The Government’s approach to meeting the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which came into force for Ireland in April 2018, is one of sustained and ongoing improvement. Work is continuing on the reforms needed in this regard.
The National Disability Inclusion Strategy (NDIS) 2017–2021 contains a wide range of practical commitments to improve the position of people with disabilities including the provision of disability awareness training to all staff in Government Departments and public bodies. It provides a mechanism for joined-up working to deliver on Ireland’s commitments to implementing the UNCRPD, and the NDIS Steering Group, which oversees and monitors the implementation of the Strategy, has an important role in guiding progress in this area. The National Disability Authority (NDA) guides on the implementation of the Convention’s provisions, and the implementation of the NDIS. It will shortly conduct an evaluation of the impact of the Strategy’s actions against the agreed set of indicators.
More specifically, a series of initiatives are under way to improve access to justice for persons with disabilities as provided for in article 13.
A Policing Service for the Future, the four-year implementation plan giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, sets out a vision based around ten key principles, the first of which is that human rights are the foundation and purpose of policing. The plan includes a number of priority projects to ensure that An Garda Síochána is fully equipped with the support and practical tools to meet its human rights obligations. These include establishment of a Human Rights Unit, development of a Human Rights Strategy and the convening of a Strategic Human Rights Advisory Committee, which includes membership from academia and civil society. Further to this, frontline staff in the Irish Prison Service receive training in Human Rights, and Equality and Diversity Awareness as part of their professional formation and ongoing development.
The Courts Service are actively engaged in improving access to justice for people with disabilities as per action 18 of the NDIS and article 13 of the Convention. In the first instance, all recently completed and newly renovated Court Buildings comply with established accessibility standards and have attained Disability Access Certificates. In addition, they are also complaint with Part M of the Building Regulations which require all public buildings to be accessible to people with disabilities.
In addition to the provision of new facilities, systems to assist members of the deaf community or people who are hard of hearing have been installed in all major courthouses nationwide.
More generally, efforts have been made to make the criminal justice system more accessible in existing facilities. Efforts in relation to existing court facilities include:
- Persons engaging with the courts may adapt hearing aids to make use of induction loops. These loops form part of public address system in courtrooms;
- All refurbished courthouses have signage and directions at doorways and entrances and exits;
- Providing Braille versions of all signage and contact details for court offices;
- Ensuring wheelchair ramps are provided in courthouses wherever possible; and
- Ensuring that wheelchair users are able to give evidence to the court, in situations where access to the witness box may be limited.
The Courts Service has a dedicated Disability Liaison Officer, who is a member of the disability network, and presents the findings of the network meetings to the HR team, in order to maintain awareness of the most recent developments as they apply to staff and users of the service.
In parallel, the Government is engaged in a programme of extensive legal reform to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal recognition before the law. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 provides a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties. The Act was signed into law on 30 December 2015 but has not yet been fully commenced. The Act provides for the establishment of new administrative processes and support measures, including the setting up of the Decision Support Service within the Mental Health Commission (a body under the Department of Health).
The Decision Support Service is working towards being operational and ready for the commencement of the main provisions of the 2015 Act in 2020. The Deputy will appreciate that a lead-in timeframe is needed to ensure that the necessary staff resources, processes, IT system, expert panels, codes of practice and regulations will be in place so that the Decision Support Service will have the capacity to be up and running effectively. There are many complex strands to this preparatory work, including the involvement of multiple organisations.
A high-level Steering Group comprised of senior officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health, the Mental Health Commission and the Courts Service, together with the Director of the Decision Support Service, is overseeing the establishment and commissioning of the Decision Support Service and this work is ongoing. The 2019 Revised Estimates Volume provides for an allocation of €3.5 million in the Justice and Equality Vote for the establishment of the Decision Support Service.
A number of provisions of the 2015 Act were commenced in October 2016 in order to enable the recruitment of the Director of the Decision Support Service. Ms Áine Flynn was appointed Director of the Decision Support Service on 2 October 2017.
The commencement of Part 8 of the Act, which provides a legislative framework for advance healthcare directives, is a matter for the Minister for Health. The Minister for Health, under the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 (Commencement of Certain Provisions) (No. 2) Order 2016 (S.I. No. 517 of 2016), brought some provisions of Part 8 of the Act into operation on 17 October 2016. The commenced provisions provide for the establishment by the Minister for Health of a multi-disciplinary group to make recommendations to the Director of the Decision Support Service in relation to codes of practice on advance healthcare directives. In anticipation of the completion of that process, the Minister for Health commenced the remainder of section 91 on 17 December 2018 (S.I. No. 527 of 2018).
The NDA was charged by the Department of Justice and Equality to prepare 11 draft non-healthcare Codes of Practice for delivery to the Director of the Decision Support Service. These statutory Codes will serve to guide those interveners named in the legislation, as well as other parties, on how to support individuals to make decisions in relation to particular matters, but who may experience a lack of capacity in relation to those matters. The Codes reflect the guiding principles set out in the Act, including a presumption of capacity at the outset, and a commitment to working to establish the will and preferences of the relevant person in order to facilitate a supported decision-making process where appropriate. The Codes are focused on decision-making scenarios that might arise in the areas of finance and property and personal welfare. By end July, NDA will have transferred 10 Codes of Practice to the Director, with the final Code to transfer before end of 2019.