I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
I should state briefly at the outset that the principle upon which the Bill is founded is that opportunities for employment shall be made available to disabled persons and that this shall be guaranteed by law. I must express regret at my inability to follow the procedure of the House in supplying or circulating a copy of my Second Reading speech. The reasons for that are obvious: I am not supported by a brigade of civil servants and must rely —to use a historic expression—on my own strength and, of course, on that of my gallant friends who are as interested in this measure as I am.
Practically every day we open a newspaper we discover some section of the community anxiously seeking to attach to itself as its own private property the term "underprivileged". One would be tempted to think it was a kind of banner to be seen and waved and one cannot but wonder at the sections of the population who carry it so proudly and, in some cases, so unjustifiably. "Underprivileged" is, I should imagine, an American word which has become part of the jargon of people who do not like the simplicity of "poverty", "hardship" or "want". "Underprivileged" connotes that one is in possession of some privileges but not enough. "Privilege", I understand, is defined as the possession of some advantage over another, some advantage, be it material, financial or spiritual.
In speaking of the disabled, I shall not apply to them the term "underprivileged" because they are people with no privileges, people deprived of fundamental rights, in many cases by accident of birth and in some cases by reason of what happened during their lives. Whatever their condition, I think it can truly be said of the disabled that they have been deprived of advantages which the ordinary citizen acquires by simply coming into the world. By the disabled, I do not mean those who are physically or obviously disabled: in the terms of this Bill the disabled are all those people who have to grapple as best they can with life and who in many cases are ill-equipped to do so because the life and society into which they have come are the society and life which we ourselves have made.
It is a matter for considerable reflection that in spite of the colossal advances that have been made in technical matters, even in matters artistic, in every sphere, one might say, of human activity, that so far as the inhumanity of man to fellowman is concerned—which, as has been said, "makes countless thousands mourn"—we do not appear to have progressed much since the beginning of civilisation whenever that was. Since it appears to be a fact that the most learned men cannot fix that time, I can hardly be expected to do so.
I do not ground the arguments for the Bill upon pity because that in itself is not an admirable argument on which to seek justice in any cause. I hesitate to use even the word "compassion", because there is about it a certain pomposity. I feel that this Bill is justified for reasons of practicability as well as for reasons of simple humanity. When one thinks of humanity, I dare say that we who live in this country are as humane as those who live elsewhere. I do not think we are any more humane nor do I think we are any less. We are just as liable to be disturbed when we hear of people in other lands who are deprived of their natural rights because of their colour, because of their blood group, because of their philosophical beliefs—and this is as it should be. But, to my mind, there is a certain selfindulgence in this sympathetic wincing at events which are taking place far away, places with strange sounding names, when, right in our own four green fields, there exists a problem for our own attention to which we might well turn our hand.
It is to enable Dáil Éireann to give this problem thought and attention that I bring forward this Bill. In doing so, I make no claim to any superior consideration of humanity than any other Member of this House. I know that we are all people who feel for the misfortunes of those whom we represent. There are differences of approach. the time has come when, I believe, we must translate our sentiments into positive action. The day when man's welfare, the welfare of disabled people, indeed, the welfare of anybody could be and should be left to the whim of fortune is long past. The world into which we are marching or strolling or being dragged or pushed—what term one should use correctly, it is difficult to say—the world into which we are moving, at any rate, is not a world of laissez faire, of come-day-go-day-God-send-Sunday. It is a world which has rejected altogether, and rightly so, the jungle notion that the race is to the swift, that the fittest only will survive and, as far as the rest are concerned, then God help them, we are sorry for them but it is the will of God. That notion has gone and all the communities making any legitimate claim to civilisation have long accepted that the central authority has on it an obligation and a responsibility so to regulate society as to ensure that, in so far as it lies within the compass of human endeavour, justice shall prevail.
It is not to be thought that we shall achieve absolute and pure justice in this Dáil or in the next Dáil, in our lifetime or in the lifetime of this nation or this race because perfection is something which apparently does not belong within the possibilities of human achievement. However, there is a realisation that, upon us all, is laid the obligation, particularly upon those of us who have the high honour to belong to a national Parliament and particularly on those of us who have the extremely high honour and the fortune to belong to Dáil Éireann, to do our bit, to do what we can to add to the sum of human happiness. This measure is designed to that end.
