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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 Jul 2016

Vol. 246 No. 14

Housing for People with Disabilities: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:


- that the need for appropriate housing for persons with disabilities, as already recognised by the State is still outstanding:

noting, in particular:

- that the number of people with disabilities on the waiting list for social housing increased substantially to just under 4,000 in 2013;

- that there are significant numbers of persons with disabilities residing in nursing homes or similar residential facilities, many of whom are still young people, who could be appropriately living in the community and are not on the housing list, nor part of the congregated settings initiative;

- that 2,725 people are still living in "congregated settings";


- the progress made under the national housing strategy for people with a disability, 2011 to 2016, and its associated implementation plan, in particular, the cross-departmental and multi-stakeholder approach taken by the national advisory group to the strategy and noting the recently established housing and disability steering groups within all local authorities; and

having regard to:

- Article 19(a) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which states that "Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement";

- the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government related to housing for persons with disabilities including housing adaptation grants scheme, congregated settings and the inclusion of disability in all housing policy;

calls for:

- action to immediately reduce unmet housing needs with the intention that Ireland will have suitable housing provision for persons with disabilities in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, commitments;

- the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to:

- confirm that the Government's action plan for housing includes specific commitments on the delivery of housing in sufficient numbers and type to also meet the housing needs of persons with disabilities;

- ensure the provision of an annual update from local authorities of the number of social housing units allocated to people with disabilities on the housing waiting list;

- ensure that any housing project supported by public funding, including Part V housing, provide a percentage of pre-planned and reserved housing units to meet local needs for persons with disabilities;

- ensure that the social housing 2020 strategy is routinely disability proofed;

- provide funding in 2017 to increase housing supply and to make necessary and timely adaptations to current housing stock;


- requests that the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government draft a work programme which will routinely consider and review Government progress towards delivering adequate and sustainable housing for persons with disabilities.

I welcome the Minister to participate in the debate. There were a number of motions I could have tabled in respect of disability, but I choose this one. People have said there are other areas of greater need such as unemployment which is a massive issue, as are health and social provision. There are also issues with income and poverty experienced by people with disabilities. Why put the focus on housing at this time? There is constant talk from Government on what I would describe as the housing crisis, underscored by references to a dedicated ministry for housing, the Minister's own Department, the cross-party committee and its recent report, all of which emphasise that this is the priority for the Government.

For the avoidance of doubt, the current recession-rent housing crisis requires urgent attention and action. I understand and support that, as do people with disabilities. I, too, see children coming and going from hotels. That is heartbreaking and has to be dealt with. I am happy to say there is strong interest in the issue of housing for people with disabilities. Many Members come from disability backgrounds such as the deaf community, blind, mental health and neurological, physical and intellectual disabilities. Housing is a big issue right across the disability and mental health area.

What is unacceptable is the implicit acceptance that it is the only housing crisis in Ireland. We have a new housing crisis which is rightly attracting necessary attention. I am here to give voice to and garner support and action for the long-running housing crisis in Ireland, a housing crisis that has deep roots in the culture of exclusion and lack of expectation. I am here to give the Minister the opportunity to set out publicly what is being done to resolve this historic crisis in parallel with the other crisis that has to be dealt with. The current crisis is based on the rightful notion that people have an obvious need for a house to live in, otherwise expressed as a right to housing.

The journey begins in a very different place for people with disabilities, that place being institutional and separate settings. Ireland still has almost 3,000 people living in congregated settings and many others, unnecessarily, living in nursing homes. There is a deep-seated culture that it is acceptable that disabled people would live in an institution without giving their consent and with others with whom they have not chosen to live. It has been said one cannot choose the people one works with but one can choose one's friends. Many people with disabilities still do not have the assurance that they can choose the people with whom to live or that their house will support them to live with ease and comfort with their loved ones.

I will refer to people trying to continue living in the community. We are often reminded that the policy is to keep people living and participating in the community. We must not forget that it has always been the determined will and resolve of people with disabilities to make the case, always against the odds, to have their space in society, to win that space and to try and hold on to it. It has not been easy to do that in the past few years. They fought and struggled for inclusion to drive a regular car, attend regular school, go to the same workplace as others, to get on the same bus and train; in other words to be able to live independently. When the disabled person's grant was introduced in 1992 that, too, was fought for by people with disabilities.

In 1980 the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, in report No. 50, stated the existing grant was totally out of line with building costs and should be reviewed annually or automatically linked to building costs. It went on to state the housing adaptation scheme, progressive as it was at the conception stage, suffered from difficulties with implementation. It named three of these areas: differing interpretations; geographical location; and the many delays not linked with the costs of adapting houses. It concluded that an effective housing policy must involve three elements: a satisfactory adaptation scheme; provision within the building programme; and housing with support services where needed. At the time, more than 30 years ago, shortcomings were identified. This was a first strong effort at retrofitting, a scheme to ensure people could stay living in the community.

In 2004 the NESC returned to that subject in its Housing in Ireland Performance and Policy report No. 112. In respect of housing issues for people with disabilities, it quoted from a Disability Federation of Ireland document which stated changes to the disabled person's housing grant, including the introduction of means testing and the reduction of individual amounts payable had led to increased vulnerability for disabled persons, often at crisis points, including over-long stays in hospitals and inadequate standards of housing and a limited range of housing options.

During 2004, at the height of the Celtic tiger, a NESC document pointed out that there were risks. In 2006 the NDA published a review of the disabled person's grant scheme, which stated: "It ... documents the variety of eligibility criteria, assessment procedures and application processes which have been developed across local authorities and which have created anomalies and inequalities in the provision of the grant". It also set out difficulties with the operation of the grant such as delays in occupational therapy assessments and inadequate grant levels. Sadly, it must now be said that a scheme first introduced in 1972 is still underfunded and under-ambitious, leaving so many people and families without access to the most basic of rights, which is a functioning and comfortable home.

We see on an annual basis the routine closing down of the application process for the housing adaptation scheme across local authorities. If we were in the work arena, it would now be enshrined as "custom and practice". That is what it has become. This is something that routinely happens every spring to summer and so the conversation for every new applicant commences with, "We have run out of money. Come back again." How obscene and wrong it is to present people in dire and immediate need of something so basic with that routine notion and a stop-start implementation, administration and funding process? How is it okay to send people away not once or twice because there was a crisis, but every year? It is the custom and practice regarding how this programme operates.

I met many city and county councillors during the Seanad election campaign and was so impressed with the commitment and resolve of many of them in respect of the housing and other needs of people with disabilities, yet they are also frustrated that they cannot support people who are often their neighbours to get the necessary housing adaptations in a timely fashion and that others cannot move into a house in order that they can progress as adults and get on with their lives. Councillors spend so much time keeping faith with people in the slim hope that there will be a good result, but never a timely one. So many family members and people across the disability and housing sectors put in much time and effort, as do public officials, but it is such a poor and frustrating use of time. The phrase "get on with your life" is certainly a cliché, but it is well packed with the essence of what a house can do for somebody. It is the keystone of the possibility of getting on with one's life and having the opportunity to strike out as a person in one's own right with whomever one wishes to live. We all instinctively know this, yet almost 50 years on from Ireland's first response to the housing needs of people with disabilities, we are no way near providing the housing response required.

To put it very directly to the Minister, this is as much a housing crisis as the awful current crisis and we must bring the same resolve and response to solving it. That is the only commitment that is acceptable. I know that people with disabilities are confounded by the notion that there is only one housing crisis in Ireland because that is all they hear about in the public space. All those waiting for and needing home adaptations - the 4,000 people waiting for social housing and the almost 3,000 people who are still in institutions, with their families and carers - cannot accept the dominant notion that there is only one housing crisis in Ireland for one group of people and I hope we can deal with that notion. There is no doubt that that is totally unacceptable also. People with disabilities and their families see themselves airbrushed out of consideration. It is not too strong to say they are being pushed aside as the political oxygen only seems to permeate the recent crisis. The message being picked up by people with disabilities and their organisations is, "We are used to waiting so we can wait longer." This waiting cannot go on any longer. There must be a strong start that people can see resulting in new housing provision and stepped-up output on housing adaptations in the year ahead. This urgently requires funding.

