Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 15 Jul 2014

Vol. 848 No. 3

Disability Services: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:


— the vital role people with a disability play in Irish society;

— that 45% of people with disabilities experienced income poverty;

— that 36% of people with a disability experienced basic deprivation;

— that as 85% of working-age disability is acquired and households headed by people with a disability are twice as likely to experience unemployment than those that are not headed by a person with a disability, this issue cannot go unaddressed if we are to reduce poverty in Ireland;

— that over half of those living in jobless households are either children or adults with a disability;

— that people with disabilities must not become the new underclass of workers and they must be afforded an adequate working wage; and

— that any further cuts to respite, day-care or residential places are not sustainable;

and calls on the Government to:

— ensure that all people with a disability are guaranteed a quality service as a right;

— end all cuts to front-line services;

— appoint a senior Minister with a dedicated responsibility for disability inclusion;

— prioritise funding of disability services in line with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste’s solemn pre-election commitments to disability; and

— pursue the implementation of agreed measures, targets and timelines for disability.

I wish to share time with Deputies Thomas Pringle, Catherine Murphy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Tom Fleming and Stephen Donnelly.

I have tabled this motion to highlight the urgent need to protect the rights of people with disabilities as citizens of this State and to propose sensible solutions to the difficulties being experienced in providing quality services to all people with disabilities. This motion, which contains a new and radical proposal to "appoint a senior Minister with a dedicated responsibility for disability inclusion", speaks for itself. It is about equality and inclusion. It highlights the disconnect between the Government and broader society. We saw a classic example of this in recent days, when a request made by the Irish Deaf Society and Senator Mark Daly that an Irish Sign Language interpreter be made available in the Dáil was refused. Senator Daly had written to the Ceann Comhairle on behalf of the society, requesting that an Irish Sign Language interpreter be in place to facilitate members of the deaf community who will be present in the Visitors Gallery for Question Time this Thursday, but that request was refused.

I will give another example of exclusion and the lack of equality in Irish society. The Irish Deaf Society's national advocacy service for deaf people was forced to close its office, with a full loss of staff, after the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government announced that funding was to be discontinued. It is estimated that 5,000 people will be affected by this announcement, which has brought a halt to 11 years of service provision to the deaf population of Ireland.

I would like to develop further the proposal in the motion that a senior Minister should be responsible for people with disabilities. I do not care who that person is, as long as he or she can focus on the issue. We know from the most recent census that 595,355 people, or 13% of the population, have a disability. I remind the House that a full-time senior Minister is responsible for the approximately 120,000 farmers who are involved in the rural agriculture industry. Similarly, a full-time Minister is responsible for between 50,000 and 60,000 teachers who work in our education service. In that context, it is valid to mention that more than 595,000 people are living with disabilities but do not have a full-time Minister. The Government missed a glorious opportunity to deal with this issue in the recent reshuffle. I appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, deals with disability in her Department but I would like a more prominent role to be given to a senior Minister as well.

I wish to pay tribute to all the voluntary groups that work with and campaign for people with disabilities all the time. I welcome Mr. John Dolan of the Disability Federation of Ireland to the Gallery. I thank such people for all the work they do for people with disabilities. I would also like to thank another important group that provides a great service. I refer to the parents, families and friends of people with disabilities, who often comprise the backbone of the disability service through the work they do with their friends, their children and the adults in their families. I pay tribute to them and thank them for doing a service for people with disabilities.

What does it mean to have a disability in the Ireland of 2014? As I said earlier, over 595,000 people have a disability, according to the most recent census. At least one in ten adults of working age - between the ages of 15 and 64 - has a disability. It is clear that disability increases sharply with age. Just 5.4% of those under the age of 15 have a disability, whereas 38% of those over the age of 65 fall into this category.

People with disabilities face difficulties and delays in accessing supports and services. Three quarters of people who use disability services are not satisfied with the level of control they have over their lives. This is something we have to tackle. Approximately 48% of disability service users are very dissatisfied with the quality of the services being provided. Some 13,655 applications for disability allowance were turned down in 2013. That represents a refusal rate of 55%. I understand that 58% of appeals in these cases were later accepted. Almost 4,000 people with disabilities were in need of social housing last year. At the end of last year, more than 32,000 children remained on waiting lists for speech and language assessments and interventions. In 2013, some 15,813 people were waiting for an assessment by an occupational therapist. Approximately 2,500 of them, including approximately 1,900 children, had been waiting for more than a year.

As I mentioned earlier, people with disabilities experience high levels of poverty. Families where the head of the household is not at work due to illness or disability had the lowest level of annual disposable income - an average of €21,492 - in 2012. This represents a decrease of 11.4% since 2010. Individuals who are not at work due to illness or disability endure some of the highest levels of consistent poverty. The level in question - 17.6% - overshadows the national average of 7.7%. Some 48.5% of those who are not at work due to illness or disability are at risk of deprivation. This is in contrast to the national average of 26.9%. Such people struggle with the cost of adequate clothing and heating. They cannot afford to eat a meal with meat or fish more frequently than every second day.

I raise these facts because this is the Ireland of 2014 and this is the reality for many families of people with disabilities. I would like to bring a more human touch to this debate by reading from a letter I was sent by a parent during the week in relation to a particular service:

I am a parent of a child who attends St Michael's Special National School in Baldoyle. I am shocked and dismayed at the news that there will be a further cut to teaching staff and to the number of Special Needs Assistants in this school. As I am sure you are aware, this school lost a teacher the last 3 years in a row. I would like to make you aware that the standard ratio of 1 teacher to 6 pupils (SERC Report, 1993) is absolutely not appropriate for children in this school. Children who attend this school not only have severe to profound intellectual disabilities but many are also severely physically disabled and have other highly complex needs. Much of the school day is taken up with personal care such as peg feeding (tube feeding), toileting, dealing with seizures, hoisting, ensuring the safety of the mobile children, and dealing with various medical issues. This takes up most, if not all of the SNA's time. As a result, the teachers are trying to teach our children in groups. As you surely must be aware, these severely and profoundly disabled children ideally require one to one tuition.

That is a letter from a parent using a service in St. Michael's House, Baldoyle, in my constituency, which is an excellent service. The final paragraph states:

I am asking you to please reconsider this appalling decision regarding the loss of a teacher and special needs assistants. Failing this, can you please outline how you intend to maintain both the health and safety and education standards in the school?

She sent this letter to the Minister for Education and Skills as well. That is just one example of a family with severely disabled children, physically and intellectually.

I turn now to the people with an intellectual disability. A total of 27,256 people with intellectual disability, representing 99% of the total population registered on the NIDD, were in receipt of services. That was the highest number of people in receipt of services since the database was established. The following services will be needed for the period 2013 to 2017. With regard to day care services, when we look at the figures we see there is potential to sort this area. A total of 197 people require a new day service, that is, they are currently without a day service and require one. Surely that is one we can fix. The second figure is more broad but I am referring to the period from 2013 to 2017. These are figures from the Minister's Department. A total of 10,304 day places will require changes or enhancements.

Regarding residential services, 2,271 full-time people who are without residential placements require one in the next five years. Most need is immediate. A total of 2,711 residential places will require changes or enhancements, for example, a person in a residential centre who requires a move to a community group home setting. That is in the residential area.

In the respite services, 2,054 require residential support services for the first time. A total of 1,637 residential support places will require changes or enhancements, generally increased hours of support.

