Thursday, 1 December 2016
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
4. To ask the Minister for Health the preparations he is making across his department to ensure rights will be vindicated for the persons with disabilities in the care of the health service and under his area of responsibility in view of the imminence of the Government's commitment to ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38167/16]
I ask the Minister for Health the preparations he is making across his department to ensure rights will be vindicated for the persons with disabilities in the care of the health service and under his area of responsibility in view of the imminence of the Government's commitment to ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I thank Deputy Kenny for raising this very important question. As the Deputy will be aware, responsibility for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities rests with my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality.
The Department of Health is currently framing legislative provisions to satisfy the requirements of Article 14 of the UN Convention, which provides that State parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, enjoy the right to liberty and security of person, are not deprived of their liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily and that the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty. These legislative provisions will form part of the Department of Justice and Equality’s equality/disability (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. While the Department of Justice and Equality has overall responsibility for the related Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015, my Department continues to assist regarding the establishment of the decision support service under that Act.
Once the legislative framework is in place, my Department will work closely with the HSE to ensure its full implementation. The HSE has begun to implement the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015, establishing a national assisted decision-making steering group to develop a programmatic response to the legislation to ensure effective compliance and implementation. It has also commenced impact assessments across HSE community health organisation areas, including engagement with HSE disability service providers and non-statutory service providers to gather real life case studies so that people’s lived experience can be included within the guidance and the training.
I wish to point something out to the Minister of State. I am sure he is aware of it because he has a good track record on it. Ireland has been pretty poor on equality for people with disabilities. Currently, 156 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ireland signed it almost nine years ago but never came good on it. Even Ireland's UN representative wrote to the UN in April 2012 promising to ratify the convention.
The people listening to this debate want to know when this will come into effect because the Disability Act is flagrantly breached all the time. People with disabilities are being left behind. The convention must be signed and ratified to ensure equality for people with disabilities.
I share the Deputy's position on the UN convention. I agree that we must ratify it and I am working towards that at the moment. In fact, I have just left a meeting with officials from my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality at which we discussed the legislative position and some of the blockages in the system. On the broader point, I fully support the ratification of the convention and I am working very hard to do that.
I strongly disagree with the Deputy's second point because since this Government came into office, we have improved the investment in disability services. I secured an additional €31 million within a matter of weeks of becoming Minister of State. We are now investing more in disability services and there was an increase in funding in the recent budget. The Minister for Health and I have worked very closely on this. We have spent the past few weeks working very hard on the HSE service plan for 2017. We are trying to develop services. It is all very well to talk about the rights of people with intellectual and physical disabilities but we must also ensure they have access to services. While work is ongoing in terms of the ratification of the UN convention, I want to invest in and improve the services. We all accept that services for people with disabilities have been devastated over the past seven or eight years and we are now trying to rebuild them. We are starting that process and I would love the Deputy's support in that regard. People will be coming along over the next few months, trying to steal money from the services. We must focus on services. We gave a commitment prior to the general election to allocate funds 2:1 in favour of services over tax cuts. We must uphold that commitment and we need support to do so.
That is all well and good but will the Minister of State not put a timeframe on it? This has been dragging on for years. The Government signed the UN convention nine years ago. Why has it not been ratified and put into effect? We must send a strong signal to people with disabilities that this will be done within a matter of months. If this is allowed to go on and on, the convention will never be ratified. Will the Minister of State give a commitment to ratify the convention within six months or even earlier? If he commits to ratifying it within the next three to six months, people will believe that the Government is serious about this issue.
I assure Deputy Kenny that I would happily sign the convention tomorrow morning if I had the opportunity. However, the necessary legislation must be in place and certain issues must be resolved before I can do so. As the Deputy knows, I set myself the objective of ratifying the convention by the end of 2016. I knew there were blockages to that and I am now getting the feeling that I might not meet my target. That said, it might be possible to meet it only a number of weeks later. It will be done shortly. There are blockages within the legislative process and problems which must be resolved, which is why I have not signed it yet. I hope to see it done as quickly as possible - in a matter of weeks, in fact.