On behalf of the IWA, I thank the committee for the invitation to present and the opportunity to answer questions regarding the background to the decision to close the Cuisle facility in Roscommon and the consequent transition to a new hotel-based model of holiday respite services for people with physical disabilities. I am joined by the IWA's national director for services, Tony Cunningham.
The IWA has a vision of an Ireland where people with disabilities enjoy equal rights, choices and opportunities in how they live their lives and where the country itself is a model worldwide for a truly inclusive society. The IWA is a leading representative organisation and service provider for people with physical disabilities, with 20,000 members, over 2,500 employees, 57 local community centres and 2,000 volunteers. For almost 60 years, the IWA has pioneered the development and delivery of innovative, quality assured services to people with physical disabilities and has continually advocated for greater access to society on behalf of our membership. The IWA is a major provider of services to the HSE under the mandate of the service arrangements process. In 2018, the association received €41.7 million from the HSE towards delivering over 2 million hours of services nationally, including assisted-living services, resource and outreach centres, respite care and supported living. The funding received from the HSE for these services does not fully cover the associated costs of delivering those services and in 2018, the IWA contributed €1.87 million from its own unrestricted operating income in order to maintain those services.
In June, this committee was briefed by a number of disability service provider umbrella groups on the growing funding crisis in the disability sector. In this context, during the period 2008 to 2018, the IWA has seen its financial reserves diminish by €5.7 million as it used its own funds to ensure continuity of service provision across all our services. The association's cash balances at the end of 2018 represented just four weeks' operating costs. The IWA is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee governed by a voluntary board. The majority of board members are elected from our membership at the annual general meeting and at least a third of all members must be, and are, persons with physical disability.
For 22 years, Cuisle has been a core part of the IWA as well as the community in Donamon, providing employment and social opportunities for people in the locality, as well as providing accessible holiday and respite for people with physical disabilities, particularly at a time when Cuisle first opened and when there were few or no alternatives for people with physical disabilities. The board and management of the IWA understand and share the sadness of those who visit and work in Cuisle at the news that the facility will not reopen in 2020. The difficult decision to close the Cuisle building has not come easily and was made by the board of the IWA on 18 October last following over two years of trying to find an alternative solution.
The building, which is not owned by the IWA and the lease on which expires in 2026, is in need of significant repair works, including full electrical installation and fire safety upgrades. These will cost in the region of €1.15 million at a minimum. We are aware that there is asbestos in the building and there is a high risk that if this is disturbed during construction the cost of necessary remedial works could escalate significantly. The IWA does not have the funds to pay for these essential upgrades, which are vital to keeping the leased building open for respite. During the period 2017 to 2019, there were a number of IWA board visits to Cuisle and a full meeting of the board took place in Cuisle during 2017. Also during this period, Cuisle was discussed at 14 of 21 the association's board meetings. In March 2018, the IWA commenced implementation of a new social enterprise business model for Cuisle and invested from its own funds to generate new income for Cuisle as demonstration of its commitment to continuing to provide services there, subject to the funds to pay for the essential upgrade works becoming available. For over two years, the IWA has engaged extensively with public representatives and funders but unfortunately there is no funding available to complete the essential capital works and no viable alternative has been proposed to the association by any third party.
The board has a legal obligation to everyone who stays in Cuisle and had no choice but to make the decision to close the building at the end of November. Cuisle usually closes from December to February annually due to limited bookings during this period. The IWA acknowledges the loss of employment associated with the closure of Cuisle and the impact on the local community. We are grateful to the staff for their commitment and dedication to the Cuisle-based service and the local community for their support over many years.
Over the past number of weeks, the IWA has been in discussion with Cuisle staff and their representatives. All staff have received an "expressions of interests" letter and form, the purpose of which is to capture their preferences with regard to redundancy or redeployment. At time of writing, 19 November, 25 of 42 staff had returned this form, with 24 choosing redundancy and one opting for redeployment. the IWA has written to all impacted staff with an estimate of their redundancy entitlement in accordance with the terms of the redundancy package agreed on their behalf with SIPTU. The IWA will write again to Cuisle staff with a final calculation of their redundancy entitlements when any corrections or amendments have been made following the circulation of the redundancy estimates letters. A small number of staff will remain in employment at Cuisle for two to four weeks after 29 November to assist with the closure. Future use of the Cuisle facility will be a matter for the owners of the building. The IWA assumes that any future use will be contingent on completion of the required capital works.
In response to the difficult decision to close the Cuisle facility, and to ensure continued provision of holiday respite breaks, the IWA will commence its new holiday service in the west to provide a wide range of choices to people with disabilities seeking to take a supported respite holiday in the region by partnering with fully accessible hotels. This new and innovative service will commence in March 2020 in collaboration with the HSE. Cuisle ordinarily closes between December and February, which means that there will be a limited impact on guests during that period. Our new holiday service will provide people with a modern, inclusive hotel break in a range of locations with easy access to local towns and a wider choice of amenities. It will also enable people with disabilities to take an enjoyable holiday with friends or family in the same hotel as chosen by them from a selection of options.
The IWA has been operating comparable hotel breaks in Kilkenny since 2018 and has received positive feedback from our guests. This service was shortlisted for an Irish healthcare centre award in 2019. Some of the feedback that we have received includes "staff excellent", "food excellent", "feel equal going on holidays with everyone else", "I no longer feel like people with disabilities are in a box", "it is all excellent" and "you gave us a great holiday, not just respite".
The IWA has developed a range of holiday respite options for all of our guests regardless of their level of support requirement - low, medium or high. The IWA will provide support to guests on a tailored individual basis. We will ensure that guests have everything they need, including fully accessible en suite bedrooms, specialised beds, aids and appliances, hoists, support with medication management and clinical tasks, and the IWA's 24-7, staffed and skilled personal assistance service. The IWA's fully accessible transport can be arranged during holiday breaks and will be available to provide transport to activities and events in the community.
An information sheet included in the documents provided to the committee has been distributed and explained to our members through more than 252 engagement meetings at our resource and outreach centres across the country. The IWA and HSE representatives were invited by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to meet on Tuesday, 12 November to provide the necessary reassurances in respect of what is a fundamentally progressive and innovative way of meeting the needs of people with disabilities who wish to avail of holiday respite breaks and to bridge the gap that will arise from the closure of Cuisle. The IWA has stressed to the Minister of State that the clear choice and preference of people with disabilities is increasingly more about having access to fully inclusive settings where existing commercial hotel provider settings implement universal design initiatives to accommodate people of all levels of ability.
It goes without saying that the new model of service will be different. It will be a big change for those who have loved going to Cuisle. We are optimistic, based on the feedback from those who have availed of our Kilkenny services, that as time goes on and people get a chance to experience this form of holiday respite break, they will see the benefits of enjoying it. The IWA has a 60-year track record of ensuring that our services meet the wants and needs of our members. We will continue to adapt and innovate to ensure that this remains true in future.
I thank the committee members for listening. Mr. Cunningham and I welcome whatever questions they may have.