities and will be instrumental in sustaining progress in the longer term. The Bill is only one element of the national disability strategy launched by the Taoiseach in September 2004. The strategy has three other elements, the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004, a multi-annual investment programme for high priority disability support services and six outline sectoral plans. A total of €2.9 billion has been allocated, which compares with expenditure of less than €800,000 in 1997. That marks a 350% increase in eight years. The Government has guaranteed a multi-annual investment programme totalling over €900 million comprising capital and current funding for high-priority disability support services over the period 2006-09.

Yesterday afternoon I examined the policy of the Department of Transport on people with disabilities. The Department published an outline sectoral plan for people with disabilities as part of the national disability strategy launched by the Taoiseach in September 2004, according to which it is committed to the comprehensive development of accessible public transport for people with mobility and sensory impairment. The sectoral plan states:

The Department uses the termaccessible transport for the mobility and sensory impaired to refer to people with physical, sensory, learning and cognitive difficulties . . . and others whose access to traditional public transport services and infrastructures is constrained on account of age, because of accompanying children, because they are carrying luggage or shopping etc. This definition has been developed in consultation with members of the Public Transport Accessibility Committee. . . . The Public Transport Accessibility Committee was established under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness in 2000. The Committee is comprised of representatives of the following organisations:

—Comhairle

—Forum for People with Disabilities

—Irish Congress of Trade Unions

—Irish Wheelchair Association

—National Council for the Blind of Ireland

—National Council on Ageing and Older People

—National Disability Authority

—National Association for Deaf People

—People with Disabilities in Ireland

—Vantastic

along with representatives of Bus Éireann, Bus Átha Cliath, Iarnród Éireann, the Railway Procurement Agency and Connex Transport Ireland Ltd. The Committee's remit is to advise the Minister for Transport on the accessibility aspects of public transport investment projects and on other public transport accessibility issues. PTAC is chaired by an official of the Department of Transport . . .

By accessible public transport is meant the following:

—Full access for wheelchair users (and for prams and buggies) including, and where appropriate, accessible toilets and lifts.

Those services should not be provided "where appropriate", they should be mandatory. Other aspects of accessibility the Department will provide are as stated in the sectoral plan:

—Features to aid people with difficulties in walking, gripping, reaching or balancing, including non-slip surfaces, handrails and handholds.

—Facilities to aid people with visual, aural and other impairments. These include consistent use of colour contrasts, clear signing and lighting, non-reflective surfaces, audio and visual announcements, tactile and audible guidance surfaces, warning systems and inductive loops.

As part of its consultative process and in preparing its sectoral plan the Department consulted the following organisations: Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann, Córas Iompair Éireann, Iarnród Éireann, the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland, the Federation of Transport Operators, the Private Association of Motor Bus Operators, the Railway Procurement Agency; and the Public Transport Accessibility Committee. This process indicates a positive approach by the Department of Transport, the Minister and the Government to providing for people with disabilities. Transport is important for everybody but especially for people with disabilities. If they cannot get to work or to the shops how can they work or shop for themselves and lead normal lives, like able-bodied people?

With regard to the agencies falling under the remit of the Department of Transport, 45% of buses and 50 routes in Dublin are fully accessible to disabled people. That is a good start but it is not good enough. In Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford the sectoral plan states:

In general all services are fully accessible except for a small number of non-low floor buses used in the peak hour in Cork. All new buses acquired by Bus Éireann will be fully accessible.

That is to be welcomed, however, it is not good enough that "Wheelchair accessible coaches for scheduled Inter-City services are not yet available". That a disabled person from Cavan, Sligo, Laois or any other county is not in a position to travel to Cavan to Dublin, from Dublin to Cork or from Limerick to Dublin or even from Tipperary to Dublin and back is not good enough. While there is a target date of end 2009, early 2010 by which most buses will be adapted it is not soon enough. That delay is unacceptable.

All bus stations "are scheduled to be made fully accessible by 2006". All suburban rail services are fully accessible which is very welcome. With regard to intercity rail services "an accessible service at a basic level will be available on all trains by 2006". Luas is a very successful transport system in Dublin and is fully accessible. That too is welcome.

Special taxi licences were issued to facilitate the transport of people with disabilities. There are quite a few such taxis in Dublin. They are not, however, always available to people with disabilities. The taxi regulator should examine this issue. It is more profitable for a taxi to take a group of six or seven to different destinations than to take a single disabled person. That is not why the special licences were issued. The taxis are not available at peak times for people with disabilities. The new taxi regulator should look into that problem urgently.

There are people who park in spaces designated for people with disabilities. They have no consideration for a disabled person who may be in town and have nowhere to park. An able-bodied person who parks in a space set aside for people with disabilities should not only be heavily fined but should also receive penalty points.

People with disabilities suffer discrimination in the area of tourism. We are losing out significantly on tourism revenue from people with disabilities because the transport fleet, many hotels, particularly the old ones, apart from the ground floor, and most bed and breakfasts are inaccessible. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and the Department should study that area urgently.

Significant advances have been made in providing for people with disabilities but to use an old phrase, "there is a lot more to be done". This Bill is a good start. I pay tribute to the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Fahey, for bringing the Bill through the other House and into this House. I also pay tribute to the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, and to the former Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary Wallace, who made a major contribution to the Bill. I congratulate the Minister and the Department and wish them well in their work for this worthy cause.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Power, to the House and thank him for being present for the entire debate. I commend the Leader on scheduling such a substantial amount of time for this debate and giving us all an opportunity to elaborate on our views on the Bill. To elaborate on the context for the Disability Bill I shall have to go back in time and reflect on the history of the whole debate around the rights of people with disabilities.

I worked for the coalition Government which was in power during the first half of the 1990s when Mr. Mervyn Taylor was the first and only Minister for Equality and Law Reform. It was necessary to have a Minister solely with responsibility for equality and law reform to drive that agenda which would have been, and still is, a core part of Labour Party principles in this area. I specifically remember at the time that bringing the issue of the rights of people with disabilities on to the agenda was a new departure. While some had talked about it, they were not being heard. It was very much a minority issue. I avail of this opportunity to acknowledge the work of former Minister, Mr. Mervyn Taylor, and his passionate commitment for this subject, and those who worked with him, in putting the issue of the rights of people with disabilities at the top of the political agenda because that transformed the whole debate. That is what we were committed to and remain committed to and the Bill is deficient because it does not put the rights of people with disabilities at the core of the legislation. It is substantial legislation and does a great deal but it is missing a key ingredient. Those involved in the debate, and particularly those representing people with disabilities, have stated over and again that unless a statutory right is created for people with disabilities a fundamental building block has been left out without which it cannot be successful. This legislation is like a house without a foundation. It is like a car hidden down the road without a key part of its engine. It can struggle on and will be effective in some ways but it will never fulfil its potential and it will not meet the needs of those it is intended to meet, namely, people with disabilities.

The other part of the debate about the rights of people with disabilities is fundamental to who we are as a nation and as a society and specifically who we are in our relationship with people with disabilities. By denying people with disabilities what they seek and passionately demand — a right, statutorily expressed — we are making a particular statement. This is a core us for us politically as to what our real attitude is towards people with disabilities. What is the cause of the resistance to awarding that right and to giving people equality? What is that resistance all about?

I have listened to many of the contributions in the debate here and I read the Dáil and the Committee Stage debates. It appears to me that what we are coming down to is a fundamental issue for us politically. It is no surprise there has been so much debate on it, not just in the Oireachtas, but in society generally. That debate has continued for well over ten years. Some progress has been made. When the then Minister, Mervyn Taylor, started this debate more than ten years ago the issue of people with disabilities having rights was a minority issue; now it is at the core of political debate but our response defines us politically. I am disappointed at how deaf the Government is to the passionate pleas of people with disabilities and the organisations that represent them in regard to the legislation.

I, and I am sure many others, have received considerable correspondence on this issue, not only from people in my constituency but from the representative organisations. Recently I received a letter from the Disability Federation of Ireland concerning the Seanad debate. The point was made by its chief executive, John Dolan, that the Bill is coming to us at a critical time when we are all coming closer to understanding our different concerns and perspectives. We must acknowledge that everybody has moved on to a point where we have a greater understanding of the concerns and perspectives of people with disabilities. The question is whether we are reflecting them. I agree with the Disability Federation of Ireland that we in the body politic are not fully meeting their concerns and appreciating their perspectives.

The Disability Federation of Ireland supports more than 150 voluntary disability organisations that advocate on behalf of and provide services to people with disabilities. We all know people who work for the Disability Federation of Ireland and work directly with people with disabilities. That organisation has identified a number of flaws in the legislation although it has revised its list down from ten to five fundamental issues . I acknowledge that the Government has made some progress. The Disability Federation of Ireland wants "a clear and unequivocal right to an assessment of need which must not be resource dependent". That issue goes to the heart of the legislation. It is no surprise the Disability Federation of Ireland representing so many people with disabilities would demand that. Unless the right is contained in the legislation, assessment will depend on when the resources are available. That has been the experience of people with disabilities down through the years. It will be done when the money is available. There is a commitment to resources and things are good at present but for too many years when it came to the provision of resources the people with disabilities were at the end of the line. The DFI also wants the services identified in the assessment of need for an individual to be provided within a reasonable and agreed timeframe. We make this point regularly. We can aspire to something and say something must be done and even frame it in legislation. However, unless we say it has to be done by a certain time it disappears or is out there in the stratosphere. It is a vague aspiration rather than a definite objective and target to be achieved.

The Bill must provide for clear protection of disability-specific resources. The provisions regarding sectoral plans must take account of the wider needs of people with disabilities. Each Department with relevant services must provide a sectoral plan. It goes on to state: "The Bill must provide a clear statutory duty on all Government Departments and public bodies to include people with disabilities in their plans and services with appropriate monitoring and accountability". These are all key points. The reason for the demand is because the past experience of people with disabilities has been that unless it is incorporated into legislation in clear and certain terms, it cannot be assured that it will happen. In view of their experience there is a not surprising scepticism as to whether a Government will deliver what it promises.

This correspondence states the Government has indicated its willingness to consider the fifth issue in the DLCG's list, the provision of a statutory duty on all Departments to include people with disabilities in their plans and services with appropriate monitoring and accountability. This is to be welcomed.

I refer to the experience of one individual which happened two years ago. I received a telephone call from a woman who is wheelchair-bound. At that point she was working in the Civil Service and was experiencing severe difficulty as a disabled person. She was employed within the terms of the quota set out in the commitment by the public service to employ a certain number of people with disabilities.

This is someone who is well able to do her job but she was experiencing particular difficulties to do with promotion and with being regarded as an equal employee to those who were not disabled. I was able to give her some assistance.

The personal experience of people with disabilities in their efforts to be treated equally is very difficult. They have to fight for this recognition themselves. In the past decade, the representative groups have become far more vocal and demanding. They are no longer behind the door in looking for what they need and that is fair dues to them because this is how it needs to be. The experience of people with disabilities in securing and keeping employment and ensuring equal treatment when in employment is a very real and live issue for people. When discussing this legislation we should never forget the difficulties experienced by individuals in the area of employment, those who are able to work. The majority of cases with which public representatives are familiar concern people struggling with the former health boards to obtain the resources they need for their homes, seeking resources and education for children. This has been a history of struggle and effort. They must continually lobby and make demands and it has never been easy.

The Government has fallen far short even though I acknowledge this is a considerable piece of legislation. However, without the fundamental elements listed by the DLCG such as the clear and unequivocal right to an assessment of need which must not be resource dependent, it is like a car missing a vital piece of its engine which will rattle along but will not achieve what is required of it and to which I thought the Government was committed.

