Wednesday, 7 March 2018
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Motion
That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as adopted on 13th December, 2006, at New York, a copy which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 21st February, 2018.
It gives me great pleasure to bring this motion before the House on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan. It will come as no surprise to colleagues that I fully support the motion to approve the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I know there is great cross-party support for this across the House. I also welcome those in the Gallery who have an interest in this issue.
The purpose of the Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
I also thank and commend all disability groups, their families and carers for their magnificent support and encouragement to me over the last 12 months. I also thank the Taoiseach, my Cabinet colleagues, all political parties and Independents in the House, my own special advisers, Gerry Maguire and Damien O’Farrell, the officials from all Departments of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Health, Justice and Equality and Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Senators were also very supportive. There is a number of people who are not here to whom I want to pay tribute. My friend, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, cannot be here tonight as he has another urgent meeting, but he passed on his total support. I have worked with Caoimhghín for many years on the disability issue and we have fought many a battle while I was in opposition. There are others who are not here who I pay tribute to. First is the late, great Martin Naughton and Donal Toolan. They were great civil rights activists on disability issues. Of course, I also acknowledge my old great friend and colleague, as Deputy O’Sullivan will know, the late Deputy Tony Gregory who was a very strong advocate for people with disabilities when I came into Dáil Éireann in 2002.
These are important issues. There are others across the Chamber, such as Deputies Margaret Murphy O’Mahony and Fiona O'Loughlin, Senator John Dolan and many other Senators. I appreciate their support on this issue.
Article 29.5.2 of the Constitution provides that the State shall not be bound by any international agreement invoking a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann. The operation by Ireland of this Convention will involve a charge upon public funds and I am therefore asking the House for its approval. I call on colleagues to support the motion so that Ireland can internationally demonstrate its commitment to ensuring that persons with disabilities are afforded every opportunity to realise their potential in all facets of their lives. Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and ratification of the Convention has been a top priority for me since I was appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues. Ratification was a key commitment in the programme for Government. I thank my Independent Alliance colleagues, Ministers of State, Deputies Kevin Boxer Moran and John Halligan, the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and Deputy Sean Canney for their great support in getting this into the programme for Government.
As a result of this motion and in the event that is passed, my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, will sign the necessary instrument of ratification and arrange for its deposit with the Secretary General of the United Nations in New York. The convention will enter into force for Ireland 30 days thereafter. The convention provides for the making of certain reservations, declarations and notifications by contracting states and upon ratification Ireland will make appropriate reservations and declarations to reflect our laws. These reservations will happen to make space and time for further consultation with our disability community and with all Members of the Oireachtas.
Tá an-áthas orm an tairiscint seo a thabhairt os comhair an Tí inniu le haghaidh díospóireachta thar ceann mo chomhghleacaí, an tAire, an Teachta Flanagan. Ní haon ábhair iontais a bheidh ann do mo chomhghleacaithe é a chloisteáil go bhfáiltím roimh an tairiscint maidir le téarmaí Choinbhinsiún na Náisiún Aontaithe ar Chearta Daoine faoi Mhíchumas a cheadú agus go tacaím go hiomlán leis an tairiscint sin. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil tacaíocht ann don tairiscint ó gach pháirtí sa Teach. Ba mhaith liom chomh maith fáilte a chur roimh na ndaoine san Áiléar Poiblí a bhfuil spéis acu sa tsaincheist seo.
It is Ireland’s practice to keep reservations to human rights treaties under review. All sides of the House are proud of Ireland’s domestic human rights record and we are dedicated to improvement in equality and human and fundamental rights. The convention offers us an opportunity to reassess our attitudes to people with disabilities, to place a renewed focus on their place in society and to rebalance the right of people with disabilities to make decisions for themselves rather than have decisions made for them.
Disability will affect all of us in our lifetimes. Many of us have family members, friends and colleagues living with a disability. In an ageing society, we are more likely go live to an age where each of us could experience disability. Recent results from census 2016 show that almost 645,000 people live with a disability in Ireland. Let us not forget our family members and carers. We appreciate their support and commitment on these issues. Given the challenge in the appropriate allocation of resources to support people who have a disability, I have always placed a strong emphasis on securing adequate funding with €1.76 billion allocated for disability services in 2018. This represents an increase of 4.4% on 2017. In December of 2017, I announced the securing of an additional €10 million funding for respite care. It is not just all about funding, however. We need to challenge attitudes and recognise the value of the contributions that persons with disabilities can make to our economy and to our society when they are supported to do so. All of us in this House need to focus on ability rather than disability.
Ireland has strong equality legislation that prevents discrimination on the basis of disability. People who have a disability, however, are still only half as likely to be in employment as are other people of working age. This is the reason we launched a comprehensive employment strategy in 2015 for people with disabilities. The strategy sets out a ten-year approach to ensuring that people with disabilities who are able to and want to work are supported and enabled to do so. This is a cross-government approach that brings together actions by different Departments and State agencies in a concerted effort to address the barriers and challenges that impact on employment of people with disabilities. It also seeks to ensure joined up services and supports at local level to support individuals on their journey and into employment. The strategy contains commitments around an increase in the public sector employment target for people with disabilities, on a phased basis, from 3% to 6% - some Departments are already at 4%; special public service competitions for people with disabilities; the opening up of all alternative recruitment channels for people with disabilities; and the provision of the National Disability Authority employer helpline to provide expert guidance and peer support for employers in relation to the employment of staff with disabilities. These are concrete examples of how Ireland will fulfil its obligations under the convention.
There has been some criticism of the length of time it has taken Ireland to ratify the convention and the fact that we are the last EU member state to do so. I accept that the delay has been significant but I must also assert that Ireland takes its international obligations very seriously. The Independent Alliance made sure this was delivered in the programme for Government. Over recent years Ireland has embarked on an era of unprecedented change with regard to services for people with disabilities and we are now ready to meet the obligations of the convention. In July 2017, I launched the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021. This is another major step that provides 100 measurable and time-specific actions that relate to the areas of education. employment, provision of public services, health, transport, personal safety and autonomy. In the context of living in the community, we will continue to implement the time to move on strategy to assist people with disabilities who currently reside in institutions.
The convention provides for respect for inherent dignity and individual autonomy, including the freedom to makes one's own choices, and independence of persons.
I thank all my colleagues across the political spectrum. Becoming a party to the convention provides a focus and a structure to our journey. It reaffirms our aspirations to improve the lives of people in Ireland who have a disability. It holds us to account in our commitments. Molaim an tairiscint seo don Teach. I commend the motion to the House.
Fianna Fáil supports the motion to give Dáil approval to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This has the potential to be an important moment for tens of thousands of people in the State living with a disability. Ratification has been a long time coming and Fianna Fáil has have criticised the Government many times for delays, and rightly so.
Ratification alone will not end the discrimination faced by people with disabilities. Ratification coincides with the fifth anniversary of the withdrawal of the mobility allowance for new entrants and we are still awaiting its replacement. For ratification to be meaningful in the longer term and to prompt an end to discrimination, it requires each and every organisation and agency to look at themselves to look at how they treat people with disabilities, and it fundamentally requires the Government to end structural bias around accessing services from the State.
Ratification is a welcome step in the important journey towards equality but we have some way yet to go on that journey. More than one year has passed since the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 was debated in Dáil Éireann. This Bill, broadly welcomed by Fianna Fáil, supports the provision, and its primary aim, to address the remaining legislative barriers to Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We were very disappointed, however, that the Bill was published incomplete and many significant sections were only to be provided at Committee Stage amendments. It appeared that in order to meet the programme for Government's commitment on ratification it was imperative to publish a Bill, come what may, before the end of 2016. The Bill as published contains six substantive sections and judging by what is being proposed for Committee Stage there are at least another six sections in the offing. To publish what is essentially half a Bill is hardly the best way to honour the ratification of this important United Nations convention. One year on and we are still awaiting Committee Stage of that Bill. The Government is now pledging that the Disability (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill will be enacted by the end of 2018, along with a new Bill to provide safeguards for older people, persons with a disability and certain categories of people with mental health issues to ensure that they are not unlawfully deprived of their liberty in residential facilities.
We have also seen delays elsewhere in much needed supports. The date 27 February marked the fifth anniversary of the closing of the mobility allowance to new entrants and five years later we are still waiting for a new scheme. In 2013, the Government recommended that preparatory work for a replacement travel subsidy scheme should be progressed by the Minister for Health.
