Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 19 Jun 2019

Vol. 266 No. 5

Community Participation (Disability) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, to the House. I want to thank my Seanad colleagues and particularly those who were supportive in ensuring that we have a presentable Bill this evening. I thank my Civic Engagement colleagues, Senators Kelleher and Ruane, for doing the honours on First Stage. I also owe thanks to those who now need to see these changes and the many others affected by this. In particular, I want to mention the Oireachtas Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, for translating my objectives into a format fit for consideration by both Houses of the Oireachtas. Like the John West advertisement from many years back, “What John West rejects makes John West the best”, we too rejected many drafts to get to the Bill that is before the House. We are offering it as a clear and balanced Bill, in keeping with Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, and which serves progressive inclusion of people with disabilities while not trampling on the rights or freedoms of others. In the past, and even still, the rights of people with disabilities were and are often overlooked and that is putting it mildly. Adjustment is necessary and this Bill is our best effort to put before the House a measured prescription to right some of these wrongs and best of all, to give people with disabilities and their families fair play, not only in the playground, but also through the provision of safe and comfortable public sanitary facilities, fully accessible public bus travel and access to critical social services.

Playgrounds are dealt with in sections 1 and 2. Currently, many families cannot enjoy a trip to the playground together as children with disabilities are often excluded from play with their siblings and peers due to the lack of accessible and inclusive play equipment in their local playground.

This Bill will provide the opportunity for side-by-side play with family, friends and peers. It requires local authorities to follow the principles of universal design. This will also apply to plans or initiatives which include playgrounds or play equipment as part of any approved scheme or part of a scheme for a business improvement district, BID. The principles of universal design are not new, and I am happy to see that the Minister, Deputy Zappone, is utilising them for early learning and care settings to make these settings more inclusive and welcoming for all family members and staff.

Section 3 concerns advocacy. The Bill ensures that advocates supporting people with disabilities to allow them to gain access to social services have statutory powers through the appointment of a director of personal advocacy, as legislated for in the Citizens Information Act 2007, but I am sad that this has not been commenced.

On transport, covered in section 4, the National Transport Authority can at present give a licence to a private bus operator to operate on a public scheduled route, but private bus operators are not required to meet the same accessibility standards as public bus operators, such as Bus Éireann.

Section 5 covers changing places and accessible change facilities. This section is to improve the current accessibility building standards as they do not meet the needs of people with a profound disability. This Bill changes the current standard so that a changing place is provided in addition to the usual toilet facilities. The alternative to not correcting the standard is to say to parents and carers that it is acceptable for them to continue to change their children, teens or adults on a toilet floor, which we consider to be abhorrent. Currently in Ireland, there are just 11 registered changing places, eight of which are in Dublin. There are 1,300 in Britain and 27 in Northern Ireland. I will put on the record the changing places currently in place and those planning for the next stages: the National Gallery of Ireland, our neighbour here; Áras an Uachtaráin; IKEA; the Irish National Heritage Park, County Wexford; Trinity College Dublin; the Lime Tree Theatre, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick; the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission; the Marlay Park craft courtyard, Rathfarnham; Dundrum Town Centre; Athboy Convent community centre, Athboy, County Meath; and terminal 1 of Dublin Airport. Naas community library, Clare county library, Dublin Zoo, Fairview Park team room, St. Anne's Park, Raheny, the new student hub at University College Cork, and the national children's hospital have made commitments.

This Bill is grounded in the reality that many people with disabilities are left out of equal participation due to a number of barriers. Public benefit and the public good will be better served by the adjustments that this Bill proposes to make over time. While the four areas to be advanced in the Bill are practical and tangible, there is more going on. First, the Bill will change the culture and attitude. Sometimes that starts on the streets, as with Rosa Luxemburg when, in effect, she said, "To hell with sitting at the back of the bus just because I have black skin." Today, I hope we will make progress in this House because we get it that people cannot experience the public realm or be on the bus with dignity without the proposed changes. We, as Senators, know that the simple human dignity of people needs practical support.

The Nazi regime was able to exterminate up to 300,000 people with disabilities with ease. These innocent victims came mainly from Germany and Austria, yet for the extermination of people of the Jewish faith, nearly a decade had to be spent by the Nazis stripping them of their humanity in a number of ways. The Nuremburg laws took a number of years to complete. A critical part of that programme included measures to humiliate people publicly. Public humiliation came before quiet extermination. Let me be very clear: in no way has it been the instinct of any Irish Government to be a willing party to such a policy. My point in raising this is that public affirmation and celebration of participation in the community are the most potent antidote to the slippery road of "special and separate" and "other", which easily leads to the view that those with disabilities are different. That is so far from what our Dáil unanimously signed up to on 7 March 2018 when it agreed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In May 2017, the year before, I wrote to the contestants who wished to step into the shoes of the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and simply outlined that the promised ratification of the convention had not taken place. The reply, which came a few days later, was positive. The Taoiseach committed to ratification by the year's end. The Dáil then delivered on it in March 2018.

This Bill is an opportunity for this House to breathe life and outcomes into those decisions by making it easier for people with disabilities and their families to do ordinary things in ordinary places in a respectful and dignified manner. This is a powerful message for inclusion. On 14 June 2017, the Taoiseach informed the Dáil while concluding his statement on the nomination of Ministers that, as Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath remained Minister with responsibility for disabilities across several Departments and that the Government was renewing its commitment to ratifying the convention in that year. He said there would be a genuine partnership Government working to improve the lives of all our citizens and all parts of the country. This Bill provides a practical suite of measures to demonstrate that people with disabilities are included, and it supports individuals throughout the country. All of us, as Senators, have an opportunity this evening to act in partnership to support those in our communities who need to benefit from these measures.