If some of these figures applied to one year, we would say they are very high, but when we look at it over a four or five-year plan, there is huge potential to act. I emphasise the day care services and when we see figures such as 197 people, that is an issue that can be solved.

I mentioned the Irish Deaf Society that took a severe cut in recent days. It is very important we do not ignore all the other groups in the disability sector that have got the chop, so to speak, in the past week. The Taoiseach said in the Dáil earlier that some of these organisations can appeal that but the Minister must be vigilant. She must protect and defend the advocates and the support services for all people with disabilities.

I accept the point, and I have said this publicly in recent years, that when there is a downturn or if there is a shortage of resources, certain sections of society must be prioritised. We had the medical cards row where people with disabilities got caught in the crossfire. We have to take the tough decisions. We have to admit we have a problem, that the revolution cannot happen overnight but that priority must be given to sick children and children with a disability. That is a sensible point.

Another issue we cannot forget is the 187,000 carers in this State who work closely with their families. Legislation should be implemented to ensure a statutory entitlement to home care community services. There should be the provision of adequate supports for carers caring for those with a mental health illness. There should be the restoration of cuts applied to the respite care grant and household benefits package. The €100 water allowance should apply to all full-time carers regardless of whether they are in receipt of the household benefits package. There should be an extension of the local property tax exemptions to include households where a high level of care is provided. I am talking about 187,000 people who are doing a fantastic job against the odds. They are saving the Exchequer and saving the State.

The broader vision is about protecting and demanding rights for people with a physical and intellectual disability. We have moved on, and I accept there are examples of good practices in the services. We have some top-class services but there are also major anomalies that we have to deal with today.

I urge the Minister, and the Government, to read carefully the contents of this motion as it sets out a clear path to ensure all people with disability are acknowledged and supported with a decent service. This motion is about representing the rights of all people with disability. I thank all my colleagues in the Technical Group and all the Independent Deputies for their great support for this motion.

I call on the Government to implement the plans and the vision in this motion. I urge Deputies on all sides of the House to look seriously at the issue because I believe strongly that a great deal can be done to resolve it.

I understand the Deputy has agreed to share his time with Deputies Thomas Pringle, Catherine Murphy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Tom Fleming and Stephen Donnelly.

Is that agreed? Agreed. I call Deputy Pringle.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate in support of people with disabilities. I commend Deputy McGrath on tabling this motion. It is important and timely, in light of the recent cuts that have taken place, that we should be debating this issue tonight and tomorrow night.

The Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 published last Friday stated:

The Government will implement the Report of the Value for Money and Policy Review of the Disability Services Programme, which recommends a significant restructuring of the disability service by linking budgets to activity, outputs, quality and outcomes for service users. The new model of personalised, community-based service must provide greater choice for people with disabilities.

Those are fine words but one of the recommendations, No. 3.8, of the value for money review states that the role and funding of agencies that are wholly or substantially engaged in representation rather than direct service provision should be reappraised having regard to the recommendations in this review.

It seems in this case the Government has hit the ground running because before these priorities were published, it had already cut the funding for 26 groups to save the whopping sum of €1.2 million. I refer to groups that play a vital advocacy role on behalf of people with disabilities to push for and ensure the services are retained for them and that the services are developed for those people with disabilities. I refer to groups like the Irish Deaf Society which had its funding cut and had to close its advocacy service, which was used by more than 5,000 people every year. That is the impact these cuts are having on these groups.

Groups such as the Neurological Alliance of Ireland will have to shut down their services in December unless they can source alternative funding. This is a group that represents more than 700,000 people with neurological conditions. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government turned down its grant on the grounds that the people it represents do not constitute a disadvantaged group. How could people suffering from a wide range of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease and epilepsy not represent a disadvantaged group?

The review and the change in the Government's priorities in implementing the change in disability services may be the right way to go but the way to do it would have been to maintain the groups that work on behalf of people with disabilities while rolling out the service. It seems the Government has taken away their voice before these new services have started to be implemented. When will the evaluation of the service by service users take place? These groups could play a vitally important role in contributing to the roll-out and the benefits disability services might gain for their members and the people they represent by having an input into the changes taking place, but their voices are not being heard, and all to save €1.2 million.

The Government should reinstate the funding for these groups. If the proper services for people with disabilities are put in place and the Government opts for the person-centred role, as it has said it will do, there will be no need for these groups in the future and their funding can be wound down while the roll-out of the service takes place.

It smacks of getting the voices out of the way before implementing the services. Unfortunately, we will be here in a couple of years' time debating this and wondering when and how this will be rolled out in an effective manner, which will help and benefit people with disabilities.

The CSO published a survey, Work and Poverty in Ireland, which found that the risk of living in a jobless household is higher where the household has an adult with a disability. More than one third of those living in jobless households were children and almost one fifth were adults with a disability. These groups are being targeted by the withdrawal of the funding for their national organisations which advocate on their behalf. These organisations advocate for the need for proper services and for the development of services on their behalf and they should continue to be funded while the Government rolls out this new disability service.

It is interesting that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 and signed by Ireland in 2007 but we have not yet ratified and implemented it seven years down the road. That shows the commitment of previous Governments and this Government to people with disabilities to ensure they get the services they deserve and need so they can live a reasonable life.

People with disabilities and their families must fight for every single service and benefit they get. Their lives seem to be consumed by fighting the system. When will we have a system which recognises them as equal citizens and people who have an equal role to play in our society and they get service as of right? It does not auger well when one sees that their advocates have had their funding withdrawn in advance of the roll out of this.

I thank Deputy Finian McGrath for tabling this Private Members' motion. While it mainly focuses on services for people with disabilities, every one of us will probably refer to the cutbacks to the Pobal grant scheme which were announced. Some 26 organisations, which provide essential advocacy for people with disabilities, face serious curtailment or closure. One of the things people talk about when they get a diagnosis for a child with a disability is the isolation. Very often the support groups are the most important part of dealing with the issue. We will see organisations being closed down, because we have been told the grant scheme has been oversubscribed, without evaluating the consequences of that, which will be immense.

I cannot believe the Government keeps inflicting this kind of thing on itself. We saw the medical card fiasco, which was focused on discretionary medical cards, and the issue of the domiciliary care allowance last year. It is entirely predictable that these things will be problematic. To take away or to reduce services provided by organisations like MS Ireland, Muscular Dystrophy Ireland, the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association, the Huntington's Disease Association of Ireland - Huntington's is a really cruel disease - and the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland is unbelievable and it will have a major impact in the autumn. This should be looked at again as a matter of urgency before the Dáil rises.

Our neurological services are ranked among the worst in Europe behind Croatia and Serbia, which have very difficult economic situations to overcome. We have the lowest number of consultant neurologists in Europe. More than 700,000 people in Ireland live with a neurological condition. This is set to increase to 860,000 in ten years' time. It is a huge proportion of our population. Some 15,000 people require specialist rehabilitation each year and 89,000 individuals are made disabled by neurological conditions and yet this group's advocacy services are being reduced.

This is happening at a time when the charity sector is under serious pressure, some of which is self-inflicted damage as in the case of Rehab and the CRC. There are, however, a lot of empty pockets which would have been contributors to some of these vital services. This needs to be looked at again as a matter of urgency this week.