Since then, we have seen the issue delayed time and time again. In 2014, the publication of a health (transport support) Bill was promised for 2015. This was then pushed to 2016. It was then due to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny in the autumn of 2016, but here we are, approaching the middle of 2018 and we are still awaiting its publication. It is shocking to think that five years on from the abolition of the original scheme, when a promise was made to replace it, we are still waiting for the Government to take action. The lack of information about a new scheme is typical of the attitude of the Government, which is more concerned about its own image than progressing essential schemes that have the potential to improve the lives of thousands of people with a disability across this country.
We have also seen a shocking jump in the number of children whose assessment under the Disability Act is overdue. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of children waiting has surged by more than 28%. The Disability Act provides for an assessment of needs of eligible applicants occasioned by their disability. Assessments of need must commence within three months of receipt of a completed application and must be completed within a further three months. To have so many children unable to receive their legal entitlement within the set timeframe is fundamentally wrong and must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
Similarly, access to services leaves much to be desired. Occupational therapy, for example, is critical in supporting people to do the everyday things they want and need to do when faced with illness, injury or disability. Thousands have been waiting more than a year for a first assessment, and the biggest cohort of people waiting are children and teenagers. To have so many young people waiting for so long for an assessment for such essential therapy is just inexcusable. We also need to bear in mind that this is just a waiting list for assessment. Once this hurdle is overcome, there will be further hurdles as people wait for the therapy itself. Waiting such long periods for assessment and then treatment can be detrimental to people's quality of life and treatment outcomes. If ratification is to mean anything in practice, we need to see substantial improvement in such waiting lists.
For our part, Fianna Fáil is committed to creating a more inclusive society and to dismantling barriers across a range of sectors that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in society. We need to ensure that people with disabilities are given equality of opportunity in order that they can participate in society to the best of their abilities. As a republican party, Fianna Fáil has always been committed to fighting discrimination in all its forms. In government, we brought forward policies and legislation to advance the rights of people with a disability. We are proud of the role we have played in moving disability policy from a model that was based on management, charity, pity and, in some cases, neglect, towards a social care model that recognises that people with disabilities are full and equal citizens entitled to not only dignity and respect, but also independence, choice and control over their own lives. Ratification of the United Nations convention continues this journey but there is a distance to be travelled yet.
Today is a good day, an important day, a significant day and a long-awaited day in this House. Personally, this issue has been very close to my heart for many years. It is an issue that deserves very well-informed discussion and debate. As a sister of Cathal, who has Down's syndrome, and as someone who has worked both full-time and as a volunteer with Special Olympics, I have lived my life trying to implement consistently both the spirit and the core tenets of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These core tenets represent the most fundamental rights of all persons regardless of ability or disability: the right to health care services, the right to education, the right to an environment safe from exploitation and abuse, the right to work and, most importantly, the right to be included as an equal member of society. Ten years have passed since the UN convention was signed by the Government, and ratification is now the next step. It is just a step but a very important one on the journey towards equality.
I must give some hard facts about this matter. A recent survey conducted by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on those in receipt of disability allowance highlights that people with disabilities are being left behind completely in the areas of education and employment. Of those surveyed, 75% said their level of disability was a barrier to their entering the workforce. It is clear that people with disabilities are being left behind, and if the Government is serious about creating a fairer and more equal society, it must address the systematic and institutionalised barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in education, the workforce and society in general. With this in mind, I as Chairman of the Committee on Education and Skills, Deputy Curran as Chairman of the social affairs committee and Deputy Butler as Chairman of the jobs and employment committee have agreed to look at organising a joint hearing to try to address all these issues.
I accept governments alone cannot do all the necessary work to change communities. While it is one thing to set a standard in law, it is quite another to set a standard in people's hearts. The true fulfilment of the convention will only come when children and adults with disabilities are treated with dignity and justice not just in writing, but also in daily life. It is my belief that Ireland's ratification of the UN convention by the Government can serve as a national call to action to all - our Government agencies, NGOs, recreation and sports programmes, public health agencies and many more - to mobilise our resources in our shared quest to provide a brighter and more secure future for all with disabilities in Ireland. People with disabilities matter, they count and they deserve chances and opportunities like every other person.
The future of rights for people with disabilities requires new positive messages in which we all own the rights agenda. Everyday acts of inclusion have helped define our social fabric, whereby tolerance, acceptance, togetherness, helpfulness and advocacy have all become standard components of the past, present and future Ireland. We in the Parliament must seize this opportunity with conviction and focus for we know that a progressive Ireland starts when each of our citizens feels empowered to make a difference.
I will leave the House with a quotation. We are on the eve of International Women's Day. Countess Markievicz in 1909 had this message.
No one can help you but yourselves alone; you must make the world look upon you as citizens ... For each one of you there is a niche waiting ... [Find] your place in the nation.
I say this to all people with disabilities.
Tonight is a night of progress for us. It is a night of inclusion, equality and respect. It is a night to remember all persons with disabilities who have left us before seeing the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. This has the capacity to markedly transform the lives of a section of our people who have been marginalised and secluded for far too long. I have been privileged through this mandate of the Oireachtas to see the passing of the recognition of Traveller ethnicity and Irish Sign Language as an official language and now the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. All three items of legislation are extremely important and show marked societal progress for Ireland as a country in respect of inclusion and equality. It is not often I commend the Government; however, tonight commendation is warranted. I thank the Government for finally ratifying the convention and ending an almost 11-year wait since its initial signing by the then Irish Government. I also seek an assurance that the Government will confirm that the optional protocol will be ratified at the same time as the UNCRPD.
The convention provides the framework to promote, protect and ensure the rights of all people with disabilities and promotes equal rights in all areas of life. These are the basic fundamentals that should be afforded to any person in a decent and modern society, able-bodied, disabled or otherwise. While the ratification of the convention is most welcome, I must stress it is only the first step. The real measure of delivery of the rights that are contained in the convention will be in its implementation.
Persons with disabilities have waited far too long and fought on the streets outside this very House to have their rights afforded through this measure. My concerns remain and, therefore, I call on the Government and the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, not to stop here and to bring forward this legislation without delay and to engage with us, other parties, the disability groups and persons with disabilities themselves. Let us make sure we get this right.
The Government entering reservations and declarations in relation to Articles 12, 14 and 27 of the convention is also worrying and the wording of these needs to be scrutinised much more closely. We cannot dilute the aims of what the convention seeks to do before the ink is even dry on it.
The best placed persons to oversee and monitor the implementation of all that is contained in the convention are those who have the most to gain from it. Persons with disabilities and those groups who advocate for them need to be part of this process, so I ask the Minister of State what steps have been taken by the Government to establish such a group, and who he expects to be involved in it.
Government Departments and the public service broadly need to become leaders, and a benchmark for inclusion, access and equality for persons with disabilities. An employment strategy for each public body should be rolled out and there should be a place on each State board for people with disabilities. This would be a true and worthy statement of equality and inclusion.
I thank all those persons with disabilities who fought in their own groups, on the streets, in this House and at our committees to deliver ratification of the convention. I also pay tribute to my colleague, Teachta Ó Caoláin, for his work on this, as, most generously, did the Minister of State. It is an issue very dear to him and close to his heart. He is happy to see it ratified. He will pursue, vigorously, that the ratification is not simply a PR stunt but actually means something-----
-----and makes a real and tangible difference.
For those people who have campaigned and brought us to this point, today is their day and they should be very proud, but they cannot rest here. They must keep the Government on its toes. They must not let the Government rest for a moment on its laurels. I have special thanks for the Disability Federation of Ireland and Inclusion Ireland along with others. Without them, we would not be at this point. The courage and energy of Senator John Dolan, who has done so much work since being elected to Seanad Éireann to advance the rights of those with disabilities, is inspirational.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an rún chun daingniú a dhéanamh faoi dheireadh ar choinbhinsiún na Náisiún Aontaithe ar chearta daoine atá faoi mhíchumais. Tá sé déanach ach, é sin ráite, tá fáilte roimhe. It is not a leap to describe this evening as historic for those who have been advocating for the rights of people with disabilities for many decades. As speakers have already said, it is a ratification which is long overdue, coming close to 11 years since Ireland first signed it. I mostly want to speak to those in the Gallery and those watching at home who have been campaigning for quite some time. Tonight is an opportunity to speak to citizens of our country who have disabilities and let them know they are finally going to be treated as equals in the eyes of the State. There have been inordinate delays in this regard which have, no doubt, caused people great strife and grief in many aspects of their lives that many of us take for granted.
