Thursday, 10 September 2020
Services for People with Disabilities: Statements
Pádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
I recognise the announcement this morning of the €7.8 million for assessment of needs. It is an issue on which the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has worked. Even when she was in opposition, she spoke of her desire to achieve that and clear the backlog in this area. The announcement is fundamentally important and needs to be acknowledged.
The previous speaker acknowledged the Minister of State's visit to Carlow. I would like to acknowledge her recent visit to the Cope Foundation and St. Gabriel's special school in Cork. She also met consultants in Cork University Hospital to discuss rehabilitation.
I thank her for making that trip. I hope that, following on from those meetings, some of the issues that were highlighted on those days might be resolved.
I want to touch on school transport as well, which is the hot topic in mainstream and special schools alike. I have corresponded with the Department in recent weeks, specifically on Cope Foundation in Cork. As the Minister of State knows, when she met the CEO, Sean Abbott recently, he highlighted that there are four schools in or around that campus. Unfortunately, given the demand for the bus services in Cope Foundation, those students from different schools are sharing the same buses. The response we have received heretofore from the principal officer in the transport section has been unacceptable. The correspondence we have indicates that this situation will not change and I urge the Minister of State to revisit that. It is not acceptable that people with underlying health conditions and some of the difficulties they have would be expected to share the same bus and possibly risk cross-contamination if there was to be a breakout. School transport is a fundamental issue and it needs to be tackled.
I refer to school transport in the wider respect. We all meet different people every day of the week coming into our clinics and offices talking about making round trips of maybe two or three hours per day. That needs to be overhauled. Somebody needs to sit down with those students, take a map and streamline those bus services in a better way. Money is wasted on buses in a facility such as Cope Foundation, where it could provide the care it gives students in the community setting. I do not mean to say the money is wasted on buses as it is a fundamental part of getting the children to school but it would be far better spent in the community so that the service is situated among the people who need it most. I take the Minister of State's point that the vast majority of services have resumed but I want to echo what previous speakers have said. We are dealing with difficult situations with people who might have acute epilepsy and suffer from seizures, for example. With respect, one day per week of a service is welcome to get services back but when people with severe needs are being dealt with and the pressure their parents are under is considered, we need to up the ante and get services back to normal as much as we can.
I mention St. Gabriel's special school, which I already mentioned at the outset of my contribution. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, was kind enough to visit there with me a number of weeks ago. With the conditions in that school and the circumstances it is in, with the most vulnerable students we have in that area, that school needs to be looked at, either by the Department of Health or the Department of Education and Skills. A case needs to be made for St. Gabriel's special school to get a permanent home. The previous speaker, Deputy Murnane O'Connor, mentioned that the day of prefabs is gone, especially for our most vulnerable children because they do not have rooms with adequate facilities or adequate toilet facilities. That is an acute setting that needs to be looked at.