Last week, I, as CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland, was honoured to be part of Ireland's delegation to the UN Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I spoke in the general debate. I noted that Departments and public bodies in Ireland and elsewhere are not designed well or practised enough to operate horizontally to maximise person-centred outcomes. This Bill, involving three Departments, brings this issue to light. I said that results for people with disabilities are often modest by comparison with the efforts made. I then said: "Ireland is serious about implementation and wants to make progress." Therefore, it is in the hands of my Seanad colleagues to ensure this Bill passes through this House and that it is subsequently enacted. This will allow the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to go back to the UN next June and report the enactment of this legislation, along with other measures.

This leads me to my second point. This Bill challenges the traditional way in which legislation is approached. Bills so often focus on one Department. For decades, we have had the mantra of person-centred public services. This Bill builds on legislative foundations already in place, without which we could not have constructed this Bill. Universal design, as defined in the National Disability Authority Act 1999, and the Local Government Act 2001, the Planning and Development Act 2000, the Public Transportation Act 2009 and the Building Regulations 1997 are the taking-off points for this Bill.

What this Bill does is change the perspective by starting with the day-to-day lived experience of people with disabilities. Its core is to make the path towards equal, easy and valued participation in the public realm a reality. This reinforces the worth and role of people with disabilities. The three parties involved, namely, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, will all, of necessity, have a contribution to make. Having said that, this Bill needs to be dealt with as a whole, whereby the four elements are threaded together from person and community-centred perspectives. In that context it is significant and welcome that the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, who has the disability brief and participates at Cabinet, is taking this Bill.

This Bill is not just about people with disabilities and their families. It is also about the rest of the community. It is equally about not having to be ashamed or embarrassed that our brothers and sisters in the family that our State strives to be under our Constitution do not continue to be outside ordinary participation in ordinary places.

I anchored this Bill in the commitment of An Taoiseach when he was appointed. Let me now go back a century:

The Irish Republic fully realises the necessity of abolishing the present odious, degrading and foreign Poor Law System, substituting therefor a sympathetic native scheme for the care of the Nation's aged and infirm, who shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the Nation's gratitude and consideration. Likewise it shall be the duty of the Republic to take such measures as will safeguard the health of the people and ensure the physical as well as the moral well-being of the Nation.

This is from the fifth of the eight paragraphs of the Democratic Programme announced in the Mansion House during the first sitting of our First Dáil on 21 January 100 years ago.

We have an opportunity in this centenary year to honour the clear and simple intent of those Members of the First Dáil and, in so doing, honour the dignity and simple humanity of some of our citizens in this Republic.

Does the Senator wish to share time?

I am sharing with Senator Ruane. I am honoured and delighted to second this important Bill and congratulate my colleague, Senator Dolan, for his work, with others, in bringing it before us. The Bill is to facilitate and enable people with disabilities to fully participate in their communities and do ordinary things in ordinary places, such as to be able to travel or go to the toilet and get changed in dignity. These are things that we take for granted. The Bill would make good on the promise of Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD.

All his life, Senator Dolan has pushed the boundaries and confines of what people deem "good enough" for people with disabilities. He contracted polio as a child and recalls wearing an ugly caliper, a special boot on his leg and being referred to as “the boy with the limp”. As a young person, he did not allow his physical disability to stop him from climbing Galtymore Mountain or running the local youth club. He never accepted less than full citizenship and full participation for himself, and he has never accepted less for people with disabilities. For him, there are no limits or barriers that cannot be broken down or broken through. Like Senator Dolan, the Bill is high minded, practical and borne of lived experience. It is about very basic things such as a changing room for people who need it which is properly kitted out with hoists in order that people can have the dignity of cleanliness as they go about their shopping, visit to a hospital or whatever it is they want to do. Shockingly, yesterday we heard that there are only 11 such changing rooms nationally. They are not even provided in hospitals where children with disabilities and life-limiting conditions spend much of their lives. The Bill proposes that all new builds have such a changing room. It was great to hear Senator Dolan list the locations where there are plans to put such facilities in place, but we badly need to catch up.

The Bill is about children being able to play together. In London in the 1990s I was lucky enough to be a trustee of the Markfield project, an integrated play project for people with disabilities, their siblings, neighbours and friends which was brought about in order that all those children and mine could play together. There was an equal play playground down the road. If it could be done in London in the 1990s, we can do it today. Closer to home, at the briefing yesterday in the audiovisual room a woman named Lynn spoke movingly about the South Beach playground in Greystones and the sheer joy of her daughters, Ellie and Daisy, at being able to play together side by side for the first time in a public space and what that meant to them. The Bill is about children with disabilities being able to play with other children without being isolated, segregated or ostracised and all the horrific consequences of that as Senator Dolan alluded to with reference to the Holocaust.

I can speak with great authority about private buses as I travel by Aircoach to Dublin each week. These private buses are not accessible, as I learned at first hand when I had a protracted calf strain. I was not even using a wheelchair. Without access to such transport services, people are prisoners in their homes.

The Bill addresses advocacy by ensuring there are personal advocates to support people with disabilities. This measure was provided for in the Citizens Information Act 2007 and, ten years later, it was part and parcel of my Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017. However, it has not been implemented. The Bill is about making it a reality. All members of all political parties agree that it is right to have access to independent advocacy, but we do not have it. Let us bring it on. I am delighted to second the Bill. With the leadership of Senator Dolan, we shall overcome.

I will not flatter Senator Dolan to the same extent Senator Kelleher did.

Senator Ruane is dead right. He is getting too much praise.

He needs to be able to get his head through the door.

Widen participation is right. This is probably the last time that the six Members of our Technical Group will all be present in the House to speak on legislation. I acknowledge Senator Grace O'Sullivan on this last occasion of us working as a team, in this House at least. I thank the Minister of State for his attendance.

I congratulate Senator Dolan, his office staff and the advocates involved on bringing the Bill forward. It is well drafted and thought-out cross-departmental legislation that will have a real impact on the lives of people with a disability and their families. Cross-departmental thinking and implementation of policy are key to ensuring our cities and society are universally accessible. We must move from the current situation whereby people with a disability must adapt to the environment around them to an inclusive mindset and design whereby our cities adapt to all citizens. Each section of the Bill makes a giant stride towards that accessibility.