Tonight is an opportunity to let children with disabilities know that Ireland is a country in which they are finally considered by the State to be valued as equals, and given an opportunity to prosper and grow in seeking and reaching their full potential, not inhibited by archaic legislation or an absolute lack of legislation that have seen the rights of many fall through the cracks. Tonight is an opportunity we grasp with both hands, working in co-operation with people with disabilities, recognising that ratification is not in and of itself a panacea, far from it, but part of greater progress.
Just like any other grouping or community in society, as time passes circumstances change, and issues arise that we cannot foresee this evening. However, and I speak as a member of a party that views equality as a core value, we must endeavour to work for and with the people, particularly those who have the greatest interest in the convention, and commit here to never prolong a process of acknowledging human rights as long as we have these rights.
I commend the Minister of State on this move and I commend those such as Senator John Dolan and my colleague, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who have been working on this for a long time, as well as all the organisations. In addition to recognising the significance of this development, legislatively, actions speak louder than words and if we are to be true to our word, and if the Minister of State is to be true to his speech and the fine sentiments expressed in it, we have to ensure the outstanding issues are addressed. The Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is still outstanding. Over 12 months ago, the Dáil was led to understand its passing was required for ratification but perhaps this is not the case. In any event, it is significant legislation with a great deal involved in it, particularly in terms of changes to Ireland's laws on voting, membership of juries and a number of other important civil rights. These issues need to be addressed.
I also cite the issue of the decision support service. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act was enacted approximately three years ago, but when representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality who came before the Oireachtas justice committee recently were asked about when it was expected to commence, a Department representative stated it would be ambitious if it were to be achieved even within this year. This is quite a delay to 2015 legislation. It is a very important service and needs to be prioritised and worked towards.
There are a number of other issues to which Deputy O'Reilly alluded. We cannot allow for derogations or reservations. We should pursue ratification in its fullest form and monitoring must include people with disabilities. Mar a dúirt mé, tá sé cuid mhaith déanach i ndáiríre go bhfuil sé seo ag tarlú aon bhliain déag ó shínigh an Stáit an coinbhinsiún. Más maith is mithid, áfach, agus is rud luachmhar é seo. Iarraim ar an Aire Stáit a chinntiú go leanann sé lena bheith sa tóir ar an ábhar seo. Ná déan ach an coinbhinsiún a dhaingniú ach déan cinnte go n-aithneofar cearta dhaoine atá faoi mhíchumais agus go ndéanfaidh an Stát beart de réir a bhriathar.
We absolutely and utterly support the resolution before us and we welcome this final step of the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I do not wish to sound a discordant note on this, but I do not feel there is a strong sense of history about this moment because there was an opportunity here for the Minister of State to outline some vision for the legislation that will be required to give force to this ratification. Like previous speakers, I wish to state the Disabilities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which we know passed Second Stage last February and is now stuck on Committee Stage, is long overdue and needs to be brought into law and made a reality. Already we have disabled people speaking to us, and I will quote from an email I received today, which stated that while the Government is trying to create a smokescreen to make itself look good, people with disabilities are struggling just to exist in an Ireland that makes no room for them.
The email states that the members of this Government are trying to pretend that when they move on, they will have left a legacy of equal treatment of people with disabilities, that the latter continue to be denied liberties and rights that everyone else enjoys and that this is why, as well as ratifying the convention, the Government needs to legislate against the deprivation of liberty in order that there can be real change in how people with disabilities are treated in this country.
Tonight, there will be people feeling that there is still a long way to go. I read carefully the statement of Senator John Dolan, somebody who I think we all look towards as a thought leader in this field and from whom we have all sought guidance in recognising the challenges for persons with disabilities. I do not wish to misinterpret what the Senator said. It is probably unusual to quote a Senator's words in this House but I feel the need to do so. He stated:
I must also stress that the disabled people of Ireland and their families will only experience the benefits of the Convention if the implementation phase of this Convention is fully and effectively implemented. And this implementation is entirely the responsibility of government.
That is a carefully couched statement and a very positive way of saying that there is a long way to go before we can feel that we have given true meaning to the ratification of this UN Convention. The Senator went on to say:
The UN CRPD simply seeks to ensure that people with disabilities experience their rights. Ireland is a party to the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN, 1948". There are a range of fundamental rights in Bunreacht na hÉireann. Rights related to the person, family, children, education, etc.
The outworking of this is simple. To a large extent, it is a resource issue. As Members of this House, we all put parliamentary questions to the Ministers at the Department of Health. I recently tabled a question to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, regarding "the number of children under 18 years of age awaiting an assessment of need under early intervention in County Cork; the waiting time before assessments will be carried out; and the number of staff needed to ensure that all assessments are carried out".I have figures before me showing the number of children under the age of 18 who were on the waiting list for a first-time assessment up to December 2017. I will highlight one element of that. There are 5,182 children aged between five years and 17 years and 11 months who have been waiting for longer than 52 weeks.
How can we deal with the issue of assessment of needs? I was hoping for something in the Minister of State's speech about the vision for the deployment of resources to give true meaning to the convention but I did not hear it. Perhaps we need to discuss that issue further. In my constituency, there is a three year old child who has been waiting for a specialised wheelchair since last August. I know I am putting hard cases forward here, but these are the people we are talking about. This concerns the person who emailed us about her view, as a person with disabilities, on the Government's ratification of the UN Convention and the absence of the legislation we are awaiting. It concerns the mother and father of the three year old child. That is a well-publicised case. The child's name is Adam King. We are told that the Government will spend billions on a new national plan. Ordinary people who are waiting for wheelchairs are asking me where is the money for their requirements. They ask when they will get their assessment of needs. Why is it that their son or daughter has been waiting more than 52 weeks for an assessment of needs?
We need to start joining the dots, if we are out of the recession and there is now money in the kitty. The Minister of State has indicated that he has secured extra funding for respite care. He refers to the fact that €1.76 billion has been allocated by the Department of Health for disability services in 2018 and notes that this is a 4.4% increase on 2017. Fair play to the Minster of State. He is doing his job in standing up for his Department and his set of responsibilities. However, the reality is that when we look at how that increase manifests itself, we do not see evidence of delivery of services. Something is happening within the system. It is not delivering for people who have legitimate expectations.
I am hopeful that we can have a greater interrogation of what the ratification of the UNCRPD will mean. I hope that we can have a greater interrogation of what the Government amendments to the Disabilities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 will actually be, and the real outcomes of those for people who are struggling as we speak. Notwithstanding all of that, we very much welcome the motion. However, we need to see it buttressed through legislation. We need to see it sooner rather than later.
I would like to welcome everybody in the Gallery. It is always good to see people there. I cautiously welcome the motion, which will allow us to finally ratify the UNCRPD after a long and arduous battle. I sincerely hope that the political will to address the human rights of people with disabilities, which has been absent for a very long time, will emerge in a real and meaningful way. I urge the Government to agree to sign up to the UNCRPD optional protocol as an indication of its commitment to the right of people with disabilities to complain to the UN about issues in respect of which the State may be in breach in the context of the UNCRPD. This will also provide an important advocacy tool for people concerned about violations of their rights.
I pay tribute to the many disability activists who have fought with courage and determination to get us to this point. I particularly want to remember and acknowledge the work of disability activists who are no longer with us. I refer to people like Mr. Martin Naughton, Mr. Donal Toolan and Mr. John Doyle, who participated in many campaigns that sought to win full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities. They challenged us to understand disability as a human rights issue. Finally ratifying the UNCRPD will be a lasting tribute to their work.
It is shocking that it has taken so long to get to this point. Many people with disabilities have suffered as a result. The motion to ratify without having made the necessary legislative amendments highlights the misleading and untrue nature of the statements that the Government has presented year after year as an excuse for not ratifying the convention. It worries me that the legislative amendments have still not been made, and I am concerned about the barriers this will present to full compliance with the UNCRPD. However, I believe that an explanation and an apology should be offered to people with disabilities for using this excuse as a delay of ratification, when in fact ratification could have proceeded a long time ago.
As Ireland is the last EU member state to ratify the UNCRPD, the Government has a lot of work to do to introduce the rage of measures needed to ensure that people with disabilities have full and equal rights to participate in society as all other citizens do.
