Motions seeking the approval of six sectoral plans under the Disability Act 2005 were presented to Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann on 17 and 18 October 2006 respectively. These motions were approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas, thereby enabling the plans to take effect.
Sectoral plans were prepared by the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, the Minister for Transport, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment under sections 31 to 37 of the Disability Act.
These sectoral plans set out the programme of measures to be taken by each of the Ministers' Departments and public bodies under their aegis, designed to provide services to people with disabilities and are perhaps the most important element of the Government's national disability strategy launched in September 2004. At that time, outlines of these plans were published and a comprehensive consultation process followed with stakeholders. The completed sectoral plans were then required to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas within one year of the commencement of the relevant provisions of the Disability Act, and this deadline was met in July of this year.
The national disability strategy builds on existing policy and legislation, including the Equality Acts and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. Its aim is to strengthen and support the contribution of people with disabilities in Irish society and it has been endorsed in the new social partnership agreement, Towards 2016. The national disability strategy is the agreed focus for disability policy over the lifetime of the agreement and it consists of four key elements. They are the Disability Act 2005, the Citizens Information Bill 2006, the multi-annual investment programme in disability services and the sectoral plans for service delivery by six Departments.
Since the launch of this strategy, the Government has made significant progress in implementing it in all its aspects. This progress has not been confined to the preparation of these departmental plans. All sections of the Disability Act 2005 have been commenced, with the exception of Parts 2 and 6 of the Act. Arrangements for the implementation of Part 2 are set out in the sectoral plan of the Minister for Health and Children and I will refer to this issue again in a few moments. Part 6 provides for the establishment of a Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in the National Disability Authority, NDA, and will commence on 1 January 2007. The NDA is preparing the groundwork for the operation of this new centre from early next year.
Since 31 December 2005, all public bodies, subject to certain considerations, must meet a number of criteria under the Disability Act in the area of improving accessibility. They must ensure that the provision of access to their services by people with and without disabilities is integrated. Services and goods supplied to public bodies must be accessible to people with disabilities. They must ensure that the content of communications with people with disabilities is provided in an accessible format. Procedures must be in place in all public bodies for the making and investigation of complaints from people with disabilities and public bodies must make their buildings accessible to people with disabilities.
To assist public bodies, the Code of Practice on Accessibility of Public Services and Information provided by Public Bodies, SI 163 of 2006, was developed by the National Disability Authority and launched by the then Tánaiste in July of this year. The Act provides a legal basis, for the first time, for the requirement of public bodies to take all reasonable measures to promote and support the employment of persons with disabilities. It gives the NDA important new powers to monitor the implementation of the provisions across the public service.
There are other important elements of the strategy. The Citizens Information Bill, published on 13 October 2006, will provide for a personal advocacy service for people with disabilities and is currently progressing through the Oireachtas. The Government has a €900 million multi-annual investment programme for 2005 to 2009 for high priority disability support services and there are other ongoing initiatives that complement the national disability strategy. A major national post-census Central Statistics Office, CSO, survey on disability is currently under way and results are expected next year.
The Cabinet handbook is to be amended to incorporate a requirement that all substantive memoranda submitted to Government take account of the impact on people with disabilities and appropriate guidance is being developed to assist with the new proofing requirements. Investment programmes such as the enhancing disability services project fund have been developed and funding has been made available under the dormant accounts programme.
It is agreed in Towards 2016 that future policy in relation to people with disabilities will be progressed through the national disability strategy with particular expression being provided through these six sectoral plans. Section 31 of the Act provides that in preparing and publishing plans, each Minister is required to consult with representatives of persons with disabilities. The National Disability Authority and the Departments concerned conducted a nationwide series of public consultation meetings on the draft plans.
The Act requires that the plans contain information on relevant codes of practice and regulations, complaints procedures, monitoring and review procedures and the level of access built in to the services to be provided. The Act also requires that progress reports must be prepared on each plan within three years of their publication and that these reports be laid before the Houses. The Act makes specific provision for each sectoral plan, detailing key areas to be addressed. The implementation of the sectoral plans will be monitored and reviewed and a high-level group of senior officials will report directly on progress to a Cabinet committee chaired by the Taoiseach.
Now that the sectoral plans have been approved, arrangements are being put in place to strengthen the monitoring of these plans by the inclusion of key stakeholder interest groups in the formal monitoring process. This is in line with a commitment to this effect set out in Towards 2016. Delivery of these plans will be supported by an effective Government approach and each plan contains specific commitments to cross-departmental co-operation.
The sectoral plan of the Minister for Health and Children covers the initiatives to be taken by the Department, the Health Service Executive and some 27 statutory bodies. The plan was developed through an extensive consultation process and one of the most important aspects of the health sectoral plan is the arrangements for commencing Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005, which involves assessments of need and service statements for people with disabilities.