As Senator Dolan outlined the Bill in detail, I will focus on two parts of it. One is the section which seeks to provide for changing places. Quite simply, toilets and changing facilities that meet the needs of our citizens are a basic human need. There is so much we take for granted, such as trips to the local shopping centre or the cinema. Most of us will never have to consider what we will do if we need to use the bathroom while we are out. However, access to what we consider normal everyday life is curbed by the lack of accessible changing places for many looking to enjoy a day out in their communities with their families. Imagine only being able to leave the house for as long as one - or one's child - can hold one's bladder, and the panic of trying to get home in time to use the bathroom or changing facilities. Everyone should and can be an active citizen and participate fully in their lives, society and community. We have the opportunity through this legislation to move from the mere promotion of participation to the reality of participation of all within a community. At a briefing in the audiovisual room yesterday, I was struck by the contribution of a person who stated that their only choice was to leave their child completely soiled or to change them on a bathroom floor. That is no choice at all.

As a mother, when my daughters were young many of our days were spent at the playground. Several times a week, especially during the summer months, we spent hours in a playground. Often, the playgrounds were covered with pebbles beneath our feet. At the time, I gave no thought to the impact that would have on others, but I remember the sweat and tears involved in dragging a light pram across the pebbles. I now think of the families who are expected to be able to bring their children into playgrounds that have wood chippings or pebbles. I hate to think of a situation whereby one of my girls would be completely excluded from play as a result of a lack of universal design in her surroundings. Play is a key part of a child’s development and that includes the falls and tears that happen, as kids learn on a day out at a playground. Most children progress from swings into which they are locked to big kids' swings where they have to hold on tight. Our play should only ever be impacted on by our age, but kids living with a disability have their play impacted by far more than that. Through the Bill, we have an opportunity to ensure as a society that we are not impacting on a child’s development and that relationships with other kids are not affected by not moving forward quickly with universally accessible design of our play areas.

I commend Senator Dolan and his Technical Group on bringing forward this very interesting and important legislation to put some meat on the UNCRPD. It would be remiss of me not to congratulate Senator Grace O'Sullivan on her stunning achievement. I met her on the day of the count and it was looking good at that stage. I am delighted for her. She will be an outstanding member of the European Parliament for the people of Ireland South, Ireland and Europe. Well done to her. It is good to see that all members of the Technical Group are present to support the Bill. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, informed me that the Government will not oppose the Bill, which is very welcome because it will take many steps to create an equal society where everybody is respected and there is equality of opportunity, access and participation, which is what we all want.

As somebody with a disability, I am delighted that the Minister of State and the Government, a party of which I am a proud member, are not opposing this very important legislation. It is starting here in the Seanad I have no doubt it will pass through the House because Senators see the bigger picture and understand the context and reasoning behind this. However, it will not become law unless it passes through the Dáil as well. I sincerely hope some group within Dáil Éireann will champion this Bill, and that we will see it signed into law by President Higgins.

There are many aspects to the Bill, but I refer specifically to the issue of universal design. We should all aspire to universal design, which removes obvious barriers for people with disabilities. It means a wheelchair user does not have to come up a ramp at the side of the building to gain access but goes in the front door, the same as everybody else. The National Disability Authority, NDA, and its universal design team should be credited, as they have done a substantial amount of work both in policy and in producing toolkits to enhance, enable, and equip building designers to create buildings of universal access. Any message that can be delivered from this House in that regard is positive.

I refer to the sports capital grants, and the equipment grants in particular. I was delighted to see the Cara Centre in IT Tralee received in excess of €100,000 in funding to produce accessible kits which it will distribute to various leisure centres with which it works to enable all children, irrespective of their ability or disability, to participate in leisure activities, particularly swimming but also other sports. Every young person should be able to live an active, fit and healthy life.

I am in total unison with Senator Dolan in what he is trying to achieve. As somebody with life experience of disability, though it sometimes goes unnoticed as I tend not to speak about it, I have some authority in this regard. I absolutely support and encourage what Senator Dolan and his colleagues are trying to achieve in this Bill. I sincerely hope the ensuing debate will be informative and I will encourage the Government to enhance the Bill where it sees that it can do so.

I welcome the Minster of State to the House, and acknowledge and thank him for the enormous amount of work he has done in, and focus he has given to, the disability sector. No one doubts his commitment. He has to operate within the constraints of scarce finances and resources but he has nevertheless been an amazing champion and advocate for this sector. We all acknowledge that, and I want to say that to the Minister of State himself. I also thank Senator Dolan and his group, which proposed it, for this legislation. The Senator has made it much easier for us because he designed a very nice infographic to accompany the Bill, and not many people come up with infographics as detailed as this one. It says a lot about the clear messages within the Bill. We have to be very clear in politics and we must be clear about what we are doing, especially when we are pushing for new policies. I like the way this has been dealt with it. The Bill takes a few issues and themes such as playgrounds, universal design, bus accessibility, personal advocacy, which is a very important aspect of this Bill, and accessible changing facilities, and works through them, and that is the way to do it. If we want to get things over the line, we have to pull out the priorities and get them over the line, and Senator Dolan has done well in that. It is an important piece of work.

For many years, I was a director for Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, and our slogan was "independent mobility with dignity". There was an emphasis on mobility and dignity because the people our charity dealt with were predominantly visually impaired. Those two straplines came about because we engaged with our clients and the people who used our service, and dignity was a recurring theme. Senator Kelleher referred to people wanting to do ordinary things in ordinary places, and that is profound. It is a simple message, but people cannot always do ordinary things in ordinary places. She also touched on the issue of full citizenship. All people are entitled to be full citizens, to go to their place of work or place of worship, to engage with their families and friends, and to be able to do that at all times, while having access to the services they need. I will not rehash the issue of changing facilities, but I have heard some terrible stories about the lack of important facilities for people with disabilities, which nobody should be denied. That is important, and this is important legislation.