A Programme for a Partnership Government states the needs of people with disabilities will be incorporated into all future housing policies and acknowledges that by 2021 there will still be 1,817 people in congregated settings. If the speed of dealing with this issue remains the same, it will take another decade. These are not statements of resolve and statements to challenge civil servants. We need to see the targets. There are some in respect of congregated settings. Processes are in place and I have acknowledged them in the motion; therefore, there is something very strong on which to build. We now need strong and definite targets and outcomes. I am saying clearly that this issue needs to be resolved in the next three years.

I second the motion. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to this important motion and urge all Senators to come on board and allow it to pass today. I thank Senator John Dolan for introducing the motion which is based on his considerable professional expertise. Regrettably, I was unable to speak earlier on the Seanad Bill, but I do want to briefly note that it is this kind of first-hand knowledge that the Members of this House often bring to debates. It is an indispensable feature and long may it continue on the road to Seanad reform.

Senator John Dolan outlined very comprehensively the difficulties that persist for people with a disability in accessing the housing they need. It is telling that at no point in our history, either in times of plenty or in times of austerity, has the State been able to guarantee that its citizens living with a disability will be as free to pursue living to their maximum potential, as is the case for those who do not have a disability. At its core, this is an issue of equality. When we fully appreciate the lengths we still have to go to ensure that this equality can be guaranteed to all in terms of housing provision, the kind of policy making we need from the Government becomes clear. We need thinking that is forward-thinking rather than reactive, inclusive rather than excluding, holistic rather than piecemeal and consultative rather than dictated. That is the standard by which we should seek to disability-proof our housing policy. It is the standard that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities challenges us to meet. What better metaphor than house building can we use when looking for ways to describe how our policy should be? We need to get the design and construction right at the outset. We will then end up with a durable structure that is capable of accommodating all.

Unfortunately, we are far from the ideal scenario. While the motion seeks the kind of paradigm shift in thinking that we need on disability, it also recommends some helpful measures that can be taken in the short to medium term that could go a long way towards meeting the housing needs of those with disabilities. In particular, I urge the Government to take seriously the recommendation that a reserved amount of Part V housing be constructed to meet the needs of people with disabilities, the funding increase sought for adaptation grants and the requirement for greater efficiencies in implementation. We also must recognise that there are different levels of support required, depending on the nature of a person’s disability, and this must be reflected in the type of accommodation constructed or made available in order that it is always fit for purpose.

In the past three decades charities and organisations devoted to assisting those with housing needs often purchased low-quality homes that required significant retrofitting to be made liveable. Local authorities have been doing the same. That represents a serious cost when compared to the cost of getting it right at the get-go, not only for charities and the State but also for residents who must live in poorly insulated homes. Many people living with a disability find themselves disproportionately in fuel poverty and this presents an extra burden.

We must get this right. When homes are being built, we need to ensure that a certain percentage are built to standards for people with a disability. We also need to ensure the resources are in place to allow implementation of the recommendations in this motion. It is no good changing policy without the resources to back it up. We have ample evidence that the number of people in emergency accommodation in the State is increasing. What percentage of those people are living with a disability? It should never be an emergency in the first place and it is not fair that because of bad planning, mismanagement and a basic lack of sustained investment, resources are swallowed up on meeting emergency demand.

In my county, Waterford, there is a very long waiting list for accommodation suitable for people with a disability. I know that because I am on the waiting list. My daughter who is 25 years old was born with physical and intellectual disability. We have been on the list for more than five years. My daughter's housing need will differ from her housing need when she is 35 years old and, I hope, 75. I know also that, like many of her age, she wants to live with her peers. At the age of 35 years she may well have a partner. At the age of 75 years she will have other needs. Fundamentally, as a mother, I want to be able to give her the ability to have a home environment that underpins her independence as much as possible and for as long as possible. For her, housing should evolve with a person's life cycle, which I am sure is also true for every other person in her situation. That must be incorporated into our approach to delivering housing. This life-cycle principle which I hope will be applied to my daughter should be applied to the way we plan for and build our communities because when we talk of building houses, we are really talking about building communities and houses that are fit for purpose and help to promote well-being. We need an integrated, inclusive and sustainable approach to building houses for those less fortunate than the Minister and I - namely, those people with disabilities. I have full confidence in the Minister's ability to get that going.

I commend Senators John Dolan and Grace O'Sullivan for proposing and seconding the motion. It is very relevant in the context of the wider housing debate which, as we all know, is one of the biggest challenges facing the country. As a former local authority member for eight years and chairperson of a housing strategic policy committee within a local authority, I have had experience at the coalface where people with disabilities were presenting for housing. In some cases, the local authority was able to respond, but, unfortunately, in others, as outlined by the Senators, for one reason or another the local authorities, whether it was down to resources or the building stock available, were not capable of responding in an appropriate fashion to meet the needs of the disabled persons involved.

It is welcome that this issue is being put at the top of the agenda by way of the motion. Senator John Dolan has long been an advocate for the disability sector and he will continue that advocacy in the Chamber. I congratulate him and offer him my support, in whatever way I can, in progressing the interests of the disabled, especially on this topic of housing.

The housing need across the country is one of the biggest challenges facing the Minister and society. I do not with to go over old ground, but we have experienced a collapse in the housing market. We have what one would call a dysfunctional property market. Local authorities were denuded of resources for one reason or another. I am not pointing a finger, but it is a fact that they were unable to build houses or adapt houses to the extent they would have wished in recent years. The challenge now is to rebuild that capacity within local authorities and the approved housing bodies sector which I believe is a critical component in meeting the existing needs. I also want to see the private sector return to some level of sustainability.

When we debate housing for the disabled, we should acknowledge that some progress has been made. Improvements can always be achieved, but the Part M regulations are a requirement for the building of all new properties. There are regulations governing rental properties also, in that they must be up to a standard that is appropriate for the accommodation of those who are disabled. That should be acknowledged. It is welcome that any new housing stock, as we undertake new housing programmes in both the private and public sectors, must meet the Part M building regulations.

Part V developments were mentioned also. We are speaking to the Minister directly. He is the policy maker who makes provision within the Estimates for housing allocations, but, ultimately, it is the local authority that is responsible for housing assessments in terms of eligibility and also for housing allocations. There is a huge responsibility for local authorities.

With regard to the strategic policy committees that I mentioned, there is a responsibility for councillors to make adequate provision to meet the demand in their respective local authority areas. I refer specifically to the housing adaptation grants available, both private and public, to accommodate disabled persons. If we take it on a comparative basis across the country, some local authorities perform extremely well in drawing down funds from central government and the Minister's Department, but it has to be said others are deplorable. I am not pointing the finger at local authorities. I had experience, when I was a Minister of State at the Department responsible for housing, of Deputies and Senators from all parties wanting to know why their allocations for housing adaptation grants were not as high in the current year as in other years. The reason is that the local authorities have not been as active in providing 20% of the funding in order that they can draw down the other 80% of funding from central government.

There is work to be done at local authority level to ensure that the strategic policy committees approach this topic in the same positive fashion as the Senators have proposed, but there is also an onus on us, centrally and at national level, to ensure we provide adequate resources for people with disabilities. We do have a housing crisis and people are living in unsatisfactory circumstances, but all of us would agree that those with disabilities should be prioritised. It is not for the Minister to do that; it is for the local authority, which is the statutory housing body responsible for housing people. The approved housing bodies also have access to grant assistance to provide funding for those with disabilities. I am sure the Minister will outline that through the social housing strategy. I know that he is working on a new action plan for housing, about which we all look forward to hearing, and I expect to hear provision within that action plan for housing to address some of the concerns the Senators raised. I expect also that mobility grants, housing adaptation grants and other resources required to meet the need of the disabled people who badly need them will be provided for in the housing action plan.

I mentioned the role of the local authorities. It would be remiss of me not to mention the cross-cutting required in other Departments. I include the Health Service Executive in that, which also has a role in terms of providing capital funds targeted at the acquisition and refurbishment of properties to accommodate disabled individuals who are transitioning from priority institutions. Between the HSE and the Department of housing and local government, for which the Minister is now responsible, there are opportunities to enhance resources to help those who are disabled.

I am conscious of some anomalies in the system that might arise from time to time. An approved housing body may apply to the Department for capital assistance funding, but it falls between two stools because of the HSE funding or the designated status of the centre. That is an issue the Minister and his officials should examine to ameliorate that anomaly by creating greater flexibility to ensure that, where people or approved housing bodies apply for funding, they qualify for the assistance available to disabled persons or people incapacitated in the same way that local authorities or others would qualify for the capital acquisition schemes.