The previous speaker referred to Deputy Mary Wallace who was the previous Minister charged with the legislation. When the predecessor to this legislation was published there was such a furore that she lost her job. However, this legislation still fails to meet the needs of people with disabilities. I would like to know the reason the Government has so wobbled on this core and essential point. This issue will not go away.

Listening to the speakers from the Government side of the House, it seems there is a hope and probably a belief that if the Government provides the resource for people and gives them what they need, short of a right to it and if it works in practice which I hope it does, then people will see that the rights do not need to be incorporated in the Bill. I do not know if this will be the result. I predict that the right to an assessment of need which must not be resource dependent is so fundamental that the argument for it will not end. This Government will still be hearing the call for that right in the future.

One would hope the administration of our health service and of the resources which the Government has promised to put into this sector will be delivered effectively. I would like to hope that it can be delivered effectively but our experience is that it is not being delivered effectively and that there are many flaws in the system. The delivery of the service has holes in it, is not consistent and for many people it is not effective. Against that background, when the resources are not being delivered effectively, the demand for a right to an assessment of need will be heard again. This demand will not go away because it is a fundamental lack in this legislation which is to be regretted. As a result, the Labour Party will not support the Bill on Second Stage.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, who should now be called the Minister for the Seanad as he comes here so often. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, who attended on Tuesday and Wednesday and will return on Committee Stage.

I have an interest in this topic but I will not go into specific details about wider family issues. For many years I have had a great interest in the area of disability and I acknowledge the need for proper legislation to underpin it. This is the most consultative piece of legislation of which I have heard. I am surprised the consultation groups did not meet themselves coming back because there seems to have been intense consultation. This is to be welcomed but legislation must be produced because consultation cannot go on forever. It is good to consult but it is good to bring an end to it and produce legislation, which is what the Government is doing.

I am very taken by the Disability Legislation Consultation Group, DLCG. All the groupings involved in the disability sector were gathered together and were widely consulted. For many years people with disabilities have been left in the shadows. They must be given the opportunity to come into the uplands, into the plains, through legislation. Otherwise, the services would not be provided and neither would the independent right to an assessment. The legislation provides for a right to an assessment. It provides that each person will have a right to an assessment and to a service statement. This was proposed by the DLCG. Senator O'Meara and others have also sought it and it is provided in the Bill.

However, the Senator and others also want the provision of a service statement to be a right. That is not to decry the sentiment. We would all wish for education, health services, etc., to be available as of right. However, if that is to be the way, how would everybody get what was needed in different spheres of life? I hope the implementation of this Bill and the financial input into it will mean that within a reasonable timeframe the service statement of the needs of a person with a disability can be worked through and those services will be delivered. It is appropriate for that to be so.

Following the intensive consultation, a sundering of the ways seemed to take place and while some groups left the consultative process, many stayed in, including a wide variety of groups which have also written to me stating, as mentioned by Senator O'Meara, they were pleased with the useful amendments tabled by the Minister of State on Committee Stage. They certainly helped to address many of the issues that needed to be addressed. As a result, the DLCG met the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, and then met the Taoiseach. That group raised many other issues. For many years people who worked so hard for those with disabilities did so with a feeling that anything they got was through patronage. Those supplying resources often said: "Weren't we very good to give you that?" They should have those resources because they are human beings and are entitled to a level of service and housing and to have their daily needs met.

I know a woman in a wheelchair who worked in a Department having been employed under the 3% quota system. Many Departments do not run the system effectively and some do not run it at all. I always admired Secretaries General and officials who felt bound by the system and employed such people. While having such a public service job is fine, how does that person get to work? While Departments that operate the 3% quota are usually good at sorting out office accommodation that will suit, it is difficult for people to get there. Deputy Mary Wallace was a very good Minister of State who had responsibility for this area. Earlier Senator Wilson said we had come forward very willingly with our ideas on transport accessibility. For those in wheelchairs to get on to a train the platform needs to be properly arranged. Once they arrive at a station like Heuston Station, they can get a wheelchair accessible taxi or bus to get to their place of work where hopefully they have proper office accommodation to allow them to go about their business. However, there are many steps and physical obstacles along the way which hinder such people getting to their place of work.

The sectoral plans are very important. I would like the Bill to confer on officials, Ministers and all of us a change of mindset as to how we view disability, which will be very difficult and will require continual training courses. From my dealings with officials in the last Department at which I was Minister, I found it very difficult to knock their heads together on the issue and let them know that we were required to do this. It is not a question of doing so as a grateful favour. It should be done because of human rights and is not something that should stand to fall or rise according to the whim of officials or Ministers. To change mindsets in the six sectoral Departments involved, the lead must come from the Minister in charge who on a regular basis will need to convene the officials dealing with the needs of the disabled and ask them what has been done since they last met and drive the matter forward in that fashion. It is nonsense to say that it will be done by 2018 or whatever. What about all the people whose lives will be blighted in the meantime because they are not getting the entitlements which they know they are now due?

On Monday night in Mullingar I attended a wonderful presentation by the Centre for Independent Living, established when Mr. Mervyn Taylor was Minister for Equality and Law Reform, which has branches in Kinnegad and Tullamore. That service has made a major difference to people. Each person was accompanied by his or her helper — I am always afraid using the wrong word in this area.

Care assistant.

If the disabled person was able to speak that was fine and if not the care assistant spoke for him or her, interpreting the needs. It was a wonderful experience. I previously went to Kinnegad and met the group when its members were struggling — they are still struggling because anybody in that area is always struggling.

Knowing they have someone by their side who is going to attend to their needs gives people with disabilities great confidence. From my experience of working in the then Government I remember the centres for independent living had major difficulties in that people felt we could not have every disabled person accompanied by another person. If they cannot manage things themselves, why should they not have somebody who can interpret their wishes and carry them out? One of the people told me it was wonderful that he can now live at home in a modicum of comfort because he is being helped by his care assistant. It is great that he is able to be in his own home and not in a hospital or nursing home, which the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, discussed with us last night. Ultimately whether they are affected by illness or disability, everybody wants the care of their own immediate family.

When the DLCG met the Taoiseach on 25 May, he agreed to consider a number of further important issues including the following: The need to provide for a face-to-face interview to review each applicant's service statement, which will allow them to highlight any areas that might not work for them; additional powers for the complaints officer allowing him or her to recommend the timing of the service or assessment, which is also excellent; to review concerns about the wording of section 5(4); the publication of the report on aggregate needs prepared by the HSE under section 13; the preparation of progress reports by the six sectoral plan Departments at least every three years; and changing Cabinet procedures so legislation and policy proposals submitted to Government would take account of the impact on people with disabilities. This approach is welcome.

As Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Mervyn Taylor introduced gender proofing. In future all Bills to be introduced will be disability proofed. The Taoiseach agreed to consider these matters and the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, said he would table amendments in that respect. Thank goodness we have a second Chamber, without which these issues could not have been considered. It is good that the appeals officer can arrange for mediation if he or she considers the issue could be resolved in that way. Then there is enforcement. If the determination of the appeals officer is not implemented, application may be made to the Circuit Court. This covers access to buildings and services and sectoral plans. There is an unqualified right to complaints.

There is a statutory basis for positive action measures to support the employment of people with disabilities in the public service. It allows each Minister to specify targets for the employment of people with disabilities in the sector, pending which specification the existing 3% employment target will apply. That is very important, since it is not happening. We have come to the matter of the money required and the essential core point of a right to processing and delivering the service provision laid out in one's assessment of needs. The question of a guarantee of adequate funding in law has been raised.

I cannot see how any single Department could run itself with that service obligation laid out in financial terms. It is far more important that the mindset of those who introduce this Bill be changed to one of giving, first accepting that people with disabilities have rights, and wanting to facilitate the provisions' transposition into law. That is the fundamental need. I have spoken to officials in other Departments, although I will not quote them here. Their attitude is still that disabled people are doing very well under this Bill. Of course this Bill was needed a long time ago to allow people with disabilities to emerge from the shadows into which they had in many cases been consigned by society which did not want to hear or know about them. They thought that adequate provision could not, should not and would not be made. However, it could, should and will be done.

This should be affirmative legislation in which people's rights to the provision of services and their human rights are taken into account, with the entire budget of every Department geared towards them. I would like to see an untouchable subhead in every Department's Estimate labelled "provision of services for the disabled". Each Department would work out each year what it needed to put forward a progress report for those with disabilities. The money required would be put aside for that subhead, and the Minister for Finance would not seek to touch it — not that he would, anyway. The applicant Minister goes forward with dread in his heart to the Minister for Finance in the annual carry-on to which one must submit in order to secure the money to run one's Department. Costs should not be puffed out but should be starkly laid down under an untouchable subhead.

Based on my years of experience in Departments, I proposed that, as a genuine way to guarantee provision, without, as Senator O'Meara was saying, recognising an essential right, the Minister, under his or her subhead, could lay out what the disability-proofing of his or her Department would cost and get a guarantee that the funding would not be touched. That would mean that the provision of such services in that Department would be done correctly, since the money could be put to one side. I offer that as a compromise regarding a right to finance, which I do not think any Department could recognise. The disability-proofing of each Department would be sectionalised under an individual subhead. If that happened, it would very quickly mean that the various matters necessary under the legislation might be acceptable.

This is good legislation and not a disaster, as some of the correspondence I have received has stated. It is long overdue, and we politicians of all hues have been guilty of not dealing with disability daily and directly and seeing how we might address it. People are born with some disabilities, and some happen through accidents, unfortunately. However, as Irish citizens they are part of our nation, and we are dealing here with legislation affecting Ireland. They are part of the same body of citizens as we are. The needs of every citizen should be addressed and his or her life improved, with access to services facilitated.

I remember talking to someone in a wheelchair recently who said she loved the theatre but could not get there. Taxis for the disabled, while they exist, do not come as often as they should when one calls. One must make bookings weeks in advance, and it is all very difficult for people who are already labouring under disabilities. It is difficult for them to get their due, what we would all regard as daily life, such as a chance to visit the theatre in the evening or have a cup of coffee or glass of wine in a restaurant. I know that some restaurants and bars have been very good at making their buildings accessible. Why should they not do so? They are for paying customers.

Such examples should not be the exception, but the constant rule. I hope that life will improve for people with disabilities once this legislation has been passed. I very much regret that we were not able to achieve consensus across the board, although it existed up to a certain point before apparently breaking down. I hope that the amendments which the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Fahey, will introduce in this House will help bring more Members back on board. I welcome the Bill and hope it is enacted as quickly as possible and the services outlined provided. I repeat that it is changing mindsets that is important, and one cannot legislate to do that.

I would like to share time with Senator Coonan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This legislation has been in the pipeline since 2001. The original Bill was dropped, and it was supposed to be modified in the context of new legislation. There have been acres of documentation in that regard, and issues have been reported in detail.

I am disappointed that the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Fahey, is not here today. I sat through the discussion yesterday. I understand that he is in Galway with the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. It surprises me that on a Dáil and Seanad sitting day he could not attend the House. Perhaps someone might clarify if I have my facts right on that matter. The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, is very welcome, since he was also here last night and has become very familiar to this House.

I would like to put this legislation in context in a manner that resonates with the matter under discussion. A letter was written by a father to his 11 year old son when this legislation first appeared. Although I have changed the name of the son for obvious reasons, I will read out the letter, which is touching. This was received by my colleague, Deputy Stanton. It states:

Dear Mark,

I am writing this letter into the unknown. I know you will never be able to read or understand it, yet it seems like the only thing I can do just now. I lay you in your cot every night, not daring to think of tomorrow, of our future, of your future.

But tonight it is different. I have just been at a meeting on the new Disability Bill, and I am troubled more than I have been for a long time, yet you still make me smile, as you have done, through dark days and bright since you were born 11 years ago. Thank you for that.

