Tuesday, 17 December 2019
Section 39 Organisations: Motion [Private Members]
“That Dáil Éireann: acknowledges that:— the independent not-for-profit Section 39 sector provides vital services for many thousands of people with disabilities across Ireland;agrees that:
— the Section 39 sector also provide healthcare, elderly, youth, substance abuse, suicide prevention, social inclusion, education, community development and many other services in communities across the State;
— this independent not-for-profit group of providers, while part-funded by the Government, are accountable to the State and while standards of accountability, compliance and regulatory structures have increased substantially over the last decade, necessary additional funding to assist this work has not been put in place;
— this group of providers stepped up, when the Government did not, to ensure that people with disabilities had at least the prospect of the life they deserved, and they want to continue to do so;
— the independent not-for-profit sector is recognised in legislation as providing services that enable people requiring supports to live the best quality of life they can;
— these organisations seek to improve society and communities rather than focus on delivering profits, unlike the private sector; and
— there is a growing sense of crisis in this sector, not least the crisis of financial sustainability confronting many not-for-profit organisations;— according to Census 2016, 13.5 per cent of those resident in Ireland, 643,131 people, stated that they had a disability;calls for:
— for many years the approach of the Irish State towards the needs of people with disabilities has not been to provide services directly, but to instead rely on the delivery of services by a variety of voluntary/not-for-profit organisations, albeit with funding provided by the State;
— over the years the nature of this provision has radically changed, given that in the early years it was driven by religious orders, whereas now it is the remit of a range of secular and increasingly specialised and professionalised organisations;
— the significance of these organisations cannot be underestimated;
— in 2018, the Health budget for the provision of disability services was more than €1.81 billion;
— of this, more than 60 per cent was allocated to provide residential services, 20 per cent was allocated to provide day places and supports, with the remaining amount providing respite services and personal assistant and home support hours;
— these organisations sustain the communities they serve, building unique relationships with service users, their families and their network of friends;
— these organisations should always be prepared to be innovative, flexible and adaptable to the often complex needs of all marginalised groups they provide services to, including those living with a disability;
— these organisations should operate from a ‘naturally person-centred approach’ as opposed to being dominated by the requirements of a system of bureaucracy;
— there is a distinct feeling amongst these organisations that the State does not value their contribution as much as it did in years gone by; and
— there is a need to establish a renewed relationship between not-for-profit organisations and any future Governments who will provide adequate funding to enable the continued provision of services to people with disabilities and promote independent living and de-congregation; and— the Department of the Taoiseach to intensively engage with the not-for-profit sector to develop a long-term vision that would allow both the sector and future Governments to provide services through a more integrated approach, underpinned by any new legislative changes required and with sustainable levels of funding;
— the not-for-profit sector to establish a forum, which would include service users, to develop a plan to provide enhanced services into the future and agree to develop a compact agreement with the State that will govern this vital future relationship and that this would be completed within a three-year period;
— future Governments to give due recognition to the sector and create a junior ministerial portfolio for the community and these sectors;
— a complete review of current legislative provisions governing the relationship between the State and not-for-profit organisations in the disability sector to take place at the earliest opportunity, and any changes to current legislation or identified new legislation required to be given priority in any new Programme for Government; and
— the Government to agree that the unequal pay terms that exist between Section 38 and Section 39 organisations must end without delay, and that full pay restoration for these workers must be delivered as a priority.”
I want to say at the outset that I am deeply disappointed that the business has commenced earlier than was scheduled by the Business Committee, with the result that the people directly affected are not here, though they will be. It is disrespectful to them. Cuirim fáilte is fiche roimh na daoine a oibríonn ar son daoine faoi mhíchumas atá anseo linn anocht. Gach lá, déanann siad obair a chuidíonn linn ar fad. Ar son ár dteaghlaigh agus ár gcairde, gabhaim buíochas leo. Creideann Sinn Féin gur cheart go mbeadh cothrom na Féinne ag dul dóibh uilig.
I wish to acknowledge, in advance, it seems, those visitors who will join us in the Public Gallery later this evening, especially the many workers employed by organisations that this Private Members' motion addresses. I pay tribute to the tenacity and determination demonstrated in their campaign to have their pay and conditions restored in line with all other public sector workers, as they should be. In 2018 the health budget for the provision of disability services was more than €1.81 billion. Out of this, more than 60% was allocated to the provision of residential services, 20% was allocated to the provision of day places and supports and the remainder was allocated to the provision of respite services and personal assistant and home support hours. These organisations sustain the communities they serve, building unique relationships with service users, their families and their networks of friends. They are unique and irreplaceable. It was wrong for public service pay to be cut to bail out banks and developers. Sinn Féin opposed those cuts and we still do. That is why we are here tonight. Nearly every week, An Taoiseach responds to my colleagues' questions in this House by telling us that things are not as bad as they used to be. Let him tell that and prove that to the section 39 workers who will join us here this evening and the more than 9,000 of their colleagues across this State. Let him ask them how they are getting on.
