I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing this matter. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, for taking it on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys.
My ask today seems very reasonable to me. Those with epilepsy should have an entitlement to the free travel scheme. Up to 40,000 people in Ireland live with epilepsy with approximately 1,200 of them in Louth. I fully support Epilepsy Ireland's call to have the free travel scheme automatically extended to those who lose their driver licence due to a breakthrough seizure or where they automatically lose their licence for at least one year until they become one-year seizure free. There is also a need to see the free travel scheme established in such a way whereby people can apply to receive the benefit directly. The scheme is currently exclusively linked to other payments such as disability allowance and invalidity pension. This would allow people who will never be able to drive and who do not qualify for the disability allowance or invalidity pension to apply directly for the scheme.
I must be clear that we are not proposing that all 40,000 people with epilepsy be automatically given access to free travel. Epilepsy Ireland loosely estimates that these proposals would benefit between 5,000 and 6,000 people with epilepsy as 70% of those living with the condition will go on to be seizure free. For the remaining 30%, some will qualify for the State schemes such as disability allowance or invalidity pension. The direct cost of bringing this number of people into the free travel scheme would be approximately €500,000.
There is no doubt that there will be an argument from the Department of potential flood gates of claims and the high costs involved. However, we have a real obligation, in particular when we have accepted and signed up to the UN convention on persons with disabilities.
Under that convention we have an obligation to enable people with disabilities to live independently and to participate fully in all parts of life. There is an onus on us to reduce barriers. If a person who has a driving licence, and is partaking normally like all the rest of us in society in education and work, has a seizure, he or she is put off the road for 12 months. I have heard awful stories about people who are now unemployed or who had to give up education because they could not afford public transport or they did not have access to public transport. I hope we get a positive reply from the Minister of State this morning.