Written Answers. - Employment of People with Disabilities.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

120 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to claims made in a speech reported in the media on 26 October 2001 that this State had one the worst records in the EU when it comes to employing people with disabilities; the steps he intends to take to encourage the employment of a greater number of such people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27677/01]

This Government is committed to ensuring equal opportunities for people with disabilities in the areas of training and employment and has taken a strategic approach to policy development involving both legislative and positive action measures to achieve this end.

The Government made a critical change in the law in this area with the Employment Equality Act, 1998, which provides protection for people with disabilities in employment and training against discrimination. Under this Act, the Equality Authority was established to underpin statutory rights under the Act and to provide a means of redress. I am proud to say that this legislation places Ireland ahead of many other member states in the European Community with regard to the protection for people with disabilities against discrimination in employment.

Under a Government commitment in the PPF, every Department is required to take appropriate action to ensure that agencies under its aegis achieve the 3% target for the employment of people with disabilities in the public service at an early date. In 1999, the Government established a monitoring committee chaired by my Department to monitor and guide progress towards achievement of this target in the public service, outside the Civil Service. The committee has supported a number of initiatives over the last two years including approval of a draft code of practice for use in the public service and exploration of the options for common selection procedures for people with disabilities, raising awareness of the 3% target among and giving information to chief executives, personnel officers and disability equality officers in the public service through a series of eight regional seminars, and publication of an information brochure, publication of a brochure designed to encourage people with disabilities to consider a career in the public service and promotion of this at the Public Sector Careers Expo in April, 2001, and commissioned research on the issues and barriers relating to achievement of the target in six public service organisations. It is intended to launch this report next week.
My colleague, the Minister for Finance is responsible for the 3% target of employment of people with disabilities within the Civil Service. The Department of Finance has commissioned a study on career progression of people with disabilities in the Civil Service in partnership with my Department and the Civil Service Commission. This study will help to inform personal and career development of people with disabilities in the Civil Service including, if necessary, revisions to the 1994 Civil Service code of practice on the employment of people with disabilities.
One of the most significant developments has been the introduction of mainstreaming disability policy which was launched by an Taoiseach in June 2000, requiring that public service bodies which provide services for the public are the same bodies that provide services for people with disabilities.
Employment and vocational training policies for people with disabilities are now formulated as part of general labour market policy underlining the move from a medical attitude to disability to an inclusive economic and social view of disability.
Since the introduction of mainstreaming policy the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and FÁS are responsible for the employment and vocational training of people with disabilities. My Government colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, has initiated a number of positive action measures to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities. These measures include the launch, in July 2000, of a national supported employment programme which will place up to 800 people with disabilities into employment in the open labour market, funding for a social partner initiative, led by ICTU and IBEC, to promote the employment of people with disabilities in the private sector; increased funding for existing employment supports for employers and for people with disabilities, the introduction of new supports such as disability awareness training grants and employee retraining grants, increased emphasis on progression from vocational training to employment for people with disabilities.
In addition, people with disabilities can avail of the full range of FÁS programmes and services available to help people prepare for and find employment. Funding for vocational training and employment services targeted at people with disabilities has increased significantly since 1999 and over £32.5 million is being provided this year alone.
The mainstreaming process is still in the early stages and service providers, employers, clients and employees are adapting to the new arrangements that were put in place formally in June 2000 and which are developing in response to the new policy. I am confident that these new policies supported by the Employment Equality Act will assist people with disabilities to access training and employment opportunities.