Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
Update on Disability Issues: Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality
I thank Deputy Ó Laoghaire for his comments. I take his point with regard to Senator Dolan's comment about which committee is responsible. As far as I am concerned, disability and inclusion are contemplated as part of the broader issue of equality. That is a very relevant aspect.
On the comprehensive employment strategy, the Department of Justice and Equality is leading on its implementation. The strategy is basically intended to address the under-representation of people with disabilities in the labour force. The purpose of the strategy is to facilitate a concerted cross-Government effort to address the barriers and challenges and their impact on people with disabilities. As stated earlier, we have changed that figure from 3% to 6% within the public service. On the impact of the implementation issues which Deputy Ó Laoghaire raised, the implementation of the strategy is under way and is being co-ordinated and monitored by the Department of Justice and Equality. An implementation group consisting of relevant Departments and stakeholders meets regularly and is engaged in discussions with larger public sector employers such as the Public Appointments Service and the HSE to progress commitments outlined in the strategy.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire touched on the monitoring of the strategy, which is very important.
The overarching monitoring method used by the group is the traffic-light approach or the so-called red-amber-green approach. This is something we also do in the broader national disability inclusion strategy.
Importantly, we made progress on the employment of people with disabilities. Some Departments have very good records and have moved above 4%. As I mentioned earlier, there are approximately 5,000 people with some form of disability employed in small businesses in the private sector. I know from visiting third-level colleges throughout the country that there are in the region of 12,000 people with some form of disability in those colleges. This was unheard of 20 years ago. Therefore, we have moved forward and are doing certain things. As I touched on earlier, we were monitoring and assessing, every few months, every development in regard to the employment of people with disabilities.
We have to change the mindset of broader society, including in both the public and private sectors, to focus on the ability of a person with a disability. We should focus on abilities in working with people to find them employment. There are 16 Intreo officers in the 60 social protection offices throughout the country. Their full-time job is to liaise with any family or a person with a disability with a view to advising them on some form of employment. I have updated members on what we do. As I stated before, we have a long way to go and a mindset to change. It is important that we acknowledge that.
The optional protocol to the CRPD establishes two procedures to strengthen the implementation and monitoring of the convention. First, it allows individuals to bring petitions to the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities claiming breaches of their rights. The second is an inquiry procedure giving the committee authority to undertake inquiries into grave systematic violations of the convention. The convention and protocol cover a broad range of commitments, some of which require substantive cultural changes. Included are changes concerning decongregation, personalised budgets and the deprivation of liberty. As the optional protocol comes into effect 30 days after the deposit of its instruments, the State will become accountable to the committee for any breaches of the convention from that date forward. We might disagree on this but it is essential that the necessary legislation, the disability Bill we are discussing today, and the Decision Support Service be in place prior to an optional protocol. For this reason, I have opted for a phased approach as the most practical and realistic way of moving forward.
Accordingly, the optional protocol is not being ratified at this time. It will be ratified as soon as possible following completion of Ireland's first reporting cycle, which will identify any actions needed regarding compliance with the convention. The direct answer to the question is that I will ratify as soon as possible. We will ratify as soon as possible. I want to ratify. We will opt in eventually. I want to make sure everything is in place first.
I omitted to mention the reform of the wards of court system. This is also an issue.