I would like to draw attention to an organisation in my constituency - Kare - which was established as far back as 1967. It started by dealing with children with an intellectual disability. Very often it stepped into the breach where there was not a public service. It is a front-line service provider, it has expanded its services over the years to provide critical services across a range of different areas, such as clinical care, day and residential care, and it has received awards for excellence. However, according to the chairperson, it is increasingly difficult for it to try to maintain its front-line services as each year, there have been cuts. I think this could be replicated around the country.

If we do not have those front-line services, it will cost us at some point. We have a very short-term approach to counting costs. They will arise later in terms of residential care or something else. This really needs to be looked at a more holistic way across the various Departments. I do not know if the Minister of State knew these supports would be lost. Was she even consulted about it? I would have thought that would have been critical in terms of the delivery of a broad range of advocacy and support services through those organisations which, in turn, can generate quite a lot of voluntary activity. The Minister of State might say whether she was consulted in her contribution. If she was not consulted, will she give a commitment to talk to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, who is a member of her party, with a view to reversing those cuts because it is not a question of appealing them as they should not have happened in the first place?

My question today on Leaders' Questions was about values and the values underpinning our economic policies. I made the point that there is a lack of a social policy component to economic policy. Also missing from economic policy are principles of social justice and human sympathy. All of that is creating unacceptable levels of economic inequality and that applies to people with disabilities.

Research from the Centre for Economic and Social Rights shows that poorly managed recession followed by a series of austerity budgets with a lack of social participation and a reliance on regressive cuts to spending over progressive tax reforms undermines basic rights. The people most affected are women, children, the elderly and people with a disability.

I acknowledge Deputy Finian McGrath's lifetime commitment to, and his voice for, people with a disability. I noticed he called for a senior Minister with a dedicated responsibility for disability. Some weeks ago I made a similar request to the Taoiseach, that is, for a dedicated Minister for alcohol or drugs issues or at least a Minister of State whose sole remit would be alcohol and drugs issues. I went through the list of Ministers of State today and I am sure there are reasons for each of those jobs but I wondered where was the Minister of State dedicated to vulnerable communities and vulnerable groups, notwithstanding the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch's work, especially in regard to mental health.

When the eight topics were chosen for the Constitutional Convention, myself and others were disappointed that human rights were not included, in particular rights for people with mental and physical disabilities. We know the difficulties those people face and the difficulties faced by those who love and care for them. We are looking for a commitment to equality for those people and that there are no additional stresses on them. Instead of that we have seen the stresses on them over the past few years, whether around home help, personal assistance provision, community care, respite care, special needs assistance or resource hours. We know of the number of parents who have had to go to court to get basic rights for their children, whether for education, health or care. When one thinks about the money spent in court, it could have gone to much better use.

Last week, 26 organisations supporting people with disabilities had their funding cut with a total loss of €1.2 million, which is not a huge amount when one considers the work they do and the people they reach. I know of the work of the Irish Deaf Society and I tabled a Topical Issue on its cut. I know of the silent world of the deaf community and the need for a voice. I know of the work of the Post Polio Support Group which was totally left behind when so many other groups were looked after. The Centre for Independent Living had funding cut as did the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland. This affects a small number of people but one must ask what sort of message that sends to those people with disabilities.

The Government's amendment reads,"it is committed to facilitating the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the life of the community". However, those organisations which facilitate this have had their funding cut. One group I know well is the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association, IMNDA, because of my friendship with someone who battled motor neurone disease for several years, as well as two Members I knew. I have taken part in several fund-raising events and even gone down the catwalk at a fashion show. While we are raising funds for this organisation, however, the Government has taken funding from it. It is completely illogical. Eleven neurological organisations had their applications for funding turned down. If there were issues with these organisations, surely they could have been brought to their attention before it reached the stage where funding was cut, services were undermined and some people lost their jobs.

One third of people with a disability have emotional, psychological and mental health conditions. Up to 87% of those with mental health conditions have at least one other disability, which highlights the need for integrated services. There is also a need for integrated services for those with a mental health issue who have an addiction and are homeless, a point I have made before. There are several agencies dealing with each aspect instead of just one dealing with all of them. Another group includes those released from prison who have a mental health condition but who still have an addiction or are coping with recovery who find themselves homeless. A small amount spent at an early stage would prevent further spending at a later stage.

Social justice means ensuring everyone, no matter who they are or where they live, has the opportunity to develop, be self-determining and participate positively in the community. The barriers that deny social justice for people with disabilities are well recognised. For instance, there are ignorant attitudes, inaccessible facilities, inappropriate and inadequate services and supports. It is relevant that the Taoiseach and the former Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, acknowledged these barriers in the 2011 general election campaign. It is significant they both identified disabilities as their key social policy priority.

The objective of a right to education, as described by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, is to maximise the child’s ability and opportunity to participate fully and responsibly in a free society. The committee, in its 2006 concluding observations on Ireland, welcomed efforts to strengthen the legal and policy framework for special educational needs. However, it also noted concerns about the cost of education materials, the participation of children in decisions affecting them and the high drop-out rate among children with disabilities. It made a series of recommendations to address these shortcomings which included improving school buildings and facilities and dealing with bullying.

Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises the right of the child to an education. It states: "States parties shall promote and encourage international co-operation in matters relating to education, in particular [with a view to contributing] to the elimination of … illiteracy". It is about equipping a child with adequate literacy and numeracy skills which are essential and central to their progression from a life of poverty, disadvantage and marginalisation. Every state must ensure every child’s basic right to development is vindicated to the maximum extent. One of the aims of education under the convention is the development of the child’s personality, talents, as well as mental and physical abilities to his or her full potential. Children with disabilities have the right to assistance appropriate to their condition which is designed to ensure the child has effective access to education and receives an education in a manner conducive to achieving his or her full social integration and individual development.

The former Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, has met representatives of St. Francis special school in Beaufort, County Kerry, which provides an excellent service for pupils aged between four and 18 years who have been assessed with a moderate to profound general learning disability. Up until the end of the 2013 school year, the school delivered physiotherapy, as well as speech and occupational therapy by on-site therapists. The services were adequate and met the most essential needs of the children. Since the reconfiguration and implementation of the progressing disability services for children and young people programme by the Health Service Executive, the therapists have been removed from the site. Accordingly, the children have been denied these therapies which are essential for their well-being. I know that the former Minister gave a positive response to the school and public representatives when he met them to discuss this matter. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, intercede to improve the services further with more therapists? When will the four therapists promised for County Kerry be hired? How many of them will go to making up the shortfall in services at St. Francis special school? When will the public sector recruitment embargo be lifted to replace staff on maternity or sick leave or who have retired?

I commend Deputy Finian McGrath for tabling this sensible motion to recognise the value of people with disabilities and the need for further supports for them. Like most Members, before I was elected, I knew a few people with various disabilities. In the past three years as a Deputy I have spent a lot more time with adults and children with disabilities, be they physical, intellectual or both, their families and supporters in places such as St. Catherine’s Association and Sunbeam House in County Wicklow. The biggest point I have learned is how hard it is for all of them. When meeting and helping them, the main thing I have learned is how tough it is for the families and supporters involved. It is physically, mentally and emotionally tough. It is bloody hard work and they are fighting day in, day out for dignity, a decent standard of life for their children, brothers, sisters or those whom they support. It is also financially tough. Half of those with disabilities experience income poverty. More than one third experience basic deprivation. This is just not good enough. I know that a lot of money is put into the disability sector. That we in Ireland, one of the wealthiest and most developed countries on Earth, would allow over one third of citizens with disabilities to experience deprivation is just not good enough. Since 2008, the sector has faced a 14% cut made by the Government. If one factors in inflation, in real terms it a cut of about 20%.

