Tuesday, 17 December 2019
Section 39 Organisations: Motion [Private Members]
I wish to address a few words to the representatives of the Disability Action Coalition, the member organisations of the Oireachtas disability group and others who are present in the Visitors Gallery. I apologise that debate on the motion began far in advance of the time set by the Business Committee, with the result that many of them missed some of the earlier contributions. I extend a sincere welcome to them all. Their effort is greatly appreciated.
I note that amendment No. 1 refers to actions the Government claims to have already been taken in an effort to try to resolve the outstanding section 39 issues. As I stated in my opening contribution, the recent establishment of the forum must not be used as a means to kick the issue down the road. I sincerely hope that the forum will be a valuable means to collectively address all that needs to change. Indeed, recommendation 8.4 of the report of the independent review group called for the establishment of a new forum. The amendment also references the ratification by the State of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In order for the convention to take effect, the optional protocol must be ratified. We also need the Disabilities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 to be progressed to Report and Final Stages. One cannot happen without the other. Committee Stage of the Bill has concluded and it is long past time it moved to Report and Final Stages.
The amendment refers to pay restoration as "premature". My goodness. Given that many of these workers have spent nearly a decade seeking pay restoration, I find that claim by the Government hard to fathom. One cannot in one breath recognise the fantastic work done by these workers and, in the next, state that they must wait until some arbitrary future date for that which is their due to be restored. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, boasted of a pilot approach to pay restoration involving 50 of the more than 1,700 section 39 organisations of which I am aware. The amendment refers to more than 2,000 such organisations. Clearly, the Minister of State is aware of more of them than I have been able to uncover in my research. What of the rest of the organisations? Even those on the list of so-called pilot organisations must keep waiting, hang in there and hope that the Government will get to them by 2021.
The Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, stated that the people employed by these organisations are not public servants. That statement was reflected in the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Daly. Technically, the Ministers of State may be right but they are far off the reality of those persons' service and motivation. How would those who depend on them view their contribution and worth? How do the families of those who receive their care view them? I know many of them well. They are the epitome of public service at its best. That is a universal view which has been echoed by Deputies from a variety of political outlooks who have spoken on this issue tonight. Shame on any elected voice, or anyone else, who would seek to portray them as being less entitled than others. That contention is at the core of the arguments put forward by the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, and, sadly, is reflected in the comments of the Minister of State, Deputy Daly. Those people are not less entitled than others. They provide an equal service and are entitled to full pay restoration in recognition of their true worth.
I accept the Fianna Fáil addendum to the motion. It has accepted the motion and added to it, which I welcome. I thank the members of Fianna Fáil who spoke on the motion. Their support for the Sinn Féin motion on this key issue is appreciated. I also thank Deputy Kelly and the Labour Party for their support, as well as all Independent colleagues who spoke on the motion.
Until the arrival of the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, cut a very lonely figure in the Chamber for the greater part of the debate. He was carrying the can for the Fine Gael-led coalition and its head-in-the-sand attitude on this issue. The contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, could not cover for the shame of the Fine Gael Deputies who have stayed away from this debate. The empty Fine Gael benches have spoken volumes. The Deputies who spoke on the motion put the case well. They had the opportunity to outline the key and important issues.
What are we demanding? In summary, we are calling for the Department of the Taoiseach to intensively engage with the not-for-profit sector to develop a long-term vision. We are calling for the establishment of a forum - which was initiated and met for the first time on 2 December - to develop a plan to provide enhanced services and agree to develop a compact agreement with the State. We have yet to reach a stage whereby we could make a judgment on its potential and whether it will fulfil our hopes for it. We are calling for future Governments to give due recognition to the section 39 sector and to create a junior ministerial portfolio with responsibility for its component parts. We are calling for a complete review of current legislative provisions governing the relationship between the State and not-for-profit organisations. Finally, we are loudly calling for the Government to agree that the unequal pay terms as between section 38 and section 39 organisations must end without delay and that full pay restoration must be delivered for these workers as a priority.
A statement was issued by the chair of the Disability Action Coalition, Rosemary Keogh, to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities a little over a week ago. She stated:
The funding crisis in the disability sector has become so critical that the future of services for up to 65,000 men, women and children are now at serious risk. These are services which are critical to their day-to-day lives, critical to giving people the care they need to stay alive, a chance to live a life of their choosing, a voice.
I absolutely endorse those remarks and am confident that they have the support of the overwhelming majority of Members of this House. We are the voice to which Rosemary Keogh referred. Tomorrow evening, we will exercise our right to vote on behalf of those affected by this issue. The Government should withdraw its amendment. It should support the motion, the section 39 organisations, their staff and those who depend on their services. In all conscience, it should take no other position.