Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Services for People with Disabilities: Statements

 

2:25 pm

Verona Murphy (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I wish the Minister of State all the best in her new portfolio. I have no doubt that, like any woman, she will make an impact.

Some 13% of Irish people live with disability. When we talk about disability we must include all of those who are suffering from a disability, be it mental or physical, profound or otherwise. Disabled citizens have constitutional rights just like the rest of us. For them to adequately or at all benefit from these rights, they need supports. They have a right to equality but equal treatment does not give true equality to disabled citizens. We need to move towards Aristotle’s version of equality, which does not mean treating all citizens the same, as that only gives uniformity. We must give our disabled citizens, as best we can, the supports that puts them on the same level or playing field as those who are not suffering from a disability. While it is accepted that this comes with a financial cost to the State, what about the cost borne by these disabled citizens and their families who, without fail, go above and beyond to give their disabled children and siblings the best possible chance of coping with their disability in their day-to-day living? They need State support and they have a right to it. Regardless of what it costs, these citizens have a right to the supports which, it appears, are being systemically removed, sometimes with the Covid-19 emergency being cited as the reason. This is not acceptable. The State has obligations towards its disabled citizens, not least flowing from the Constitution although they also flow from European and international human rights treaties.

In April 2018, Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Under that treaty, Ireland has a duty. It is our duty and that of the Government to advance and implement the convention’s provisions, which include empowering persons with disability to live self-directed lives of their own choosing. Basic civil and political rights for all are guaranteed under the Constitution. During the current Covid-19 emergency, disabled citizens require more supports, not less.

I will tell a little story about someone who called me in floods of tears at 11 o’clock last night. I supplied the details of the story to the Department this morning and with respect to the lady’s family, I will leave out the names of the individuals involved. I was contacted as I said by a woman who was in floods of tears. Her sister attends a special needs facility in Dublin. She has severe cerebral palsy, is wheelchair bound and requires 24-hour care. She is non-verbal and requires assistance with all aspects of life, including feeding and eating, and all needs. Her parents, who are in their 70s, are her full-time carers. Before Covid-19, she attended a facility, a large adapted house in Dublin with seven other residents with similar needs, five days a week from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., with respite until 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Every so often, she was offered weekend respite. The service was completely shut down in March and did not resume until six months later, some two weeks ago. She is now attending two days a week and moving to three days from 15 September. Following a recent meeting with the chief executive of the facility, which took place last Tuesday, her parents were told that their daughter's full-time service would not resume and she would only be offered three days a week for the foreseeable future. In addition, there would be transport for one day a week only and no respite would be offered, whether at weekends or late evenings. This is extremely difficult for the family to accept. Their aim is to give the best quality of life, which they have achieved over the years, but the parents are in their 70s. As the Minister of State is aware, this family are saving the State a great deal of money and are not being given any credit for doing so. They have been informed that the reason for the cut in services is primarily the need for social distancing. What makes no sense is that the facility had seven day residents and this has been reduced to four, all of whom are wheelchair bound and unable to leave their wheelchairs unassisted. While the facility has reduced the number of day residents to four, it has doubled staff numbers. I do not understand this. Surely a different approach should be taken to the most vulnerable in society. Their care should be a priority for the HSE and Government.

Schools have reopened, matches are being played, shopping centres are open and draft guidelines for the pubs are ready to go but the most vulnerable people in our society are being left behind. The Government may well be accused of being in breach of an international treaty, namely, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It will affect the most vulnerable in society if we allow this situation to remain unchanged. I hope the Minister of State will respond to me on this matter as soon as possible.

Equally relevant is a case in New Ross, County Wexford, about which I have also been in touch with the Minister of State. A service provider, Cumas New Ross, has informed all of its 104 service users that no transport will be provided for them in future. Everybody who spoke today has raised the same issue. I ask the Department to at least consider the possibility of using the Irish Rural Link service. It should produce a roadmap for addressing this problem because it appears to be an issue all over the country.

I invite the Minister of State to visit New Ross at the earliest opportunity to see the facilities and meet service users and providers.

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