At the same time the number of people being supported with disabilities, because they are living longer and more disabilities are being recognised and supported, is even higher, so we are probably looking at about a 25% per person cut since 2008. That is simply not okay and the cry that there is no money is hollow because there was money for the banks, the bondholders, AIB's pension fund, to pay for the children of foreign executives to go to private schools and to give 41% tax rebates to people with very expensive pensions. There is plenty of money for things that are chosen and yet there is not enough money for men, women and children with disabilities.

We are talking about a cut of about 25% per person with a disability. It is not okay. It is a bad mark on this country. What we cannot afford is more cuts. This year in Wicklow, Sunbeam House faced huge cuts. We managed to get some of them restored but still services had to be squeezed. Currently, St. Catherine’s in Wicklow, which supports about 250 children with medium, profound and severe disabilities, is facing very serious cuts. In fairness to the HSE managers, they are working with St. Catherine’s. I accept there were governance issues but those HSE managers have to balance budgets that are being cut and cut and the people who suffer are the most marginalised and under-protected in the country. That is just not good enough. That is not okay.

What can we do? The Government could promise immediately that there would be no more cuts and that it would prioritise those men, women and children more than the bankers and the people with the big pensions. We could ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We are one of only three European countries that has not done this to date. We signed the convention in March 2007. That is not good enough. We could target unemployment better. The Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, has introduced a ten-year plan for the National Disability Authority to examine the issue. The annual budget, the social welfare system and other areas must also be brought in line to target unemployment.

We must introduce equality budgeting. For three years on budget day I have asked the Government to bring in a piece of paper to Dáil Éireann to show how the budget affects people with disabilities, those on low incomes and both genders but for three years the Government has refused to provide the information. The only conclusion I can reach after three years of this most reasonable request is that the Government is hiding the effects of what it is doing; it is embarrassed about those effects and it is not willing to face up to that. There are four ideas for things that can and must change.

Is it agreed that the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, will share with Deputies Dowds and Farrell? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“values the role which people with disabilities play in Irish society and is committed to facilitating the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the life of the community through access to individualised personal social supports and services;

recognises the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the quality of life of people with disabilities is enhanced and that resources are allocated on the basis of need;

affirms the Government’s commitment to the provision of effective and responsive public services for people with disabilities;

notes that the Government spends almost €5 billion annually on disability services and income supports (in addition to expenditure of over €1 billion on income supports for illness and invalidity); and the health service alone will spend €1.4 billion in 2014 on health and social services for people with disabilities, including:

— residential services to over 9,000 people with a disability;

— day services to over 22,000 people with intellectual, physical or sensory disabilities and autism;

— respite residential support for nearly 6,000 people with disabilities; and

— 1.68 million hours of personal assistant/home support hours;

notes that additional funding of €14 million has been provided to address priority needs within disability services identified by the Minister for Health and advised to the Health Service Executive, including:

— €7 million for additional places for school-leavers and rehabilitative training graduates;

— €3 million for emergency residential placements; and

— €4 million to support the development of services for children with disabilities under the National Programme on Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People;

acknowledges the key Programme for Government commitments and recognises the progress to date in implementing them, particularly in:

— the publication of an implementation plan for the National Disability Strategy;

— the publication of the Value for Money and Policy Review of the Disability Services in Ireland which lays the foundations for a person-centred supports model which will allow people to exercise greater choice and control, enabling them to live fully inclusive, active and independent lives within the community; and

— the introduction of independent inspections for residential services for people with disabilities;

acknowledges the range of income and work-related supports provided by the Department of Social Protection for people with disabilities, and notes that:

— expenditure on the Illness, Disability and Carers programme is estimated to be €3.33 billion in 2014, which represents 17 per cent of total Departmental expenditure;

— the purpose of the Illness, Disability and Carers programme is to provide an income for persons in the event of short and long term illness or disability and to support the valuable service provided by their care givers; and

— social transfers, such as Disability Allowance, help to support people to participate in society in a positive way and prevent poverty for those with serious illnesses and disabilities;

recognises the central role which work plays in the lives of people with disabilities and is committed to the development of a comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities, which will be published this year, as set out in the Action Plan for Jobs 2014;

notes that the Department of Education and Skills spends approximately €1.3 billion, or 15 per cent of its entire budget, in support of children and young persons with disabilities and Special Educational Needs and, despite the significant economic challenges of recent years, has continued to protect this investment; and

recognises that the Department of Education and Skills is focused on ensuring that all children can have access to an education appropriate to their needs.”

Like other speakers, I thank Deputy Finian McGrath for introducing the motion and the Technical Group for allowing the matter to be chosen. It probably always has been and will be one of the issues that rounds off a term in the Dáil. Every year, it is either health, mental health or disability, but that is a good thing as we need to continue to focus on where we need to be.

I welcome this opportunity to state once again the Government's commitment to the provision of effective and responsive public services for people with disabilities and to strongly reaffirm the Government's commitment to the national disability strategy. The Government is also committed to the implementation of the reform programme for the disability sector, as set out in the value for money and policy review.

Deputies Donnelly and Pringle raised the ratification of the UN convention. We signed it, and as we have always done with conventions, we then put in place the various pieces of legislation in order that when we ratify at least we will not be like other countries that ratify and do not put the legislation in place and when they are called to account do not live up to the promise they gave in the ratification process. We are currently dealing with the assisted decision-making (capacity) legislation. Members will have an opportunity to deal with it. That is the biggest aspect of what remains to be done. It is not the case that we ratified the convention and did not bother to do anything else. We intend to complete the legislation. When we tidy up another few aspects of the Bill we will be in a position to ratify the convention.

That intention has been highlighted again in the Statement of Government Priorities 2014 - 2016, which has just been published, which states:

The Government will implement the report of the value for money and policy review of the disability services programme, which recommends a significant restructuring of the disability service by linking budgets to activity, outputs, quality and outcomes for service users. The new model of personalised, community-based service must provide greater choice for people with disabilities.

Certain people might have a mild, moderate or profound disability but in all categories there are usually people who cannot advocate on their own behalf. I was not involved in the decision on funding but I had already committed to speak to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to see what could be done. I do not promise anything. I do not do that, but I will definitely take up the matter with the Department. Deputies Catherine Murphy and Maureen O’Sullivan are particularly interested in the issue and it is important that such issues would be examined.

I have often expressed my strongly-held view that people with disabilities are not ill and do not require to be fixed. What people with disabilities need is for us to break down the barriers society puts in the way of them living a full life - a life that is worth living. They also need the supports necessary for them to live a fully inclusive life. That is the aim of the national disability strategy, which was launched in September 2004 and which continues to be the focus of Government policy for the sector. The programme for Government contained a commitment on the publication of the first ever implementation plan for the strategy and to the achievement of even greater levels of progress. With that in mind, I established, and have been personally chairing, the national disability strategy implementation group, which was tasked with developing and monitoring the implementation plan.

