The situation is improving. A determined effort is being made at present and considerable resources are being expended to improve the possibilities of people with disabilities going into employment.
There are a variety of reasons we have not reached the targets set. These relate to historical and cultural issues in the past regarding people with disabilities. The greatest problem in finding opportunities for people with disabilities is the attitude among employers who are not informed sufficiently on the advantages of employing people with disabilities, particularly in considering the abilities of people rather than their disabilities. It is quite clear from experience that people with disabilities make a significant contribution to the workplace, not just in the actual work they do themselves, but in the positive impact they have on other employees, customers and the general public.
The Deputy is correct that we have reached the targets set out. We must focus on a number of issues. My Department will respond in a focused way to the proposals in the report. We must promote initiatives for greater access to employment and improve our ability to integrate people with disabilities into the labour market. We must develop policies and supports to enable people in the area of self-employment and small business opportunities. We intend to focus on this area in the coming 12 months. We must link more closely with other Departments, particularly the Department of Education and Science, to prepare people with disabilities for the workplace at a younger age than is happening at the moment. Some very useful pilot projects are in operation and greater co-operation within the two Departments will serve to make the projects more effective.
The level of programmes and resources has been increased substantially in recent years. There is the sheltered employment scheme, Workway, and the equal programme, all of which are being co-ordinated in a much more synchronised way than in the past. There have been a series of seminars throughout the country, beginning in Dublin, to bring all these organisations together and focus on a more co-ordinated role, with a strong message being sent to employers throughout the country that they should look positively on employing people with disabilities. If we can crack that one, we will reach the target we have set ourselves.