Once Ireland has ratified the UNCRPD, quite correctly, we will be monitored and examined by the UN. We should immediately take on board the lessons of our closest neighbour, the UK, in terms of its performance in regard to the UNCRPD.
A report published in 2016 by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that Britain's austerity policies "systematically violated" the rights of disabled people. In this country, successive Governments' policies of austerity disproportionately affected people with disabilities, many of whom were already living on incomes below the poverty threshold. With cuts to vital services, independence payments, independent living funds, respite care grants, education supports and transport, many people with disabilities, who also experience higher levels of unemployment, are now living in far worse positions than they ever were. Poverty and the rate of consistent poverty among people with disabilities have increased.
In conclusion, I call on the Government to publish, as a matter of urgency, a clear deadline for the completion of all remaining areas of law which remain as legislative barriers to full ratification of the UNCRPD.
I compliment and pay tribute to the campaigners for disability rights who have fought for 11 years for the ratification of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We are here today because of their actions and their struggle in putting pressure on successive Governments since 2007, eventually dragging the Irish State to be the final state in the EU to ratify.
As Deputy Gino Kenny mentioned, we should remember that we were told the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 was required for there to be progress on ratification. That Bill has not been fully passed through the Houses, yet here we are, despite what the Government said, ratifying the UNCRPD. I think this is because the eleventh anniversary of the convention going by this month would have proved to be one embarrassment too many for the Government because of the pressure from the outside. More ferocious pressure would have been brought to bear, so it was forced to say, "Okay, we will ratify it". However, we should remember the answers given by this and previous Governments when the Opposition asked, again and again, why it would not ratify. Effectively, they said they did not want to ratify it before they were in a position to give effect to the rights. The Government has now been forced to ratify it without giving effect to the rights but, in turn, that gives a weapon, in a sense, to those campaigners for disability rights to use and to say to the Government, "Now we want our rights as outlined in the convention". That is an important step forward for campaigners.
This links to broader points about the struggle of oppressed groups in recent years to seek recognition and rights, in particular rights to access services in society in general. We have seen inspirational struggles for recognition from the Traveller community, winning the recognition of ethnicity and culture a year ago tomorrow. We have seen trans people winning the ability to be recognised as their true gender, the LGBTQ+ community winning the right to marry if they wish and the deaf community winning recognition of their language, Irish Sign Language. Today, we see the Government finally ratifying the UNCRPD. In all of those cases, the rights were won. They were fought for and only given under pressure, not handed down by the political establishment without significant resistance. It is understood by activists from all of those different communities that, over the past 11 years, Fianna Fáil, the PDs, the Green Party, the Labour Party, Fine Gael and various Independents have all been in power and have resisted ratification for many given reasons and excuses.
The UNCRPD puts forward a rights-based approach for the 600,000 people with disabilities in this State. Those with disabilities deserve to be fully part of society as a right and play an active role in our workplaces, communities, sports clubs, schools and colleges. It is society that must now cater for the needs that different people have. I know that those who fought for the past 11 years for this convention to be ratified know that winning rights on paper means little if they are not backed up by adequate resources, for example, the right to the highest attainable standard of health when there is a right-wing Government making cuts to disability services and to the health service.
There is a right to fully take part in the workplace on an equal basis but it is still the case that only 31% of people with disabilities of working age are in employment. The rights have to be resourced by the Government. A big part of that is the question of overturning the cuts that were implemented over the course of the crisis. Some of the most shameful acts done by any Government in history of the State are those done by the last Fine Gael-Labour Government. There are too many to list but some of them were as follows: a 9.4% cut in disability services between 2008 and 2015; the drastic decline in disposable income for those with disabilities of almost 10% between 2010 and 2015; and the disability allowance remaining at a very low level. The consequence is 132,000 people with disabilities living in consistent poverty, a rate of 22%, rising from 14% over just five years.
We need to see action. We need to see legislative action and the implementation and full commencement of the Act in regard to what are currently termed wards of court. We need action on the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act and the full passage of the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. We need to see an advisory committee which is representative of all persons with disability and comprises a majority of persons with disability to support the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in monitoring the UNCRPD. We need to see a legislative timetable because waiting 11 years for this is too long and people do not want to have to wait 11 years for everything else that is meant to be coming down the line.
Fundamentally, as a socialist, I think of the treatment of disabled people as falling into the wider context of how capitalism operates. It is an economic system based on the prioritisation of profit above everything else. It is not a system that is inclusive of minority communities with particular needs. We need a society where decisions are not based on profit but, instead, where people's needs, in all the different ways that different people have different needs, come to the fore.
I am not sure if this day is a cause for celebration or for criticism of the Government's record to date on the ratification of the UNCRPD because, while we celebrate the ratification of the convention, we are standing here 11 years on since Ireland became a signatory. While I welcome ratification, in my opinion, today should constitute an opportunity for the Government to make an official apology for the undue delay that, no doubt, has caused so much distress to people with disabilities. Last year, I spoke of a local disability activist from Donegal, Frank Larkin, during Leaders' Questions, and I read out to then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, his account of the difficulties and frustrations he faced waiting for ratification. People with disabilities deserve nothing less than a sincere apology and explanation from the Government today, alongside a firm commitment to the timely implementation of necessary legislation bringing Ireland in line with the articles of the convention.
While I acknowledge the work the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has done and his sincerity in regard to today's announcement, it is vital to recognise that this is only the start of the process rather than the end. Ratification without sufficient resources and without full legislative implementation will threaten its progress and the benefits it is to provide for people with disabilities.
I want to welcome Inclusion Ireland to the Visitors Gallery and thank it for its assistance. In the remainder of my time, I would like to discuss two aspects of the ratification process. First, on the issue of sufficient resourcing to allow for the full implementation of the convention, I hope the Government stands here today not only to announce the ratification but to give a firm commitment to allocate sufficient funding and resources necessary to see it through. Until this is done, I do not believe the Government will have anything to be proud of today, certainly not after 11 years of waiting. Ratification needs a disability inclusion focus across the budgetary process, including commitments made in budget 2018 which have yet to be realised and throughout the budgetary process for budget 2019.
In terms of resources, the Government has yet to set up an advisory committee with people with disabilities to support the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, in
monitoring the implementation of UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. This function will also require sufficient resourcing and funding to enable them to carry out their work. It will be a measure of the Government's commitment to ensuring this process will continue. The significant role of people with disabilities in the monitoring and evaluation process of the UNCRPD cannot be understated. It is not just vital but rather a requirement in the UN convention, and therefore funding must be ring-fenced for this and the various other functions to ensure compliance. Today is an opportunity for the Minister of State to outline to the people how those with lived experience will be resourced and facilitated to play a crucial role in monitoring the implementation of the convention in Ireland and that they will continue to be key constituents in monitoring of the convention into the future.
A major issue obstructing the ratification progress is the outstanding legislative provisions needed to see Ireland's full adherence to the convention. Looking closely, it is shocking to see just how far behind we are in the ratification process despite the announcement today. Most of the so-called "roadmap to ratification" requirements are still outstanding three years later. It appears we have quite an extensive list of breaches to the convention in current legislation and outstanding legislation is required to bring Ireland in line with articles of the convention. Examples of current breaches include elements of recent Bills dealing with sexual offences and assisted decision-making, as well as the wards of court mechanism and the lack of funding for the decision support service. Outstanding legislation includes the miscellaneous provisions disability Bill, which I spoke on over a year ago but has not yet been enacted. That relates to Article 5 of the convention. Legislation relating to deprivation of liberty safeguards is only at the heads stage, and it is required for Article 14 compliance.
The overall picture presents us with a strange dichotomy. On the one hand we have the Government announcing Ireland's ratification of the convention but, on the other, it has failed to carry out the necessary requirements for Ireland's adherence to its articles. This means that Ireland has been told a lie for 11 years, with the usual Government spiel that it could not possibly ratify upon signing the convention because our legislation was not in order. Here we stand today with our legislation still not in order, yet we are claiming victory for ratification. I understand why the Minister has done this but this will require further observance so we follow through. Why did we not ratify 11 years ago and use this as motivation for the Government to get the legislative requirements pushed forward on a timely basis? This may have at least given the Government a bit of a kick in getting its act together in this regard. This Government needs to start being honest with itself and with people with disabilities. We need commitments today, not a masked public relations stunt that could endanger the momentum for legislative change.