The objective is to engage with the disability sector and build on the constructive and co-operative approach of the community and voluntary sector. Acknowledging the current economic climate, this implementation plan seeks to ensure available resources are used to best effect in ensuring people with disabilities have more choice and control in their lives and more support in achieving their aspirations for the future.

Collaboration is key to progressing the national disability strategy and the value for money review. I am a passionate exponent of the motto "Nothing about us, without us". I have always been committed to working with people with disabilities and to opening channels of communication wherever I can. As another means of engagement with the disability sector, I set up a disability forum under the stewardship of the National Disability Authority. One of its first tasks was to provide an input into the development of the national disability strategy implementation plan. Progress on the implementation plan is reviewed by the implementation group through thematic meetings which deal with specific issues. This brings me to an issue of key importance - employment. The next thematic meeting of the national disability strategy implementation group will focus on employment. The importance of work to an individual's psychological as well as the financial well-being is well recognised, and that applies in equal measure to people with disabilities.

We know that people with disabilities are only half as likely to be in employment as others of working age and that the reasons for this are complex and multifaceted. The national disability strategy implementation plan contains a commitment to publish a comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities. To progress this commitment, I requested the National Disability Authority and Mr. Christy Lynch, who is a founder member of the Irish Association of Supported Employment, to lead on the cross-sectoral development of a comprehensive employment strategy. The strategy will bring together actions by different Departments and State agencies in a concerted effort to address the barriers and challenges that impact on the employment of people with disabilities. Significant work has been undertaken to date, in consultation with relevant Departments, disability organisations, employment organisations and social partners. I reviewed the first draft in conjunction with the national disability strategy implementation group in June and identified certain aspects of the strategy that need further development. Work in this regard is ongoing and, as I previously mentioned, a themed meeting on employment is scheduled for September and will progress this matter further.

To further support the mainstreaming of this initiative, we have included its publication in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment's Action Plan for Jobs. This is where it belongs as this must be a cross-departmental initiative. Its subsequent implementation will be overseen by the Cabinet committee on Pathways to Work because it is important not to divide and stigmatise people with disabilities. Supporting people with disabilities to live a fully inclusive life is also fundamental to the value for money and policy review of disability services funded by the health sector, which I published in 2012. The review is pivotal in progressing and supporting the implementation of significant elements of the national disability strategy and echoes the health care reforms signalled in Future Health, the Government's blueprint for the restructuring of health services. Implementation of the review is being monitored and guided by a steering group, which is undertaking an ambitious work plan for 2014 to 2015 with dedicated resources provided by the HSE.

A key aspect of Future Health is the emphasis on treating people at the lowest level of complexity. One of the bulwarks of this reform will be the strengthening of the primary care system. The statement of Government priorities for 2014 to 2016 commits to the publication of a new primary care strategy that puts primary and community care at the heart of our health system and that prioritises access to primary and community care for those with medical needs as resources become available. This is a commitment that will be of great relevance to those with disabilities, who will receive more and more of their primary care services in the community as the implementation of the disability reform programme progresses.

This is a time of major change in the delivery of social care in this country and we have embarked on a transformation programme that will put the citizen at the heart of everything we do. This change can best be illustrated by the disability services provided by the health sector, which is migrating from a segregated, group-delivered service to a person-centred and individually chosen supports model. The implementation of this new model requires a more effective, transparent and accountable use of the €1.4 billion annual health budget for disability services. The HSE must maximise the provision of services within available resources and maintain a consistent level of service compared to last year. Both the HSE and the voluntary disability service providers have introduced significant efficiencies over recent years and are continuing to examine further ways of streamlining governance arrangements and maximising operational efficiency as part of the implementation of the value for money review and the Haddington Road agreement.

Despite the difficult economic conditions in which we find ourselves, there can be no compromise on the quality and safety of the services we deliver. The scheme of registration and inspection of residential services came into operation on 1 November 2013. The regulations, which are being enforced by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, seek to ensure that the unique and complex needs of each child and adult with a disability in a residential service are met in an appropriate and effective manner by service providers and staff. This is a positive development for everyone concerned and will set the bar for quality care in the years ahead. I have mentioned that the way in which we support people with disabilities to live normal lives is undergoing a seismic change. The HSE's report entitled Time to Move on from Congregated Settings proposes a new model of support where people will move to housing in ordinary communities provided mainly by housing authorities.

The process of moving towards a community-based model of residential services has been happening gradually for a number of years and is now gathering momentum. Together with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Department of Health has developed a housing strategy for people with disabilities and an implementation framework which aims to support people with disabilities to live in their communities with maximum independence and choice. The framework that supports people with disabilities in living in their own communities is an excellent example of cross-sectoral work and the whole-Government approach that is a central theme of the national disability strategy.

The health sector has invested significant resources in services for children with disabilities, including autism, over the past number of years. In addition, the HSE has recognised that there is a need to standardise early intervention services and services for school-aged children with disabilities. To this end a major reconfiguration of therapy resources for children aged up to 18 years with disabilities is currently under way.

The HSE's national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people from zero to 18 years, to which Deputy Tom Fleming referred, aims to achieve a national unified approach to delivering disability health services so that there is a clear pathway to services for all children, including those with autism, regardless of where they live, what school they attend or the nature of their disabilities. The programme aims to provide one clear pathway to services for all children with disabilities, according to need. It also seeks to ensure that resources are used to the greatest benefit of all children and families and that health and education strategies work together to support children in achieving their potential.

An additional €4 million has been specifically allocated in the national service plan for 2014 to drive implementation of the programme. The HSE has decided on the allocation of an additional 80 posts, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists. In addition, during the remainder of the year some funding from the allocation will be utilised on a targeted basis to tackle priority waiting lists at local level, using capacity within the public, voluntary and private systems. I do not have specific details on the area mentioned by Deputy Tom Fleming but I will get them.

This Government has defended spending on special education needs since coming into office and has given it the highest priority. The level of resources devoted to supporting children with special educational needs has been protected and in some areas has been increased in 2014 to take account of demand and demographic growth. Some €1.3 billion will be spent in support of children with special educational needs this year. This level of investment represents approximately 15% of the entire educational spend of the Department of Education and Skills and means that the majority of pupils with special educational needs can continue to be educated in an inclusive environment in mainstream schools along with their peers. It also means that pupils who require intensive interventions in a specialised environment, special classes and special school placements can continue to receive the services they need.

There is now a greater number of resource teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs, in schools than at any time previously. Last December, the Government announced it was increasing the number of SNAs available for allocation to schools to reflect demographic growth and increased demand. By the end of the year there will be almost 11,000 posts available, which is the highest ever level of SNA allocation. The number of special classes has increased by over 60% since the 2010 to 2011 school year. The Department also makes provision for enhanced capitation payments for special schools and special classes, specialist transport arrangements and assistive technology support.

Every year young people finish their formal education and progress to the next stage of their lives and Deputy Finian McGrath spoke of children progressing from first and second-level formal education. For most children, including those with disabilities, the aim is to progress directly to further education, vocational training or employment and I have described the resources provided by the Department of Education and Skills to facilitate this. However, for around 900 young people who have higher support needs, the requirement is for life skills training or day supports provided by the HSE.

After following an appropriate life-skills training programme many of this cohort will also progress in time to mainstream training and employment, with personal social supports provided by the HSE where needed.