I also acknowledge Senator Dolan's work in the Disability Federation of Ireland, DFI. A good thing about him is that he has come into politics and Seanad Éireann and retained a sharp focus on disability rights and advocacy, while also doing other things. Parliamentarians must stay focused on some key issues, and he has done that. Some of the key objectives of the DFI refer to access to education, finding and keeping jobs, having sufficient income to stay out of poverty, and choosing where one wants to live and with whom. That is important, as is access to buildings, shops, community facilities, and art and sport facilities. We take all of that for granted. I can think of one theatre not too far from here that cannot be entered without encountering steps and obstacles. Access to transport is also important. Transport allows us to travel far from home and all citizens are entitled to that. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, might look at that, because it is a funding issue, though Dublin Bus has done a lot regarding access to buses. Access to assistive technologies and healthcare is also important.

Senator Dolan has thought this through. He has brought his expertise and skills from the DFI to this Bill. He has worked with his own group and people, he has stayed focused, and he has pushed us to this point. I wish him and his staff well, because they are close to my office so I see how hard they work at this every day. I commend Senator Dolan and his team. He deserves every success with this Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am happy our group is collectively supporting Senator Dolan and putting this Bill forward. I commend Senator Dolan. There is much about this Bill that reflects his specific approach, and also reflects the original thematic focus and vision of the Seanad. The idea was that a frame would be applied to legislation from all Departments and areas, and that Senators would bring a thematic frame and perspective to that and thereby deepen and improve legislation wherever it may come from or go to. Senator Dolan combines clean philosophical principles with a deep practicality, and that is reflected in this legislation. This legislation is also true to the Civil Engagement group, and the perspectives and approaches we have endeavoured to bring to it. The very first Private Member's Business moved by our group was a motion on disability and housing policy, which was another proposal of Senator Dolan's.

It is always about ensuring there is joined-up thinking and a wider frame. That joined-up thinking may be between Departments, as seen in this legislation and when three of us sought to bring together different committees to look at how disability and employment, education and health knit together. The Bill brings together four Departments, and shows great restraint in that regard because there is the potential for many more Departments to be included in this Bill. However, it has tried to show a window of what is possible.

That joined-up thinking is not just between Departments. We are trying to join up rights and the vindication and delivery of rights. Ireland has signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We recognise that that is an important, landmark decision, and I commend the Minister of State and all who were involved, in particular the disability advocates, on bringing Ireland to a point where we have ratified that. However, how do we make a bridge between the rights now recognised and ratified in law and the delivery of those rights? How do we bring them into effect? This Bill is a very useful contribution towards that. I am hopeful that we will see plentiful Government legislation over the next six months reflecting these newly recognised rights, which must come with new responsibility, resources and mechanisms. We wait with great anticipation for the Government to bring forward legislation to give effect to those other rights in the UN convention and to detail our responsibilities under that.

Connections must be made between Departments and between rights and delivery but the most important connection set out by the Bill is that between citizens; between all who share our country, our public spaces and our communities. This is not simply a Bill for persons with a disability. This is a Bill to benefit communities. In the UN sustainable development goals, disability is mentioned 17 times. This is progress from the millennium development goals, where disability was invisible. It is now mentioned multiple times, including in goal 11, regarding sustainable communities that are inclusive and in which everyone can participate. Communities are better when everyone participates. Communities and cities need that, as part of the life of our nation. I highlight that this Bill is not simply about individual's rights but about the transformation of society in an appropriate way: it is about better communities.

I will address briefly a few specifics, the first of which is the question of universal design. On a pragmatic level, I recently had visitors to Ireland and, having done their research and planning, the main discussion was how they could bring their child to Ireland given the lack of changing facilities. They outlined that, when compared with the UK and other places, Ireland has an extraordinary lack of appropriate changing facilities. That is a huge issue and an anomaly. The Bill provides practical measures to address that. Indeed, it is somewhat restrained. It identifies certain relevant buildings but I imagine, and hope, that we will continue to expand on that; as the Bill sets out, certainly new buildings will need to have those services and support.

Importantly, the Bill identifies places of public assembly where more than 2,000 people gather. Think of the percentage of persons with a disability anywhere that 2,000 citizens are gathered. What is the percentage for every 100 persons? Is it 12%?

If it is 13 for every 100 persons, consider what it must it be for 2,000 persons. In any large place of public assembly, we should see that reflected.

I will move on to another key point: playgrounds. The Democratic Programme of the First Dáil has been mentioned very eloquently. Within that is the first duty of the State to children. Surely it is the case that children must be able to play together and form connections. That first duty in the Democratic Programme must be reflected.

I could talk at length about buses and public procurement policy. It has been made clear and is acknowledged in the public procurement legislation I have brought forward that the public duty on equality and human rights must extend to contracts signed by the State with private providers. We cannot have a slippage of standards where a service is outsourced.

Finally, the Bill provides for personal advocates to support persons with a disability around access to services. Personal advocates are not simply giving support to an individual. As has often been the case, the challenge is to identify the gaps, flaws and shortfalls in our services. We are seeing an expansion of our services and of participation. It is a public good when individuals, generously in many instances, take a case to seek to access services; they do us all a service. In that regard, this is perhaps a small step to what we should be seeing: the optional protocol on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that would allow all individuals to take cases.

This is a positive, thoughtful, generous and reasonable Bill. The Minister of State is not opposing it at this stage, but I hope he will be able to fully embrace it and use it as a template for further legislation, as we seek to make the UN convention a practical reality.

Before I call Senator Grace O'Sullivan, I want to congratulate her while she is in the Chamber. There have been a lot of congratulations while she was not here, and if I was not in the Chair I would probably say even more. I hope she will not be a stranger to these Houses when representing all of us in Europe.