I am truly at a loss as to why they won't listen. How is it that you scare them so much? Sure, you can't walk or talk and you look funny and I know it is hard for them to see you through the distractions of what to them is not "normal". But that's no excuse. We have been trying to show them for years that you are all there, a whole person — different, but nonetheless a whole person — just like them.

A few years ago they — the Government — sought to introduce a Disability Bill. It was withdrawn, because it did not recognise you for the citizen you are. The Government reacted, and for nearly two years a consultation process ensued. There was hope, they were going to listen to us, they were going to recognise that you have the right to services to access your basic human rights. I am not talking about an annual holiday to Lourdes, no, but rather the security that the State would, as it does for all other citizens, do what was necessary to allow you to live out a basic existence, free from fear of being exploited — or worse — ignored, because the money was needed for some other requirement of the State.

Tonight, Mark, I learned that they have not listened. I felt the slap in my face as real as if the hand that delivered it was there. I despair. How can we leave you to these people when our time is gone? I have been in the residential units of your future. They exist today but a few miles from our house, grown adults confined to quarters built for children, nothing to do all day, except to go slowly mad.

We thought that this Bill would cure all that, but no, more of this crazy fear that you will bankrupt the State. Poor Mark, if you only knew what a threat you are. Your life is not to be facilitated without been shackled to "the availability of resources" or the grey notion of practicability. We were not looking for money. We were looking for security. We were not looking for everything now. We knew that it would take time. A slap in the face, that's what we got. This Bill, supposedly the best thing to happen for people with disabilities since the foundation of the State, is 80% to do with the State running away and the balance a flawed attempt to give a little something.

Mark, I know you can't be angry, nor can you despair; you don't know how, but I do — I do, I am terrified that you will end up in a state of fear like so many before you.

Sleep well, my little man. Tomorrow we will try again.

Your Dad.

That letter puts this debate into context for me. When we introduce legislation, it is a pity that we do not frame it in plain English so that people out there can understand what we mean. A legal expert stated that it is possibly one of the most convoluted, turgid, incomprehensible pieces of legislation the expert had ever read, and that its complexity was intentional and avoidable. If senior legal people find it difficult, how would ordinary people interpret legislation like this?

When the Taoiseach launched this Bill on 21 September 2004, he stated that the Government was setting it out in law and in a way no other country had done. The disability groups agreed 100% with his statement. The Government is setting it in a way no other country has done because no other country would put forward such a callous piece of legislation. To describe it as callous may be a bit strong, as I have listened to much of the debate and the Minister of State accepted a number of amendments when it went through the Dáil. However, Committee Stage of the Bill was guillotined with 100 amendments remaining to be considered. I compliment my colleague, Deputy Stanton, who has majored in the disability area. I have met disability groups and they recognise him for the massive contribution he has made, having listened to their experiences.

My concern with this legislation is that we will create more layers of bureaucracy. The Health Service Executive is already straining with such bureaucracy. Following the abolition of the health boards, there are still people within these boards because they are guaranteed the right to a job, yet the HSE is expanding. The financial resources of the health services are considerable, but we will finish up with hundreds of extra employees, including assessment officers, liaison officers, complaints officers and appeals officers. Will we still have the finances needed to give rights to people with disabilities, which was the original concept of this legislation? Senator O'Rourke stated earlier that it is impossible for a State to give total rights due to costs to the State. My concern is that the Exchequer will baulk when it comes to implementing this legislation.

It is such a pity that so many disability organisations are still disappointed. I can remember when the target of a 3% quota was set a few years ago. It did not appear to be a binding quota. At the time, I was a member of the Mid-Western Health Board. I had an argument with the human resources manager of that health board on not achieving this target. If the Minister of State carried out an exercise in the health services around Ireland, he would be bitterly disappointed with the level of achievement of the different divisions. They would be quick to give work experience and temporary jobs, but not a real permanent job. The human resources manager told me they had to consider all people equally when they apply for a job. However, there is a conditioning factor when someone is going for a job. The structure of the building is important; whether it is wheelchair adaptable, whether we have all the facilities and whether there is a serious commitment to give a disabled person a fair crack of the whip. I do not believe such a person gets a fair crack of the whip.

When I compared the health board with Limerick County Council, I found that the council had exceeded the target. This Bill mentions this target of 3% and how it should be exceeded. A firm target must be set and the bodies involved should be told that they had better achieve it. This nonsense goes back to the time when former Deputy Spring was in Government and the quota was introduced for the first time. If we try to do something similar, we will give true recognition to people with disabilities, with the right to a permanent job in the workplace.

Senator O'Rourke referred to centres for independent living. We have one in Newcastlewest and I am absolutely thrilled with the work it does and what it achieves. We need an expansion of that because it is a necessary and complete service. I could talk about the attitude in our councils to the disabled person's grant, the lack of funding, the difficulties in getting wheelchairs through HSE buildings around Ireland and other basic issues. We can no longer get the finance to do that from many of the HSE areas due to lack of funds. Unless we are serious about providing finance, we will finish up with an unwieldy bureaucracy and little funding for the people that count in this legislation.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. There has been much discussion of the legislation in recent weeks, both in this House and in the Dáil. There is little point in repeating all of it. I do not claim to be an expert on disability but those who possess such expertise are unhappy with the Bill. In its June newsletter, the Disability Federation of Ireland, DFI, quotes a statement made by the Disability Legislation Consultation Group, DLCG, which was issued on 5 May:

If this legislation goes through without major changes, the DLCG and its member organisations will be left with no option but to reassess our future relations and co-operation with the Government Departments and agencies. We may also consider a nationwide campaign to alert the general public to the failure of the Government to meet our legislative need.

This is a clear message to the Government that it has not taken the correct approach with this legislation from the experts in the area of disability.

Senator O'Meara has already read into the record the five issues highlighted by the DLCG and I will not repeat them. The executive chairperson of the Irish Wheelchair Association said, "While we recognise that some effort has been made by the Government, it is nevertheless clear that they have no real concept of how the flaws in this Bill will result in people with disabilities being treated as second-class citizens yet again." These are damning words. The Minister of State has taken his eye off the ball and the purpose of this discussion and future discussions on Committee and Report Stages must be to correct the flaws in the legislation. It is vital for the State and for persons with disabilities in particular that the Bill be amended. It is important legislation and there much that is positive in it. However, some elements must be improved.

One issue that concerns me is that the definition of disability is very restrictive and overly narrow. It is defined as "a substantial restriction in the capacity of the person to carry on a profession, business or occupation in the State or to participate in social or cultural life in the State by reasons of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual impairment". Senator Finucane spoke about language that ordinary people can understand and interpret. Is it possible that under this Bill a highly qualified person who is working in the State and who is blind could be deemed not to be disabled? What is meant by "in the State"? If an individual suffering from a disability has to go out of the State, is he or she entitled to a personal assistant? Can they go on holiday? What is the implication for the exchange of students under the ERASMUS programme? What about people with disabilities who want to attend football matches or sporting events? I look forward to clarification from the Minister.

It is worth reiterating that this is a medically driven Bill rather than a social and human rights Bill. Health and education assessments are dealt with but there is no clearly defined mention of housing or other needs. Services are provided only when practicable. Most people, including myself, have sought rights based legislation which would guarantee to people with a disability socio-economic rights, services and supports which are not available to ordinary members of the community. Some might ask why they should get these services. Why not? This is the core of the Bill and we seek the Minister's response.

Under the Bill every individual in the State could look for assessment if they so wished. Assessment is carried out without regard to the capacity or cost. We will need qualified personnel to carry out these assessments. Are such people available? Service will be provided where it is appropriate to meet the needs identified in the assessment, but the Bill will be worthless unless the clinical posts are filled by competent personnel. Senator Finucane referred to bureaucracy. One would hope that all the available funds would not be spent on administration and assessment services.

Senator Wilson and others have referred to multi-annual funding from 2006 to 2009. However, this amounts to a little over €200 million per annum. It is undoubtedly a significant input but is it enough? Can it provide what is required? We are aware of the capacity of this Government and its predecessor to waste money. The multi-annual roads programme started at €7 billion. We have spent €16 billion and many of the planned works have been removed from the programme. We learn that the DART service will not operate at the weekend because it has to be made wheelchair friendly. This is a clear indication of the lack of commitment to people with disabilities in times past.

The Government stated in 1997 that it would take cognisance of problems relating to disabilities. Killian, who is ten years old, is confined to a wheelchair. He travels from Tipperary to the children's hospital for major operations. His consultant has said it is necessary for him to have a wheelchair suitable for his size and age. What happens? Funding for needs and appliances in the mid-west region is not adequate —€15,000 a month. Killian has been waiting almost 12 months. If the go-ahead is given, it will take three months to get a wheelchair made. The earliest date Killian can look forward to is September. I could mention several similar cases.

This is a rich country. I appeal to the Minister to consider the call by people with disabilities and their representative groups, many of whom have left the consultative process, and give them what they want.

I wish to share time with Senator Fitzgerald.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister and the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on a Bill which has been in the making for a considerable time. There has been extensive consultation with virtually all the interested parties and groups throughout the country. It is unfortunate that there is not universal acceptance of the Bill among certain groups which would broadly represent elements of what is often referred to as the "disabilities sector", a label with which I do not agree. For various reasons, a number of people have difficulties with the Bill. The majority of those who find fault with the Bill have genuine personal reasons for doing so. There are specific examples and individual cases which lend credibility to their argument. However, a small minority are opposing the Bill for political purposes. That is unfortunate. I am not accusing the Opposition of that. Its members have strongly held views. It is regrettable that certain positions on this debate have been taken for political purposes.

I have consulted a variety of people from advocacy organisations and service providers and in particular those of my County Clare constituency. To the best of my ability, I attempted to understand their various concerns on this matter. It is clear that equality of esteem is wanted in terms of the State's dealings with people with disabilities. People with disabilities wish to be integrated into society rather than be labelled or pigeon holed in any manner. It is almost impossible to legislate for this. A change in culture is required. This will be difficult to achieve because such changes do not occur overnight.

A person with a disability should be accepted in the same manner as tall, small, thin or bald people. People with disabilities want to be seen as integral parts of society. The State should bear this in mind when introducing measures. Services should assist the integration of people with disabilities. These people do not want or need pity. They do not want us to consider their difficulties but to recognise their need to get on with their lives. It is important that they are accommodated in the same fashion as any other member of society.

Apart from its legislative provisions, the Bill sets out an agenda. By means of the public debate it has initiated, eyes are being opened to the importance of integrating persons with disabilities. This change of culture is significant.

It is necessary to address the culture of charity, which in some ways lets society off the hook. The impression is given that enough is being done if contributions are made to certain charities which cater for people with disabilities. However, this charity framework inhibits integration and increases isolation. A number of charities which are State funded service providers have charitable names, such as the Brothers of Charity, theSisters of Charity or the Daughters of Charity. The services they provide to people with disabilities are State funded but their names wrongly imply that such people are deserving of charity. They do not need charity but deserve equality. This may be done without legislation. I am aware that over the past number of years, Rehab and other disability organisations have ceased to use labels which carry charitable associations and are now service driven. It is not the case that people are in need of charity. These organisations include fantastic people who have acted as advocates and have worked diligently for many years to highlight the issues surrounding disabilities.

If isolation is to be avoided, funding must be consistent with the delivery of any other service. The Government has a good record in this. In 1997, 4.8% of gross current public expenditure, €800 million, was spent in the area of disabilities. This year, €2.9 billion will be spent, which represents a three-fold increase. This figure excludes income support measures and other social welfare provisions. It represents core disability funding. People should look at the Government's track record on funding rather than focus on rights-based elements. It must be ensured that the first budget cuts in tougher times are not, as some disability organisations fear, to the funding of disabilities services. We must begin with changes in culture and thinking, so that this disability area is not seen as a soft target when Exchequer expenditure is reduced. These changes have already occurred within the Cabinet and most political parties. I hope that the disability organisations which do not support the Bill will take some comfort from the Government's track record on spending in this area.