That is the main bulk of funding which is available to local authorities and approved housing bodies and just because a designation or status applies to a person, he or she should not be excluded from that particular category. I acknowledge that some work will need to be done by the HSE and ourselves in that regard. There are enough mechanisms, for example, the existing national housing strategy and national implementation framework in place to allow for flexibilities to develop.

I have noticed another anomaly, especially in the south east, in respect of housing institutions for the elderly. They are registered as approved housing bodies but are regulated as nursing homes. They are not nursing homes, but they are subject to regulations issued by HIQA, etc. The older people for whom these organisations cater live independently in sheltered accommodation, although with some support. Individuals who are housed in this way are being taken off the housing list in the relevant local authority areas and this means that local authorities or approved housing bodies will not have to provide funding for them. Unfortunately, because of their status, they are falling between two stools. If some of these institutions come under pressure due to HIQA rules or if they cannot secure investment in the form of various Government grants, they will close and we will lose these further supports for older people and those who are disabled.

I welcome the motion and the opportunity for all Senators to contribute to the debate on it. This is also an opportunity for the Minister and his officials to review the current supports and to enhance them, if possible, in future Estimates and the forthcoming action plan for housing.

Fianna Fáil is happy to support the motion. We need to ensure people with disabilities are given equal opportunities and access to essential services. Some 13% of the population is classified as having a disability. I hope the new national disability inclusion strategy which is due to be in place by the end of 2016 will reflect this. That is crucial. I also welcome the recent establishment of the housing and disability steering groups within our local authorities. I had some queries about these, but I believe they have just been set up. I always felt the disability sector had not been addressed enough but at least the steering groups have now been set up. I know that the Minister will address the issue.

In 2011 the HSE published "Time to Move on from Congregated Settings". A congregated setting is a residential facility with ten or more people for residential support into the mainstream community. This is a crucial issue because on the agenda today is Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which states, "Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement". This is crucial. People who have disabilities are very vulnerable in society. I always believe they are forgotten. I was a member of my local authority for 19 years and, in my experience, the only scheme of funding for people with disabilities was the capital assistance scheme, CAS. This is for people with disabilities, older people and the homeless. If the local authority in Carlow was to apply to the Department for housing for ten people with disabilities, the local authority may only get funding for three. There is always a backlog for people with disabilities. This needs to be addressed. There should be separate capital funding for people with disabilities. I firmly believe the Minister needs to address this issue in the programme for Government.

There are two grants available for people with disabilities. There is the mobility aids grant which is the local authority grant. However, that grant only goes up to €6,000 which means that only small works can be carried out such as installing handrails or replacing a bath with a shower. There is also the housing adaptation grant for people with disabilities which is up to €30,000. However, that grant is means tested and where one has a family with disabilities, or one or two children with disabilities, that family has to come up with more of the funding themselves. I ask the Minister to look at the matter of housing adaptation for people with disabilities and examine the position with regard to mobility aids.

It is important that, as the economy recovers, people with disabilities are not left behind. Disability inclusion must be a central tenet of the Government's agenda and access to services and resources must be directed, in the first instance, to those most in need and especially people with disabilities.

When I was a councillor - this has also proved to be the case since I came to the Seanad - I felt the lack of information was the biggest issue relating to disability. I have always been of the view that people with disabilities are forgotten. Perhaps the Minister, when he is putting the new programme in place, could ensure people with disabilities know their entitlements. This matter needs to be addressed in a serious fashion. I hope the Minister might be able to provide some information on the new action plan. As he is aware, we are dealing with an emergency. We are in the midst of a housing crisis, there is homelessness and children are living in bed and breakfast accommodation. People are trying to get organised to get the children back to school and they are cutting back on food because they cannot afford the costs involved. Will the Minister return to the House urgently with the new housing action plan, particularly as these issues need to be addressed?

I welcome the Minister. I thank Senators John Dolan, Grace O'Sullivan, Frances Black, Alice-Mary Higgins, Collete Kelleher and Lynn Ruane for using Private Members' time to table this very important issue.

I am a former director of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and spent many years on its board. I remain pretty much involved in the whole disability sector. We had a catch phrase in Cork for the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. I am sure the Minister would be very familiar with the organisation, particularly as he comes from that neck of the woods. The catchphrase in question was a simple slogan which tried to encapsulate the core message of our ethos and work. It was about providing independent mobility with dignity. It reminded me, when I reflected on it, what this debate is all about. This is about people's rights, which are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They have special rights. It is about choice, dignity and people being allowed to play a meaningful and independent role, where possible, within their communities and where they decide.

I acknowledge the work Senator Paudie Coffey, as a former Minister of State in the Department, did in this area. In fairness, he did a great deal of work on it. In a previous contribution the Senator spoke about local authorities. I have been a member of the local authority for many years. I accept that local authorities have failed in this regard but what have successive Ministers done? The debate cannot be divorced from the position on Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann and local councils. These councils are made up of members of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and all parties and none. I know what has happened. In some cases, there is no joined-up thinking between the strategic policy committees on planning and on housing, nor is there any commitment or drive.

I do not need to tell the Minister about the lack of enthusiasm on the part of some local authorities to delivering housing. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council - my local authority - has 6,500 people on it housing waiting list. Many excuses are offered and we are informed that loads of people are looking into the problem. Loads of councillors from all groups and none bring proposals and chief executives who are usually empowered by legislation and the political process inform them that it is a matter of resources. I am fed up of this excuse about resources. I am also fed up with politicians saying it is the establishment, the county management or the chief executives. We have got to pull it all back. I would nearly say we need a major housing body for the four Dublin councils.

The local authorities are not delivering on housing. That is the reality. The Minister knows his sums and is preparing a major report on housing. I have spoken to a number of county managers and chief executives and they were interested to hear what the Minister is going to come up with. However, let us acknowledge that local authorities have not delivered. One could also say the elected members of local authorities have not pushed the matter. I have been at strategic policy committees that have a quorum and ten minutes later the attendees have emptied out of the room. These are the facts and I do not wish to keep going on about them. The key message is that I hope, in the context of the Minister's report, we set quotas for the delivery of houses for people with disabilities. We also need to provide resources or tell the local authorities to provide the resources. It is great that the legislation is in place because local authorities were taking money in lieu of Part V for years.

That has changed. I accept it does not happen any more, but it took a hell of a long time for the political establishment to cop on to what was happening. There are substantial moneys held in Part V accounts. I challenge the Minister to request that every chief executive of every local authority in the State inform him this week as to the moneys they are holding on deposit from Part V.

I agree with the Senator.

Perhaps the Minister might instruct them tomorrow not to spend a penny more until they come back to him on the matter.

I want to find out the amount of money, bonds or Part V funds that are due to local authorities. There could be a kitty for the Minister. If he had any sense, he would ring-fence the money and tell those involved that it will be part of his strategy. That is the only challenge I am leaving the Minister. If he has not already done that, he will be pleasantly surprised. He is a very capable Minister and it is more than likely that he has already dealt with the issue. Let us determine the amount of money that has been generated through Part V from developers and whether we can ring-fence current funds in order to fast-track some housing for those with disabilities.

The Minister should set targets and demand monthly reports. The buck stops with him. There is great expectation and excitement about the Minister in local government. He has delivered in the past in agriculture. He is committed and is a man of his word, something that has been acknowledged across the political spectrum. The task is up to him. It is a major task, but the Minister can deliver for the people who really matter.

I commend Senator John Dolan for his introduction of the motion. I know him of old from his role in the disability area. It is something in which I have a particular interest and on which we can all agree.

There are a number of aspects to the issue. I can only speak from my first-hand experiences in Limerick where the main service providers in residential settings include the Daughters of Charity at St. Vincent's Hospital in Lisnagry, Bawnmore and St. Joseph's Foundation in Charleville. There are also service providers such as Enable Ireland. They do fantastic work.

A number of points have been made. I refer to congregated settings. It is a positive measure to have people with disabilities living in their communities. It is very natural, but their housing requires a little more work than normal housing and resources have to be provided. When Senator Paudie Coffey was Minister of State and had responsibility for housing, he provided funding for the Cappamore voluntary housing association to build up to 12 units to accommodate people with disabilities. That was very progressive and positive and provided housing in a rural village setting. I commend and thank him on behalf of the people of Cappamore who were delighted with the positive measure.

