Wednesday, 27 May 2015
Topical Issue Debate
Services for People with Disabilities
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht bheith anseo chun an díospóireacht seo a thógaint. Earlier this year, on 17 February, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, responded to a Topical Issue matter I raised drawing attention to concerns I had over the rolling out of the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP. I referred to the substantial cut in funding for the programme. There was a cut of €2 million throughout the country, with a cut of €742,000 in Dublin alone. I stated my belief that the new regime and the cuts would result in a loss of services and jobs. I asked the Minister at the time to guarantee there would be no job losses or a loss of service in the most disadvantaged communities in the State. A commitment to reinstate the money was not forthcoming. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, has good news in this regard. In February, the Minister stated, "As the Minister with responsibility for this area, I will not prejudge a tendering process". In some ways, I accept that. He also stated, "I am confident that the Government will address any issue that arises in the area of service provision to ensure people will receive the services they need". He added that once the tendering process was completed, he would "review the outcome and ensure front-line services delivered through the new programme are protected in so far as possible". I am sure the Minister of State, in her response, will reiterate that.
I do not know how much the Minister of State knows about the D12 Disability Mainstream Access Project, DMAP which operates in the Dublin 12 area, an old area of the city characterised by severe disadvantage. She has probably visited it on many occasions. DMAP is a community development organisation seeking to increase awareness and understanding of the needs and experience of people with disabilities. It seeks to help to address the issues of physical and social barriers that preclude access to community facilities for people with a disability and increase the level of social participation of people with a disability. The Dublin 12 area is an area of severe disadvantage for those with or without a disability. In fact, one in five people identifies as living with a disability in the area. This proportion is higher than in other parts of the country.
In the past year alone, 90 people took part in DMAP activities in the area. A further 250 schoolchildren are engaged in a disability awareness initiative facilitated by DMAP members. DMAP has worked with service providers, such as the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, WALK, Enable Ireland, Cheeverstown House, Dublin City Council and the local gardaí. The organisation is regarded by many of the statutory agencies in the area and beyond as one of the models of best practice in supporting people with a disability in the community.
DMAP received funding to the tune of €30,000. This is not huge. This money was to run the services, and particularly to help engage a part-time co-ordinator, who helped those with disabilities run the activities for themselves. However, due to the SICAP proposals and the resulting cut affecting DMAP, the project was forced to lay off the part-time co-ordinator earlier this month. I hope the Minister of State will be able to announce a reversal of this.
Does the Minister of State accept that the whole SICAP process is now preventing Canal Communities Partnership, the partnership group that covers the Dublin 12 area or the part of the Dublin 12 area in question and which won the tender, from allocating funding to the project? It now falls to the Minister of State to step in and allocate money directly or allocate to the Canal Communities Partnership additional funding that it can transfer to DMAP. The initial promise that was made was that these issues would be addressed once the tendering process was completed and once things settle down.
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. It gives me an opportunity to explain the process. The proposals outlined in Putting People First — Action Programme for Effective Local Government seek to position local government "as the primary vehicle of governance and public service at local level — leading economic, social and community development, delivering efficient and good value services, and representing citizens and local communities effectively and accountably". As part of the programme of reform of local government, local community development committees, LCDCs, have been established in all local authority areas. These committees, comprising public-private socio-economic interests have responsibility for local and community development programmes on an area basis, including the social inclusion and community activation programme, commonly known as SICAP. They will develop, co-ordinate and implement a more coherent and integrated approach to local and community development than heretofore, with the aim of reducing duplication and overlap and optimising the use of available resources for the benefit of citizens and communities.
In accordance with the public spending code, legal advice, good practice internationally and in order to ensure the optimum delivery of services to clients, SICAP was subject to a public procurement process. Tenderers have now been informed of the outcome of their tenders, and LCDCs have finalised contracts with the winning tenderers.
Rathmines Pembroke Community Partnership provided funding to the project in question under my Department's local and community development programme. The programme concluded on 31 March 2015 and the new SICAP was rolled out across communities on 1 April 2015. Rathmines Pembroke Community Partnership was unsuccessful in its tender to deliver the SICAP in the canal-Rathmines-Pembroke lot area, and I am advised that, as a result, the company is no longer in a position to continue managing the project referred to.
As SICAP will be overseen and managed by the new LCDCs in each local authority area, the configuration of delivery bodies or delivery arrangements for the Dublin city area in respect of local and community programmes is a matter for the LCDC of Dublin City Council to consider in consultation with relevant stakeholders, commensurate with service needs. Dublin City Council and the relevant LCDC is liaising with the SICAP implementer for the area on service delivery issues arising in the Dublin city area. I am satisfied the programme implementer will ensure it supports relevant actions for this disability group within its SICAP plan and strategy.
I thank the Minister of State for the answer, but it is a hands-off answer implying the matter has nothing to do with the Government and that it is up to the LCDC. This is not the case given the consequences of not funding the LCDC properly and the fact that the fund is already allocated based on the tender.
The tender under which this group was operating was not successful. It does not fall under the canal communities partnership which only offers a forum for people with disabilities. It does not want a talking shop. It knows what the issues are and was quite successful. It is talking about a sum of €30,000 to ensure there is inclusion. The idea behind SICAP, all of the programme partnerships and the original SDPs was to ensure social inclusion. This is a group of the most marginalised people in society, some of whom were in the Visitors Gallery earlier as they expected this debate to be held earlier. They are now meeting Deputies from different parties. The people in the group I am meeting are in wheelchairs and blind or have other disabilities. They will feel frustrated when they hear that the body implementing the programme will deal with this issue. In some ways, it is too late. The person concerned has been laid off, the service is suffering and they have to scale back severely in planning for the future because they do not have other sources of funding. I hope local politicians and businesses will give them some of the money they need, but funding was available. They are not seeking a huge pot of money. They want somebody to represent them and open doors to help them to gain access for themselves and others. This was a cut to social programmes throughout the country. The cut in Dublin was €740,000 and it is now beginning to take effect. Job losses are occurring. It affects those delivering community services, be it in Ballymun or Whitehall where there have been substantial job losses. Senior citizens living in Donore have lost one of their workers through no fault of their own but through the fault of some of the partnerships which did not include them in the programme. Will the Minister of State give a commitment on behalf of the Minister that he will step in and allocate money until the next tender comes up for consideration and the group proves once again that it should have been included in the first tender process by both partnerships that bid for the money? It is the Minister who has the money to put in, not Dublin City Council.
The winning tenderer in the Canal-Rathmines-Pembroke area has signalled its intention to target people with disabilities within its SICAP action plan. It intends to promote the proactive inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in existing social and community groups and activities. It will also support the development of specific disability interest groups and build on existing disability networks such as Gateway, the Bluebell disability outreach project and the disability mainstream access project. Recognising the existence of a large number of voluntary organisations in the area referred to, an area-wide disability forum will be established involving the HSE, the Department of Social Protection, WALK, Menni Services and local community interests with the aim of promoting inclusion in community-based services and activities for people with disabilities and greater awareness of their needs. In line with HSE and Government policy, the action plan will focus on supporting the development of community-based services for people with disabilities in social outlets, recreational activities and sport. It will also seek to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in work and make sure services are relevant to their needs. It was anything but a hands-off approach. We have been liaising with the officials on how to alleviate the problem. The Deputy might be wise to speak to the LCDC also to see what accommodation can be provided within the structure for the disability group. I must also be mindful of the fact that SICAP involved a tendering process. It was a legal process. The legal position of which I must be mindful is that people won their tenders.