Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (30)

Seán Canney

Ceist:

30. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Finance the status of the primary medical certificates; his plans to expand the criteria for eligibility for persons to receive this assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27129/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Finance)

I raise with the Minister the issue of primary medical certificates. Does he have any plans to extend or broaden the criteria under which people can apply for such certificates? They are a very useful support for those who need them but I find many people visiting my constituency office who have children who need special vehicles but who do not qualify because they are not physically in a wheelchair or have not lost a limb. It is important that we look at this issue compassionately.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. As he is aware, this is a very important scheme, the cost of which was, in 2019 and excluding motor tax, €72 million. To repeat what I have said, this scheme is important for many and I understand the many demands on it.

It is open to severely and permanently disabled persons as a driver or as a passenger, and it is open to certain organisations. To qualify for relief, an organisation must be entered in the register of charitable organisations under Part 3 of the Charities Act 2009.

 To qualify for relief, the following criteria apply. The applicant must hold a primary medical certificate issued by the relevant senior area medical officer or a board medical certificate issued by the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal. The vehicle may be a new or a used vehicle but must be specially constructed or adapted for use by the applicant. It must be purchased by the applicant. This criterion includes vehicles purchased through hire purchase agreements but excludes vehicles which have been purchased by way of a leasing arrangement. The engine capacity of the vehicle must not exceed 6,000 cc.

The Deputy is aware of the criteria for being granted a primary medical certificate. This scheme was first introduced in 1968, at which point the legislation only allowed for one medical ground. In 1989, four new medical grounds were added and, in 1994, one new medical ground was added.

A Supreme Court decision of 18 June found in favour of two appellants against the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal's refusal to grant them a primary medical certificate. The judgment found that the medical criteria set out in the regulations did not align with the regulation-making mandate given in the primary legislation to define further criteria.

I will answer in more detail in a moment.

Additional information not give on the floor of the House

The judgement found that the medical criteria set out in the regulations did not align with the regulation-making mandate given in the primary legislation to define further criteria for "severely and permanently disabled" persons.

The Deputy will appreciate that the Supreme Court decision has raised complex legal and policy issues which will require careful consideration. In parallel to that consideration there is a need to examine how best the scheme can target resources to those persons who most need them. My officials are examining the judgement in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office and will bring forward any policy and-or legislative proposals, as necessary, for my consideration in due course.

I hope the Minister will answer in more detail. If the last review of the scheme or addition to it was in 1994, it may be timely to review it again. I know of a young child who has been blind since birth. He needs special care and a vehicle but cannot qualify for this particular primary certificate. When looked at compassionately, much like every other rule or regulation we bring in, anomalies will arise in the scheme, which we accept. It may be time to review the scheme again as it has not been reviewed since 1994.

I absolutely understand the concerns of the many people who wish to access this scheme. I understand their level of need. I am now considering the consequences of the Supreme Court ruling on this matter. I have asked my officials to prepare options for me as to what we can do in respect of this scheme. I know many Deputies in this House represent constituents who, for entirely understandable reasons, feel that they should have access to this scheme. One of the reasons that so few changes have been made to it in the past, however, is that we have been trying to get the balance right between implementing a scheme that can make a big difference for those who need it the most and not developing a scheme that is so broad that it represents a considerable use of taxpayers' money and which spreads those resources very broadly. I am aware of the issues the Deputy has raised and, as I have said, I am seeking to come up with options for dealing with some of the issues which emerged in the hearing to which he has referred.

I thank the Minister. I am delighted that he is going to review the scheme or take advice based on the ruling made in the courts. This is an opportunity. We do not want to open up the scheme as a free-for-all but it is very important that the right people get support. I have no doubt that, in his capacity as Minister for Finance, the Deputy will look at this issue in a reasonable light. I may send him some details of the case with which I am dealing as an example of what we can do by making a very small change and of how that would help people enormously in their lives.

In his question, the Deputy acknowledged the challenges on which we need to reflect. This scheme is very valuable to those who participate in it. They deserve the value afforded by the scheme, which gives help to those who need it most. I need to ensure that, if any further changes are made to the scheme, it will continue to target a great deal of taxpayers' money at those who need it most while not becoming so broad as to become far bigger than originally intended. If the Deputy wants to send me details of the particular case to which he has referred, I will certainly examine them. We will have to return to the House at a later point with regard to how we will develop this particular scheme.