Thursday, 10 September 2020
Services for People with Disabilities: Statements
David Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
I thank the Minister of State for taking these statements on this issue. I have consulted with many disability groups over recent weeks and months, as I am sure the Minister of State has. We all know that Covid has had a dramatic impact on people's lives. Children and adults with a disability have had a harrowing time, and their parents and those who care for, support and love them have been doing their best. I wish to deal with the high-level issues first, before I get to issues that existed even before Covid, and then the Covid measures which need to be put in place.
It is time we implemented in full, for once and for all, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I have been hearing that for years and years from Ministers and politicians in government and in opposition, yet disability groups are still waiting for action on the matter. We need to get the rights-based approach to it right first, and what flows from that is the implementation of all the rights of people with disabilities, which has not been the case up to now. We need the safe, full resumption of adult day services for all people with disabilities insofar as possible. Yesterday, in the Dáil Chamber, in response to questions on health, the Minister of State mentioned that services are available and recommencing. We need to ratchet them up as much as we can to ensure that as many adults as possible get access to them. There are also a whole range of issues for children, and they need to be addressed as well, in schools and outside of schools.
My colleague mentioned the issue of deficits in section 39 organisations. We proposed that these deficits be wiped out by the State in alternative budgets in the past. That is what needs to happen to ensure they are on a sustainable footing to be able to provide the services people need. A lot of these organisations and the services they provide should be brought into public ownership, and the people who work in these areas should be State employees because there are contractual employment issues, workers' rights issues and pay issues. They are described as analogous workers, doing the same job as people who work in the public health system but not getting the same pay because they work for section 39 organisations. There is a lot to be done there.
In addition, there needs to be a real focus on speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists. There is a lack of child psychologists, for example, which plays a real part in children not getting diagnoses as quickly as they should. In my part of the country we do not have enough specialists on the diagnostic assessment teams to ensure that children get early diagnoses. With those early diagnoses come all the supports that should be there, that is, the therapies. If we are not getting that right, if we are not getting the diagnoses right and if there is then no pathway to all the services that should be there, that is a real issue.
We should make sure that all people with disabilities have proper income supports when they go to work. We need to look at issues such as medical cards and all the other issues we in Sinn Féin have pointed out before. We need to clear the home support service waiting list through additional investment in services.
I will finish on this because it is very important. We want to see a statutory right to a personal assistance service. The proposed cut to the service was one of the mean-spirited, very regressive measures the previous Government took, and the Minister of State was very vocal against that when she was in opposition. We all know how important it is for adults with a disability to have a personal assistant. Reduced hours mean they do not get the supports or the help they need. We have to make sure that that is where the investments are. It all comes back to rights. If we establish the rights in principle and there is an obligation on the State then to deliver those rights, we will be able to give people with disabilities the merit they deserve and their place in society, which should be the same as ours. They should be treated as equals.