Objections to the Bill arise from the issue of entitlements to services within specified periods of time. Legislation is not necessary for a moral imperative on behalf of the Government and politicians in general to ensure that funding is made available. It is preferable that, rather than completely legislating for this area, it comes to be regarded as an element of society. The Bill is welcome, even if it does not resolve every problem, because it addresses the issue of disability and sets out a clear framework for delivery. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Governmentfulfils its funding commitments.

I thank Senator Dooley for sharing his time with me. I believe that the Bill is affirmative and empowering. However, it plays only one part in a wider strategy. When reading the Bill I was struck by its resemblance to the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. The two pieces of legislation are similar in many respects and share a common framework. They must be compatible with the overall programme. In the context of education for the over-18s, the Bill supersedes the 2004 Act. A national framework was not previously in place for the delivery of education to people with special needs or other services for people with disabilities.

The reasons for consistency may be seen in the fact that both pieces of legislation fit like a hand in a glove. In keeping with the core aims of the overall strategy, the cause, entitlements and rights of human beings with disabilities will be advanced. I have heard a great deal of talk about laws and rights, which I hope to have time to address. To have all the rights in law one likes will be of no use if one is not empowered to have them vindicated.

Many speakers have referred to resources, rights and a change of culture and mindset. I welcomed the first indication I saw as a politician of a change of Government mindset in the publication of the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities in 1998. The Government decided every child with special educational needs had an automatic entitlement to a response. It was a defining moment after which a culture was broken which had perpetuated wrongs, denials, indifference and ignorance since the foundation of the State in varying degrees under successive Governments. From that decision have flown the Equal Status Act, the Employment Equality Act, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act and the national disability strategy, which was launched last year by the Government. As individual components and in aggregate, the measures will contribute significantly to breaking the cycle of perpetuated wrongs and change the culture and mindset of our national administrators.

I agree strongly with previous speakers who pointed out the difficulty of achieving these goals. It cannot be done with money alone, though funding is important. It can be done through the national strategy which will also be adopted by the next Government. I assume it will be the same Government.

Incorrectly.

The strategy will be reinforced to end forever the culture of indifference and resources will be an integral part of the process.

Over the past couple of days, two suggestions were made of which I am very much in favour. As the tone is set and culture is established at the top management level in public administration, there is a great deal of merit in Senator Kett's proposal to initiate obligatory in-service courses for policy formulators as part of sectoral plans. It might seem insensitive of me to say that about upper management in the public service, but I make no apologies for doing so. It is a laudable suggestion which should be pursued. The Leader made the laudable suggestion that a special subhead should be established within the budget of each Department with a sectoral plan and I urge the Government to adopt it.

It has been said repeatedly on this side of the House that it is Government policy to mainstream services for disabled people. The fancy term "mainstream" means simply that all persons with disabilities should be accorded the full rights which everybody else takes for granted and have them vindicated without regard to those disabilities. It is through mainstreaming that the blindness and indifference of the past will be put behind us forever. While we have made substantial progress in the seven years since 1998, we have a considerable distance left to go. No Government, therefore, will be able to front-load overnight the resources and services needed to close a very wide gap created by past indifference. As able-bodied people gained access to more and better services, those who were ignored were left behind and a gap widened which cannot be bridged by an unequivocal legislative right.

I turn now to the issue of rights which has permeated the entire debate. While I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, who brought the Bill before the Houses and put the final touches to it, we should not forget the contribution of the former Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace. It is all too easy to forget about someone when his or her watch is over. The House, public and disability groups——

And the Taoiseach.

——should not forget that Deputy Mary Wallace put a great deal of work, effort and commitment into the provision through legislation of the rights and services to disabled people which were their just entitlement as human beings. Sadly, she came in for a barrage of criticism, much of which was unjustified and some of which was over the top. I regret that very much and pay special tribute to her. A substantial proportion of the Bill before the House was formulated by Deputy Mary Wallace. The issue of rights was one I debated with her on at least a dozen occasions during her term of office.

It would be remiss of me to fail to compliment the former Minister of State and current Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, who took over the watch and threw himself into the task of wide-ranging consultations. It is regrettable that the consultations, which have not been completely finalised, had not produced a unanimous consensus at the point at which the Bill had to be published. It was no reflection, however, on the commitment, tenacity and determination of Deputy O'Dea who attempted to achieve that consensus.

It should be remembered in the context of rights that every Bill which passes through the House is resource-based and must be. As I said to Deputy Mary Wallace in 2001, to tell one group it can have a Bill which is not resource-based is to provide it with a superior right. A number of groups, especially the Disability Federation of Ireland, have said they do not want a superior right, to which I say "Fair play to you. I know what you want". The current talk about rights-based legislation refers solely and with inescapable logic to superior rights. To give a superior right to one group must be at the expense of others.

The chief executive of the Disability Federation of Ireland, Mr. Dolan, whom I thank for his generous and readily-given briefing, was right when he said the argument should not be about the above, but should focus on the human rights and human needs of people with disabilities to ensure they are met at the earliest possible date. Our focus should be to ensure the yawning gaps created by the indifference of officialdom are closed as quickly as possible.

I wish to share my time with Senator John Paul Phelan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and express my delight that the Disability Bill has come before us. We have waited a long number of years for what the Government and Opposition agree is important legislation and I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on it. We differ, however, on whether the legislation is good. While some of its provisions are positive, there are others which could be improved. The legislation is not as good as we had hoped it would be.

I received an e-mail the other day from Cork. It stated that the Taoiseach had commented on "Six-One" on RTE when launching the Disability Bill that we were setting it in law in a way in which no other country had done. This person agreed fully with the Taoiseach's statement, that we were setting it law in a way no other country had done, because no other country would put forward such callous legislation.

Who was that person?

They were not my words. We are not allowed to mention people's names in the Seanad.

The Ceann Comhairle allows us to quote anything we want.

The address is 4 Fairyville Lawn, The Lough, Cork. The Minister of State should knock on the door. It is in his area.

I do not know who to go to. Senator Feighan should tell me.

The Minister of State should knock at the door and he will be all right.

Senator Feighan should tell me the name.

The Bill is strong on rhetoric but weak on commitment, it is lacking in rights and unclear on finance.

I do not usually look to the United States for inspiration but a Disability Act introduced by the former President, Mr. George Bush, in 1990 mandated local state and federal employees to make reasonable accommodation for disabled workers. It was stipulated that access for disabled members of the public should be provided in public accommodation such as restaurants, stores and shops. This Act which was passed 14 years ago provides more rights than the Government now intends introducing. The Bill is not rights based because services are dependent on resources.

People often ask politicians to listen. Despite all the focus groups and meetings I am at a loss to understand why the Government has not listened. What has scared the Government? These people require our protection. A few years ago when the Government sought to introduce a Disability Bill, it was withdrawn.

The Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, was more upfront when he stated that the Bill could not ignore the reality that funding and resources are finite. He claimed that services would grow as budgeting and staffing constraints were overcome. No provision is made for updating services should more money become available. As a result, I believe the service statement will be redundant.

As Fine Gael spokesperson on health in the Seanad for a number of years I have witnessed the rate at which major plans and reports were produced. They were usually heralded with much fanfare and there was great expectation of change. Up to the time when I ceased to be the party spokesperson on health a total of 147% of proposed legislation and reports were gathering dust. While the Government has the capacity, it lacks the will to ensure we protect vulnerable people.

I would like to be able to welcome the Bill. I supported the demand for greater equality. It is we who limit the potential of people with disabilities. I would be pleased to be able to credit the civil servants, the Minister and the Government with introducing good legislation but unfortunately I am not in a position to do so.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games were held here two years ago. It was a great occasion for this country. People like me who may not have been fully aware of the obstacles we place in front of people with disabilities were delighted that at last we were better informed about the problems they face. We were disappointed that the Disability Bill was not ready in time for the Special Olympics in 2003. The Government failed to publish the Bill in 2003 which was the European Year of People with Disabilities. I do not say there was an attempt by the Government to blame the disability sector but at one stage an opinion was put out that it was the consultation process that had delayed the Bill. I do not suggest the Government put out this story, which I do not believe was a factor in the delay of the Bill.

I do not want to focus on the issue of money but I must refer to the wastage of money by the Government. Some €52 million was wasted on electronic voting while there is a problem with securing funding for people with disabilities who were hoping to secure an extra €5 million, €10 million or €15 million. We must support people with disabilities. I would love to be able to say to the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, that this is a job well done. Much has been done and there is an awful lot more to do. I look forward to the introduction of another Bill in the near future as this Bill is not acceptable to the Opposition or people with disabilities. I look forward to working with the Minister of State to ensure we get a Bill which is more suitable.

I thank my colleague for sharing his time with me. I welcome the opportunity to have my say in the Seanad on this particularly contentious and important legislation. In my time in this House, which is coming up to three years, I do not think I have received as much correspondence in electronic or old fashioned postal form on any other legislation. The correspondence is universally negative. I intend using my time to add my concerns to those which have been expressed already.

I regret the fact I cannot support the Disability Bill. A number of untruths and half-truths have been cast about in the debate in this Chamber and elsewhere in recent months. It is regrettable that for such long awaited legislation the Government has got it so badly wrong and has managed in the process to offend virtually every disability organisation in the country. That is a fair indication of the failure it has on its hands in terms of the Disability Bill.

There are a number of areas of concern. Senator Dooley referred to money but it does not all revolve around money. It appears to be the attitude continually from the Government parties — at least in this Chamber — that so many millions or billions are being spent on a certain problem so therefore people should go away and be happy. That is not the fundamental issue in this case.

Senator Fitzgerald made a good contribution but I have deep reservations about some of what he said. He spoiled it all in referring to the legitimate concerns disability groups have about rights-based legislation in saying they are looking for superior rights. They are not looking for superior rights. It is an insult to them to state in this Chamber that they are looking for superior rights when they are looking for equality, to which they are entitled. The proposed legislation will give it in part measure. They are entitled to expect more after years of consultation.

There are resource constraints and these have been highlighted. The Bill does not allow for any definitive allocations into the future with regard to resources. I have some reservations in that regard. The most important thing is that the Bill excludes more people than it includes. That line has been used by many people but it is true that many people who should be within the scope of the legislation are excluded.

The one area that exasperates me is the new level of bureaucracy that will be introduced. We will have a whole new array of officers. There will be adjudication officers, liaison officers and appeals officers. There is a strong case for amalgamating some of these positions. It will not be fruitful to spend extra money employing additional public servants to implement the legislation given that not enough is being spent on facilities and resources for people with disabilities. This is one of my main concerns about the legislation.

The e-mail from Cork, to which Senator Feighan referred, alluded to access to the courts. We all have a constitutional right to access to the courts if we have grievances. The Bill appears to fetter the right of access of people with disabilities to the courts in certain circumstances. This has not been addressed by any Government speakers in the House and, as far as I am aware, the other House. I look forward to the Minister of State's response to this matter.

It is most interesting to consider the views of the group set up by the Government to examine disability legislation, the Disability Legislation Consultation Group. It expressed its reservations and issued its ten key issues of concern regarding the Bill. Given that the Government set up the group, it should take on board its criticisms of the Bill when drafting amendments. It is all very well for me, an Opposition spokesperson, to express my opinion, but if change is to be made to the Bill it will need the support of the Government, which has a majority in both Houses. I urge Senators to ensure that their views are made known by voting against the Bill.

