I want to share my time with Deputy O'Sullivan.
The way we treat the weakest among us is a measure of the civilisation of our society. Our treatment of mentally handicapped children and adults, in a time of plenty, is a damning indictment of our form of civilisation and a contradiction of our claim to be a Christian society. I have no doubt the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, has Christian concern for the continuing under-resourcing of services for the mentally handicapped but Christian charity is not acceptable.
As a socialist, I declare the right of the mentally handicapped to the best services we can provide in residential places, day care services, special educational services, safe and adequate travel and in-home services to ensure they enjoy the highest standards achievable and that their dignity as citizens is ensured.
This matter was examined in detail by the previous Government and greatly increased funding was provided to meet the detailed and recognised needs of the mentally handicapped. That was a beginning and not an end to tackling the problem, but this Government has frozen that progressive approach.
We call on the Government tonight, particularly the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and the holder of the purse, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy — whose purse is overflowing with taxpayers' money — to provide the necessary funds for a decent level of services for the mentally handicapped.
The Minister, Deputy Cowen, came to my constituency before the last election and in the St. John of God school in Celbridge he made specific promises to the well-organised media audience. He promised that the area of mental illness and learning disability would no longer be the Cinderella of the health service, even if this meant reductions in other areas of expenditure. He stated: "If I am Minister for Health any work I do will be in the area of mental handicap and learning disability". The Minister failed to deliver on his promises to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.
On 30 October, parents in that St. John of God school were informed that respite services were discontinued. I want to read a letter to the Minister written by one of the parents concerned. It states:
My son James is 32 years old. He is profoundly handicapped i.e. doubly incontinent, has to be fed, washed, lifted and requires 24 hour care. James is wheelchair bound and recently diagnosed with cancer of his stomach. He is also an epileptic since birth.
James has had brief respite care over recent years as both of us parents have serious heart problems. I, his father have serious heart trouble and currently have to see my doctor regularly. His mother has had serious heart surgery and is also under strict doctors instructions not to overdo her workload — some chance of that in our circumstances.
We have looked after James ourselves for 32 years and saved the State a fortune. On receiving this letter from Br. Gregory last week we just sat down and cried all day — we asked ourselves — just what is happening in the Dept. of Health that will allow this nightmare for us.
Now we have no break at all.
That is not the whole story from St. Raphael's. There are 30 children in day care who should be in full residential care. Ten of those are in the acute category and there is a waiting list for both day and residential services.
Apart from St. Raphael's in Celbridge, the other organisation providing services for the mentally handicapped in County Kildare is CARE. This voluntary organisation is grossly underfunded and needs an additional £270,000 for day to day expenditure in 1998 to prevent it going into liquidation. If this pittance is not provided by the Minister now, CARE will be legally obliged to close down and discontinue day services to 380 people and residential services to 18 others. This deficit arose because the Minister did not provide any funding this year for 40 people in day services in Kildare.
The Minister made a political football of the mentally handicapped before the election. If he fails to deliver to them now, he will be long remembered for that failure.