The HSE national service plan includes an additional €7 million and 35 posts to provide training places and day services for young people who will finish their formal education this year. The provision of services to more than 900 young people and almost 450 life-skills graduates has been challenging even with the additional funding. Not alone does the provision of these new services stretch resources as far as they will go, but the logistics of putting new services in place for so many young people in a tight timeframe provides the HSE with a major challenge every year. To meet the challenge the HSE has implemented a new centralised application process and national operational approach to school leaver placements.

Three years in a row I stood here and asked why it came as a surprise every year that young people leave school and need a place. In the normal course of events if a child is to continue to third level education he or she fills out a CAO form and one knows in advance. We asked for a similar system and we have it this year, which is why Deputies are not receiving the usual torrent of phone calls. It was simply a matter of putting the process in place. I hope it will work well and will become embedded in the system. I am very pleased to say this process has been completed for 2014, and the HSE has assured me that in all but a very small number of cases school leavers and their families have been notified of the placement which will be available to them in September. In the remaining cases, the HSE, service providers and families are still in discussions regarding the most suitable placement for the school leaver and strenuous efforts are being made to reach a satisfactory resolution for each young person concerned. This is a significant achievement by all concerned and a great improvement on the position in recent years.

Training is only part of the journey people with special needs must face to obtain longer-term sustainable employment. In the area of disability activation, the Government is committed to supporting people to participate more fully in training and employment through activation measures, income supports and work-related supports. The integration of the employment services and community services divisions of FÁS into the Department of Social Protection is enhancing the delivery of employment services for all people, including people with disabilities, and will assist in overcoming barriers in this area. Services for people with disabilities include the Employ Ability service, which is a supported employment programme, the wage subsidy scheme and the disability support and awareness grants and schemes. Other measures include funding for innovative disability projects and grants for reasonable accommodations in the private sector which aim at encouraging the employment of people with disabilities. In addition, the Department initiated a disability activation project, with funding of more than €7 million, which aims to identify the optimum approaches to mainstreaming labour market activation measures for people with disabilities.

As well as activation measures, the Department of Social Protection also provides an illness, disability and carers' programme which provides an income for persons in the event of short and long-term illness or disability and supports the valuable service provided by their care givers. Social transfers such as disability allowance help to support people to participate in society in a positive way and prevent poverty for those with serious illness and disabilities.

In total, the Department of Social Protection will spend an estimated €3.33 billion this year on the illness, disability and carers' programme, which is 17% of the Department's total expenditure for the year and is a very considerable and tangible testament to the Government's commitment to provide income supports for people with disabilities and their care givers.

I welcome the opportunity provided by the debate to put on record the Government's position on services for people with disabilities. There is an onus on us all to use the substantial resources committed to disability services throughout the public sector more effectively, and to achieve better outcomes for this funding and to bring about a real and substantial improvement in the lives of people with disabilities. This is a central tenet of the national disability strategy and a high priority for the Government and one to which I am fully committed.

The most significant developments with regard to disability in the past 12 months have been the appointment of a director with sole responsibility for social care, which is disability and older people, and the fact people now fully control their own budget and are enabled to have the flexibility to use it in a way which rewards but which also penalises people who do not deliver the type of service to which we feel people with disabilities have a right.

I acknowledge the importance of this subject and wish to put on record my appreciation for the work done by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, in this area. We are lucky to have somebody who is as dedicated as she is. It is an area where we all need to be on our toes all the time because no matter how much money we spend or what commitment we give there are always ways in which improvements can be made in the area of disability.

It is important to put on record that a huge amount of Government money is put towards disability services, and this is outlined in the Government amendment with regard to the €5 billion spent annually on disability services and the €1 billion on income supports for illness and invalidity. Many resources are put towards this and rightly so; it should always be the case. We should always be looking at ways to improve the situation for people with a disability, particularly with the focus on their needs and giving them the greatest degree of independence possible, which varies greatly. Disability varies, from the degree of disability I have to severe disability which makes life extremely difficult and independent living not possible for quite a few people unfortunately.

I have experience of working in a school for children with a disability. It is most important that those dealing with people with a disability, particularly children, entice and encourage them to live their lives to the full, to whatever degree that is. It would be foolish to say it is to the same degree for each individual because disability very much relates to the person and the extent of the disability varies. I remember two boys whose parents had different attitudes, which had a huge outcome on their educational progress. The view of one mother was that her son should participate as fully as possible in everything and he was able to switch to mainstream school. The other mother was totally focused on the disability and how unfair it was on her child, and this stunted his possibilities, which was very sad, despite many attempts to get around it. I am making a general point with regard to dealing with children with a disability, although I am sure it applies to a lesser degree to adults with a disability. People should be made aware to the greatest extent possible that they should be able to live independently to the greatest degree possible.

The value for money and policy review of disability services published in July 2012 was very important.

The focus of the recommendations is very important, namely to migrate from an approach that is predominantly organised around group-based services towards a model of person-centred individual chosen supports. That is so important because each person's disability is in a sense unique to that person. Their needs are unique to them even though there will be people with similar needs and so on. The implementation of a more effective method of assessing need, allocating resources and monitoring resource use needs to be a continual focus for everyone involved in providing services for people with disabilities.

In that regard could I say-----

I am afraid I must ask the Deputy to conclude his remarks.

I will wind up on this point. In that regard it is very important to monitor the work done by charitable organisations that work with people with disability because while great work is done by those organisations, in certain cases the organisations overlap. It is really important that the maximum of the money that is put into it goes to the benefit of those with disability. I support the amendment.

I congratulate the Minister of State on her enlarged portfolio and I hope her cold gets better very soon. She sounds like she is suffering at the moment.

I acknowledge the motion and the amendment, and I welcome the opportunity to speak on it. It is very clear that we must provide people with disabilities and their families with every support possible to ensure we foster a society which is inclusive of them in all aspects.

The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, through her work as Minister of State with responsibility for disability, equality, mental health and older people, has consistently worked for the benefit of people with disabilities and the Government is committed to providing them with the best possible support. The Minister of State established the national disability strategy implementation group which developed a plan for the progression of the national disability strategy following a commitment in the programme for Government. The aim of this plan is to increase engagement with the disability sector and lead to the development of more effective and innovative services which will address the issues currently being faced by this sector. During recent tough economic times, all sectors of society have had to deal with reduced levels of resources. However, what is important is that diminished resources are used in the best possible manner to provide maximum support to those with a disability.

Furthermore, included within that strategy plan is a comprehensive employment strategy for people who have disabilities. The aim of this is to provide affected persons with access to employment and to ensure that the services available to them at local level are co-ordinated. In addition, it aims to ensure that agency boundaries do not hinder the provision of joined-up access to what should be seamless support. This is of fundamental importance and I commend the Minister of State on her work in this area, specifically for requesting the drafting of the comprehensive employment strategy. We must ensure that people with disabilities are provided with the support necessary to put them in a position where their access to employment is at an equal level to that of everybody else in society.

The Government currently provides approximately €5 billion to disability services across all Departments. It is regrettable that some organisations which work with, and on behalf of, disabled people lost funding under the scheme to support national organisations. Applications for funding under this scheme were examined based upon the consideration of their social and economic benefits in addition to their consistency with the main priorities, policies, role and remit of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

These applications were assessed primarily by Pobal, not by the Department itself. Therefore, a decision not to fund any organisation is not a reflection on the work carried out, but rather that it did not score sufficiently on the assessment criteria. Perhaps such criteria need to be changed. The sad fact is that many valuable and worthwhile organisations lost out on funding as a result of this and I urge them to look to the appeals process being run by Pobal, the timeframe for which, I understand, is very tight.

