Thursday, 10 September 2020
Services for People with Disabilities: Statements
Jennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
While I welcome the return of many day services for those living with disabilities, many families have contacted me because they are finding it difficult to access transport to services. I know of many families who had places on buses but now do not. They have no other means of accessing services because some of them do not have a car. They are informing me that they are even paying for taxis. In some cases, disability services are only available for a few hours per day. The schools have reopened and we need to try to get disability services fully reopened to ensure everyone has full access to services every day.
We did not have a fit-for-purpose school transport service for schools that cater for children with special needs before Covid. Are the concerns in that area being considered? Are there plans to improve that transport service for those living in rural Ireland? My understanding is that these families should not have to pay for the service but there is confusion in that regard. The mobility allowance, a payment made to people with severe disability to allow them to hire public transport such as taxis and enable them to get around for social and health reasons, was never replaced when it was removed by the previous Dáil. A memorandum setting out proposals for a new transport support payment scheme was brought to Cabinet but later withdrawn in favour of revised proposals. Does the Minister of State know if such a scheme is being put in place to support families with children in special education schools who do not have transport? What do families need to do to access this kind of support? Many families cannot afford transport, which I know has been a big issue for the Minister of State.
The Minister of State spoke about section 38 and 39 organisations with which she is working through the HSE. Has a special budget been provided for additional buses, hiring more escorts and cleaning and sanitising buses?
I welcome the Minister of State's announcement today of €7.8 million for the assessment of needs for children aged up to 18. In my area of Carlow and Kilkenny, CHO 5, €693,000 has been allocated for the assessment of needs. I welcome that allocation because this has been an issue on which I have spoken to the Minister of State. We need to provide as much funding as possible for assessments of needs to ensure no child has to wait to access disability and other services. We need to make sure children have access to services as soon as possible. As the Minister of State knows, the quicker assessments are done, the better one can work on whatever area of need is involved.
We have a fabulous respite house in Tullow. What is the roadmap for overnight respite stays? Perhaps the Minister of State will come back to me with a written answer. When Tullow respite house opened, we were told it would provide overnight respite care as well as day respite care. I ask the Minister of State to come back to me on that.
I thank the Minister of State for visiting Carlow recently. The Holy Angels day care centre is a love of mine. I have constantly been looking for a new school building for this centre which is accommodated in prefabs. As I have said on several occasions, it is unacceptable in 2020 to have children with special needs in prefabs. I was delighted the Minister of State met members of the committee. She will soon meet CHO 5 to look at plans for a school for the Holy Angels centre. We cannot have children in prefabs. I will also seek an update on those plans, on which I look forward to meeting the Minister of State.
Covid-19 has been challenging for people, particularly families with disabilities. When there were protests outside the Convention Centre, the Minister of State and the Taoiseach - in fairness to them - went out and met the families and parents. That line of communication that everybody has is very important. The only way forward is to have all of us working together.