Private Members Motion on Disability Services

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann, 4th December 2012

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Motion.

I believe that it is hugely important, even on the eve of what will be one of the most difficult budgets in this nation’s history, that we reiterate our commitment tonight to protecting the most vulnerable people in society, those with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The debate over who made the mistakes that led to the fiscal crash of recent years in Ireland will go on for years, probably decades, but one group that won’t figure when the blame is being apportioned is people with disabilities. They didn’t over indulge, over borrow or engage in reckless lending or borrowing, and therefore they shouldn’t be bearing the brunt of the cuts.

Minister Lynch has conceded that the next two years will be particularly difficult in terms of the health budget, and expenditure on services for people with a disability, which cost in the region of €1.4 billion this year, will no doubt face difficulties, but I believe that expenditure on items such as residential care, respite care and placements for school leavers must remain a top priority in 2013.

I know that the Minister is committed to the implementation of the National Disability Strategy and is chairing the new National Disability Strategy Implementation Group and has included in this group a number of individuals who will be able to bring to the table their experience of living with a disability and the Implementation Group will also take on board the views of the Disability Forum, which had its first meeting in June of this year.

In terms of Special Educational Needs, I note that 15% of the budget of the Department of Education and Skills is spent in support of children with special educational needs, including the employment of 10,575 whole time equivalent Special Need Assistants in primary, post-primary and special schools and I believe that we must never overlook the invaluable role that these people play in our education system in ensuring that children with special needs are educated among their peers in a local setting.

Understanding of the need for early intervention in relation to autism is growing internationally and it is heartening to see that there are now 76 early intervention classes for children with autism attached to mainstream schools and funding is provided through the home tuition programme for children with autism who are unable to access placement in such classes. Such early intervention is crucial, often it can address behavioural difficulties and allow the child in question to attend their local national school. Without such early intervention, more supports would be needed for the child in school and valuable learning time, which cannot be replaced, would be lost.

The need for proper services for adults with disabilities is another crucial question. I know that in recent months members of Ballinasloe Advocates have been to the fore in terms of highlighting the need for adult services for people with disabilities to be retained and strengthened.

I have also seen at first hand the tremendous work being done all across the west by organisations such as Ability West and the Brothers of Charity. In recent years, these organisations, through the help and goodwill of people in their local communities, have steadily built up the services on offer and their hard work must not be negated by a shortfall in funding in coming years.

Any family member of a person with a disability will stress the need for respite hours to be retained at all costs, as this is often the difference between a person with a disability being able to live at home or moving to a community setting. In many cases, parents who are becoming increasingly frail, are able to cope with living with the extra demands of an adult child with a disability because of the support provided through respite and the reduction of respite hours would see a major increase in the number of applications for housing in a community setting.

I note that the Minister has plans to move 150 people of the 3,600 people with disabilities living in an institution into the community in 2013, and while the progress is slow, it must be acknowledged that the provision of housing is difficult at the current time. However, this element of the National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability will come under much more pressure if the current level of respite care is not retained.
Organisations and staff working with people with disabilities have done a tremendous job to date, and along with parents and families of people with disabilities and the people with disabilities themselves, have provided a strong voice in terms of advocating for those with disabilities and it is imperative that we continue to hear those voices and tailor the money that is being made available to ensure that the most vital services are retained throughout the country.

We must ensure that people with disabilities are not punished for the sins of others. The only real way of measuring justice in any society is to examine how it treats its most vulnerable citizens and, while we all acknowledge that further cuts are to be faced in coming years, we must shield disabled people from those measures.