That Dáil Éireann takes note of the publication of the Progress Report on the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities which was published by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 13 December 1999.
It is my pleasure to ask the House to note the publication of the progress report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, entitled Towards Equal Citizenship. The Government is committed to improving services for people with disabilities and to putting in place a framework for disability equality. The Government's record of progress on the disability equality agenda since taking office is proof of the seriousness with which we view this commitment.
The report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities was published in November 1996. The recommendations of the commission are broad-ranging and comprehensive touching, as they do, on almost every aspect of social, economic and cultural life. There are 402 recommendations in all covering such areas as access to the built environment, both building and streetscape, income, transport and accessible housing. The Government is working to give concrete expression to the recommendations and has moved on a range of key fronts in achieving this objective.
The progress report is a benchmarking document which establishes how far we have progressed in implementing the recommendations of the commission and points the way to what yet needs to be done. The progress report shows that many of the commission's recommendations have been implemented in full or in part. The positions stated in the report are not immutable and, since publication late last year, the work of implementing the report's recommendations has continued.
Substantial progress has been made in such areas as the mainstreaming of services for people with disabilities, enacting the equal status legislation, improving the accessibility of urban buses and putting the cost of disability payment on the national agenda. These and other developments are illustrative of the steady pace of change and the improvement that is taking place and has been taking place since the progress report was published.
I would like to briefly outline a few of the areas of progress, some of which come within the aegis of my own ministerial responsibility and others whose achievement and development are attributable to the work of Government colleagues. Within my own area of responsibility the establishment of a national disability authority and the mainstreaming of services for people with disabilities are two of the key recommendations of the report. The establishment group for the national disability authority, set up in November 1997, reported to Government in June 1998. Preparations to implement the new administrative and infrastructural arrangements recommended by the group for the national disability authority and mainstreaming of services are now at an advanced stage.
Mainstreaming means that mainstream service providers will now provide services to people with disabilities on the same basis and from the same premises as they provide them to the rest of the population. The policy underlines a maturing in the approach of society in relation to service provision for people who happen to have a disability. The changes being introduced will result in a shift of responsibility for disability services from the National Rehabilitation Board and the Department of Health and Children, to the Departments and agencies with general responsibility for each of the services involved. For example, vocational training and employment services for people with disabilities will be provided by FÁS, under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. A new mainstream information and support service, Comhairle, will operate under the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, and the audiology, psychology and non-vocational services operated by the National Rehabilitation Board will be provided by the relevant Government agencies such as the health boards and the new National Educational Psychology Service.
The national disability authority will be established on a statutory basis in conjunction with these mainstreaming arrangements. The authority will be responsible for research and development of standards and codes of practice for disability services and for monitoring and assisting service providers to ensure implementation of standards and codes of practice. It will also act as a coherent focus for disability-related policy and practice and will play a key role in advising and reporting to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in regard to disability issues.
Legislative reform in the areas of anti-discrimination and positive action measures were key building blocks in the commission's approach. In each of the three years since the Government took office, an item of equality legislation dealing with the rights of people with disabilities has been passed. In 1998, the Employment Equality Act was enacted to prohibit discrimination in the workplace on nine specified grounds, one of which is disability.
In 1999 the National Disability Authority Act was enacted to underpin the new mainstream framework for the provision of services to people with disabilities. This year, these Acts were complemented by the Equal Status Act, 2000, which will come into effect in the coming months and will outlaw discrimination in relation to the provision of goods, facilities and services. Legislation establishing fundamental rights in the area of education has also been enacted.
I am sure Members will agree that at a time when our economy is faced with possible labour shortages, ensuring equality of opportunity for people with disabilities in firms puts a valuable resource at employers' disposal. The legislation not only outlaws discrimination against people with disabilities in employment but also in their role as consumers. Businesses have not yet fully awoken to the fact that by discriminating against or ignoring people with disabilities, they are only injuring themselves. People with disabilities are not isolated individuals but have families, friends and colleagues. Making premises accessible to people with disabilities makes economic sense and enhances their use for a range of customers. In this regard, I welcome the announcement in this morning's newspapers that Aer Rianta now requires all airlines, service providers and other agencies conducting business at Aer Rianta airports to do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.
As soon as the arrangements for mainstreaming are in place, I intend to begin detailed work on a disabilities Bill. The measures to be covered in the Bill will be proactive in nature and will advance and underpin the participation of people with disabilities in society. In identifying the scope of the proposed Bill, I will be strongly influenced by the recommendations made by the commission with regard to its contents. Such recommendations include access to public bodies, use of telecommunications services, use of transport and participation in the administration of justice, to name but a few.
Turning to achievements outside my direct sphere of influence, there have been significant developments with regard to transport policy. My colleague, the Minister for Public Enterprise, has adopted a policy to ensure that from this year onwards, all public transport purchases under the national development plan will be fully accessible. As a result, new transport stock now purchased is required to be disability-friendly. New and major refurbishment projects at all bus and rail stations will be required to take account of the needs of mobility impaired customers. The National Development Plan 2000-2006 includes significant provisions in relation to the accessi bility of public transport, including the establishment of a public transport accessibility committee to advise the Minister for Public Enterprise in regard to the accessibility of public transport for people with disabilities, including people with mobility impairments. I also understand that this year alone, Dublin Bus is purchasing 205 accessible buses and a further 20 accessible or "bendy" buses.
Under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, the Departments of Health and Children, Social, Community and Family Affairs and Finance have committed themselves to examining the feasibility of introducing a cost of disability payment. Work is under way to establish a working group which will be chaired by an official from the Department of Health and Children at Assistant Secretary level. The cost of disability payment is of vital interest to people with disabilities and a key recommendation of the commission. I am sure the work of this working group will be closely monitored by all concerned.
The role of my Department with regard to the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities is twofold, namely to provide guidance and advice and to monitor and encourage implementation. The progress report was presented on the date of its publication to a monitoring committee chaired by an official of my Department and comprising representatives of the interests involved and of key Departments. The committee has met four times over the past six months and I expect that it will be in a position to report progress to me over the summer.
Members will see that much has been done in the area of disability equality. I am committed to following up this good work with new actions. More remains to be done and I will continue to work to achieve full equality for all our citizens. I commend the report to the House and look forward to hearing Deputies' views on these matters.