Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters

Personal Transport for People with Disabilities: Office of the Ombudsman

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I thank both Ms Cooney and Mr. Tyndall for the strait-laced report. It sets out what the issues have been. The biggest message is that there is inequality. Some disabled people had the benefit of the schemes to help them. Then, because they were suspended, nothing else was put in place. Those who came after have been left without any support. That in itself is an inequality. Mr. Tyndall and Ms Cooney have fairly well set that out in the report. I thank them for that.

I believe that the logjam is in the fact that officials within the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance are looking at the cost of such schemes. I live in a rural constituency in Galway and I know of people who are inside their homes seven days a week. They cannot get out, unless somebody such as a member of the family, comes and brings them some place, maybe to do the shopping or just to get out of the house. It is like a jail sentence. This is for the simple reason that they cannot drive. However, if they had a car, it could be adapted. If they were given money for mobility systems, they would be able to get a taxi more often and that type of thing.

Since I came into the Dáil I have served in a ministerial position. I understand from when I was in the previous Government how tricky it can be to convince officials to do what sometimes might be the right thing. The former Minister of State, Finian McGrath, tried his best to get a scheme in place when he was in office. I am sure that the current Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, will do her best to do something here as well. The difficulty is that we need to, like Mr. Tyndall and Ms Cooney have done in their report, set out what that is as clearly as possible.

On 1 December, I was working on a case for a constituent who had applied for the primary medical certificate. It had been refused. Last June, it went to appeal to the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Staff wrote in June to say that they had the application. They wrote again in October to say that because of everything that happened and being unable to hold their appeals, that there was delay. I contacted the chair of the appeals board to get a reply back on 1 December. The secretary of the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal who confirmed that the current members of the board had resigned in recent weeks.

However, the Departments of Health and Finance are working together to find members of a new board as quickly as possible. As soon as the new board is in place and operational, I will be contacting the constituent when we have a date for his appeal. I am very concerned about this. I do not know whether the was aware that the members of the board had resigned. Why they resigned is one thing, but if they were resigning because their term of office was done, one would imagine that a new board would have been ready to take over in order to ensure a seamless transition.

At present, there is no appeals mechanism and people are waiting more than a year to make appeals. To compound the problem even more, virtually all the appeals are being heard in Dún Laoghaire in Dublin and some are being heard in Cork. However, no appears are being heard anywhere else. A number of years ago, appeals were held in County Roscommon over a few days. We really and truly are only paying lip service to all of this. That is why I welcome the report. Was the aware that the members of the board of appeal had resigned? Does he know why, or what is going on there? The report, entitled Grounded: Unequal access for people with disabilities to personal transport schemes, is aptly named. I am seriously concerned. The report has shone a light that will perhaps be of help to the committee. We will need to get full political pull on this issue in order to ensure that we can put something in place that is meaningful and effective and will help the disabled person, rather than categorising them and requiring them to have a severe disability to access the scheme. I know many people who cannot access it. A person needs to be an amputee or a wheelchair user to access it. Even with that, I know one person who is a wheelchair user and has been refused it. I am annoyed and frustrated about it. While the and I feel frustrated, the people with disabilities must feel demoralised when they are refused it. Perhaps the can comment on the resignations of the members of the board.