From my reading around the issue, I have been struck by the reporting by local authorities of the number of units provided for people with disabilities on an annual basis. I was struck by the fact that public funds are being used, yet there does not appear to be any reporting structure outside that of local authority members. That has to be changed. I assumed that a reporting structure was in place, but I found there was not. The action plan for housing should contain an automatic requirement for such a reporting structure. If we had that information, we would be able to compare local authorities. Some local authorities are doing fantastic work, but perhaps others are not doing as well. We have to benchmark the provision of services if public funds are involved.

Senator Victor Boyhan referred to unspent Part V funding. A large chunk of that should probably go towards disability funding, which encompasses a broad spectrum. I know of elderly parents looking after their severely disabled son who attends one of the main service providers in the Limerick city. He lives with them on a daily basis. The parents are now in their 70s. Luckily, someone in the mid-western HSE region is involved in the case and is seeking long-term accommodation for the family.

One of the greatest worries for the parents of children with disabilities is what will happen when they die. It is one of the imponderables, as Senator John Dolan knows. We have never found a satisfactory mechanism to deal with this issue. Service providers such as St. Joseph's, Bawnmore and the Daughters of Charity in Lisnagry provide residential facilities. It is an issue we need to address. It is not an easy issue to deal with because properties suitable for those with disabilities need to be found. Invariably, that involves bungalow settings, living on the ground floor of a building or the adaptation of housing.

It is extremely important that we find ways for people to live their local areas. In cases where a son or daughter is living with his or her parents, we have to find a mechanism whereby he or she can live in a unit nearby. The human dimension of the issues that people with disabilities face is extremely important.

I wholeheartedly support the motion. It is opportune that the Minister is introducing the action plan for housing. These matters can be integrated. The positive aspects are the funding of €10 million provided under the CAS system for Cappamore voluntary community housing by the former Minister of State, Senator Paudie Coffey. The move away from congregated settings is very important, as is the €20 million provided to adapt buildings. The disabled person's grant is good, but it is limited. Councillors, Deputies and Senators have sought such grants for constituents over many years. We have to bring the issue of disability to the mainstream. We are getting to that point. We have to ensure people can live in their communities and that houses are adapted.

I welcome the establishment by the Minister of specific groups with the local authorities, but while all the dots are in local authorities, they need to be joined up in terms of benchmarking. Serious levels of public funding are involved. When a report is produced, it should be sent to local authority members, as is their entitlement, as well as to the Department and the Minister. That would create a certain cohesion in funding. We are dealing with human lives. Part V funding should be integrated as part of the annual reporting mechanism. The action plan for housing will be published on Tuesday of next week, I understand. I welcome that and have no doubt that a section of it will deal with housing for those with disabilities. I would like to see specific funding provided and for the area of disabilities to become part of the mainstream and the normal provision of social housing. On occasion, people living in villages or rural or urban settings have been moved from their home environment to units that might be ideal in terms of physical structure but do not meet their emotional and human needs, which is extremely important.

I welcome the Minister. He has been in the House quite a lot recently. As an aside, the issue of bins has not gone away. I have engaged in correspondence with the Minister because there are outstanding issues that need to be resolved. We will deal with them on another day.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, cuirim fáilte roimh an rún seo thar cheann Shinn Féin. Tá sé fíor-thábhachtach. Tá daoine le míchumas ar an ngrúpa a bhí thíos leis go mór mar gheall ar na ciorraithe éagsúla a cuireadh i bhfeidhm le linn na déine. Tá fórálacha maithe insan rún seo a dhíríonn ar dhaoine a bhfuil míchumas orthu a chur ina gcónaí i measc an phobail agus ar na hathruithe gur gá a dhéanamh i dtithíocht a dhéanamh chomh luath agus gur féidir.

We, in Sinn Féin, welcome this comprehensive motion and are happy to see that there seems to be a consensus across the House, especially given that people with disabilities were disproportionately affected by savage cutbacks during the austerity period. It was clear from the various U-turns by the last Government that it did not fundamentally understand the real-life impact of cutbacks or the withdrawal of services for people with disabilities.

The motion seeks to accelerate the move from congregated settings to living in the community. Previously, we, in Sinn Féin, have supported such moves, but we would also like to seek assurances that full integration takes place. Therefore, I welcome the measures in the motion that call for the disability-proofing of the social housing 2020 strategy. I especially welcome the provision for a percentage of Part V housing to be set aside for those with disabilities. I concur with Senator Victor Boyhan on the comments he has made about the funding. Full clarity as to where the Part V funding is, where it has been and how much of it there is would certainly be very welcome. Perhaps the Minister might return to the House or circulate those figures when they are made available to him.

Under Fianna Fáil and the Fine Gael-led coalition from 2010 to 2014, the housing adaptation grant was cut by a staggering 56%. This cut has had a detrimental effect on the amount of units available that are suitably adapted. It also meant that many people with disabilities who wished to remain at home were forced to live in accommodation that was wholly unsuitable. I visited a man in my home area recently. He is in a wheelchair and has lost a leg. He has no social housing that is adapted and available to him. He is renting a chalet from a local person. When I went in to see his situation, it was absolutely unbelievable. He is in a wheelchair and the corridor that he has to traverse every day and night is literally just wide enough to get in and out of with the wheelchair. All the shelves, cupboards, etc., are too high. He is in a really difficult situation and at his wits' end. He was getting very depressed because of the whole situation and the fact that he has been on the housing list for quite a number of years and is getting nowhere with the local authority. This is very much a personal issue for so many people and that is only one example.

This is part of the hidden side of the cuts that many previous Governments were blind to or did not want to know about. People are languishing on the list. Everybody on the housing list is certainly unhappy that they are so long on it, but people with a disability are being given an added burden to carry. The housing adaptation grant for people with disabilities should be made available to tenants of local authorities and should be paid to voluntary housing agencies and indeed private landlords to encourage people to make the necessary adaptions to the housing stock such as the ones I have outlined.

There was a recent report in The Connacht Tribune about residents of council houses in Galway having to wait up to 18 months for vital extensions, only to be turned down. According to the report, the council did not carry out a single extension last year. It is disgraceful to make people wait that long even just to find out what is going to happen to what are already unsuitable units. It is also short-sighted as the population with disabilities and those over 65 years is increasing rapidly. There are sensible provisions in the motion that take account of the existing housing crisis. If there are to be any major moves towards significant new house builds, these plans must contain provisions for those with disabilities.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an ngrúpa um rannpháirtíocht shibhialta as an rún seo a chur le chéile agus táim ag súil go mbeimid in ann oibriú le chéile ar na gnóthaí seo san am atá le teacht. I welcome that the Minister is coming forward with his own plan next week. I know that the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, of which my colleague Deputy Eoin Ó Broin was a member, worked very hard on many of the recommendations that it has made on the whole area. I appreciate that the Minister recognises that there is an absolute emergency at this stage in the housing sector. We certainly do not want people with disabilities to be the poor relations again on the issue of housing. They need to be central to all of the policy. All of the policy that is coming forward should be disability-proofed. Le sin, ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuilimid ag tacú leis an rún agus tá súil againn go mbeidh beart de réir briathar déanta nuair a thagann sé go dtí an t-airgead a chaitheamh.

Cuirim fáilte ar ais roimh an Aire. I commend Senator John Dolan and the group for bringing forward this Private Members' motion. I welcome the Minister's intention to proceed with the implementation of A Vision for Change and, in particular, the report of the working group on congregated settings which was a far-reaching indictment of the residential care settings for people with intellectual disabilities. We have had to wait nine years for the implementation of A Vision for Change and five years for any progress on the report on congregated settings. In the meantime, last year we saw a "Prime Time" investigation into Áras Attracta which uncovered the appalling service many people with intellectual disabilities continue to receive at the hands of the State. I am now ashamed to say that in 2016, when almost all of the large residential centres in the United Kingdom have closed, nearly 50% of Irish citizens who receive residential services still live in outdated institutional settings. In many cases, the lives the people concerned lead are more impoverished than those who receive no services at all. This is the real housing crisis for people with intellectual disabilities.

For any building to become a home, it must be imbued with a range of meanings, feelings and experiences by its occupants. A home is not merely a shelter. A real home has a hearth; a sense of warmth and comfort. A real home has heart; it is a place of emotional warmth and connection. A home is a place of privacy, where the occupant can control who can come in and who cannot. A real home has a sense of identity. It has roots and it is where one belongs. If we accept all of these as definitions of a home, most people who live in a congregated setting are actually homeless. They may have shelter but without a hearth, heart, privacy or identity, a house is not a home.

