The Deputy will be familiar with the background to the closure of both the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Grant schemes in 2013.
With regard to the proposals for a new Health (Transport Support) Bill, the Deputy may be aware that my colleague, the Minister for Health and I, brought a Memorandum to Government on proposals for a new Transport Support Payment Scheme. Following consideration of the matter, it was decided to withdraw the Memorandum from the Cabinet Agenda at that time. I intend to revert to Government in due course with revised proposals to reflect the discussions at that Cabinet meeting and further discussions between myself and Minister Harris, on the best way to progress the Transport Scheme.
As to the Deputy's question regarding projected costs of a new Transport Support scheme, the clear instruction from Government is that eligibility criteria for a new scheme must focus on those with the greatest need who have the least resources available to them. In order to make the eligibility criteria for the scheme very broad, opening up newer categories of eligibility, the effects of which are difficult to estimate, would carry major budgetary implications. Competing demands within the disability budget and elsewhere must be considered.
As of January this year, 3,790 persons who were in receipt of the Mobility Allowance at the time that the scheme closed, have continued to receive the monthly payment in line with the Government decision. I can assure the Deputy of our efforts to find a solution which is fair, financially affordable and legally sound.
It is important to note that the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers scheme, operated by the Revenue Commissioners, remains in place. This scheme provides VRT and VAT relief, an exemption from road tax and a fuel grant to drivers and passengers with a disability, who qualify under the relevant criteria set out in governing regulations made by the Minister for Finance. Specifically adapted vehicles driven by persons with a disability are also exempt from payment of tolls on national roads and toll bridges. Transport Infrastructure Ireland has responsibility for this particular scheme.
There are improvements in access to a range of transport support schemes available to persons with disabilities in the State and on-going work is being carried out by Government Departments, agencies and transport providers to further improve access to public transport services. Under the National Disability Inclusion Strategy, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has responsibility for the continued development of accessibility and availability of public transport for people with a disability.
The Deputy may wish to note that my colleague the Minister for Rural and Community Development recently announced CLÁR funding of €890,632 to 20 voluntary community organisations. This funding will support the purchase and/or fit out of vehicles to provide transport for people in rural areas with mobility issues. It will support voluntary organisations that provide:-
- transport for people with significant mobility issues, including those requiring specialised wheelchair accessible vehicles, to day-care or other medical, therapeutic or respite services; or
- transport to/from designated cancer treatment hospitals/centres under the National Cancer Care Programme.