I warmly welcome the ratification, at long last, of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Minister of State referred to a number of important developments, including the national disability inclusion strategy and the 100 measurable and time-specific actions to deliver it. I wonder if he could report to the Dáil on what has been achieved. The Minister of State also referred to the living in the community and time to move on programmes, as well as personalised budgets, which are crucial initiatives that need massive funding support from the Government. I wonder what steps have been taken to achieve that also. For example, as a member of the budget oversight committee, I have with other Deputies expressed the view that the health and disability budget is at least €800 million to €1 billion short of what is needed to implement basic programmes. This is the Minister of State's area of responsibility, as is the delivery of the UNCRPD.
Last November, the Minister of State told me:
It is essential that the State is in a position to meet the obligations that it assumes under the terms of an international agreement from the moment of its entry into force for Ireland. Before the State can ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, enactment of new legislation and amendment of existing legislation is required to ensure obligations will be met upon entry into force for Ireland.
Unfortunately, this has been the excuse since 2007, which the Minister of State has continued for the past two years in justifying the unpardonable delay in ratifying this important convention. It leaves us in the shameful position of being the last country to do it. Although I warmly welcome the ratification, the reality is that we are ratifying the convention without the necessary legislation and those amendments, referred to by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, being enacted. Some advocates in the disability area have referred to the motion as being therefore hollow. The ratification is crucial and welcome but it is disrespectful to those who have advocated for this that the necessary legislative changes have been consistently delayed. For example, the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 should be finally enacted by August 2018 and the deprivation of liberties legislation should be enacted by the end of 2018, according to the Minister of State. Additionally, he said the decision support service should be operational in 2019 but he gave us no timeframe in that regard. Perhaps he will come back to us in his response. The Minister of State also said the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 is expected to be fully commenced by January 2019. All these must be implemented. It is critical that we have full information and that the Government brings forward these measures.
I am proud to be a member of the informal Oireachtas disability committee group, chaired outstandingly by Senator John Dolan. I commend my colleague, Senator Dolan, and other disability advocates who have worked tirelessly for the rights of persons with disabilities, including on the adoption of this convention at long last. As I mentioned, the budget for disability services was slashed by €160 million or 10%, as the Minister of State knows well, between 2008 and 2015. The total expenditure was partially restored to €1.66 billion in 2017 and, as the Minister of State noted, €1.76 billion in 2018, and he seems to have only secured €25 million for additional services in 2018. We must remember that the profound damage done to citizens with disabilities and their families by the crash is deeply apparent in continuing cutbacks in services in all areas of disability, including independent living.
The Minister of State and I represent the same constituency and every week we hear from constituents who are either persons with disabilities or who care for a family member, including raising a child, with a disability. The barriers to services they face are never-ending. The Minister of State knows I have made many representations, for example, on behalf of parents of young children awaiting diagnosis and assessment or older school leavers who are unsure if they will have access to daily placement. Those young children are not vindicating their rights under the Disability Act 2005, which stipulates a three-month waiting and operational time.
The motion before us today makes no mention of the UNCRPD's optional protocol, which Ireland had indicated that we would also be ratifying. The protocol would allow for groups or persons to take a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Will the Minister of State outline the policy in that regard? Inclusion Ireland and other advocates have asked that the advisory committee to be established should consist of a majority of people who have experience of various aspects of disability, as per Malta’s advisory committee. That is very important so will the Minister of State confirm that this will be done by the Government. With those caveats I am delighted to support, at long last, the ratification of this convention.
I wish to share time with Deputy Mattie McGrath. I welcome the process of starting full ratification - I emphasise the word "starting" - and although it is behind time, it is nevertheless welcome. This is an important milestone for those advocating for the rights as outlined in the convention but we still have some distance to go before we have full ratification. The delay of 12 years has been distressing and I hope the process is finally coming to an end for those people with disabilities. I note the Government committed to ratifying the convention by the end of 2016 but here we are in March 2018 starting the process. The Minister of State is nevertheless to be commended for the efforts put in.
Legislation is required for complete ratification and the Government will enter a number of declarations and reservations to give time and space to allow the legislation to be enacted. It is vital that the necessary pieces of legislation are enacted and commenced as rapidly as possible. The Government will enter three declarations and reservations. One concerns Article 12, relating to legal capacity and decision-making rights; another relates to Article 14, covering liberty and the deprivation of liberty; and the third concerns Article 27, dealing with employment. A number of pieces of legislation need to be enacted, with the first being the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016, which is to be enacted by the end of 2018. I hope that deadline will be met.
Second, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 needs to be fully commenced and I urge the Minister of State to do so as rapidly as possible. The system of wardship needs to be abolished to ensure compliance with this Act. Third, the decision support service, based in the Mental Health Commission, needs to be operational as soon as possible. While the service is currently being developed and it has been allocated a budget of €3 million, the Minister of State has not outlined any timeline for its commencement.
The purpose of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is to promote, protect and ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and respect for human dignity. Ratification will mean nothing if people with disabilities are not given practical solutions to their problems. People with disabilities live in poverty and a whole-of-Government approach is required to address their problems. They are deprived of equal opportunity in regard to education and employment. Ratification without recognition of all these challenges and addressing these challenges will not improve the plight of persons with disabilities. Rather, a cross-departmental approach to health, housing, independent living, personal assistants, transport, education, social protection, is required to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities are upheld.
While ratification of this convention and legislation are necessary, funding and a fundamental change in the culture and attitude towards people with disabilities are also required. We need to disability-proof our services. If we do this, our services will be suitable for every member of society, not only those with disabilities. I urge the Minister of State to progress the necessary legislation as soon as possible. The Joint Committees on Health, Education and Skills and Employment Affairs and Social Protection propose to come together to develop a strategy to help people with disabilities transition from education to employment. This is very important because often there is a huge gap between the time when people leave education and transition to employment. If these three committees can devise a strategy to ensure a smooth transition of people with disabilities from education to employment it will be very important. I hope that the Minister of State will pay attention to the findings of those committees.
I welcome that the Government is this evening commencing the process of ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ireland is the last state in the EU to do so, despite having signed the framework document in 2007. My Independent colleagues and I will support the Government in ratifying this convention but I would like to know how people with disabilities will benefit from its ratification. Despite the efforts of the Minister of State to change attitudes, people with disabilities are, in many ways, still treated poorly. For example, for the past two years people with disabilities aged over 18 in west Cork have been unable to access transport to the organisations they need to attend daily. That is a sad reflection on society. As I said, I would like to know if, following ratification of this convention, these people will be provided with transport from their homes to their services, as was the case prior to them turning 18 years of age. I have been raising this issue for some time. I have sought a meeting with the HSE but nobody will sit down with me in west Cork to discuss how we can resolve this issue. I am willing to work with others to resolve it but there is a particular gentleman in the HSE, who obviously is being paid by the State, who refuses continually to meet me and the people who are suffering because their parents are elderly and they are no longer able to make the six or seven hour journey to take them to and from their daily services. It is outrageous. This issue needs to be resolved.
I hope that ratification of this convention will help people with disabilities. I will be monitoring this process to ensure that it does.
I, too, welcome that we have commenced the process of ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which we first committed to ratify in 2007 when the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, was on this side of the House. I take this opportunity to commend the disability groups and, in particular, Senator John Dolan, on the work they have done over many decades to bring us to this point. The Minister of State has given a commitment that parts of it will be implemented by the end of 2018 but I hope that it will be implemented in full. Articles 12 and 14, as referred to by Deputy Harty, are very important. To deny any person liberty or to restrict people in any way is not right or fair but to do this to a disabled person is particularly unfair. I welcome the disabilities groups who are in the Visitors Gallery, some of whom I met earlier around the House.
We will be monitoring every step of this process. While it is too little too late hopefully it will be of some benefit. The support group, Every Life Counts, has warmly welcomed the submission of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD, which states that allowing abortion on disability grounds violates the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ms Tracy Harkin of Every Life Counts said that parents were very pleased that the UN committee had also rejected the "incompatible with life" label, which she said has been used to dehumanise and discriminate against babies with a severe disability. In 2015, I travelled with Every Life Counts to the UN in Geneva, where we asked that this label be recognised as a form of discrimination that was undermining the humanity of babies and misleading parents. We are delighted that the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has rejected the "incompatible with life" label. The HSE has also sought to dissuade the use of this term. While some sectors have adhered to this, I was shocked to hear many of the so-called experts who appeared before the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution still using it. Even after I challenged them on it, and pointed out to them that the HSE no longer uses that term, they continued to use it. It is highly insulting to people. There are many other areas wherein people with disabilities are left behind. As stated by Deputy Michael Collins, they find it very hard to engage with particular sections of the HSE and that is not acceptable.