It is fundamental that the Bill provides for a clear statutory duty on all Departments and public bodies to include people with disabilities in their plans and services, with appropriate monitoring and accountability. We have heard talk down the years about poverty-proofing legislation and different initiatives by various Departments and bodies. In light of this, there is a strong case to be made for disability-proofing all activities by Government bodies and State agencies, including local authorities, with which people with disabilities may come into contact.

I will conclude because every other point I wanted to make has probably been made by other speakers. I regret that, after such a long consultation process and exhaustive debate, the Government has made such a hames of this issue. The people it is trying to help feel shut out and are completely opposed to the proposed legislation. I urge the Government to introduce the necessary amendments which would make this a Bill for which we could all vote.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, to the House. With regard to the comments made by Senator John Paul Phelan, I have spoken to many people in the disability sector and have noted that while they would like the legislation to go further, they all acknowledge, in a fairly objective way, that it is a very significant contribution to improving the lot of those who are disabled. In my eight years as a Member of this House, I have not witnessed such extensive engagement by the Government or so much consultation on legislation as I have witnessed in respect of this Bill. It is unprecedented and it is reflected in the Bill.

There are many people who should be complimented. Colleagues have acknowledged the significant contribution made by former Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, who worked in uncharted territory. It is a testimony to her commitment that probably 70% to 80% of the provisions in her original Bill are now included in the one before the House. It is only fair to acknowledge this because, as has been said, the rights issue that emerged might have swamped and set aside much of the good that was intended to accrue from her Bill. Her successor, the former Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Dea, advanced and enhanced the legislation, as has the current Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Fahey. They all deserve to be complimented, as do the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, who took a direct personal interest in ensuring the Bill reflected the Government's views on disability. The area of disability has been in focus and we have seen significant improvements, particularly in recent years, but more needs to be done.

Any debate on this topic must also recognise the tremendous contribution that has been made by the voluntary sector regarding disability. Those who serve the physically and mentally challenged do a tremendous job. It must be acknowledged that the Disability Legislation Consultation Group played a pivotal role in the drafting of the Bill.

Some contributions to this debate seemed to suggest this legislation was formulated in isolation. However, it is only one element of the national disability strategy. It is probably worth reminding ourselves that this strategy is being rolled out against a background of a very strong employment equality and equal status legislation. This legislation is among the most advanced in Europe. Under the Employment Equality Act 1998, the Equal Status Act 2000 and the Equality Act 2004, people who are discriminated against on the grounds of disability, or any one of eight other grounds, have a statutory right of redress. The bodies that support this right are the Equality Authority and the Equality Tribunal. Experience indicates that both bodies are much used and well recognised.

The aforementioned legislation is recent and therefore the charge that the Government is not very mindful and absolutely committed to making significant and overdue improvements in this area is without foundation. I could also refer to the special needs legislation, which represents a major and significant advance in this area.

Mention has been made of the commitment made in terms of expenditure. The litmus test of any commitment to policy is to determine whether the necessary resources have been provided to achieve its objective. We have seen a dramatic 250% increase in disability funding since 1997, at which time €0.8 billion was allocated. Significantly, this has risen to €2.9 billion this year. The sector itself readily and fairly acknowledges the difference this increase has made.

The sectoral plans of the key Departments offer tremendous potential to make the required improvements. We saw evidence of this very recently. I compliment the Minister involved, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, who ensured disability and health considerations would be part of the planning guidelines. Some county councils and other local authorities across the country have included, in their corporate plans, requirements for disability-proofing. I would like to believe the councils that have not done so already will do so. Equally, many councils have adopted the principles of the Barcelona agreement, so a commitment exists. As a number of speakers have said, it is not just a case of policy, there must be a consciousness within the public service so people think "disability" and act accordingly. That ethos should pertain throughout the public service.

I recommend to the Minister increasing the six Departments that are part of the sectoral plan to include others. The point has been well made by Senator Phelan and others that we should seek effective disability proofing within each Department and State agency. The Department of Agriculture and Food, for example, is not included. Many farmers are disabled, some through occupational injuries, and it is imperative that they are able to access Teagasc buildings, the Department's offices, etc.

I hope each Department will be engaged and involved in that whole process. Access to public buildings is a prerequisite as regards the physically challenged in particular. It is imperative that all buildings, not only those in public ownership, conform to those requirements. Perhaps the Minister of State might clarify whether buildings that are leased from the private sector, possibly on a short-term basis in some cases, are subject to the same constraints as regards accessibility. There are courts, Garda stations and council offices. There are post offices in rural areas, for example, which are not owned by An Post. Those are all areas where it is essential that people with disabilities who have access problems are afforded the opportunity to transact their public business.

Apart from access, another important component of the Bill concerns employment. The 3% guideline for the health sector and local government is being met, but in the manner of a patchwork quilt. It is not being adhered to uniformly across the country. There is a need to stipulate that this percentage is a minimum. I am pleased to note there is a provision in the Bill for this figure to be reviewed and hopefully this will be upwards. It is also worth noting there are anti-discrimination measures in the employment equality legislation and that is an important step in its own right.

The Disability Legislation Consultation Group, DLCG has done good work. I note the number of meetings that have been held, both with the Taoiseach and the relevant Minister of State, Deputy Fahey. Despite what some Members said, including the last speaker from the Opposition, it is worth putting on the record that many of the key Government amendments reflect that consultation process. For example, in reply to suggestions that the legislation should be reviewed after three years, the Bill has been amended to provide for a review of the operation of the legislation not later than five years after commencement. Following concerns that the definition of disability did not include those with mental health impairment or childhood conditions requiring early intervention, the definition of "substantial restriction" has been amended to include significantly disordered cognitive processes, and provision for intervention early in life designed to ameliorate a disability.

In response to calls for an alternative means of redress, the Government offered the DLCG the option of the Ombudsman instead of the appeals process. That has not necessarily been adopted by the DLCG. In response to criticism about the complexity of the redress system, the Bill was amended to remove the option of the HSE or education service provider refusing to implement the recommendation of a complaints officer. In reply to a request for means for enforcing the statutory timeframes for assessment, the Bill now contains an additional ground of redress if an assessment is not commenced or completed within the statutory timescale.

In response to calls that the service preferences of the individual be considered in the assessment process, the Bill has been amended to note the views of the person being assessed concerning his or her needs and preferences. The Bill now contains a review procedure whereby the National Council for Special Education decides whether to comply with a request by a liaison officer to assist in the preparation of a service statement. This arrangement is in line with a similar provision in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004.

On the issue of housing, which an Opposition Member asserted was excluded completely, in order to take account of concerns about the wider needs of people with disabilities, the sectoral plan of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will specifically include housing and accommodation.

Following proposals for more flexibility in employing people with disabilities in the public service, the Bill has been amended to allow a Minister to make specific provision for work experience contracts for people with disabilities. Senator Coonan and another Senator mentioned how difficult it was to interpret and read the Bill. In response to calls for information to be made available in a variety of disability accessible formats, public bodies will now be obliged to provide easy to read editions of certain publications for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Further amendments were sought and five key issues were put forward by the DLCG. There have been further discussions with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister in this regard as well as full participation at the highest level of Government and there are indications of further movement as regards a number of those issues. While the rights issue has overshadowed much of the Bill's positive sections which are going to impact beneficially on the disability sector, it is important that these are not overlooked or swamped in that debate.

I am glad that section 47 of the Disability Bill 2001 has been removed. That section provided that the State was protected against any type of litigation. That is a fundamental shift in policy that has not, perhaps, received the acknowledgement it deserves. The whole rights-based issue as advocated by the DLCG involves assessments that are not resource dependent. The Bill gives a right to independent assessment, but the implementation will be resource dependent. That is not discriminatory. I am not aware of any service that is not resource dependent. It is consistent with the rights of others as well. In a very cogent and well argued contribution to this debate, Senator Dardis mentioned that no country has automatic resources available to deal with issues in this or other areas. All are subject to the Executive and that is as it should be.

The issue of justiciable rights and access to the courts should be examined against the background of what happened in the education area. The legal costs were in the proportion of €4 for every €1 given by way of settlement. To couple that with the delays involved in court procedures and to draft a Bill that inevitably leads to litigation would drain resources that could be employed more effectively in improving the lot of the disabled. The Government's policy in this area of increasing investment and building the capacity is the way forward. All services are subject to resource availability. I am adamant that in principle the Executive must decide on resource priorities. This should not be a matter for the Judiciary.

Like any Bill, experience teaches that there is need for improvements or amendment in light of how the legislation operates. I am glad there is statutory provision in the Bill for a review after five years. I have the utmost confidence in the political system and disability sector to highlight improvements that are required as and when they arise and are identified. I have no doubt that the Bill and the review will ensure that the physically and mentally challenged in our society will be given an equal opportunity to all others and this will enhance and improve their quality of life. As others have said, this is their due. I welcome the Bill as a quantum leap in that direction.

I wish to share my time with Senator Scanlon.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome this opportunity to speak on the Bill.

We must acknowledge that successes have been achieved in this area following inadequate investment, care and attention being given to it over many years. There is a genuine fear among the disabled community and their families that access by them to adequate treatment and resources is not and will not be available to them. We must acknowledge that at the outset. We must recognise that every disabled person, irrespective of his or her age, means or circumstances, should be able to expect and receive the best care, treatment and access to services that we are in a position to provide. Working closely with the various representative groups, federations, the statutory agencies such as the National Disability Authority and the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Social and Family Affairs, the Bill will enable us as legislators to deliver on the vast majority of those expectations. Major progress has been made in this area in recent times, which is accepted by many of the representative groups and organisations. I refer to the simple provision of adequate access by the disabled to buses and taxis and various recent initiatives such as the provision of centres for independent living. These initiatives can only be considered to be progress.

The Bill will enshrine in legislation a disabled person's ability to expect to gain access to a public building without hassle. Senator Kitt gave us an insight into the sheer frustration experienced by disabled people in trying to gain access through a door that is too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair. We must address such issues. People with disabilities should be able to talk to a properly trained and understanding member of staff when they interact with a public body or they should be able to access information, whether written, oral or electronic, provided by that body.

The Bill takes the responsibilities and duties of Ministers and their Departments to new levels with the onus on them to have sectoral plans drawn up in consultation with the representative bodies. A key aspect is that the plans are open to public scrutiny. The constant monitoring and an appropriate complaints procedure will ensure that they will be delivered and that the co-operation and co-ordination between Departments, as set out in the Bill, will take place. That has been a problem up to now. The idea of joined-up Government is evident in this legislation.

I welcome the appointment of an inquiry officer to oversee the complaints procedure and the linking of these procedures with the legislation covering the Ombudsman's office. This is another key element of the Bill and it gives a disabled person the same rights as anyone else to bring a complaint to a forum where he or she can be assured a fair hearing and that action will be taken, as would be the case with anyone else in the community. Senator Maurice Hayes referred to the issue of normalisation. This is another key aspect of the Bill which will lead to achieving that.

The sections in Part 4 dealing with genetic testing underpins a disabled person's rights under the Data Protection Acts and the financial services regulations when being considered for a financial or insurance transaction. They also ensure a disabled person's dignity and that of his or her family is upheld in these transations. Able-bodied people take this for granted.

In the area of public service employment, there are welcome changes in the obligations on Departments and other public bodies to ensure the continued highlighting of the valuable contribution made by the disabled community in all areas. However, I encourage the Minister of State to ensure that all targets are at least reached, if not over-achieved, and all possible assistance, whether financial or otherwise, is given to all Departments and bodies to implement the procedures set down in the Bill.