I implore the Minister. People with intellectual disabilities do not need bricks and mortar. They do not need politicians and planners to develop housing and then consign them beds. This is putting the cart before the horse. No one should be consigned to a house without first being allowed to articulate a vision for a better future. In this way, housing, like all aspects of the lives of people with disabilities, must be an interdepartmental concern with the voice of people with disabilities at the centre. Services for people with disabilities should not be service-centred, staff-centred or building-centred. Disempowerment has been the history of people with disabilities. Let it not be their future.

I thank the Senators for tabling the motion which the Labour Party is obviously delighted to support. It is a very interesting debate. I am sure the Minister will agree that the expertise in this Chamber is quite remarkable, from the campaigning sector to parents. Senator Grace O'Sullivan's contribution was quite impressive. There are former local authority members and a former Minister with responsibility for housing in the Seanad also. It adds great weight to the debate.

In general terms, I wish to say that, like all issues when dealing with people with disabilities, we, unfortunately, tend to compartmentalise the issues. I know this from my experience as a Minister of State in the last Government when dealing with the employment issue. The tendency was to view issues of people with disabilities as separate from the mainstream. That is a mistake. Employment is important and housing is important, regardless of how crises come and go. There is a tendency in Irish public policy to aim to sort out the mainstream crisis or emergency first and then to deal with these supposed issues, which are characterised as side-issues, but are really central to the entire debate. It was a disappointment for me and to people in the sector when we saw that An Action Plan for Jobs did not include a more comprehensive set of proposals for every sector of society.

As Senator Gabrielle McFadden rightly said, this comes down to issues of empowerment and identity. What is more important to one's identity than the job one does or where one lives? It is central to our aim of getting away from the charitable view of people with disabilities towards a more rights-focused and rights-centred approach to the entire area. I know that the Minister is grappling with this issue as a new person in the job and that he intends to publish his action plan for housing next week. Even at this late stage, I implore the Minister to insert into that action plan a section dedicated to housing for people with disabilities because we have had a litany of failures.

This goes beyond governmental records going back over the years which have been previously mentioned. People have mentioned what local authorities have done and do not do. I will give two points in terms of the local authorities' response. Senator Victor Boyhan mentioned local authority members. It is legitimate to say it is not good enough for local authority members to complain about a lack of resources coming from central government when they are beating down the door in order to reduce the property tax in their own local area by 15% which would be a perfectly adequate funding mechanism to supply housing for various sectors of society that need it.

Voting that down by 15% is their power, but they then complain about a lack of resources. If we are going to be serious about the services we want local councillors to supply in their local authority areas, they must take the responsibility seriously and deliver for those who need it most.

There must be understanding in the wider society about the necessity for housing because when it comes to housing for people on the edges of society which could include Traveller accommodation or people with addiction, mental health or disability issues, there will regularly be a reaction from residents' groups and communities. I am quite sure everybody in this room involved with politics has been to meetings where statements are made that in the fullness of time might embarrass the speakers. Everybody wants solutions to the homelessness crisis or for homelessness to be resolved but they do not want it done necessarily on their doorstep. Everybody feels there should be appropriate accommodation for Travellers but not near them, thank you very much. Everybody feels we should have proper accommodation for people with disabilities or mental health challenges but not near them.

After the election I attended a public meeting in my constituency relating to a 68-unit development. Some of the statements made in that room made me feel I was at a meeting somewhere in the Deep South, perhaps Alabama, in the 1950s, with pitchforks being wielded. One woman stood up to say she had never been ashamed to live in the community where she resides until she sat in that room that night. There were 250 people in a packed room because they were upset at the suggestion there would be 68 social housing units in their community. We can compare that with the public outcry over homelessness and the housing crisis or the rhetoric coming from local authority members who vote to reduce the local property tax by 15%. There is a collective responsibility across all sectors, including politics and those with responsible leadership positions in their own communities, to be part of the solution.

I wish the Minister every success. None of us in the Chamber - certainly no one in my party - intends in any way to be obstructionist or score political points on an issue such as this. There are practical solutions to be found. Issues relating to the elderly have been suggested. I met a group recently talking about dead space in areas where senior citizens reside more densely, as there may be cases in which one person resides in a four-bedroom house. We discussed how the local authority could renovate a portion of such houses to facilitate rental income for the person, who could use it to adapt another part of the house, thus allowing the dead space, through a funding mechanism, to refurbish the other space. This would allow us to move away from the idea that a single person in later years in a four-bedroom house must find a smaller unit. People have neighbours and contacts and may not want to move. There are innovative ways of different groups coming together to try to find solutions to the problems we face.

The expertise in this room is quite remarkable. Many motions coming before this and the other House are sometimes provocative for the sake of it, but this is a comprehensive, well thought out and detailed motion that will benefit the Minister. The message must go out to local authorities to do the job they have to do but also that local authority members must take responsibility for the budgets they pass seriously. There is a societal responsibility to take on the issue. The essential point is not to make the mistake of divorcing the issue of employment for people with disabilities from the central Action Plan for Jobs employment strategy. If a housing strategy emerges next Tuesday, it should not divorce housing need for people with disabilities from the central document. I know the document is being made in the middle of an emergency and I understand that on Tuesday people will be lining up to take potshots at it and criticise it even before it is published. Nonetheless, even at this late stage and with the guts of a week to go, if it has not been done, perhaps the strategy could contain many, if not all, of the suggestions in this motion. I have no knowledge of whether they are in the document. I wish the Minister every success and the Labour Party is here to assist in tackling the issues.

I congratulate the Minister on his new post. I will keep this quite simple. I have known Senator John Dolan and all the great work he has done for people with disabilities over the years. I often hear people in my locality speaking fondly about him and the work he has done. I am certainly delighted to support his motion.

People with disabilities should be prioritised in any housing policy. Council strategic policy committees, SPCs, have a responsibility to shoulder and a weight that must be carried in this regard. They should really try harder to facilitate people with disabilities, as there is no doubt they should be a priority. There have been upgrades and changes to planning regulations over the years and there has been an associated cost in bringing housing on-stream. The changes required for people with disabilities relate to door widths, room sizes, levels of lights and so on. There have been major steps forward but it has brought an associated cost.

There was a proposal from the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers relating to VAT and housing. It could provide a small step forward. If a builder or developer spoke with a council about a project and the Department indicated that housing for people with disabilities would be VAT-free, it could provide a major step forward. There might be a chance for the Department to trial it on a small scale. We did calculations and at the time it was indicated that there would be savings of approximately 19%. I know 13.5% is the broader rate for a builder, but there is a cost for goods and levies, which might be excluded by the council. The saving could be 18% to 20%. This would be a good place to start, as it is practical. Perhaps we are close to covering the cost of building in Dublin, but we are not at that point yet in most counties; therefore, nobody is looking at these projects. There are many people sitting on sites. If these people could speak with council representatives and build for 18% or 20% less, it would make the project more attractive. If there are 50 people with disabilities that need housing urgently, this approach could certainly tackle such a problem. It could be a massive step forward and it would be cost-neutral.

I know that the Minister is very resourceful and has done much work. He has taken submissions from several bodies. I also appreciate the hard job he has, as the former Minister of State, Senator Paudie Coffey, knows. Perhaps he might consider this again, as it might provide the answer we want.

I welcome the Minister and wish him well in the development of the new document on housing. Many of the items I wanted to mention have been raised. I thank Senators John Dolan and Grace O'Sullivan and the Independent Senators for bringing forward this motion which is very welcome and timely. As somebody who was a member of a local authority and who has been involved in a number of disability-related issues in the past two to three years, I have found the process of seeking assistance for adaptation work in local authority houses extremely frustrating, as have many families dealing with local authorities.