I welcome this move. It is long overdue. I again thank the Disabilities Federation of Ireland and Senator Dolan for their hard work in campaigning for the ratification of this convention.
Before I call Deputy Shortall, I remind Deputies that debate on this motion is to conclude at 8.10 p.m.. As I am required to call the Minister of State to respond to the debate at 8.05 p.m. and there are a number of groupings yet to contribute, I respectfully suggest that to ensure everybody gets an opportunity to speak those who have a ten minute slot might consider taking only five minutes. Will Deputy Shortfall accept five minutes?
It has taken far too long to reach this point. I have a clear recollection of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, on announcing that he would be joining the new Government saying that he had a commitment from Deputy Frances Fitzgerald and the Government that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, would be ratified within six months. It is now two years since that election, two additional unnecessary years where Ireland continued to not be a society of equals for people with disabilities.
Of course, this unfair treatment of disabled people is not unique to Ireland but is, rather, a deep-rooted problem on a global scale. Twelve years ago, the United Nations agreed on global action in the form of the UNCRPD. Ireland took a leadership position when it signed the convention on the earliest possible date in 2007 but the State has regressed in the intervening years. The recession and the austerity measures introduced since the signing of the convention have been especially and disproportionately severe in their impact on people with disabilities and their families. This was a very short-sighted approach, as well as being completely unjust. Long-term problems relating to a deterioration in conditions and a reduction in the quality of life of people with disabilities are simply being stored up for the future. Ultimately, these problems will impact negatively on individual lives and on public spending in the future, especially in circumstances where disabled children and young people are affected. From the perspective of both basic fairness and financial considerations, it makes more sense to invest in services now rather than dealing with more complex and costly conditions down the road.
The 13% of Irish people who have disabilities and-or mental health difficulties are at significantly greater risk than non-disabled people of experiencing poverty, social exclusion, unemployment and a lack of opportunity in the context of education, training and retraining. It is inexcusable that key legislation to address these issues has been delayed and sidelined for so long. That speaks volumes for this Government’s attitude to the most marginalised in Irish society.
Despite ratification, I am concerned that a number of key policy issues are being sidestepped. The Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway has highlighted a number of these issues. First, there are a number of declarations and reservations being made as part of this process. It is hugely disappointing that people with disabilities in Ireland will not have the full protection of Article 12 on legal capacity in decision-making, Article 14 on the deprivation of liberty and Article 27 on employment. Ideally, these reservations would not be necessary but if they are to be included, it is incumbent on the Minister of State to ensure that they are not unduly onerous. Second, the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016, which is earmarked as necessary for the ratification of the UNCRPD, has still not progressed through Committee Stage in the Dáil. It was last debated over a year ago. This Bill will see important changes to Ireland’s laws, including on voting, membership of juries and issues relating to the deprivation of liberty. Third, Article 33 of the convention requires that people with disabilities are involved in the monitoring processes for the implementation of the convention. While the Government has identified IHREC and the National Disability Authority in the roadmap to ratification and the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 as part of the monitoring mechanism for the convention, it has not outlined how people with disabilities will be involved in this process.
The ratification of the convention is, in reality, only the beginning of the process. The convention maps out a very wide-ranging set of requirements along with measurable implementation mechanisms. The aim of these is to improve the lives of people with disabilities across the whole of society, including in the context of economic life, social life, political involvement, independent living in the community, transport, housing and many other policy areas. These plans were developed in consultation with the global movement of people with disabilities, including Irish representatives. I ask the Minister of State to produce a detailed, grounded plan for the establishment of the promised advisory committee of disabled people to support the IHREC in monitoring the convention. This committee must be established, resourced and given training and other supports. It is imperative that this committee be representative of all persons with a disability and comprised of a majority of disabled people as called for by Inclusion Ireland. In addition, the Minister for Health must publish a timetable for all key legislative reform that is included in the roadmap to ratification with specific deadlines for all outstanding matters. There can be no more slippage in terms of timeframes.
Inclusion Ireland has called for a commitment from Government that all information relating to and consultations pertaining to the convention are produced in accessible and easy-to-read format. It has also asked that advice from the Attorney Genera be sought and published into the conflict between private property rights and reasonable accommodation. It further calls on the Government to commit to establishing the decision support service in 2018. Inclusion Ireland is also seeking an explanation - and, if necessary, an apology - for the 11-year delay in the ratification of the convention. We have not had that explanation or apology to date. Finally, adequate consultation on deprivation of liberty safeguards should take place and a continued commitment to non-institutionalised models of living and community inclusion should be made.
While the convention is aspirational, it can act as a roadmap for some very practical steps the Minister of State could take that would have a real impact on the lives of people with disabilities in the short term. The Social Democrats have previously called on the Minister of State to take a number of key actions. First, he should ensure that personal assistants and other individualised social care services are restored and improved so that the policy of independent living can be honoured. Second, he must remove the barriers to disabled people entering or remaining within the paid work force such as inadequate educational provision, continuing benefit traps as well as discriminatory access rules and attitudes. Third, he must recognise the extra costs of living for disabled people and help them to stay out of poverty through a specific cost of living disability payment, as has been promised but not delivered. These are actions to which the Minister of State could commit now which would make a real impact on the lives of people with disabilities and give some real practical weight to the ratification of the convention.
In the roadmap to ratification report from the Department of Justice and Equality in 2015, an explicit commitment was given to the Irish State signing the optional protocol that would allow for individual complaints to be submitted directly to the UNCRPD committee by individuals and groups of individuals, or by a third party on behalf of individuals and groups of individuals, alleging that their rights have been violated under the UNCRPD. The report states that we "intend to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the same time as the Convention itself is being ratified". I ask the Minister of State to provide an assurance that this protocol will be signed as part of the ratification process to ensure maximum protection for people with disabilities.
I pay tribute to all of those individuals and organisations that have been campaigning in this area for many years and seeking the ratification of the convention. I particularly want to note the very significant contribution of Senator John Dolan.
We have only saved half a minute. I am afraid some Deputies will be disappointed but they should not point a finger at me. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick is next and I understand that he is willing to share time with a constituency colleague.
I will be as quick as I can and any time remaining in my slot will be used by Deputy Breathnach.
The UNCRPD was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006 and entered into force in May 2008. Ireland became a signatory to the convention in March 2007. The then Fine Gael-Labour Party Government published a roadmap in 2015 which set out the legislative measures needed to meet the requirements of the convention along with declarations and reservations to be entered by Ireland on ratification. The Government authorised the ratification of the convention on 30 January 2018.
The purpose of the UNCRPD is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
There are 175 parties to the convention, including all other EU member states. Ireland is the final EU member state to ratify the convention. If Ireland ratifies the convention, the convention will enter into force for Ireland 30 days following the deposit of its instrument of ratification.
The convention is an international agreement which involves a charge upon public funds within the meaning of Article 29.5.2° of the Constitution. This means that its terms must be approved by Dáil Éireann prior to ratification. It is intended that the final legislative amendments needed to enable Ireland to comply with the convention will be contained in the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 and in a stand-alone Bill on deprivation of liberty to be sponsored by the Minister for Health or the Minister of State for enactment by the end of 2018. The Bill on deprivation of liberty is required in order that appropriate legal safeguards are provided in respect of Article 14 of the convention, which deals with liberty and security of persons. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 also needs to be fully commenced. That Act repeals the key legislation, which is inconsistent with the convention, namely, the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871 and the Marriage of Lunatics Act 1811. These Acts provide the legislative basis for the system of wardship, which needs to be abolished in order for Ireland to be compliant with the convention. The commencement of the 2015 Act is dependent on the decision support services based within the Mental Health Commission becoming operational.
In the decision of 30 January, the Government agreed that a number of reservations and-or declarations would be made at the time of ratification. It is proposed that Ireland will enter the following reservations or declarations at the time of ratification. On Article 12, Ireland recognises that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life. Ireland declares its understanding that the convention permits supported and substituted decision making arrangements which provide for decisions to be made on behalf of a person, where such arrangements are necessary, in accordance with the law and subject to appropriate and effective safeguards. To the extent that Article 12 may be interpreted as requiring the elimination of all substitute decision making arrangements, Ireland reserves the right to permit such arrangements in appropriate circumstances and subject to appropriate and effective safeguards.