The provision of written reports on a yearly basis should ensure widespread compliance. Senator Kitt referred to adequate training, ongoing assessment of how staff deal with disabled members of staff and how that interaction takes place. That is an important point. I encourage the Minister of State to ensure that all the criteria set out in Part 5 are vigorously enforced. I particularly welcome the proposed changes in the training and education of able-bodied employees in sections and Departments, which is crucial. I have experience in the Civil Service of working with disabled people. Able-bodied people tend not so much to have a difficulty with that but they interact with disabled people in a different way. The more we train and educate people on these issues, the less that aspect will be a factor.

An interesting innovation in the Bill is the section dealing with a centre for excellence in universal design. It is an excellent, fresh and forward-looking idea in this area. It will prove in the long run to be a highlight of this legislation. The word "universal" in the title of the provision gives the impression that any advances in design or technology will not only benefit the disabled community but also the wider community, particularly in the areas of information technology and telecommunications but also in the areas of education and training. In this regard the Bill will further the integration process by direct linkages into vocational and existing third level institutions, which is crucial. It will give disabled people an opportunity to live normal, fulfilled lives. That is the thrust of what we wish to achieve in this debate.

Section 54 deals with the area of broadcasting in which I have been involved. It encourages broadcasters by amending the Broadcasting Act to take deaf and blind people into account at all, not only certain, times. I compliment RTE in this respect. In recent times it has improved the service it provides with the provision of subtitling and so on, but there is always room for improvement. We can imagine the frustration a disabled person may experience in looking at a television programme and having to get someone to translate what is said when the technology to provide for that exists. That section also enhances the Bill.

I have studied the Bill in detail and it is well thought out and balanced. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, and his predecessors on the method of consultation in which they engaged, the time and effort they put into talking and listening to the various groups and individuals and in their attempts to encompass as many of the various different areas as they possibly could in the legislation. That comes across in the Bill. It represents a good attempt to support and reinforce equality for disabled people in our society. As Senator Kitt pointed out, after 30 years of slow painful progress, at last we have reached a point where an honest attempt is being made in long and detailed consultation with the representative bodies to give disabled people of every age and circumstances the ability and opportunity to participate in society on a basis of equality and non-discrimination.

If there were two words to sum up the Bill they would be "integrity" and "non-discriminatory". That is the thrust of it. We have had a similar debate on previous legislation. However, the Bill has reached a stage, after a great deal of consultation, where it addresses many of the concerns and expectations put forward to us. I commend the Minister of State on it and I wish it well.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I congratulate his colleague, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Fahey, on bringing this Bill to the House. The Bill has been discussed for a long time and the Minister of State consulted many groups on it. Disability strikes in many ways. We are only too aware of the impact it has on the disabled person and on the life of his or her family.

There are several residential homes in my area in Sligo which do good work. For example, Cregg House provides an excellent service. There are 100 residents at Cloonamahon. I compliment the staff of both centres, as well as that of Gallagher House, Tubbercurry where 35 people attend daily to participate in a range of activities including gardening, arts and crafts. The work of the people in those centres deserves recognition.

Last year, the Minster for Education and Science came to Sligo to present the FETAC awards to people who attend the Irish Wheelchair Association centre. As a former member of the health board I am aware of the work people do in these centres. We often pay lip service to these people but it is important to recognise their work and their commitment to the service they provide which is far above the call of the job.

I welcome the Bill because it is the first time legislation has been put in place to guarantee rights for people with disabilities. It is a complex Bill which was long overdue and it is important to take as much time as necessary to get it right. This is the first time people with disabilities have been given a legal right to services. When assessed, they receive a statement of assessment which guarantees services. They may, however, be reassessed which is important for future reference. Disabilities affect people differently and may progress. Under the Bill, people with disabilities will have the right to further assessment.

The Bill is a significant step forward and will make a difference. There is much work yet to be done but all we can do is ensure that services for people with disabilities continue to improve.

I wish to share time with Senator Mansergh.

I join the other speakers in welcoming this Bill. Coming in late on this debate has given me the opportunity to hear the contributions of many other speakers. Apart from the occasional difference of emphasis, there was unanimity on the need to provide a legal basis for the rights of people with disabilities. Some of the contributions were particularly passionate. I happened to chair the session when Senator McHugh spoke. While he did not deal with the detail of the Bill, he painted a picture of what people with disabilities require in their daily lives. They all require dignity and that must be the focus for the provision of services.

Other speakers referred to their personal experiences, within their families, workplaces or among acquaintances. Some of these descriptions were heart-rending. One must hear the full story and know the challenges the person with a disability faces in his or her home to understand the issue. It was courageous of those who drew on their personal experiences to speak.

Personal experience is important because one can be legalistic and clinical when discussing legislation but the basis of this Bill must be human. Observing the experience of a loved one with a disability casts the Bill in a different light. Most of us have somebody close to us who suffers a physical or mental disability and we know the challenges that person faces. This is particularly so if the person had been healthy but through illness or accident became dependent on the family and the support services. One has seen that person when he or she lived a full and active life, and sees then what happens when that changes.

This was shown publically in the media through the experience of actor Christopher Reeve who, ironically, played the role of Superman but then found himself wheelchair bound. He became totally dependent but was determined to avail of every opportunity to diminish that dependence, even if he could never return to the active life he had known.

This morning on her radio programme Marian Finucane interviewed a gentleman who is developing technology to help people who cannot even turn on a light switch, television or computer. The system traps a signal from the brain and enables the person to turn on the switch by a slight flexing of the arm. It was a complicated subject for a layman to grasp but like Marian Finucane, I felt exuberant when the researcher ran one of the tests with her in the studio and described the process. It is important that the State provide finance for anybody who has an idea to develop technology to help people with disabilities. That is inherent in the spirit of the Bill.

We have each received many letters from various interested parties with views on the Bill. It is evident that they too are drawing on their experience in activities involving people with disabilities. No one, particularly on the Government side, suggested that we cut ourselves off from those views or try to diminish them. The opposite was the case. We tried to extend the parameters of the Bill to encompass these views or ensure that in five years time when it is reviewed there will be an opportunity to revisit them. Five years, however, is a long time, particularly for somebody who feels he or she does not have access to full services, or have full recognition or accessibility or whatever other issue arises.

It will be worthwhile to monitor the implementation of this wonderful legislation. I compliment everybody involved but particularly Senator Kett who has experience of this field. Since I came into the Seanad years ago he has taken every opportunity to press points on this issue. He and the people with whom he associates must have been heard. These are the practitioners. These are the people who are educating and alerting us to the inadequacies of our responses in the past. When it comes to monitoring we should keep the ear close to the ground because these organisations who are at the coalface will be conduit back to Government and legislation.

While we are trying to correct some of the abysmal failures of the past Senator Brady commenced his contribution along the lines that we have not done exactly what we should have done in the past. Part of the problem is that we have not come into contact with the realities. One of the reasons for this is that in some way issues have been played down. I wonder whether some people in the entertainment world and in the media world would try to involve people, not in any sense of tokenism because that would be the worst thing that could happen, in designing their programmes. I pay tribute to RTE on some of its recent programmes which featured people who have impaired sight and other disabilities. They are wonderfully done and are interesting for those of us who do not have those particular problems as they give us an understanding of the difficulties people face.

I often think of Ray MacAnally playing the part of Christy Browne's father in "My Left Foot" in the scene where Christy succeeded in communicating for the first time by using his left foot to write. I recall the absolute excitement and adulation of the father who picks up Christy, throws him across his shoulder and brings him down to the pub to show him off to his friends. In the first instance one thought of Christy as being sidelined and in the next moment he is the hero. It was that same power that brought black people centrally into programmes instead of being seen as the house maid or the house servant. It was the same type of programme that got rid of smoking — the cigarette in the actor's hand. The media has the power to change attitudes, not just of legislators, but all of society. I would like to think the Government would monitor that area to ensure equal rights are given to people who, through no fault of their own, are not able to play a part in a given way. However that does not mean they cannot play an equal part. The same is true of employment. Those of us who have worked alongside a person with disability know full well that after a short time one ignores the disability. One recognises people for their talent and the service they provide.

Let us look at our great role models. Perhaps the Government would consider, in the context of the implementation of the legislation, providing assistance and encouragement wherever a role model is being provided. We saw that in the Special Olympics. I do not know if any Member can remember a time in Ireland — perhaps the late Pope's visit might be comparable — when the whole community was engaged at every level. After a short time one did not think of people with disabilities; one thought of people who would go out and prove they had trained to a point where, with their peers, they could excel. Each and everyone of us drew inspiration from that and we did not stop to think whether they were at a physical disadvantage. This proves it is not just about legislation but about creating awareness and acceptance. We all agreed we had to build on that after the Special Olympics and I am sure that is happening quietly in the background. Perhaps that is the way it should happen.

I said in an unusual discussion recently on sexual orientation when we debated the issue here that people with a different sexual orientation, instead of wanting to be exhibitionist about it, should be integrating into society. People with special needs are the same. They do not want to be seen as exhibition pieces, they want to be fully integrated with backup services and rights in place, not charity. If that were to happen each and everyone of us would benefit. If the whole of society benefits, the mix is right. It is a partnership between citizens of the State and the organisations which represent them at the end of the day. This legislation is a major step forward and perhaps many of the inadequacies that still exist can be confronted in the near future.

I welcome the Bill which deals with a vital service. I am sorry it was not possible, despite efforts over four years, to achieve full consensus with the groups involved which would have been a much preferable way of proceeding. At the end of the day the Government has a responsibility, having listened and consulted exhaustively with everyone, to do what it considers best.

Everyone of us has knowledge, sometimes in our own families, of people who are disabled. I have a nephew who was born mildly disabled but after an accident at the age of 11 became severely disabled and for all practical purposes is 90% deaf and dumb. He is now grown up and lives across the water in the north west of England. This has enabled me to see what services can be provided for people in that position, modern methods of communication, means of increasing mobility such as vehicles enabling people to get around and sheltered accommodation.

The position here is that there are some excellent services. In a local context I praise the sheltered employment provided by the Moorehaven centre in Tipperary town which gives a daily routine and gainful occupation to many people who are mildly disabled. Recently I was asked to present certificates at the vocational school to students some of whom were mildly disabled and one could see their immense pride and pleasure.

As a random example, the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies has published its analysis of need for services and supports for people with intellectual disability 2005-08. One short paragraph which sums up the position reads:

There was significant investment in new services development over the period 1999-2002 and much was achieved as outlined in Section 3 of this analysis. However, there are still 2,284 people who are either without services or without a major element of service. It is vital that they be identified as immediate priorities.

I, like every other Member, fully support the priority given in investment and resources to the area of disability.

Although much has been done, I am sure we are all conscious of and have met people such as families and parents who are put to the pin of their collar to try to look after somebody who is quite seriously disabled and who are not able to access the services they need. Resources are the main answer to the problem but people also need systems where they can effectively access their rights. I do not hesitate to talk about rights. The issue that has been debated is more how those rights are to be vindicated, from the Government and health and other social services — primarily through the administrative system — but not excluding the court in the last resort.

The spirit of the Constitution as shown in the directive principles of social policy is that the application of those principles in the making of laws should be the care of the Oireachtas exclusively and not be cognisable by courts. We know that the legal system is very costly and often cumbersome. I do not think it is necessarily the best system for vindicating these type of rights to services any more than perhaps it is the best way of vindicating people's rights to personal insurance compensation, which the House discussed on the setting up of the PIAB.

I speak as financial spokesperson but I do not think it possible to make absolute commitments, regardless of circumstances, of rights to resources. I remember when the programme for Government was being put together between Fianna Fáil and Labour in 1993, much of which was taken over subsequently by the rainbow coalition. There was an override clause in respect of every commitment that it would be subject to the state of the public finances and that none of the commitments in that programme was of an absolute character.