I also want to welcome all those in the Public Gallery. I know that with us today is Deirdre Donnelly, the Leas-Chathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, along with many other advocates for this topic. They are all very welcome.

Thank you very much, Acting Chairman, for your kind words. I am delighted to see so many in the Public Gallery for this important legislation, rightly named the Community Participation (Disability) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The phrase "community participation" should have an equal rights element and so I commend Senator Dolan and the Civil Engagement group, and support what Senator Higgins said. For three years in Seanad Éireann, the function of this group has been to support the rights of all Irish people. I now have the great honour and responsibility of representing Ireland South in the European Parliament. I will do that within the framework of caring for and thinking about all people in Ireland South, in Ireland and in Europe, in particular people with disabilities. My daughter, Emer, is almost 28 years old and is missing part of a chromosome. She describes herself as a person with "special abilities", and that is how I see her. I have always fought for her rights and will continue to do so. I commend the Civil Engagement group, which, for three years, has fought for rights on behalf of all people in Ireland. Its members have done that with such goodwill; like those in the Public Gallery, they are advocates.

Unfortunately, I did not have the honour of signing this good legislation, because I was down in the count centre in Cork. I had to be here physically to sign it, and I could not be.

You are here to support it today.

I am here to support it. I will be only an extension of Seanad Éireann in the European Parliament, and will work as closely as possible with all my colleagues in the Civil Engagement group, in particular to progress the rights of the vulnerable and people with disabilities and special abilities, and to support the rights of people in general.

I thank Senator Grace O'Sullivan. This may be one of the last times I will be able to call her "Senator" O'Sullivan, for the moment anyway.

I will be here next week.

Soon it will be Grace O'Sullivan, MEP. It is on the record that she has said she will be an extension of Seanad Éireann in Brussels. We may hold her to that. We might have to visit her of course. That is a separate matter.

Does Senator Black want to comment?

There is time if the Senator wishes to comment, though she did not indicate.

I would like to hear everybody.

I want to commend my colleague, Senator Dolan, on this fantastic legislation. Senator Dolan has worked tirelessly on this issue since he was elected in 2016. It truly is an honour to be part of this group. I also want to give credit to my colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, with whom I absolutely loved working. She will be sadly missed. I have no doubt about it.

Yesterday I was also at the briefing that was held by Senator Dolan. I was so moved by all of the stories. I wanted to stay for longer but unfortunately I had to leave a little early. Hearing some of those stories, it was shocking to think that people do not have basic human rights in this country. It really shocked me. I am sorry to say that I was not aware of how bad it was. I welcome this legislation. One young woman - I do not know if she is here today - asked us to close our eyes and imagine what it would be like to be in a wheelchair. This woman lived in Donegal. She said that things are okay in Dublin. One can get around or get on the Luas or a bus. Thankfully she changed things in Donegal with the fight that she had in her. She told us to imagine trying to get out of the house in a wheelchair, going to a bus station and being unable to get on the bus. That is taking place all around Ireland, which is really sad. This amazing young woman changed the bus route. She is now able to go from Derry to college in Sligo because she fought, perhaps with the Minister of State's help and certainly with that of Senator Dolan.

I want to commend my colleague. This is fantastic legislation. I am honoured. I thank my colleagues for asking me to be part of it and I hope it gets full support today.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Community Participation (Disability) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019. Moreover, I am delighted to have sat here and listened to the views of the Senators. I must pass on my compliments. It is their last time together as a group. I congratulate Senator Grace O'Sullivan and wish her well in Europe. It is very important that we have a voice for disabilities at European level. I also want to commend and thank Senators Ruane, Kelleher, Higgins, Conway, Boyhan and Black. I also welcome councillor Deirdre Donnelly, with whom I was glad to speak at a disability meeting before the local elections.

The important thing today is that a group of Senators and a councillor actually understand the disability issue and understand what the debate is about. I thank and commend them for that. I particularly commend Senator Dolan for putting the spotlight on disability. I mean that, even though I had not heard about the Galtymore story before.

That is a true story.

Is it true? Can I check it out? I congratulate the Senator on climbing Galtymore.

I also welcome all of our distinguished visitors from right across the board; I welcome those who are at local authority level like Councillor Donnelly, people directly involved in the disability organisations, as well as parents, families and those providing support.

I support the aim of the proposed legislation, which is to facilitate the inclusion and full participation of people with disabilities and their families and friends in their communities by enabling greater access to public spaces. As presented by Senator Dolan, the Bill has four key aims. It aims to do the following: require local authorities to apply the principles of universal design to the provision of playgrounds and play equipment; require the National Transport Authority to require private operators operating on a public route to maintain or enhance accessibility for people with disabilities; and to appoint a director of personal advocacy, as provided for in the Citizens Information Act 2007, to support people with disabilities in accessing social services which are necessary for full participation and inclusion in the community. This morning I attended the graduation from Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT, of 37 young graduates, each of whom has a physical or intellectual disability. The key thing was advocacy, as mentioned in this legislation. I want to commend the LIT president, Professor Vincent Cunnane, Ms Martina Neylon and all the staff who are doing fantastic work on pushing the issue of advocacy and rights of people with disabilities. I thank them for delivering on access to their third level institution, which is a very profound thing. The fourth aim of the Bill is to require changing facilities to be provided in relevant publicly accessible buildings which are newly built or undergo material alterations.

The Senator seeks to achieve these aims by amending the Local Government Act 2001, the Planning and Development Act 2001, the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 and the Building Regulations 1997. The Bill also provides for the commencement of certain provisions of the Citizens Information Act 2007. I know that all Members of the House will agree that we must do our utmost to support and promote the inclusion of adults and children with disabilities in society through participation in cultural life, travel, recreation, sport and leisure activities. These are vitally important pursuits for everyone, but for persons with disabilities they provide particular opportunities for physical and mental health, the development of stronger self-esteem and the forging of life skills. The Government recognises this and is committed to ensuring the participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities in the lives of their communities by maximising the accessibility of public places, increasing our financial investment and promoting opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in recreational, cultural and leisure activities.

