Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Services for People with Disabilities: Statements


2:45 pm

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)

I formally congratulate the Minister of State on her new and most important role. I know she will bring intelligence, empathy and real commitment to her work because she is a woman who likes to get things done.

First, I ask for the Minister of State's strong support so the forthcoming budget will provide adequate resources to support people with disabilities. Consider some of the headline issues, including the implementation of the UNCRPD. For many, that is just a document. The reality of it is that we have to have rights-based entitlement to services. Housing is an issue for many people, no less so for people with disabilities. The latter have to be part of any housing plan to speed up deinstitutionalisation and independent living. Access to employment is important for all people, including those with disabilities. We should examine the mainstreaming of the Ability programme. I am glad to see the Minister of State is nodding her head about it. We also need to ensure there is accessible travel. These are not entirely the responsibility of the Minister of State because it is also a question of co-ordinating with other Ministers. The ratification of the UNCRPD involves a whole-of-government approach, and the upcoming budget can start the process.

I have two questions for the Minister of State. The first relates to the resumption of adult disability services. We are all aware of the situation and of the Enough is Enough campaign, which brought its case to the street outside the Convention Centre Dublin last July. At the time of the publication of the HSE guidance on the resumption of services, I was very critical of some of the top-down, bureaucratic proposals and the language used. I am pleased, however, that genuine efforts are being made at local level to get services back up and running. That is a testament to the local staff and organisations. I am not saying that because it sounds good but because some parents have said it to me. There is, however, only a partial resumption. Many still do not have adequate services and transport is a major issue. Does the Minister of State have an indicative timeline as to when more of the services will be resumed? The parents of adults with disabilities are so grateful to get anything. Once a service starts again, they are grateful but we really need to consider the educational needs of all of our children, not just the ones who have gone back to school recently.

My second question relates to the huge waiting lists for various therapies for children, including those with disabilities. These therapies include speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. I believe there may be a move to use the National Treatment Purchase Fund for obtaining psychological services. That is good news if true, and perhaps the Minister of State can speak to it, but it would be great if the initiative could be enlarged to include speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. If the Minister of State cannot respond today, she might respond in writing.

I have two final points. Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke earlier about a payment for family carers who took full responsibility for adults with disabilities during the Covid crisis. It is my understanding that they did not get anything extra. I know it is hard to ring-fence this kind of thing but maybe a once-off payment through the budget or some extra respite or recognition would assist. Could the Minister of State put her mind to it? It is not easy but worth thinking about.

The Minister of State mentioned section 39 organisations. In this regard, I have spoken to many in my constituency, including representatives of North-West Parents & Friends Association and Acquired Brain Injury Ireland. I heard the Minister of State say there is a need to relieve all section 39 organisations of their obligation to achieve the required 1% efficiency target. I am pleased to hear that.

The lower pay scale for section 39 staff since 2012 is just not acceptable. The staff are expected to provide the same services as their colleagues in the HSE on a much lower pay scale. That means attracting and retaining staff comprise a huge issue. The most important point is that of fairness and equity. I am sorry to bombard the Minister of State. It is my first time speaking on this. I have raised many points but, as I stated, I know the Minister of State is a woman who likes to get things done.


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