Part 2 will commence for children aged under five years with effect from 1 June 2007. The Act will then be commenced for those children aged from five to 18 in tandem with the implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. The EPSEN Act is being implemented over a five-year timeframe from October 2005. Services for adults and children will be enhanced progressively over the next number of years.
The HSE will promote the practice of assessment of individual needs and the provision of service statements for all service users as capacity permits. The HSE intends to appoint assessment officers and liaison officers around the country based on estimated need, as indicated by population profiles over the next 12 months. The statutory requirements of Part 2 of the Disability Act will be extended to adults as soon as possible but no later than the end of 2011.
Significant capacity building to support the delivery of the plan is under way. Additional resources have been and continue to be made available to the HSE to build capacity in services for people with disabilities through the multi-annual investment programme 2005-09. A total of €130 million in revenue and capital in 2005 and €155 million in revenue and capital in 2006 has been provided, along with more than 1,000 frontline posts associated with 2005 developments and in excess of that number associated with 2006 developments.
A major objective of the sectoral plan of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs is the development of services that give persons with disabilities financial security and encourage maximum participation in society. Initiatives include the transfer of income maintenance payments from the Health Service Executive as well as a service delivery modernisation programme. The plan identifies the key actions which will be underpinned by co-operation across agencies to develop service provision for persons with disabilities.
The sectoral plan for the Minister for Transport has been developed to accord with the concept of transport for all and will make an important contribution to addressing issues of disadvantage and social inclusion. The plan is underpinned by a series of policy objectives and specific targets for accessible transport across all modes of transport — measures to make trains, buses, taxi and hackney services, as well as air and marine transport, accessible to persons with mobility, sensory and cognitive impairments.
The plan promotes the principle of mainstreaming by making accessibility an integral element of the public transport services. Mainstreaming will operate in conjunction with the ten-year investment programme of Transport 21. This will be achieved principally in two ways. First, accessibility will be built into new transport infrastructure projects and, second, the acquisition of accessible vehicles and funding will continue to be provided to enable the phased adaptation or retrofit of existing transport facilities. Transport projects will be monitored for compliance with accessibility principles. The public transport accessibility committee, comprising the Department of Transport, transport operators and the disability sector, including the NDA, will be fully involved in the implementation process.
The broadcasting and energy supply sectors are the focus of the sectoral plan of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. It addresses the role of the independent Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and its responsibilities for regulating the sector, including RTE. It also deals with the Commission for Communications Regulation, including its roles in respect of Eircom and An Post. The plan also covers services provided by energy suppliers in the context of the role of the independent Commission for Energy Regulation.
The sectoral plan of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will support the participation by people with disabilities in all aspects of economic, social and cultural life of the community. Priorities in the plan include the building and planning code, local authority accessibility plans and a housing strategy for people with disabilities.
The building and planning code initiative reflects the importance of accessibility in the built environment in enabling people with disabilities to achieve a quality of life comparable with that of other citizens. A review of Part M of the Second Schedule to the building regulations, on access for people with disabilities, was initiated in December 2005 and the Department will prepare draft proposals to amend Part M. The Building Control Bill 2005 has been published and, when enacted, will strengthen the enforcement powers of building control authorities in implementing the building code.
Each local authority will, within six months of the approval of this plan by the Oireachtas, carry out an accessibility audit of all roads and streets, pavements and pedestrian crossings, public buildings, public parks, amenities and open spaces, heritage sites, public libraries and harbours within its control and identify the remedial action necessary to make them accessible. Each local authority will, within three months of completing the accessibility audit, draw up an implementation plan in consultation with organisations representing persons with disabilities.
To bring a new focus to addressing the needs of people with a disability, a national housing strategy for people with disabilities will be developed. New protocols will be established for inter-agency co-operation for all special housing needs. Legislation will be introduced that will result in a new means of assessing housing need to ensure that all people can live with maximum independence within their community.
The sectoral plan of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment contains a number of initiatives that are aimed at promoting equal opportunities for disabled people in the employment market. This includes the development of a comprehensive employment strategy aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of employment and vocational training programmes for disabled people, and further developing supports for the employment of disabled people. Effective cross-departmental collaboration will be a key element of the implementation of this strategy. The Department will establish a consultative forum on the employment strategy representing key stakeholders which will provide a channel for members to contribute to strategic development on issues that directly, or indirectly, impact on vocational training and employment. The Department and FÁS will continue to review and assess the scope for increasing employer awareness to encourage increased participation by people with disabilities.
These sectoral plans are an integral part of the national disability strategy and will mark an important advance in implementing the strategy as a whole. They represent significant social partnership commitments under Towards 2016. I acknowledge the considerable contribution the various stakeholders have made to shaping these plans.
Our open, constructive relationship with the stakeholders does not end here. The implementation of the sectoral plans will be monitored by the stakeholders and the Government, and progress on implementing the plans will be reviewed at the latest after three years, although I emphasise that the review can take place sooner than that if necessary. These sectoral plans represent a landmark in the roll-out of frontline public services to people with disabilities under the national disability strategy.