As technology develops and as people's understanding and treatments become more sophisticated, needs are not static. We have developed all sorts of needs that perhaps our parents or grandparents were not aware of having and the systems were not there to provide them. Needs have a degree of objectivity but not an absolute one because they evolve and this is good. If one can find better ways of dealing with problems to enable people to live fuller lives, then that is all to the good.

While I regret that many groups are disappointed with this legislation, I hope, nonetheless, that it will be the basis for ongoing, substantial and badly needed improvements in services and in the resources for the provision of those services. On that basis, I welcome the Bill.

I wish to make one general point. The Fianna Fáil Members of the Seanad recently met Mr. John Dolan, the chief executive of the Disability Federation of Ireland. He told us that €38 billion is expended every year on public infrastructure. He stated that disabled people are locked out of all that public funding because so many buildings are not adapted for people with disabilities.

When plans are being drawn up for departmental expenditure, every Secretary General should proof them before the structures are constructed to allow for access by people with disabilities. The number of people over 65 is 460,000 and in 2036 the figure will be 1.2 million. People are living longer and therefore it is inevitable there will be more disabled people. Mr. Dolan said there are people who are disabled and people who will become disabled. Accidents happen and none of us knows when we may become disabled. I implore the Secretaries General of Departments to remember to proof their plans so that every bit of public money expended includes provision for disabled people.

The new Luas is completely suitable for people in wheelchairs and for those who are blind. The leaders and decision-makers must think about those who are disabled. The Disability Federation of Ireland is of the view that disabled people are left out of the expenditure of €38 billion. I know the Government is sincere and the budget allocation last year was very generous. However the services must be delivered. I suggest a co-ordinating body to oversee the delivery of services for those who are disabled.

As Senator Mansergh said, we all know people who are disabled. I am in awe of those people. I am able-bodied and I suffer setbacks but when I meet people with disabilities I am heartened. It is a moral responsibility of the Secretaries General of Departments to ensure that access for disabled people is provided. It must be heartbreaking for a person who cannot access buildings in a wheelchair.

I have a friend whose daughter has spina bifida. When she travels by train to Wexford she must travel in the guard's carriage because her wheelchair cannot be accommodated in the train. The women Members of this House were not discriminated against but there was a time when women in this country were discriminated against. I had to give up my job when I married in 1970 and this was the practice until the implementation of an EU directive which allowed for married women to work. Any form of discrimination, whether on racial or other grounds, is completely immoral.

I am a fan of "The Larry King Show" on CNN. CNN celebrated its 20th anniversary recently and President Clinton was a guest on the show. One of my favourite people in the United States is Billy Graham. I am sure all Members know of him. While he is a good age now he is still a fantastic man. When Larry King asked President Clinton what he thought of Billy Graham I was fascinated to hear what he would say. He said that when Billy Graham came to speak in the churches in Arkansas in the 1950s he would not address a segregated audience, which I thought was wonderful. Even back in the 1950s he knew not to discriminate against the black people in the United States. I know that Billy Graham is a genuine Christian. My point is that any form of discrimination is cruel and I hope that the Bill will allow any disabled person to reach his or her full potential just as much as an able-bodied person.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to the House. His brother, Deputy Conor Lenihan, has also been here, as has the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, who was here all day yesterday, and the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power. The Government has shown total commitment to the Bill. Those with disabilities are very important to our society and every effort must be made to improve their position. Affording people with disabilities the opportunity to have care assistants in recent years has allowed them to get out and about and live life to the full. They used to be very much confined and having care assistants has made a significant difference.

Many of us associate disabled people with those who are wheelchair bound. As a former local authority member, many developments have taken place at local authority and Government level for such people. Much has been done and much more can be done. Improvements have been made with footpaths and ramps. Building regulations have been introduced and are being complied with. While some of our older public buildings left much to be desired, we are coming onside with those and improvements are taking place, as they are being developed and modernised. The provision of lifts in such buildings has afforded those in wheelchairs the opportunity to look after whatever business they need to do in those public buildings.

I welcome the developments in sports grounds funded from the national lottery, which have always included access for people with disabilities. Many of those people who in the past depended on the radio or television can now attend and participate in the enjoyment of the games. Part 3 of the Bill addresses access to buildings. Improvements have been made with disabled persons grants, for which local authorities have responsibility. In some cases Government made available grant aid of up to 75%. In many cases local authorities did not allocate the 25% to allow them to provide many more extensions and house improvements for people with disabilities. We have all seen the great improvements to the quality of life of disabled people when a simple extension or a lift was provided. Some of them were able to access the top of their houses having been confined downstairs for so many years. Some other small but important improvements made in recent years include disabled car-parking places in car parks and adjacent to public buildings, churches etc. Unfortunately, some people who should know better park in those places leaving disabled people having to travel long distances.

Given the number of disability groups that contacted us regarding the Bill, it was very hard to keep abreast of their demands. Perhaps the interests of all the groups could have been addressed by a regional group and work remains to be done by the disability groups in this regard.

The Bill confers social rights including the right to an independent assessment of need; the right to a service statement, the content of which will have regard to resource availability, eligibility and other factors; and a right of redress and enforcement — the Bill provides an easily accessible statute-based means of redress regarding assessment and services. From talking to some of the disability groups in my region one would feel that nothing had ever been done by Government for those with disabilities. However, much has been done. The Government recognises in the Bill that much more remains to be done and is setting out to do that now. I hope the planned work will take place in the short term. We recently met the chief executive officer of the DFI, who agreed that not everything could happen overnight. The Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats An Action Plan for the Millennium stated: "We are committed to ensuring that disability is placed where it belongs, on the agenda of every Government Department and public body." This Bill implements that commitment.

Some people, particularly the blind, can have difficulty walking through our towns, as people with no regard for them park on footpaths and leave material on footpaths that should not be there. Do they not realise the inconvenience and difficulties they are creating? Local authorities need to do more for blind people regardingpedestrian crossings.

Local authorities and their members could do a fair amount for people with disabilities at very little cost to the taxpayer or their incomes. We recognise that any new Bill or development costs money, which does not grow on trees. Having travelled through other countries, I would say that we are no better and no worse. That said, I still feel that we have a responsibility to be at the forefront of attending to the interests of people with disabilities. I also recognise last year's budget commitment, when the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, said that, from 2006, there would be multi-annual funding that would make a real difference. I welcome that and also the commitment by Departments to reach a minimum target of 3% in terms of employing people with disabilities. I hope it has already been reached and surpassed, but private sector employers should also ensure that the numbers of disabled people whom they employ also promote opportunity. I hope that will happen.

I thank the Minister and welcome the Bill. I look forward to further debate on Committee Stage over the next few weeks.

I am delighted at the opportunity to debate the Disability Bill 2004, which is unique in the sense that no Bill has ever been as talked about. I would go as far as to say that no Bill has been worked on to the same extent either, given the wide-ranging consultation before putting it together. I commend all the officials and Ministers involved in bringing it before us today.

Other speakers have talked about the level of representation made to each Member of this House and the other, from parents or sufferers of some type or another, or simply from people with an interest in disability. I have spoken to quite a few of them in my own area of Sligo, and in the north west in general. It saddened me — I am concerned enough to put it on the record of this House — that there is such great fear among the carers and parents of the disabled.

I will speak about children. Much of what I will say comes from the perspective of the parents of disabled children or young adults. I was saddened to see that there has been a breakdown of trust and communication between parents and service providers. When one is in a vacuum like the parent of a disabled person, one is in a very frightening place. I know as the parent of four very able children and young adults that there is nothing I would not do to get them what they want. I would go to any length to ensure that everything was right in their lives. That is easy to do, since we are all able-bodied, but those who feel themselves at the mercy of a service provider are in a very difficult and lonely position.

It came across very clearly from my conversation with them that they felt that to achieve anything they had to go to the courts. In 1993 there was the case of Paul O'Donoghue, and more recently the Jamie Sinnott case, with which we are all familiar. The parents are delighted that those cases went to court and that whatever came out was inserted into legislation. However, they also made the point that, by and large, the parents of children with disabilities would not look to the courts for anything, shying away from that route if possible. Only very serious cases go to court. There is concern that, under this Bill, which has a great deal of good in it, access to court would be blocked. The parents feel that, if that happens, it is a retrograde step, isolating them even more.

The area of community homes is covered in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister might answer the concern regarding whether such homes would be monitored. We have all known for the last few days, as a result of the "Prime Time" investigation into nursing homes, the great importance of monitoring both community and nursing homes. There is a great need, but I feel that there is an onus on us to monitor community homes for teenagers and adults with disabilities. It is also important to point out that disability is a way of life. It is not a problem for those who are living it, but they feel that consecutive Governments and politicians — I include myself — have looked on them as a threat. If that is the case, what kinds of vibes are we giving out to them?

There is also a school of thought that there is a need for a whole-life assessment. That should be done when the person comes for the assessment, whether that person be a young child, a teenager or an older person. I wonder again whether the Bill talks about an upgrade to or renewal of an assessment. I have read it, but it was several weeks ago, and I cannot remember that specific point regarding assessments. I feel that there should be such a thing, since circumstances change.

I would love to think that this will be a simple, fast and easy way to treat those unfortunate enough to have a disability. It would be great if all the resources could go into delivering a service to those who need it most. The resources have to be put in place, and the sooner that can happen, the better. It would be terrible if an assessment were made only for a cut-off to be applied. People's conditions vary in their intensity over time, and they need different supports. The assessment should be for the whole of life, so that, when a child is born with Down's syndrome, for example, in the terrible days after the mother and father have been told of its condition, there should be someone talking to them about what will happen in six months or a year. Twelve months later someone should be there talking to them about the child's pre-school and primary years. That is where a good assessment might come into play.

Pre-school provision for the disabled is on a very small scale. I know that in Sligo approximately ten places are available. They are so valuable they are like gold dust. There is a great need to examine the service. It is vital as we are always being told that the early years are the most important of all our lives. We had a debate in this House a year ago on the subject of autism. When I researched my speech for that debate, I was delighted to find that the North Western Health Board had allocated €1 million to pre-school facilities for children with autism. It was a pilot scheme that was developed in Donegal, but the results were fantastic. If the child receives assistance between the first and second year, the results can be outstanding. The board was to make the same scheme available for Sligo-Leitrim, but I am not sure if that ever happened. The whole area of pre-schools should be examined and resources should be invested.

There is also an issue surrounding local authority grants for families that had to adapt their homes to suit a member with a disability. The grants were only available for a certain length of time. Such a system should come under assessment and plans should be made at an earlier stage. When the assessment is carried out, the location of the person with the disability should be taken into account. There is little value in including in an assessment report the need for a physiotherapist or a speech therapist when neither is available due to lack of manpower or resources in the area.

When speaking to representatives from NAMHI, I discovered they were happy that the Bill is to be reviewed every three years. Initially, it was to be reviewed every seven years. People with a disability feel that the only arm of the State to vindicate the needs of the disabled is the court system. If we block that avenue to people with a disability, we are doing a great injustice to them and to ourselves.

I have already spoken about pre-school education, but primary and secondary level education are also important. Third level education is now being examined in the context of people with an intellectual disability. People have a right to education, but the type of education is very important. I am talking about teaching people how to eat, sit and communicate with other people.

The Iona project in Sligo was run by Cregg House for a group of ten people aged 18. Unfortunately, the Department of Education and Science could no longer fund the project and it had to be cancelled. Sligo Institute of Technology has a course in speech and drama for eight students. This brings out immense creativity in the disabled people on the course. The mother that told me about it asked me to imagine the faces of those that are engaging in it. They are delighted to be part of a third level system. They are mixing with their able-bodied peers and they feel part of the whole student process. It also equips them for later life.