Senators will be aware that the national disability inclusion strategy is the key framework for policy and action to address the needs of people with disabilities. The strategy, which is co-ordinated by the Department of Justice and Equality, takes a whole-of-Government approach to improving the lives of people with disabilities. It does this in a practical sense and also by creating the best possible opportunities for people with disabilities to fulfil their potential. The strategy contains 114 measurable and time-specific actions, implementation of which is overseen by a steering group chaired at ministerial level. The actions are also tracked against a set of 62 indicators identified by the National Disability Authority. This implementation work is ongoing.

As many of my Senator colleagues have mentioned, transport is one of the key themes in the strategy. In this regard the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is committed to implementing 15 specific actions that will support the overarching objectives in its remit. These include ensuring: that the planning and design of public buildings and public spaces is informed by engagement with people with disabilities and other users across the spectrum of age, size, ability and disability; that persons with disabilities are able to access buildings and their facilities on the same basis as everyone else; and that persons with disabilities can get to and from their chosen destination independently, without driving a car, in transport that is accessible to them.

The strategy also contains a chapter on person-centred disability services. One of the pivotal goals described is for persons with disabilities to "participate in the everyday life and activities of their communities". In this regard the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Sport Ireland have a specific commitment to "foster disability awareness and competence in voluntary, sporting, cultural and other organisations... [and] ensure that disability inclusion is fully integrated into funding programmes, monitored and linked to further funding".

The Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Sport Ireland are also committed to ensuring that new buildings and facilities for arts, sports and leisure are based on universal design principles. Furthermore, under the strategy, the Office of Public Works, all Departments and public bodies are working to bring all public sector buildings into compliance with the revised 2010 Part M accessibility standards by 2022. As chair of the inclusion strategy steering group, I am working to ensure these commitments are met.

Of course, it is not just the Government that is seeking to improve the lives of people with disabilities and, in this context, I turn to the content of the Bill. While the Government does not oppose the Senator's Bill, there are issues with it, which I will now address. As it would involve considerable Exchequer funding, it will require a money message from the Government if it is to progress. Section 1 seeks to amend the Local Government Act 2001 to require that the principles of universal design be applied to the provision of playgrounds and related equipment by local authorities. In a similar vein, section 2 amends the Planning and Development Act 2000 to ensure that when planning authorities are preparing development plans, as required every six years, those plans shall include objectives for the preservation, improvement and extension of amenities and recreational amenities in accordance with the principals of universal design. This is a laudable goal and we should do everything in our power to facilitate access to playground and public amenities for children with disabilities.

However, there is an issue with the Senator's approach, namely, that there are currently no standards to guide and measure the achievement of universal design for playgrounds and equipment. In short, the Bill requires facilities to be provided in adherence with a particular standard but in the absence of that standard to measure whether those services and facilities are being properly provided. It is essentially a case of putting the cart before the horse. The NDA intends to commence work on developing guidelines and standards for universally designed playgrounds and playground equipment later this year. These standards, when completed, will provide us with a template from which to work. However, the next step should be to implement these standards in pilot areas before jumping towards a statutory provision, which is premature at this point.

While the lack of standards is one issue, another obstacle is likely to arise with regard to the procurement of universally designed playground equipment. It is pointless to provide for specialist facilities if the appropriate equipment cannot be sourced. This is also a difficulty that will be reviewed. This, in turn, leads us to resourcing implications. If the Bill were to be enacted as is, it would have a significant financial impact on the provision of community play amenities by local authorities.

Section 3 amends section 13 of the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 to ensure that where an operator's licence to provide a public bus service has been granted, amended or renewed, the NTA shall impose conditions that the operator cannot diminish access to the service being provided. The amendment refers to maintaining or enhancing but not diminishing access to public bus services by people with disabilities. The Bill's intent, again, is positive, but this issue warrants more detailed examination as to feasibility. The wording of the section is ambiguous and unclear, insofar as it does not define the term "access". As currently worded, the term "access" could be broadly interpreted as anything from physical access to buses, frequency and scheduling of services, locations of bus stops or even alterations to the cost of fares. In short, a definition of the term "access" is required in the interests of clarity and for the amendment to be workable and measurable. This would warrant more detailed consideration and further work on definitions before the Bill would be in a position to progress.

Section 4 provides for the amendment of the Citizens Information Act 2007 to ensure the provision of a personal advocacy service for qualifying adults, taking into account the financial resources of the Citizens Information Board, either six months or earlier after the passing of the Bill. As Senators will be aware, one of the functions of the board is the provision of advocacy services to individuals, in particular those with a disability, to assist them in identifying and understanding their needs and options and in securing their entitlements to social services.

The board also funds and supports the National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities, which provides an independent, confidential and free advocacy service that works exclusively for adults with disabilities and adheres to the highest professional standards. In 2018, the service dealt with almost 4,000 cases, of which 914 required full representative advocacy casework and 3,001 received information, advice and one-off interventions. I understand that the budget allocation to the service was €3.1 million in 2018 and the allocation for 2019 is €3.25 million. Furthermore, proposals have been developed and are being considered to strengthen the national advocacy service by affording statutory powers to the service's advocates. The Senator proposes in the Bill to appoint a director of personal advocacy. That would give rise to further costs without necessarily improving advocacy services for persons with disabilities.

Section 5 seeks to amend Part M of the building regulations 1997 to ensure that changing place facilities are provided instead of disabled access bathroom facilities in all publicly accessible buildings. This will require their inclusion in newly built buildings or via modification to existing facilities. While the Bill highlights a significant gap in the current minimum requirements for sanitary facilities under Part M of the building regulations 2010, the manner in which it approaches the issue is problematic in that the Bill proposes to amend the building regulations directly. The purpose of the building regulations is to set out high-level objectives, whereas technical guidance document M provides for the provision of individual standards, requirements and specifications. It is, therefore, inappropriate to amend the regulations directly. Instead, technical guidance document M should be amended and updated with specific requirements.