I was forced to take two particular cases to the Ombudsman to assist families in getting work done. One family received a letter from the local authority in July 2008 confirming that they were on the list for adaptation work. They had a child with severe intellectual and physical disabilities. They had the full support of the public health nurse and an organisation assisting them with the care of their child. I came across them six years after they were told they were on the list for adaptation work, but no such work had been done. I corresponded with a local authority for eight months but still nothing was done. As a result, it ended up going to the Ombudsman before any work was undertaken. I am glad to report that the necessary work was done in the house to make it that much easier for the family to look after that child. It was outrageous, however, that it took a total of seven and a half years from the initial application to the completion of the work, despite the family having full support. There was clear evidence that what this family was doing was way beyond the call of duty. If their child was in State care, it would cost about €2,500 to €3,000 per week to provide the level of care that the parents were providing. Despite that, they had to fight for seven and a half years before the necessary work was completed.

There is supposed to be an access officer in each local authority, but local authorities around the country have totally different definitions as to what is an access officer's role. My understanding from the legislation is that the access officer not only examines access to public buildings for people with disabilities but also access to all local authority services. For example, I questioned a number of different local authorities and one of them said the access officer had been involved in two projects for the entire 12 months, costing a total of €4,000. I am not saying that the access officer was not doing other work, but that was their sole contribution to access for people with disabilities in that 12-month period.

I contacted the Disability Authority about the role of access officers. We passed legislation on this, but what is their role? In particular, it applies to ensuring that there is someone within a local authority to help people with disabilities and to fight their corner. The Minister's Department should now examine the legislation to ascertain whether it is adequate in clearly defining the access officer's role. It should be clearly stated that someone in a local authority is prepared to put forward the best possible case for people with disabilities. We urgently need to do this.

In recent years we have made a lot of progress, but there are still many areas that we tend to park and say they are something we will get around to doing. We have a great opportunity to act now that better funding is being provided for local authorities. It is also about co-ordination nationally and locally to ensure local authorities which do not follow through on this role are brought to heel.

In dealing with adaptation grants I found that some local authorities had done their plan of action as far back as November or December of the previous year regarding what work they needed to do on houses. Other authorities, however, waited until the Department stated money would be available for such work and sought submissions. Those submissions took a further three or four months to arrive in the Department. We need to clearly set out for local authorities what funding will be made available for adaptation work in the next three to four years in order that long-term planning can ensue.

Some local authorities may state they cannot undertake adaptation work because they do not know how much funding is available. Other authorities state that while they receive funding for adaptation work in June or July, they are unable to use it by the end of December and, therefore, must refund the money to the Department. We should ensure local authorities have no excuse for refunding money.

Senators have made good contributions to this debate covering various areas. The point was made concerning Part V, that money which is supposed to be used for infrastructural work is not left there for a further three to four years when it could be used urgently for local authority houses.

A Senator mentioned four-bedroom houses which have a single occupant who may wish to downsize. I came across this matter as recently as last weekend while doing clinics. They may be waiting to downsize on a housing list for five or six years, but the local authority is not responding. Such a person may be quite prepared to take a two-bedroom or smaller house, thus freeing up a four-bedroom house. I have met a number of people in my local authority area who are in that position. Local authorities have the requisite powers but appear slow to react, even though it would mean making a three or four-bedroom house immediately available for a family. However, I know that this is slightly moving away from the point of this debate.

I welcome the debate and feel it is important for us to identify the areas where work is not being done. We must ensure available funding is used in a timely manner in order that necessary works can be carried out.

I thank Senators John Dolan and Grace O'Sullivan for bringing this important motion before the House. I congratulate the Minister on his current portfolio which he has taken on with great enthusiasm. I sincerely hope people's expectations will not be overly complicated. I believe the Minister will do everything he can to deal with the housing crisis, but he is not God and can only do so much. I hope we will understand that, as he delivers his programme.

In his presentation Senator John Dolan mentioned the line, "Get on with your life". It is on that basis that I want to speak, not about disability but about ability. I am personally aware of two young men, both of whom are profoundly disabled, married and living within the city centre area. Both of them are paying massive rents. They live in a constant state of fear of homelessness because they are about at the limit of what they can afford in rent. They will never be able to save for a deposit on a house; it is just not possible in their current environment. Moreover, if they seek to buy a house or an apartment, it cannot be in the suburbs. It must be in the city centre because they work there and for that they will pay a premium. More importantly, if they ever find the money to purchase a city centre apartment, it will have to be completely renovated. One of these individuals loves to cook and is a fantastic chef, but everything must be at ground level because this man has no legs. One can imagine, therefore, that if he goes into a modern apartment block, it is totally useless to him. I have discussed with both of them the notion that they might put themselves on the housing list and they said: "Why? We have good jobs. We are able to pay the rent. We don't need to look to the State to provide accommodation for us." What they do need, however, is support. The Minister and I discussed this matter during talks on the programme for Government, that we would have some recognition of rent paid in lieu of deposit requirements when it came to purchasing property.

The people concerned are paying between €1,400 and €1,600 per month for their apartments. They are middle-of-the-road employees who will never be able to save money. The proposal put forward by my colleague regarding the reduction in VAT may greatly assist them in purchasing a house. I do not wish to throw another spanner in the works for the Minister because he has enough on his plate, but we have to find some way of supporting people such as these who are living independently. All they ask is that they be allowed to live somewhere central enough to allow them to work. A battery-operated wheelchair will only go so far before it needs to be recharged. In all cases, they need two wheelchairs - a push wheelchair and a battery-operated wheelchair - depending on what they are doing or where they are going at any given time. Both of the people to whom I refer go on holidays abroad and are entitled to their holiday like anybody else. However, we have to find a way to enable them to have the same opportunity to build a home as the Minister or me who are able bodied.

The first time I met one of these individuals, he was coming towards me and I thought, "Oh my God, what I am going to say?" because he was not what I expected. Ten minutes after I met him, I had forgotten he was in a wheelchair. Anybody who has ever met this guy has had the same experience. When the Minister brings his plan forward, I ask him to think about the VAT option and to examine a way to instruct builders to provide one apartment in every 60 they build, for example, to meet the needs of a specific set of people with disabilities. If that could be done, it would make the lives of the people concerned much better. Something will have to be done about the way the banks require deposits before they will lend money to young people with disabilities and I acknowledge that does not come under the Minister's remit. This issue affects all young people, but the people concerned have a specific need. I ask the Minister to take this on board. I wish him well with his portfolio. I am impressed with the way he has come out fighting and hope it goes well for him.

This is a useful debate. There is clearly a great deal of knowledge in this room about this issue. I thank Senators John Dolan and Grace O'Sullivan. I know tSenator Collette Kelleher quite well and given her experience with the various organisations for which she has worked, it is a good example of the Seanad adding value to a debate around a sector that needs a comprehensive policy response. Having former Ministers for housing in the House significantly helps also.

We have a housing strategy which will be launched next Tuesday afternoon, I hope, as long I have it approved by the Government on Tuesday. It will not perform miracles or deal comprehensively with everything, but it will be a good start as a response to a series of pressures linked to housing and shortage of supply, as well as a response to the systems that are not delivering at a pace that they need to deliver at, whether it is housing for people with disabilities or the myriad other groups to which the State needs to respond at a faster pace than it has been able to do to date. Obviously, resource issues need to be resolved and finalised before that strategy can be launched. I hope we will have an opportunity to take statements in the House next week after the launch. I would like to come in and talk through some of the sectors and get some feedback. I will be the first to say the strategy is not the finished article and we will add to it as needed. This will be a moving strategy for the lifetime of the Government, however long it lasts. We will add and subtract, amend and change and improve as we go along when people make suggestions. There has been a good deal of stakeholder consultation, including with some in the disability sector and I will try to take on board as much as I can. I will be happy to come to the House next week to debate this strategy if the schedule permits in order that Members can see the detail, comment and add to it.

Addressing the needs of people with disabilities is well established in housing policy. The publication of the national housing strategy for people with disabilities and related implementation framework in 2011 and 2012 was a significant step in the right direction. These documents have guided policy considerations and delivery of housing for people with disabilities since. The commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government "to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are incorporated into all future housing policies" reflects the priority the Government attaches to this issue. We will consolidate and build on the significant work to date and ensure momentum is enhanced and sustained into the future and that commitment will be further reinforced in the action plan I am launching next week.

The national housing strategy for people with a disabilities was a turning point in how the housing needs of people with disabilities would be addressed. The strategy and implementation framework which were published jointly by my Department and the Department of Health were developed as part of a coherent and integrated framework for the delivery of housing for people with disabilities. The strategy sets out the broad framework aimed at promoting and mainstreaming equality of access for people with a disability to the full range of housing options available suited to individual and household need and to support them to live independently in their own homes.