On Articles 12 and 14, Ireland recognises that all persons with disabilities enjoy the right to liberty and security of person, and a right to respect for physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others. Furthermore, Ireland declares its understanding that the convention allows for compulsory care or treatment of persons, including measures to treat mental disorders, where circumstances render treatment of this kind necessary as a last resort, and the treatment is subject to legal safeguards.
In its reservation on Article 27(1), Ireland accepts the provisions of the convention, subject to the understanding that none of its obligations relating to equal treatment in employment and occupation shall apply to the admission into or service in any of the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, the Prison Service, the fire brigade, the Irish Coastguard and the ambulance service.
The Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 addresses a range of legislative barriers to ratification which were not addressed separately in other legislation, mainly in the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. The opportunity is also being taken to progress a number of other miscellaneous amendments to equality and disability legislation. The Bill was published in December 2016 and completed Second Stage in February 2017. A range of amendments are scheduled to be brought forward on Committee Stage, most of which are technical in nature.
The deprivation of liberty provisions will set out a legal process which will aim to ensure that individuals are not unlawfully deprived of their liberty. The provisions are intended to provide safeguards for older people and persons with a disability who are living in or are to be admitted to a relevant facility, where they are or will be under continuous supervision and control and will not be free to leave, and where there is reason to believe that they lack the capacity to make a decision to live in the relevant facility. It is intended that these safeguards will also apply to persons in mental health facilities with mental health issues who are not suffering from a mental disorder and therefore cannot be involuntarily detained under the Mental Health Act 2001. The Government approved the publication of draft heads of a Bill on deprivation of liberty for public consultation at a Cabinet meeting on 5 December 2017. Following that, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, and the Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, announced the opening of a public consultation on the draft provision on 8 December 2017 to run until 9 March 2018.
Following the end of the public consultation on 9 March, the Department of Health will amend the draft heads of the Bill on deprivation of liberty as necessary, with a view to submitting them to Government in a stand-alone Bill for approval before the summer recess, followed by pre-legislative scrutiny, drafting of the Bill and enactment before the end of 2018. It should be noted that since the deprivation of liberty proposals will require the full operation of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 and the decision support services, provisions cannot in any event be commenced until that service is fully up and running. In addition, the proposal will also have significant resource implications for court services, the Legal Aid Board and the health service. While it is not possible at the moment to provide an exact timeframe for the full commencement of the 2015 Act, and the establishment of the decision support services, every effort is under way to ensure that the decision support service has all the necessary capacity to open for business as soon as possible.
Respite services in County Louth are at an all-time low. The rumour is that St. John of God in Drumcar is going to be closing very shortly. There will then be no respite services in County Louth. Tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock, all politicians in County Louth will be meeting Jude O'Neill from the HSE social care division for Louth. We will be discussing the future provision of HSE respite care services within County Louth. I hope we will be getting good news. As I said, we have been meeting families for the last number of years. In fairness, the Minster of State has also met people from County Louth. In Dundalk there is a turnkey house that is ready for people to move into straight away and I appeal to the Minister of State to give us good news tomorrow.
I thank Deputy Fitzpatrick for giving me the opportunity to say a few words. I and my colleagues will be supporting the motion. On entering this House, one of my first discussions with the Ceann Comhairle was about the issue of disability and this Dáil championing it. I am glad at least to see that this convention is going to be passed.
I like to refer to people not as having disabilities, as I have said many times, but as having varying degrees of ability. This evening, I want to address what I see as one of the main first steps in recognising people's rights in the disability sector. Every county and health board area, collectively, should be instructed to compile a complete database of all those classified as having a disability. Local authorities and health boards should appoint an advocacy officer who would act as a one-stop shop for families seeking services for their loved ones, instead of being passed from Billy to Jack.
The second frustration I am experiencing alongside many disability organisations in my area, including the friends of people with disability group in Dundalk, is the lack of communication on issues such as service availability. On the prospect of independent living, the main focus appears to be on the decongregation of those with disabilities currently in institutions, while there is a failure to deliver to those who would like to live independently and prosper with proper service supports. Many of those who have elderly parents just want security and peace of mind going forward and to be assured that their loved ones will be looked after properly after their day.
The Minister of State will be aware that I and many of my colleagues, including Deputy Fitzpatrick, have been arguing for respite care in the county. With the suggestion that St. John of God might possibly close, we would only be left with the Maria Goretti Foundation in Cooley to offer that support. The real issue is respite, and centres around the need for properly planned and managed respite, to give families a real break. The provision of emergency respite is also key. Local authorities and housing bodies should be obliged to have a ten-year strategy in respect of the number of houses to be bought or constructed to cater for those with such needs. This should be based on an audit such as the one I mentioned at the outset.
There are many shortcomings in the delivery of services and some shocking reports from meetings I have attended.
I will not go into them but I dealt with the case of a 40 year old person with a disability who was locked into a bus for four hours outside a house and his parents could not find him. That is only the tip of the iceberg in respect of the issues I am trying to address in my constituency. Signing this convention will do no good. It is not just about words; it is about action and giving people the proper services they deserve.
This long overdue motion to ratify the UN convention is welcome. I commend my party colleagues, Deputies Margaret Murphy O'Mahony and Fiona O'Loughlin, who have persistently called on the Government to ratify the convention. Ratification alone will not end the systemic discrimination that people with disabilities face day in, day out in this country nor will it lead to a short-term improvement in their lives. Access to respite services remains elusive for many, waiting lists for vital treatment continue to increase and barriers continue to impede people with disabilities from fully participating in our society. It is encouraging that the Government is starting to recognise the need to adopt a forward looking model of disability and to move away from the more paternalistic approach. However, as my party's spokesperson on mental health, it is deeply concerning that the Government's commitment may fall short of addressing the lack of rights for people with mental health disabilities. The UN convention sets out the need to avoid any unlawful arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and that the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty. However, the Government's roadmap to the convention noted an intended declaration on involuntary detention. Liberty and security of the person is one of the most precious rights to which everyone is entitled. Any declaration in respect of Article 14 of the convention brings into question the Government's commitment to improve services for people with mental health disabilities. The UN has made it crystal clear that any reservation to Article 14 is incompatible with the convention.
In September 2014, the UNCRPD committee stated:
It is contrary to Article 14 to allow for the detention of persons with disabilities based on the perceived danger of persons to themselves or to others. The involuntary detention of persons with disabilities based on presumptions of risk or dangerousness tied to disability labels is contrary to the right to liberty. For example, it is wrong to detain someone just because they are diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
If the proposed declaration is made, questions need to be asked. Why are people with mental health disabilities being singled out? Why are they left behind consistently? Why is the Government keen to disrespect the rights of people with disabilities to equal physical and mental integrity?
In 2013, the international human rights organisation, Mental Disability Advocacy Center, published a legal opinion on Norway's declaration or reservation to the UN convention. It found that the reservation was incompatible with the "object and purpose" of the convention. However, the Government has signalled that it will make a declaration on involuntary detention similar to the situation in Norway.
There is no health without mental health and the ratification of the convention with an exclusion declaration on the rights of those with mental health illness will mean it is incomplete, partly incompatible with the convention and those with mental health disabilities will be sidelined. The Minister of State referred to certain reservations, declarations and notifications in his opening contribution. They were not clarified and, therefore, I ask that he clarifies each of them, explains why and how they are compatible with the convention and, in particular, addresses the issue of Article 14. I hope a declaration is not pursued in respect of the article, but if it is, clarification is very much needed.
Like previous speakers, I welcome and support the motion for Dáil approval. Ratification has been delayed but the Minister of State has tried to progress this, despite the delays. I also welcome the different disability groups in the Visitors Gallery and Senator John Dolan, who has put significant work into this issue. However, I am concerned about the pace at which we are undertaking this simple ratification. If compliance with the process mirrors what we have witnessed over the past year and a half, that does not give rise for hope, despite the positive change today because compliance with the convention is crucial. While I welcome many of the positive announcements in the Minister of State's contribution, he has mentioned reservations, declarations and working within the context of the domestic legal context, which means derogations, potential dilution and incomplete ratification. We should not speak about potential derogations at this stage; we should aspire to have Ireland as compliant as possible.
With regard to the Magdalen laundries redress scheme, officials from the Department of Justice and Equality appeared before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, of which I am a member, to discuss the delays in establishing it. They used the delay in the ratification of this convention as a means to justify people who needed to be made a ward of court not being paid. Some of them have passed away. They said the relevant capacity legislation will not be commenced or progressed until 2019. Even with ratification, it is fundamentally important that we have legislation, policy changes and progress.