The Bill raises significant implications for existing public buildings, in particular older ones. In general, the building regulations apply to the construction of new buildings and to significant changes to existing buildings. Otherwise, the building regulations do not generally apply to buildings constructed prior to 1992. However, section 25 of the Disability Act requires public bodies to apply Part M retrospectively to public buildings. Section 25 states that where Part M is amended, public buildings shall be brought into compliance with any amendments not later than ten years after the commencement of that amendment. This change would have implications for public bodies that own, manage or control those public buildings, as they would need to bring them into compliance within ten years. In a large number of cases, it may not be possible to modify existing or older premises to provide for changing place facilities. The Bill is silent as to what should be done in those circumstances and this is a matter that would require detailed examination as to feasibility and cost implications.

Another issue also arises with regard to retrofitting existing premises with changing place facilities. In certain cases, it may not be possible to meet requirements by installing hoist systems as specified in the Bill. In those instances, it is not clear if the use of mobile systems would be acceptable under the Bill as drafted, or if the Bill might require an amendment to permit the use of mobile systems.

Section 5 is broad in its application of the requirement to upgrade public buildings. However, the Bill as drafted and its interaction with our existing legislative framework would require the upgrade of a very wide range of facilities in public buildings. Senators will appreciate that this measure would have significant cost implications for the State. As such, we need to undertake a proper examination of these implications before advancing further with the Bill.

I want to be clear to the House that the Government does not oppose the Bill. Yesterday, I was very supportive of it in Cabinet. We are committed to providing the utmost support to people with disabilities. However, there are significant technical and practical issues with the Bill that will need to be considered and worked out in detail. That is what we intend to do.

I want to mention some of the points raised during the debate.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan mentioned her daughter and the Ability programme in particular. It is important to note that we introduced the programme a couple of months ago, in line with the UN convention. Under this programme, 2,300 young people with disabilities have access to, and are involved in, training, employment and education. When talking about people with disabilities we often ignore, as the Senator rightly points out, the ability of many people who have a specific disability.

Senator Black mentioned the stories heard yesterday. I agree with her. The particular case of that young person in Donegal is unacceptable. There are other such cases out there. I hear those stories every day in my job. It is my job to try to fix those situations.

Senator Conway referred to meeting the goals of the UN convention. As far as I am concerned, ratifying the UN convention was only the start. We are now into the issues. That is my objective. Under the social care part of this year's budget, €1.904 billion is allocated to services for people in the social care area, including people with disabilities. That is an increase of 7.5%. Do I need more? Absolutely. Am I constantly looking for more? Yes.

Senator Higgins mentioned the issue of sustainable communities. She also talked about children's rights under the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil.

I thank Senator Dolan for his work on this issue, on which I will work with him closely. I will also work with colleagues in the Seanad. They have my support. There are some amendments to be made in the future. We have to bring people with us. We have to change the mindset in many Departments, as a number of colleagues mentioned. The overall thrust of the legislation is positive. I welcome the debate. Once again, I thank all the Senators who contributed. They understand the issue of disability from their own practical experiences. In my experience as Minister of State over the past three years, Senators have made a massive contribution to the debate about achieving an inclusive, modern, progressive Ireland. That is the way forward. We need to start focusing on people's ability and on their rights as equal citizens in our society. That is my objective.

The Minister of State had been allocated 15 minutes but he spoke for almost 22.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I did not realise.

I indulged him a little bit. Senator Warfield would like to say a few words before I go back to Senator Dolan.

I apologise to the Acting Chairman, the Civil Engagement group, Senator Boyhan, and those in the Public Gallery for my diary mishap. I had noted on my phone that this debate was to begin at 6 p.m.

The Senator is welcome to contribute anyway.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I commend the Civil Engagement group for leading on this Bill, particularly Senator Dolan who always champions the rights of people with disabilities in these Houses. The State ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in March 2018. This provides a framework for signatory states to deliver rights and empowerment to people with different ability. This Bill aims to advance the work of the convention in delivering rights, particular from the points of view of accessibility and inclusivity, in both the public and private sector. This is vitally important for many reasons but at its core is the message that we value our citizens with disabilities, take their needs extremely seriously, and acknowledge that we all have something to gain from the delivery of rights and empowerment for people with differing abilities. All of our society will reap the rewards and will profit from the inclusion of as many people as possible.

The first area the Bill addresses is that of inclusive playgrounds. If it is passed, as I hope it will be, local authorities will be legally required to apply principles of universal design. This concept aims to create inclusive environments that are accessible to as many people as possible. Many environments are currently not inclusive for families as they still not accessible for children with disabilities. We have even seen scenarios in which private corporations have been relied upon to sponsor disability-friendly playgrounds. That is not sufficient and it is definitely not sustainable. Local authorities should be equipped to deliver these essential amenities.

The Bill also addresses issues with bus accessibility. I recall that when the BusConnects proposal was first floated, I had conversations with Senator Dolan about the needs of people with disabilities being left behind. Under this new legislation, when local authorities are granting, amending, or renewing a licence to a private bus operator on a public route, they will be obliged to ensure that operator meets the same accessibility standards as a public operator. This means that a private operator must either maintain or enhance accessibility for transport users but cannot diminish it. Currently, private transport providers can be given a contract to operate bus routes but do not have to meet the same accessibility standards as public providers. The private sector cannot be left off the hook in terms of accessibility and inclusivity. No route should be privatised in the first place but, as it is happening anyway, private operators must be required to meet or exceed the standards of public operators.