The strategy’s approach is twofold. It supports people with disabilities who live in the community and who may require more specific supports to enable them to remain in their own homes or move to more suitable accommodation as their needs change. Second, it gives effect to the housing provisions outlined in the Government’s mental health policy, A Vision for Change, and the report of the working group on congregated settings, to which a number of Members referred. Both policies provide for the transitioning of people with disabilities from institutional care to more appropriate community-based living arrangements. It would be no harm to benchmark how we are doing versus other European countries in this regard, as suggested by a number of Senators, in addressing some of the challenges we are facing. Senator Gabrielle McFadden, in particular, made a strong contribution on this issue.

Implementation of identified actions in the strategy is being driven primarily by the Housing Agency by means of a dedicated subgroup, which comprises representatives from my Department, the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive, local authorities, the Irish Council for Social Housing and various disability representative organisations. Since it was established in 2012, the subgroup has overseen and progressed a range of priority actions, including the development of national guidelines for the assessment and allocation process for housing provision for people with disabilities; the establishment of housing and disability steering groups within local authorities which were welcomed; and the preparation of draft strategic plans for local areas to help identify and address the housing needs of people with a disability in the next five years.

The local plans are being collated by the Housing Agency into a draft national strategic plan and will be submitted to my Department shortly. Progress in implementing the strategy is being overseen by an implementation monitoring group, which is chaired by my Department and includes representatives from the Department of Health, the HSE, the Housing Agency, the National Disability Authority, the Irish Council for Social Housing, the County and City Management Association and disability representative organisations. We have a strategy, a plan to make it work and an implementation monitoring group to make sure it happens.

The implementation of the strategy is an excellent example of the collaborative working arrangements between my Department, the Department of Health, the HSE and relevant stakeholders in recent years. Key to this approach is the inclusion and contribution of representatives from the disability sector and others. I take the opportunity to thank everybody involved. This partnership approach, involving cross-departmental and inter-agency co-operation, recognises that the provision of suitable housing is only one element of supporting people with disabilities in living fully inclusive lives.

The programme for Government commits to the preparation and publication of an action plan for housing within the Government's first 100 days. The action plan is being drafted and is nearing finalisation with input from a number of key Departments. It will also draw on the work of the special Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness and its recommendations. The action plan will be delivery-focused and will build on the considerable work already carried out or under way. It will include actions to boost supply of all types of housing in the immediate, medium and longer term. The plan will have a particular focus on those having most difficulty in accessing the housing and rental market and will include the needs of specific groups, such as people with disabilities. In this regard, the action plan will affirm and underpin support for the continuation of the national housing strategy for people with disabilities beyond 2016.

My Department, through the capital assistance scheme, CAS, provides important funding for approved housing bodies to provide funding for priority groups, including people with a disability. In July 2015, under the CAS, funding totalling €151 million was allocated to deliver 1,057 new accommodation units through construction and acquisition. The former Minister of State, Senator Paudie Coffey, was very involved in that process. This investment shows a strong commitment to meeting special housing needs for those who may require particular supports, including people with disabilities. It is my intention to continue to provide funding for an ambitious construction and acquisitions programme under the capital assistance scheme into the future.

Implementation of the HSE congregated settings report is supported by my Department, which is represented on the HSE-led working group. In order to accelerate progress in transitioning individuals from congregated settings, my Department is providing ring-fenced funding of €10 million in 2016 under the capital assistance scheme. This is specifically for the provision of housing for people with disabilities who are moving out of congregated settings into community-based living arrangements. Separate to this, CAS funding is also available to provide housing for people with disabilities in the community more generally. The capital assistance scheme draws on the knowledge and capacity of the approved housing body sector to provide high quality housing suitable for people with a disability and it will continue to be well funded, as part of the Government's new action plan for housing, to deliver for those who need social housing provision.

My Department also provides funding for local authorities under the housing adaptation grants for older people and people with a disability in relation to private homes and, separately, funds adaptations and extensions to social housing stock to meet the needs of tenants with a disability. I take on board what people have said in respect of these two schemes. Total funding under the adaptation grants scheme has been increased in 2016 by 10% to an overall funding availability of more than €56 million. Some 7,600 households benefited under the scheme in 2015 and, with the additional funding provided, it is expected that this will increase to about 8,000 homes in 2016. I am conscious of the significant social benefit accruing from this scheme in terms of facilitating continued independent living by people with a disability in their own homes; therefore, in line with the programme for Government, I will give further consideration to increasing this funding in the coming years. I also understand how important it is that grant schemes such as these can be readily accessed by those who need them. My Department will continue to work with local authorities to review the delivery of the schemes and streamline the application processes.

I am satisfied that the current regulatory framework for the assessment and allocation of households in need of social housing support, coupled with the guidance issued, provides what is necessary to ensure the particular needs of households who have someone with a disability are effectively assessed and prioritised quickly and appropriately. The allocation of social housing support to all qualified households is a matter for individual housing authorities in accordance with their allocation schemes. A housing authority may prioritise certain classes of household for allocation on the basis of severity of need as they see fit, and households who have a person with a disability may be given a priority ranking.

The results of the 2016 summary of social housing assessments will, when available later this year, provide updated data for the number of people on housing waiting lists, including current information on the level of households with disabilities in need of social housing support. I take it from the motion tabled that the number is still significant, somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000.

In preparing its housing strategy under the Planning and Development Act 2000, each planning authority must have regard to the most recent summary of social housing assessments and also the need to ensure a mixture of house types and sizes is developed to reasonably match the requirements of different categories of household. This includes the special requirements of elderly persons and persons with disabilities. They must also have regard to relevant policies or objectives of the Government, including the national housing strategy for people with disabilities. It is a matter, therefore, for a planning authority, in making a Part V agreement, to ensure the units provided in any given development will satisfy its housing need. A decision on whether a certain percentage of Part V units should be reserved for people with disabilities is a matter for each individual local authority in accordance with its own housing strategy.

I reinforce what a number of Senators said. There will be no going back to a situation in which developers can buy their way out of Part V obligations. That is not going to happen and we are going to create an acceptance and an understanding and, I hope, a non-issue of the fact that a certain percentage of every new housing estate will be allocated for social housing, affordable housing and special needs housing. If we cannot manage that as a society, the comments made by Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin ring true. We need to create an understanding, an acceptance and a reality that when one drives into a housing estate one does not notice the difference between social housing and private housing but sees an estate that is diverse, with a mix of family types and sizes and challenges and all the other things that people face in their lives. I am determined to do that in the context of our housing strategy. I do not want to build acres and acres of social housing to try to meet a need and facilitate the building of acres of private housing in some other part of the city where the two communities are not integrating. The stigma that gets built up around that needs to be addressed head on.

In regard to the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we are committed to doing this. It is in the programme for Government and we will try to make it happen as soon as we can. As the former Minister of State, Senator Paudie Coffey, has pointed out, we will support the motion. It is a good one and timely in the context of the Government's response to housing need next week. I look forward to coming back to the House to work through the detail not only in respect of the disability elements of the housing strategy but the broader strategy.

I thank all Senators for their comments. I know that we are not discussing the issue of bin collections today. The debate has been constructive and helpful and I will try to take on board as much of it as I can.

The points I wanted to make have been eloquently made and it is great to see consensus, particularly around the area of congregated settings. Congregated settings is a bricks and mortar issue and a money issue but, above all, it is a moral issue. People are living lives of quiet desperation because they have no choices and when we make our plans we need to think about the lives of people caught up in a system in which they do not have the choices most of the rest of us would consider ordinary. I met a man who had to battle the system in an organisation in which I worked to leave a congregated setting. All kinds of obstacles and blockages were put in his way. He was coming out of a Tiger shop having bought mugs for his flat. He is just one person but there must be many more of these people.

I support the motion and I am delighted the Minister is taking it on board. I have known the Minister for a long time and know that when he is looking at the strategies and plans, he will remain mindful of the person at the end of the process. We need to monitor this properly in order that the plans we have get through to those individuals.

It is a pity the Minister has to go, but he has an able deputy. I join others in commending Senator John Dolan on tabling a very opportune, appropriate and detailed Private Members' motion. He is no stranger to advocacy work and has been involved in the disability movement for many years through his role as CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland. I acknowledge the representatives of the DFI who are in the House today as well as other organisations and Elaine Howley, the head of advocacy in the National Council for the Blind of Ireland. I wish her well in her new role.