This motion is about these workers and those who rely on them; our families and our communities. The focus of the motion can clearly be seen in the cry for justice that it represents. These workers carry out vital work and provide key services in areas where the State has failed to provide. This is not the first time that the plight of these workers has been raised. I was completely despondent when last year the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, denied that these workers had their pay cut by the Government. Níl sé sin fíor ar chor ar bith. These workers did have their pay cut, and it was cut because it was judged that they would kick up the least fuss. The Minister of State went on to claim that he did not know how the Government would even go about the business of restoring pay to the section 39 employees, the women and men who look after our most vulnerable family members and friends. I have a simple message for Deputy McGrath tonight. It is time to think harder. If the Minister of State and his Government colleagues could spend months drawing up the Finance Bill, which includes a tax relief allowing multinational executives earning up to €7 million a year to write off a third of their annual salary for income tax purposes, they can get their heads around restoring fairness and dignity to our friends across this land who provide these critical services.
That provision in the Finance Bill did not fall out of the sky. The Minister of State and his Government colleagues thought it up. I ask that he affords the workers who will be joining us this evening the same collective effort and think up a scheme to value their work in the same manner as all other public servants. There should be no differential in pay and conditions between workers doing essentially the same work. What is good for section 38 employees is good for section 39 employees, no ifs and no buts. Níor tháinig me anseo chun leithscéalta agus brón a chloisteáil. Mar a dúirt mé, tá mé ag iarraidh cothrom na Féinne.
Some might think it a miracle that we still have so many workers in section 39 organisations. I know from my work as a Dáil Deputy and as vice-chairperson of the Oireachtas disability group that it is a sense of duty, genuine care and dedication that has sustained the overwhelming majority of these workers. They had to watch as announcements were made to great fanfare that the harshest elements of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation were being reversed while they were left behind. In previous commentary on efforts to address the plight of these workers, the Government has insinuated that the sector has recovered sufficiently and should address these financial shortcomings independently, without the need for restoration of grants. This is a diversion and takes away from the lived reality facing these workers.
The scale of the work of section 39 organisations becomes clear when it is estimated that more than 1,700 separate organisations are affected by the lack of any movement, legislative or otherwise, on this issue. They especially focus on the needs of people with physical, intellectual and learning difficulties and an ever-growing number of senior citizens. They are people who face all the same demands and responsibilities in life as everyone else. They are not different, and in a recovering economy they must not be left behind.
The Minister has sought to put the blame on these some 1,700 organisations rather than address the issue head on, as he must. The recently established forum under the chair of a senior Department of Health representative has yet to demonstrate its potential, never mind its capacity to effect real and substantive change in the relationship between section 39 organisations and the State. If this is only a fig-leaf exercise it will not be long before it is fully exposed for what it is. On the other hand, real intent backed up by a clear mission statement and a demonstration of Government commitment to address the under-resourcing of section 39 organisations could make it a groundbreaking initiative deserving of a welcome from all.
What is clearly required is a compact agreement with the State that will govern what should be a vital future relationship and that should be completed within a three-year period. While addressing the issue of finances this evening, let us not forget how careless and brazen this Government can be with taxpayers' money. We are all acutely aware of the huge cost overrun in the building of the new national children's hospital. This cost overrun will be required because of sheer mismanagement and shoddy tendering practices by the Government and the State agencies. If only they were as careful and circumspect with spend on these projects as section 39 organisations have had to be with their services, but they were not. The Government has squandered millions of euro of taxpayers' money and will make up the shortfall by targeting those who provide care, services and supports for those very same taxpayers who are least able to absorb the blow.
I want to stress the importance of tonight's motion, if accepted by a vote of the House tomorrow. If accepted, this motion will be the express will of Teachtaí Dála, the elected representatives of the people. As Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality I have stressed time after time that publishing reports and recommendations is not enough. Action is what is needed. If tonight's motion is accepted, the Government must immediately take steps to not only ameliorate the condition of those who work so hard on our behalf, and on the behalf of those dear to each and every one of us. It must set in train the necessary steps to ensure full pay restoration to section 39 workers. That is what they deserve. Nothing less will suffice.