Examining the support provided to disabled people by the Government, from a health perspective, shows that the Government is committed to providing them with a means to fulfil their full potential both socially and economically. The commitment in the Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 published on Friday that the Government will implement the report of the value and policy review of the disability services programme is welcome. I welcome the refocusing of the programme for Government on that measure.

Regarding the funding of services on an individualised basis the focus should be placed upon the individual as opposed to groups, as Deputy Dowds and the Minister of State have mentioned. The implementation of the value-for-money review will place an emphasis on providing choice for such individuals rather than by a professional or administrator. This marks a significant shift in policy, ensuring that the individual is at the core of the process.

I remind Members that the Government, unlike previous governments, has done its utmost to provide for vulnerable groups in society under very harsh economic circumstances. No such support was shown by the previous Administration, given it cut payments, such as the widow's pension, the carer's allowance, the blind pension, the invalidity pension and the disability allowance, not once, but twice.

Education is a key issue for those with disabilities and ensuring they have the highest level of educational support is paramount in providing them with the best opportunities in life. The 2014 budget in the Department of Education and Skills allocated €1.3 billion to supporting children with special needs. We have increased the number of SNAs each year, including an additional 390 in the most recent budget. Following on from this, the allocation of additional funding in excess of €7 million to the HSE social care operational plan is a very positive step that will assist more than 1,400 school-leavers and rehabilitation training graduates.

I am certain that the Minister of State would spend twice her budget for such services if she had it, but clearly our present economic circumstances demand that we achieve the best value for money. I commend the Minister of State on her work in this area. I am certain it will have a long-lasting effect on disability sector.

I congratulate the Minister of State on getting her many new responsibilities. I wish her well in those responsibilities. She always has been a genuinely committed person. I was very impressed that she once admitted openly on radio that she came into this House with one view, but found that most Deputies on all sides of the House work hard for people.

The last remarks by the previous speaker disappointed me because when I became a Minister, if I thought the previous Administration had made mistakes or did things I did not agree with, I reversed them. If the Deputy's party disagrees with the decisions we made in the area of social welfare and if he believes there are other cuts or other savings in the budget, the simple decision in the past three years was to reverse those cuts and apply some other cuts, extra taxes or whatever in their place. I would have thought that after three years the Government would have begun to accept responsibility for its own decisions and would have realised that to borrow more today is to mortgage the children's future tomorrow.

I am glad to see the acting Cathaoirleach in the Chair. Every year at this time those of us from Galway West faced the problem of the school-leavers because it was done on a regional basis rather than on a national basis. I recently got a phone call from the HSE to advise me that the new process was working and that following a very simple operational change it would be able to indicate to parents that they would have a place in the autumn. It has also meant that, contrary to what happened in other years where those with the lesser disabilities got fixed up first, those with greater disabilities, over whom there would be a much greater concern as to what would happen because of the cost factor, got equal if not priority treatment this year. I am not above giving recognition to the Minister of State for sorting out an issue that we had discussed with her.

It is very easy to say so many billions of euro are spent on disability.

There is always the old saying that there are lies, damned lies and statistics and that we spend €3.3 billion in social welfare on disability. Perhaps we do and perhaps we do not but ultimately, if those concerned were not getting a disability payment they would be getting some other social welfare payment. Since they are citizens of our State, it is not really an additional burden on the State because were they all suddenly to be out looking for jobs, would the Government have 100,000 jobs to give them tomorrow? In the case of people in receipt of invalidity pension, does the Government have 53,000 jobs to give them, were they all to seek jobs? As the answer is "No", one way or another they would be likely to be a burden on the Exchequer in any event.

Another point this society must accept is that while we are very good at times about extra money for everything, at other times we the taxpayers are very reluctant to give the money that is to be spent. In the long term, one cannot rely on borrowing for day-to-day expenditure and one can only pay out what one gets in. I always think that were Members to recognise some of the basic ground rules, they could do a lot more for people. They could target the money better and could be much more productive in this Chamber. I find that in the committees, one often gets away from this type of big-speech debate onto a much greater focus.

I wish to target an issue on which I was working while Minister for Social Protection and on which I regret more progress has not been made in the meantime. It was an issue that came up when the famous cutbacks were being considered. As the Minister of State and every practising politician is aware, from dealing with people in receipt of disability allowance and invalidity pension, the spectrum of cases moving from a jobseeker's allowance case into a disability payments case is a continuum. There are people on either side of the line for whom a case could be made to be on the other side of the line. However, as one goes further along the continuum, the disability becomes increasingly profound. Many people are receiving payments because they are not fit for work and are unlikely to be fit for work for more than a year but who do not have severe disabilities in the concept of what people understand severe disabilities to be. On the other hand, people are receiving those payments who are profoundly disabled. Some cannot walk, some cannot talk and others cannot do much for themselves at all. The entire spectrum is in play.

When I was in the Department of Social Protection, the officials had developed an idea on which I was very keen, namely, that for the first time ever in a scheme, one would grade disability from profound to moderate to mild. I introduced legislation for invalidity pensioners returning to the workforce to provide what was called partial capacity benefit. The Department decided it could differentiate and would stick its neck out and do so, although a person could appeal the differentiation, if he or she was not happy. This meant that someone who had a severe disability and who got a job would keep 100% of the payment, while someone with a moderate disability would keep 50% of the payment. If one had a mild disability and got a job, one would not keep the payment but would get it again automatically if one went back on invalidity pension. This was meant to be the beginning of a process that would have graded all disability and long-term illness payments or in other words, invalidity pension. Incidentally, Members should be honest about it, as the only main difference between the two is that in one case, people have a social contribution record and in the other, they do not. The idea was that having carried out such grading, one could then give a costed disability payment effectively. One could give a higher rate of payment to those with a profound disability, a slightly enhanced payment to those with a moderate disability and obviously, those with a mild disability would get a payment that was not much different than those of working age because one wished to avoid migration.

This issue became particularly acute when money became scarce, because I considered every way to avoid cutting payments to people with moderate and profound abilities. However, the problem was that the methods were not in place to do it within a three-month period. Nevertheless, I thought this approach should have been taken in the subsequent years and that it is vital to recognise that the more severe the disability, the higher the living cost. I have to hand figures stating 53,000 people are in receipt of invalidity pension, while 106,000 people are in receipt of disability allowance. In other words, approximately 160,000 people are involved and consequently, it takes a lot of money to give even an additional tenner a week to that number of people. However, if one segregates the categories, one might find that the number with a profound disability was actually quite low and that even in these times, one could afford to do something for them. The wider one makes the number of qualified people, the more difficult one will find it to do anything. If one takes 100,000 people at, say, €500 per week, that is €5 million to find and that is only at a tenner a week. However, if the number was much smaller, it would be much easier to do. This issue must be considered.