Sadly, we cannot even say that the public sector is the gold standard. The issue of the bus fleet in Waterford has been consistently flagged by Sinn Féin. A new bus fleet introduced in December has proven to be less accessible than the one taken out of service, which was ten years older. This situation is incomprehensible. It was raised at the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport last July and has been raised in the Seanad, in the Dáil through parliamentary questions and Questions on Promised Legislation, and in the media. Mr. Hugh Creegan, CEO of the NTA, indicated in a recent response to Deputy McDonald that a pilot programme would be undertaken in conjunction with the Irish Wheelchair Association to investigate what changes, if any, had been made. Where is that pilot? Has any progress been made? We have a situation in Waterford now where older private transport is more accessible than brand new public transport. Surely we have moved on from such bad policy decisions.

The third main provision of the Bill relates to personal advocacy, which gives a voice to people who ordinarily would not have one. Advocacy provides autonomy and empowerment and assists in independent living. It affords individuals the ability to make decisions for themselves. This Bill will empower a disabled person's personal advocate to be his or her legal voice when seeking social supports and services. This is a big step in terms of respecting the autonomy of persons with disabilities.

Finally, this Bill deals with accessible change facilities. It will legally require public buildings which are newly built or undergoing material alterations to provide fully accessible changing facilities. Current facilities in many public settings, including even accessible toilets, are not adequate to meet the changing or, in some cases, sanitary needs of families. Toilets need to become changing places where dignity and respect can be afforded. This provision within the Bill allows for this.

These changes, if enacted, would make a serious difference to the lives of many of our citizens. However, it should be noted that better inclusion would make a positive difference for everybody. We have so much to gain from proper inclusion of people with disabilities, if only we can structure society to be more accessible to them. This Bill is a good example of a cross-party initiative and of a cross-party group working together to deliver and afford rights. I am proud that the colleague on whose behalf I am speaking, Senator Devine, co-signed the Bill. The Government has much more to do on disability issues in general and I hope it will support initiatives such as this legislation to ensure that action happens. I again thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me to contribute.

I again apologise to everyone here, including those in the Public Gallery.

If I had known that I could have received such applause and positive affirmation, I would have cobbled together a Bill years ago.

As the Senator will be aware, applause is not allowed in the Chamber, but I take his point.

A famous Tipperary hurler, Babs Keating, once said that one would want to be careful about a clap on the back because it is only a couple of inches from a kick up the behind.

The Senator would never get that.

I wish to thank all contributors. I am embarrassed by the compliments they paid me. I think it is simply my work and my duty to do this - no more, no less - but I am appreciative and I thank people.

I will miss Senator Grace O'Sullivan greatly. She has been a tonic to us all. We have spoken about disability in the European Parliament at the interparliamentary group and so on. I gave credit to Rosa Luxemburg when I meant to say Rosa Parks. I apologise to both.

The Minister of State said that he supports "the aim of the proposed legislation, which is to facilitate the inclusion and full participation of people with disabilities and their families and friends and their communities by enabling better access to public spaces". Sin tosach maith. However, I thought and felt that as he went on, the water got colder and I had a sense - and we will test this out - that it was a case of live horse and one will get grass when he said, "We must check this out, we must check that out," and that there would be a significant cost on the Exchequer. That is okay because he should show us the colour of the money and what that cost is. If he is able to say to the House that there will be a significant cost, he should tell us to the nearest billion euro or whatever it will be.

He also said, "The Government is not opposing the Senator’s Bill, there are issues with it which I will now address. As it should involve quite considerable Exchequer funding," but what is that cost, where will it be? He referred to a money message but I never heard of that before in relation to anything going through this House.

The Senator should not laugh. The Minister of State stated: "While the lack of standards is one issue, another obstacle is likely to arise in the procurement of universally designed playground equipment." I have a sense, and it is up to the Government to convince myself and others that I am wrong, that one obstacle after another is being gratuitously thrown out.

The amendment to the Citizens Information Act proposed to have something commenced that these Houses and the President passed 12 years ago. I acknowledged, as has the Minister of State, that there is a service in place. There is not a big money deal here. The cost of a director of advocacy was mentioned, which I find frivolous.

Returning to transport, the NTA currently may set out accessibility standards under the current legislation but the problem is that a decade or so ago the authority said that it might do something and set out accessibility criteria for private buses, so how does it now become a problem that there may be a cost implication? It has been dealt with. Where does the money message apply in that respect? The NTA has been given the green light; the problem is that the officials have not got off their bums and done it. Two years ago, they told the country that there was no diminution in service when they were making savings in Bus Éireann and they took public buses off three routes and only left the private services. There was no diminution in service except for people with mobility, hearing and visual impairments. Those people were the butt of this. Where do we stop talking about what we are going to do and tackle the issue of vindicating people's rights?

The Minister of State stated, "While the Bill highlights a significant gap in the current minimum requirements for sanitary facilities under Part M of the building regulations 2010, the manner in which it approaches the issue is problematic in that the Bill proposes to amend the building regulations directly." I will tell him what is problematic from the perspective of people in this State: they cannot with dignity change a child or an adult who needs it. Perhaps I lack imagination but I cannot for the life of me see that this is a life and death issue for the State in terms of funding. The Bill does not say that when it becomes legislation in the morning that all these measures must be implemented immediately.

I said at the start that what makes John West the best is what John West rejects. We have gone through five or six iterations to come up with a balanced and thoughtful approach. I do not say we have it right. I look forward to Committee Stage soon. There is no reason to fail to do that. If it does not happen soon, what will have been done is that this Bill will have been kicked out of play. We can say that if we do not get the evidence that the Minister of State says is there. He should put it up in front of us and let us deal with it. Some people were almost critical but I did not go further. This Bill is very measured. The Government must come out and back up the points made here. It is totally unfair to people who struggle with these issues.

The Minister of State acknowledged rightly Councillor Dave Quinn, who was recently elected to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, and Councillor Francis Timmons.

I thank Senator Dolan and welcome Councillors Timmons and Quinn, one of whom was recently re-elected and the other newly elected who are here with the leas-chathaoirleach, Councillor Deirdre Donnelly.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 25 June 2019.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.28 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 20 June 2019.