I have spoken before about the value of a job to a person with a disability. As able-bodied people, we cannot imagine what a job means to a person with a disability. It is a reason to get up in the morning. Disabled people with jobs feel they have a commitment to their job. They owe it to their place of work to turn up every morning. They are no longer stuck at home with their families and the job opens new social avenues. They go out with their colleagues and the Christmas party is a big issue in their lives. No money can provide that environment for a person with a disability, especially someone with an intellectual disability. He or she suddenly feels like everyone else.

Older people must not be forgotten either. I am not sure if the setting of a nursing home caters for the older person with an intellectual disability. On "Prime Time Investigates" last Monday, we saw that an elderly man with Down's syndrome was struck down with Alzheimer's disease at the age of 56. He had to leave St. Michael's House which is a nice home catering for people with an intellectual disability. That was the home he had known all his life. As he had Alzheimer's disease, he was put into a nursing home. We now know that the poor man passed away two weeks later. It was sad to see the pain on the faces of his brother and sister as they were interviewed on that programme. His sister wondered what was going through her brother's mind. What was he thinking in this strange house? Did he think he had been abandoned by his family? I felt very sorry for her because she has to live the rest of her life wondering about that. Regardless of the ailment that afflicts someone with a disability, provisions should be made to keep them in the homes with which they are most familiar.

Much has been done. People involved with the disabled will be the first to recognise that fact. There are areas that must be improved, especially in a society that is constantly changing. We must look after everyone, but particularly those with a disability. We talk about lifelong learning for everyone. This must also include the disabled.

I welcome the Bill, as well as the large allocation for this sector of €2.8 billion out of a total budget of €38 billion last year. It is the first time such an amount has been given to services for the disabled. When this Bill is passed, I hope those at the coalface caring for people with disabilities will be happy with it. The carers may not have complete trust in the service provider, but they must realise that we, as public representatives, want the best for the disabled in Ireland.

I will be brief because it has been a long debate. I regret the fact that this is neither a rights nor a resource-based Bill, there is no proofing and it is vague on financial commitments. It is deeply regrettable that parents will still be forced to take court actions and might even find that more difficult because of the Bill.

There have been considerable advances made in this area over the years. I am proud to come from Carlow, where St. Dympna's Psychiatric Hospital did much good work in its time. Thankfully, much has happened in a short period. There are now groups like Delta in Carlow and St. Laserian's special school, which has done great work in the area. That was exemplified by Ms Ann Hickey, who represented Delta at the Special Olympics. She joined Mr. Patrick Kielty on the stage at the launch of the Special Olympics and made a speech — an experience which most people would find terrifying. Everyone in Carlow is proud that she was able to do so. It showed the significant advances made in the area of disabilities in a short space of time.

People are finding it difficult to gain access to services. I am involved with one group, the Carlow Autism Group, which has spent nearly four years trying to get a school in the town but we are no nearer getting one. Everything has been put in the group's way. It is incredible in this day and age that this is still happening. Much work still needs to be done. For example, the saga surrounding Ionad Folláin in Myshall has been ongoing for years. Finally we are getting approval for an adult autism centre.

This Bill is a missed opportunity and I look forward to voting against it. It is regrettable that the Government has not listened to the views of the Opposition and the many groups involved in the area of disabilities.

I assure Senators that the Government has listened long and hard to the many representations made in this area but any Government must strike a balance. If the roles were reversed and the Senators opposite were exercising the responsibility of office, no doubt they would find it difficult to improve on this legislation. I thank all Senators who contributed to this debate. From their comments, I know they took a tremendous interest in the Bill.

The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, was present to listen to many of the valuable contributions in the House and will read the extracts from today's debate. Much of what has been said relates to the five key points raised by the Disability Legislation Consultation Group, DLCG. These points were also presented by the group to the Taoiseach who has, as the Minister of State outlined last Tuesday, responded by setting out the Government's position. The Minister of State has also outlined that the group had sought a number of changes to the Bill. These are also being examined in the context of possible Government amendments.

In listening to the contributions, I am not sure that all of the Senators recognise the significant impact for persons with disabilities of the equality policies pursued by this Government since 1997 or the importance of the national disability strategy, of which the Disability Bill is but one element, launched by the Taoiseach.

When the Bill was presented to the House on 31 May, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, referred to the developments in policy and service provision for persons with disabilities, which have gathered momentum in recent years. We have had strong multi-ground employment equality and equal status legislation in place since 1998 and 2000, respectively. That legislation is among the most advanced in Europe. The equality infrastructure, which supports the equality agenda, comprises two elements, namely, the Equality Authority, whose role is to work towards the achievement of equality of opportunities and the elimination of discrimination and the Equality Tribunal, which makes determinations on complaints of discrimination and offers mediation in appropriate cases.

Experience indicates that the equality infrastructure is well used and recognised. We have seen successful cases taken by persons with disabilities where their right to reasonable accommodation in employment and in access to services and facilities were vindicated. Last year, the Equality Authority undertook a number of initiatives to promote the practice of providing reasonable accommodation among service providers. These initiatives and the positive outcome of equality cases are just two examples of the way current law and practice are influencing change — and not before time, as most Senators pointed out.

In June 2000 the Taoiseach launched the policy of mainstreaming public service delivery for persons with disabilities. Mainstreaming requires that public bodies, wherever practicable, deliver their services in a way that is accessible to people with disabilities, as well as to other citizens. The policy signalled the Government's commitment to move away from segregated service provision to a more inclusive model.

The mainstreaming ethos is particularly visible in the work of FÁS and Comhairle and it is supported by the work of the National Disability Authority. It is in this context of significant developments in equality and mainstreaming, which I have just outlined, that the Bill and the other elements of the national disability strategy are being implemented.

Some Senators have suggested that we have failed persons with disabilities and put the success of the economy first. Of course we must have a successful economy. It is precisely because we have one that we are now able to make these investments. Over the course of the past decade a thriving economic climate has been created in Ireland. We have recorded one of the best economic performances in the EU. From 1997 to 2003, the Irish economy, in GDP terms, grew by an average of approximately 8%, compared to an average of around 2.5% in the rest of the EU. The fruits of this economic success have been put to good use and are reflected in the increased investment in disability services. As the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, outlined on Tuesday, we have seen investment in disability services grow from €0.8 billion in 1997 to €2.5 billion in 2005. That represents a 3.5-fold increase in eight years.

Everyone in the House welcomes the new multi-annual investment programme for high priority disability support services providing an additional funding close to €900 million over the years 2006 to 2009. This will be focused in the health and education sectors. That is in addition to the further €150.5 million included in the 2005 Estimates. The Government is committed to persons with disabilities and this programme is evidence of it.

Many Senators have criticised the Bill because service provision is subject to resource availability. These same considerations apply to other public services which are equally in need of a fair share of Exchequer funding. The Government recognises that there is a historical deficit in disability services. A unique investment programme announced in the budget is being put in place to help address this issue.

Section 5 will require Ministers, for the first time, to make an explicit determination of the amount of funding they will allocate each year for the purposes of the Bill. In making these allocations, Ministers must weigh their various other commitments while giving a specific consideration to the disability element of their allocation. As a result, every Minister will make a clear commitment annually, pursuant to statute law, to spend a specified amount to advance the purposes of the legislation. Side by side, the national disability strategy and the Bill will establish disability as a key priority and will help to effect a rebalancing of resource allocation in a way that favours disability.

Some have found fault with the Bill because they say it is not rights based, in other words, it does not provide justiciable rights to services. They criticise the absence of direct access to the courts but they do not acknowledged the redress mechanisms in the Bill that will provide a user-friendly, low cost and speedy method of redress. I reiterate those rights, which include a right to an independent assessment of health and educational needs, undertaken in accordance with standards and without regard to costs or capacity to supply the services; a right to a related service statement setting out the services that can be provided within the resources available to the health or education service provider; and a right to redress through independent complaints and appeals mechanisms, including, ultimately, enforcement of decisions through the Circuit Court. That is a rights-based approach.

Listening to some of the Opposition proposals, it is clear that their plan is to involve the courts extensively in disability service provision. It is not equally clear how they would develop disability services — we know there are limitations in the present services — so that people who do not have services will get them. There has been no reference from the benches opposite about planned service growth supported by sectoral planning and prudent investment and that is the correct way to develop services. Law cases driving service delivery will inevitably result in uneven services being delivered throughout the country based on the random decision of the courts.

The Bill places a positive duty on public bodies to apply a 3% target in the employment of people with disabilities. It is reasonable to target public bodies in these positive duties, especially when all service providers — be they statutory or non-statutory, private or voluntary bodies — are already prohibited from discriminating against persons with disabilities under the Equal Status Act 2000. I am confident that the public bodies engaged in positive action to support mainstream employment of persons with disabilities will serve as models of best practice and in the coming years, will influence change in all sectors.

Many Senators have called for a clear right to an independent assessment of need. I assure the House that the Bill provides for an independent assessment to anyone who considers that he or she may have a disability, following an application to the Health Service Executive, HSE. Assessments will be commenced within three months of the application and will be completed without undue delay. Provision is also made under section 21 for regulations to set out more precisely the timeframes for assessment. The Bill also establishes a means of redress if an assessment is not provided or not provided in accordance with the prescribed standards. I am therefore satisfied that an assessment will be provided as a right.

Last September, the Taoiseach announced that a dedicated group had been established within the Health Service Executive which would explore the steps necessary to implement the Disability Bill within the health sector. The group is developing a sensible programme of action which will implement and underpin the delivery of Part 2 and the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, is aware of this important task.

Some Senators believe that the assessment systems in the legislation are too complex and bureaucratic. Concerns have also been expressed about the independence of the redress system. It is important to recognise that the Bill establishes a new and dedicated framework to support the tasks of assessment, delivery of related services, help in accessing mainstream services and means of redress. These elements are sought by disability interest groups and are reflective of the commitments made in the programme for Government on this Bill. The appeals officer will be statutorily independent, will have strong statutory powers of investigation and will operate a separate agency with its own budget and staff. I draw the attention of Senators to Schedule 10 of the Act and to sections 16 to 18, inclusive, and 21 and 22, which equip the appeals officer with the powers to undertake a truly independent role.

Since the Government entered office in 1997, there have been notable milestones in policy for people with disabilities, including equality legislation, mainstreaming and, most recently, the national disability strategy. In the short time available for my reply, I was able to discuss only some of the major issues raised in this debate. Some significant differences exist between Government policy and the proposals made by Opposition speakers. These differences are reflected in the submissions from interest groups. Given the serious and lengthy debate on this Stage, I am aware that I can expect a variety of proposals on amendments. I look forward to exploring these important proposals on Committee Stage and thank Senators for their contributions.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 17.

  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brennan, Michael.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Hayes, Maurice.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kett, Tony.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mansergh, Martin.
  • Minihan, John.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Morrisey, Tom.
  • Moylan, Pat.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Walsh, Jim.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, Fergal.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • O’Meara, Kathleen.
  • Phelan, John.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Terry, Sheila.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Moylan and Cummins; Níl, Senators Minihan and O’Meara.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

On Tuesday, 14 June 2005. I thank everyone who contributed to make the debate very worthwhile. My office received a call from a woman who believed Second Stage would finish at 3 p.m., about which she was right, and that not every Member who wished to speak would have had a chance to contribute. I record that everyone who wanted to speak had a chance to do so.

Hear, hear.

One cannot force people to speak. If they do not want to speak, it is understandable. There is no point in anyone running to tell constituents he or she would have liked to have spoken but was not given the time as that would be untrue. The House was scheduled to sit until 5 p.m.

I confirm that anyone who wished to contribute to Second Stage had an opportunity to do so.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday,14 June 2005.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 12 noon on Tuesday,14 June 2005.