The second issue concerns employment and it is very sad to see that 106,000 people are in receipt of disability allowance. This means they did not have a contribution record that entitled them to an invalidity payment. Many of them probably never worked and one should not perceive work as being a burden on people. This is because in their heart and soul, while they may grouse about getting up in the morning, most people want to work. Moreover, it is well-attested in studies that because of socialisation of work and whatever, those who do not have somewhere to go to work enjoy worse health than those who do. This is even leaving aside any disabilities and applies even if one is merely unemployed. People should be afforded the opportunity to engage in the workplace. While I am unsure how it is working, an extension of the type of approach exemplified by the partial capacity benefit is needed. While I was Minister for Social Protection, I was very supportive of putting together all the schemes that facilitated people to get into employment in order that information was available. Moreover, I worked with the employability organisations to try to highlight that supports were available to employers to employ people. Some barriers did exist, such as, for example, people who moved from disability allowance into a work situation often lost free travel and many of them, because of their disability, could not drive a car. At the time, my Department and I were trying to find a way around that problem and Members should continue to work to ascertain what can be done in this regard.

Earlier today, I was talking about the community services programme. It is a great programme because it employs people in real work. It employs people doing things that need to be done and it gives them a wage. It is not like a community employment scheme or a Tús scheme, in that it actually gives people a real wage. Moreover, the employer can top up the wage if overtime is done and so on. All the organisations that employ people under this scheme must have their own income. Members should think of projects like the Dunbrody Famine Ship in County Wexford, Athenry Castle and many good examples nationwide. Some community facilities that are not open all day and which are not used to their full potential, despite the huge capital invested, could use such schemes. One idea I was developing at the time was that when groups were employing people under these schemes, the target groups, such as people with disabilities or Travellers, would have to form a certain percentage of the cohort of people employed. Consequently, if one created 1,000 new jobs and migrated money from disability payments over to such a scheme, the participants would be obliged to take a cohort of people and offer positions to them, in order that the playing pitch would be levelled in respect of employment. When most employers take on people with disabilities, they suddenly find that people with disabilities are very good workers and can make a huge contribution. Again, I believe the longer one is away from the workforce, the harder it is to break into it and there is no better way of breaking into the workforce then getting one's first job and somebody finding out that one is really able to do a job. Thereafter, one might move onto other employment.

As for disability services, I liked one sentence in particular in the Minister of State's speech. I have always had reservations about disability being under the auspices of the Department of Health. Disability is not an illness but is a condition and that is simply a statement of fact. Therefore, I perceive it to be more of a community issue than a health issue although I think most people perceive it to be a health issue.

It is about ensuring people have a proper lifestyle. The Government of which I was part introduced disability legislation and while it may contain flaws, at least it is on the Statute Book. Existing law can be built on, whereas the absence of law means one must draft new legislation. It was clear that a bedding down period for the legislation would be needed but progress has been made.

One of the most significant developments in recent years, and one to which the Minister of State referred, is the move away from congregational settings. We have a recognition in the education system and beyond, including in lifestyle choices, that the preference must be integration in the community and assisting people to live at home. It is widely recognised that this approach results in a better service at a lower cost. Nevertheless, one cannot count everything solely in money terms. One must also factor in the quality of the service provided. There is nothing wrong with providing better services for less money provided the setting is better.

I recall some houses that were rented, bought or built - preferably bought or built - and funded through various schemes. The aim was to move people from what would have been regimental settings into independent living. They included a fantastic development for people with significant disabilities run by the Brothers of Charity in Galway. I have visited the facility on a good number of occasions. Each person has an apartment in the complex, which also has communal dining rooms and so forth. It is worth visiting because a five star hotel would not be better, which is as it should be. We should not be shy about giving people the best, nor should we take the view that one cannot do things well because the money belongs to the State. In fairness to the developer of the estate in question, he had a social conscience and did things well and to a high standard. In fairness to the Brothers of Charity, they did a fantastic job. A great deal can be done to move forward, even when money is tight.

I noted the Minister of State's arguments on education, school settings and so forth. The other night I made a personal visit to a couple, both of whom are teachers. One of them is involved with students who have disabilities. I was disappointed to learn that while the set-up in the school in question is good until the junior certificate year, thereafter there are no challenges or proper programmes and supports in place for students with a disability. It is sad that children with disabilities are not being offered a programme that would lead to some qualification or a sense of personal achievement. It is not good enough to spend money until the junior certificate has been completed and then decide the job is done. We must ensure each individual can achieve his or her personal best.

I could have argued that everything the Minister of State is doing is wrong. She and I both know the challenges we face. I congratulate my colleagues in the Technical Group on tabling the motion. We must ask how we can persuade taxpayers to give more money for services. However, even with the money available to us, we could implement significant reforms that would result in the provision of better services.

I welcome the motion and commend Deputy Finian McGrath and his colleagues who tabled it. I also welcome the Minister of State back on her feet.

Throughout my time in the Dáil I have argued for a rights-based approach to services for people with disabilities. Regrettably, successive Governments have failed to take such an approach. The result has been that people with disabilities and their organisations, networks and services have been at the mercy of arbitrary cutbacks in budget after budget. I propose to highlight the latest round of such cuts.

At the start of July, the Irish Deaf Society was refused funding under the scheme to support national organisations, SSNO, and had to close its operation. It subsequently came to light that 25 other health and disability-related organisations had also been denied further funding. The scheme to support national organisations is administered by Pobal under the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the current scheme runs from now until 2016. The Neurological Alliance of Ireland is facing closure after losing its core funding under the SSNO. All 11 neurological organisations that were receiving support from the scheme have lost their funding, as a result of which various front line and other important services will be axed and jobs lost. In the case of the Neurological Alliance of Ireland, the organisation will be forced to effectively cease operations by the year end unless an alternative source is found to replace lost funding of €60,000 per annum.

The other neurological organisations affected include the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland, Muscular Dystrophy Ireland, the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association, the Migraine Association of Ireland, the Huntington's Disease Association of Ireland, Chronic Pain Ireland, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and the Irish Heart Foundation Stroke Action. The Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association has had to end its front-line visitor programme and MS Ireland will lose its information, advocacy and research officer. The Alzheimer Society of Ireland will not be able to put in place vital early intervention services for people with dementia. Chronic Pain Ireland will cease operations in less than 12 months. The Migraine Association of Ireland will lose one third of its staff and Muscular Dystrophy Ireland's front-line facilities manager post cannot be filled. The Huntington's Disease Association of Ireland is being forced to end direct front-line services, such as counselling, equipment and carer meetings owing to the loss of core funding support, and the Irish Heart Foundation Stroke Action's community stroke support programme will be severely curtailed.

This is a but a snapshot of what is happening as a consequence of decisions affecting a sector that focuses specifically on people with neurological needs. Overall, some 26 disability and health and caring-related organisations have had their funding revoked in the allocations for the 2014-2016 round of the scheme to support national organisations, at a total loss of approximately €1.2 million annually. The Disability Federation of Ireland has called on the new Cabinet to enact measures to restore this funding.

These cuts are disgraceful - there is no other way to describe them - mean and penny-pinching. Their impact will extend far beyond their monetary value.

Services' advocates and resources for people with disabilities and others are being lost. I appeal to the Minister of State, who now has an enhanced portfolio responsibility, that while the decision does not rest within her Department, she should use her own long-proven record of advocacy, before the summer recess commences at the end of this week, to have a commitment from the new Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government - her own party colleague, Deputy Alan Kelly - to overturn these cuts and restore funding to these important organisations. They are providing critical front-line services to people who most certainly need them. I would be grateful if, in her reply to this debate tomorrow, the Minister of State might be able to give us some hope of a reversal of these cuts.

Debate adjourned.