Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 11 October 2017
Committee on Public Petitions
Discontinued Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Schemes: Minister of State at the Department of Health
I thank Deputy Cassells for raising these important issues. On his point about greatest need, 4,700 people are already in receipt of the payment. Some people are proposing that we broaden the scheme where we might be looking at as many as 20,000 people in receipt of this payment.
While this legislation is being finalised, it is important to remember that 4,700 people are getting the €208.50 monthly, which is an annual cost of €9.3 million. That is what is happening now. My preference is to target those most in need and then broaden it out to people who have broader needs and who have serious disability and mobility problems. That is my vision for the legislation.
Deputy Cassells mentioned numbers.
I emphasise to Deputy Cassells that these are estimate numbers. From my experience, having spoken to colleagues in the Seanad and the Dáil, and also having spoken to disability groups, one could go from 4,700 up to a possible maximum of 20,000.
On the funding questions he raised, there is always a debate about funding limitations and where money should be spent. We are talking about spending public money. I had many ideas and proposals during the talks and the Estimate when I went to speak with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, DPER. I might have asked for ten things and ended up with four or five. That is part of negotiating. We are trying to rebuild and invest in disability services. Transport support is part of that and I am taking a step by step approach, which is very important. There will always be funding limitations, and I totally agree that is a concern. There is no point in saying that it is not a concern. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform makes people go through the hoops to convince it that proposals are credible and that costings work. There are all sorts of figures bandied about concerning the costs of the legislation, but that will not be finalised for another while.
The issue of accessibility was mentioned. It is a very important issue. I know that Deputy Cassells is best buddies with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and I have raised those issues with him. We launched a national disability inclusion strategy in July. We had our first meeting a month ago, and every Department has been asked to come up with concrete proposals to assist people with disabilities. Every Minister has been told to do the same thing. I have asked that by Christmas they provide me with a couple of things that they can do in their respective Departments to assist persons with disabilities. Accessibility is really up there with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. In fairness to Dublin Bus and Luas, they have improved over the past number of years, but there are many other organisations that have not improved. I launched a campaign recently to highlight that disabled spaces on buses should not be blocked up by buggies and bags to ensure that a person with a disability has access. I give a commitment that the accessibility issue will be dealt with very strongly in the national inclusion strategy. We are having our next meeting on 8 December, where the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will be reporting back to me on the progress made on those issues. It is unacceptable that people with a physical disability or with major mobility issues are still having to ring up the night before to get access to public transport.
We also cannot exclude private transporters. They will also be included in this strategy. If we are talking about equality or the rights of persons with a disability, we must acknowledge that access is a very important part of it. I will report back to the Deputy when more progress has been made on that issue.