I have referred to the notion—I know there are advocates of the notion in this House as well, quite fossilised survivals of another age—that free and unhampered competition without any regulation whatsoever is the road to happiness. Invariably, this argument is made by people who have achieved security, whether by their own efforts or by the efforts perhaps of those who have gone before them, by hereditary advantage. There is the notion abroad and no doubt luck, an t-ádh, plays a part in every human situation. It was interesting to hear the Taoiseach on television on Friday or Saturday night last talking about this matter. The Taoiseach, a man commendably modest, it must be said, when he was asked about his arrival in his position of eminence, repeated what had been said to him by somebody in America, some wise American: Má bhíonn tú ar an gcoirnéal cheart den tsráid cheart ag an am ceart ar an lá ceart—if you are at the right corner of the right street at the right time. That can make up not 100 per cent of human events but a good 50 per cent. As I say, the Taoiseach, with his modesty and his honesty, admitted this fact. It is not often that one hears a politician admit these simple truths because they detract from the sin common to all politicians, that of vanity. However, that was said. I want to put it the other way. I want to turn that around and think of the unfortunates of the world and think of the disabled people, the disabled person who was at the wrong corner of the wrong street at the wrong time; in other words, who has not had that degree of fortune or luck which has attended the lives of others.
It is probably true to say that, with the advance of knowledge, the actual incidence of disablement itself, particularly congenital disablement, may be reduced in generations to come by the extension of the acquisition of further knowledge as to the root causes but that, for the moment, is something very much in the future. The problem with which we are faced, the problem which lies on the conscience of this country, is the problem of the disabled as they are. Of course, the solution would be made easier if we had full employment. We have not full employment. We have a progressively increasing unemployment figure. If one is to look at the future in a realistic way, there is no reason to suppose but that this figure may very well continue to increase if we are to face the winds of change which seem to be our lot in Europe.
Emphasis is given then to the need for this measure at this time, the need for this degree of protection for the disabled. When you have unemployment, substantial unemployment, the fittest naturally have a very considerable advantage in taking up whatever jobs there happen to be. In that kind of situation, even more so than in a condition where we might have—as we will, please God, one day, when we have a Government in power who have a proper view as to the needs of our Irish society—full employment, there is a greater need for a measure of this kind to be brought into operation on behalf of disabled people.
In my experience, there has been a great lack of proper appreciation of the potential which is represented by the many thousands of disabled people throughout the 26 Counties. How many thousands are there? If you try to find out, you will get no adequate or reliable answer. I have made inquiries in writing in different directions with the object of discovering an authoritative figure as to the number of disabled people, that is, people who are physically and may be deemed to be mentally disabled in Ireland. Nobody can tell you. There is no way, they say, of knowing.
It may be that the Minister for Labour will justify his existence in this particular. Indeed he would more than justify his existence and his political career if he were to undertake to discharge the duty of society in this matter. The first step is to discover how many disabled people there are. There were over 18,000 at the end of March of last year in receipt of disability benefit. This, of course, is no true indication of how many disabled people there were because this 18,000 would include people who are temporarily ill, out of work for reasons of a purely transient sickness. In the 18,000 there is a very considerable number, not apparently determinable because nobody has undertaken the task of trying to discover it, who are permanently disabled. These are people who are certified weekly by doctors as being incapable of taking up ordinary employment. As I say, this 18,000 is impossible to break down because there is no source to which one can go for the analysis.
There is a widespread misunderstanding in regard to disabled people. When disabled people are thought of, they are usually seen in the mind's eye as people who are physically deprived and they are usually thought of as persons of not great, and often very minimal, education. For this reason they are regarded, mistakenly, by large numbers as a kind of an appendage, a lower appendage of the workingclass. This is a misconception and a grave one. Some of the greatest people the world has ever seen have been people who were disabled. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was disabled; Fintan Lalor was disabled; Toulouse Lautrec was disabled. The Minister has heard of him?