It is true people with disabilities have been adversely affected in recent years as a result of the recession and of decisions made by the previous Government and the one before to make cuts in respite care and adaptation grants given to councillors to facilitate people, especially older people who acquire a disability later in life and require help to remain in their homes. Those measures could and should have been avoided but were not. Governments make choices, but they could easily have made alternative choices.

There should not be tax cuts in the next budget and future budgets because we do not need tax cuts. We need investment in public services, housing and health services in order that they are brought up to a standard that is fit for purpose and in line with international standards. We have a housing crisis and I believe the Government is committed to resolving it. A plan will be published next week which will be a starting measure to address the housing crisis. I am comforted by the Minister's words to the effect that people with disabilities would be an integral part of the plan.

I welcome the various strategies in which many people in the House have been involved. Senator Collette Kelleher has done a lot of work on the strategies, especially in Cork. It is appropriate that we have local strategies because what is appropriate for Limerick city may not be right for County Mayo or County Clare. Localised strategies can identify how best the public purse can be used to the maximum effect to ensure people have independent living and that those who have the wherewithal, desire and ability to live in their own homes can have their homes modified to their needs.

We are coming from behind on this issue, but we have to be positive. Seanad Éireann has a significant role to play in reminding the Government of its duties to all citizens of the country. The motion does that and I am glad that the Government has decided to support it. It is the right thing to do. This House has a tradition of coming together when something is the right thing to do. In the previous Seanad there were motions on important issues like direct provision and I am glad we are coming together to support this motion and send a clear message to Government that this is an issue about which Seanad Éireann cares and in support of which it will come together. I am hopeful that, with the confidence and supply agreement that is in place and with the support of Fianna Fáil and Independents, the Government will have the necessary resources, confidence and competence to make a significant dent in what is a very difficult and challenging situation. If the Government is to run for five years, which is most unlikely, I hope we can come back here and celebrate success as we see the numbers dropping due to the collective efforts and energy of us all, with public representatives such as ourselves advocating and reminding and the Government delivering. In the ideal world anybody with a disability who wished to live at home and within the community would be facilitated and we may get to that at some time. Until then our progress needs to be accelerated and every measure needs to be taken to ensure more people benefit from the ultimate desire we all have.

Many good ideas have been put forward today and Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's suggestion on VAT is worthy of consideration. We have to think outside the box to resolve these issues. The Minister has said the housing strategy to be published next week will be a fluid document and will be considered a work in progress, which is right and proper. If more resources become available they should be put into resolving the problems. There should be logical localised solutions, as what works in Cork may not work in County Mayo and what works in County Mayo may not work in County Carlow. The possibility of various organisations, including NGOs, working together needs to be explored and actioned.

I wish the Minister well and I am encouraged by his words. Senator John Dolan's first motion is timely and appropriate and will have the desired effect.

I thank Senators John Dolan, Grace O'Sullivan and the other Independent Senators who brought forward this Private Members' motion.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to it. As a health care professional, having worked as an occupational therapist for the past eight years, I have worked with many people who have suffered from disability and have been involved with many who needed housing adaptations. I bring that experience to the motion. I am mindful of what the Minister said about the wealth of experience of this issue in the Seanad.

As legislators, we must work to ensure the country provides appropriate and adequate housing for those with disabilities. No individuals in the State should be disadvantaged in their access to accommodation because they suffer from a disability. The figures presented in the context of this motion are very stark. We are working on figures for 2013 which show that almost 4,000 people on the housing list have a disability. We must make sure these applications are progressed and processed as quickly as possible. We all await the action plan on housing which is to be announced next week. It is important that time was taken to consider that because it is cross-departmental, and it is the same for people with a disability. This crosses the Departments of Health, Social Protection, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Children and Youth Affairs. We need to make sure that people with disabilities are involved in that process. I welcome what the Minister said about the action plan being a working document and that there will be consideration of which changes are positive and which need to be amended.

I want to focus on two issues, the first of which is the provision of housing adaptation grants and the barriers and challenges for people with a disability. The grants provide older people and people with a disability with an opportunity to continue independent living in their own homes for as long as possible. There has been an increase in funding for 2016, which is a very important and positive step. In my county of Roscommon the allocation for this year was €945,000, up from €811,000 in 2015. These grants are absolutely vital for people with a disability in order to support modifications required within their homes. It is very important that the grant applications be processed as efficiently as possible. I have worked with many individuals who have to stay an unnecessary length of time in hospital or in a convalescence home because of a delay in processing applications. It is for local authorities to process the applications but it is important that the Government takes an active role in making sure the targets are met. I would like the Minister to review the threshold for household income. It is based on the property owner’s annual gross income together with the spouse or partner’s annual gross income in the previous tax year. Where there are combined earnings of over €60,000, an individual is ineligible. Having worked as an occupational therapist in the health service, I know of many families who have had to pay the entire cost of modifications because they are slightly over the threshold. It is exceptionally difficult for them to pay all the costs of renovation and they often end up having to pay private care and home support costs as well. The threshold should be reviewed to assist as many people as possible who have a disability. It is difficult enough for them without added financial stress if they do not meet that threshold.

My second issue is that the motion refers specifically to the significant numbers of people with disabilities living in nursing homes or similar facilities. Many of the people concerned are very young and could be more appropriately accommodated in a hospital setting. I found it very upsetting in my previous job to see young people who have real potential being discharged to a long-term care facility. It is inappropriate and should not happen. These people deserve better. We need to look towards supporting the best quality of life for them. Long-term care in a facility where they are surrounded by older people is not the right way to support them and ensure that their potential is reached. There have been steps to move towards more community care and away from institutional settings, but there needs to be a stronger focus on this aspect. There needs to be a middle ground to support young people, who have so much potential, in an appropriate community setting. In many cases it is difficult for them to be accommodated in their own homes. I look forward to working with the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, and with the Senators who have a real passion for, and commitment to, supporting people with disabilities. Today we had a really important debate, earmarking the fact that people with disabilities need support and a voice and that we will do what we can to help them. While this debate is on housing, it deals with much more than that because it crosses so many Departments. That needs to be incorporated into the action plan for housing which will be launched next week.

It is very difficult for me to honour the contributions, thoughtfulness, passion and interest of Members across the House in the past two hours.

The Minister acknowledged the knowledge of this issue in the Seanad, among Senators who have participated in it at local authority level and those with personal experience. He talked about the launch of the action plan next Tuesday being a good start. Things have to happen in the next two or three years. The demographic is going against us. It is good news in the sense that many people are living longer. Senator Maura Hopkins and I have talked about people with strokes who would have died ten or 15 years ago and who now live, but do so with the legacy of it. They need support. We do not know who it will be tomorrow or next week, but we know that will happen to some people. We need to outflank this issue, not just catch up. As a society, we have to get ahead of the problem. That is a stretch, but it can be done and it is for the betterment of society. The Minister has said the Government does give this issue priority and that commitment will be further reinforced next week. We look forward to that happening.

After the Second Stage debate on the Seanad Bill 2016 when people with knowledge and experience spoke, there was a lovely example of people bringing experience to the debate on the motion. I need not have put so much energy into my original contribution because people took it and went with it and there was a great flow of information, ideas and commitment. The Minister offered to come back and take statements. It is very positive that the Minister and the Department are engaged on this issue.

If this debate is anything to go by, it is not alone a case of their being engaged but of their being able to bring something to the table. There are many organisations present who are interested in the debate. We have a triumvirate of interests trying to find practical ways to coalesce. I accept there are tensions. Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin mentioned some of them, for example, members of local authorities putting their money where their mouth is, and local communities saying something is very fine but that they do not want it here. Senator Martin Conway talked about the fact that we did not need tax cuts, that we needed public services. The services are not just for disabled people. Without carrying out any in-depth research I can tell the House that at least 50,000 people will have a disability of one kind or another between now and this day next year who do not have one today. They will not all need housing support. It is not a case of "the disabled", there are people who will become disabled and we must plan for that contingency. That is clearly what this is about.

I was very pleased to hear the Minister underline in his concluding remarks what the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, said two weeks ago, namely, about the commitment of the Government to ratification of Article 19 of the UN convention. I did not mention that point but other speakers did. I am happy to leave it at that and thank everybody. We look forward to pursuing the matter and also working with officials in the Department and many others.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 July 2016.