Another example relates to people who need early intervention or diagnosis such as an occupational therapist or speech and language therapist appointment or an appointment with an allied health professional such as a psychologist. They have to wait years. It is important not to label people but some will develop morbidity and difficulties based on their diagnosis unless the State provides them with the republic of opportunity that is central to the programme for Government. UN ratification is an announcement, a step forward and a positive political measure but progress in this regard will be measured by compliance and ensuring every person with a disability gets the intervention they need in the republic of opportunity from the day they are born. People with global developmental delay and multiple disabilities are left lingering in our health and social care system without adequate support. It is important that there is progress in the years to come.
It is also important that the convention is not a panacea to ensuring we finally treat people with disabilities with the respect and dignity they deserve. Some face systemic discrimination daily and the cold snap experienced last week should crystallise this clearly in our minds as public transport services ground to a health, roads became impassable and timetables went out the window upsetting their carefully planned routines. Public offices closed their doors and carers were unable to make their visits. All this disruption adversely affects those with disabilities more than other groups. I ask that Members be mindful of that in the context of ratification. As Deputy Breathnach said, there should be a full audit at local authority and departmental level to build an inclusive approach in order that those with disabilities are not impeded by the barriers of bad planning and the cumulative neglect generated by the lack of development of an appropriate system in the public service.
Fianna Fáil takes this matter seriously. When we were in government, we published the national disability strategy, which resulted in more residential and respite care places and the passing of important legislation. However, it is inexcusable that there are delays currently, which goes back to my original point about compliance. The enactment of the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 has been too slow, even in the context of the current pace of legislative change. There is unanimous support to bring it through but the Department of Justice and Equality and other Departments are not giving it the attention it deserves to ensure change. It is important that there are no constraints on legislation and that progress is made in this area. Work on the Bill needs to be ramped up and it should be brought to committee without delay, while groups affected by it need to be engaged with genuinely and not just as a face-saving, box-ticking measure.
I welcome the ratification of the convention. It is a positive day for the Minister of State. He set this out as one of his policy priorities and he has achieved that, but the acid test for him will be to ensure compliance with the convention and to give people hope and an opportunity in order that they do not continue to face the historic barriers and constraints they have faced over many years. He will have the full support of our party in that regard.
We have six speakers plus the Minister of State remaining and the debate must conclude by 8.10 p.m. I ask everybody to stick to their time. The next slot is Sinn Féin's, with each speaker having two and a half minutes.
The Minister of State should have thought of it. I want it on the record that I think it is shameful.
I wish to share time with Deputies Funchion, Buckley and Brady.
Persons with disabilities encounter too many socially constructed barriers and the delay in ratifying this convention was one of those shameful barriers that they faced. Today is a bittersweet achievement, as we convene here in this Chamber to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The fact that Ireland is the last EU country to ratify the Convention casts a shadow of shame upon each successive Government since the signing of it 11 years ago. Although many of us here tonight have spoken on the issue on many occasions previously, let it be known in no uncertain terms that it was the unyielding and relentless campaigning of the disability rights activists throughout the country that brought about this moment. I commend each and every one of those people. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has played a role too - I acknowledge that - along with my colleague, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who has also been relentless in the campaign on this issue.
It is well beyond time that the equal status of persons living with disabilities was vested in law and that the mechanisms of the State were compelled to ensure their full and equal enjoyment of the rights and freedoms of a sovereign society.
I want to point out quickly that the delays in occupational and speech therapy services are shameful. We must tackle that. We must create a truly inclusive society and we must take down those barriers and deal with the frustrations that are aggravating people and setting us back in the process.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I also welcome the important step forward in ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
It is a step forward and that is really all we can say on it. While it is welcome, what we need to see in the disability sector is action. We need to see services being adequately resourced with both staff and funding so that they can meet demand. Everybody knows - it has been said by many - that parents who have a child who is waiting for an assessment of need for occupational therapy, early intervention or speech and language therapy have to battle and fight, and family members have to constantly battle and fight for supports that they should be entitled to as a right.
We need to see more autistic spectrum disorder, ASD, units in schools and a far more transparent and easier system in accessing a special needs assistant in the school. I refer to the hoops that parents have to jump through - I would say it is the same when one applies for certain payments, such as disability allowance, carer's allowance or domiciliary care allowance. I can never understand the need for some of the information they look for and then there is a wait of between 16 weeks to 18 weeks before one receives that payment.
Those are the issues we need to see addressed. If we are to take this issue seriously and we want to stand up and treat everybody equally we need to see far more funding and resourcing of places. Places being left without speech and language therapists for two to three years is completely unacceptable.
I want to mention a specific issue in my constituency, Carlow-Kilkenny, where there has been no overnight respite services since December 2015 for children with disabilities. This is disgraceful. It is coming up on three years. It is action, not words, that we need.
I am conscious of the time and I do not want to go over because I have two colleagues who want to speak. We are nowhere near the provision of equal rights for persons with disabilities. The ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, is welcome progress in improving conditions for people but we must ensure it is not a tokenistic gesture. I appeal to the Minister of State to look at the funding and resource issues.
Briefly, when persons with a disability go, at age 18, from children services into adult services, we need to make it far easier for them to access employment and third level education. Sometimes it feels like services are waiting until a person turns 18 to say he or she goes onto the adult waiting lists. We need to address those sorts of issues if we are to be serious about addressing issues of disabilities.
I welcome the visitors to the Gallery. I will cut straight to the chase.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a positive and important development. It is long since time that the Irish State lived up to the standards in terms of the rights and protections for those with disabilities.
Mental illness is often left out of this discussion yet mental health campaigners have been to the fore in pushing forward the rights agenda in this regardless, particularly in Ireland. It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to Mental Health Reform and its member organisations which have been vital to my work and the causes we are discussing. I also pay tribute to my colleague, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, and Senator John Dolan.
The Government has endeavoured to use the UNCRPD as a way to relieve itself of the responsibility to deal with the enduring rights issues, in particular, for persons with mental ill-health. Ratification means little without the legislative back-up. We have still not commenced fully the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act, now nearly three years old. The lack of movement on this issue is not only denying the right to persons to have an input into their care but is also holding up further needed reform. Another side-effect is that the survivors of the Magdalen laundries have died without even having redress processed.
We had a bit of flip-flopping tonight - we were talking about this - and it may have inconvenienced some of those who would have liked to be here tonight. However, on the plus side, we got a bit of extra time. I note that as well.
I would go through the litany of issues there is with the Government's approach to this but as I have limited time, I will focus on one important point to finish. The Department of Justice and Equality in its roadmap document highlighted the major work needed to meet standards. It has also made clear the intention to sidestep Article 14 on liberty and security of the person by adopting a Norwegian or Australian approach. The UN clearly stated this contradicts the spirit of the convention. It unfairly discriminates against persons with mental health issues allowing for continued enforced detention and treatment of them. Persons with the disability of mental ill-health need equality. I demand the Government explain this position and commit to equality for all. Otherwise ratification will be merely an empty gesture.
First, I acknowledge the visitors in the Gallery. It is unfortunate that there are not more here. That is down to the flip-flopping around the scheduling of this debate. The discrimination against persons with disabilities where they must give 24 hours notice to use the public transport system has added to that problem. Hopefully, the passing of this will change it.
For the DART.
I want to remember, first, my late friend and colleague, Mr. John Doyle, who passed away last November. John, like so many with disabilities, had been pushing and campaigning for this day for so many years. It is a real pity he is not with us to see his dream become a reality.
Signing the convention is one matter but enacting rights through legislation is critical. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to be told to sit at the back of a bus. Here, in this State, persons with disabilities find it nearly impossible to get on the bus or, for that matter, any other public transport in the first place. I commend a constituent of mine, Mr. Pádraic Moran, for exposing the difficulties persons with disabilities face every day in trying to access public transport. Pádraic has done that in the face of fierce opposition by Irish Rail in trying to censor and silence him. I salute Pádraic in everything he does. I also salute two other constituents, Margaret and Ann Kennedy, who have pushed day in, day out, on this issue.
People with disabilities are treated as second-class citizens by this and successive Governments. The mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant were both abolished in 2013 and there is still, to this day, no replacement scheme in place.
In January, the ESRI published a major study on deprivation between 2004 and 2015. The report finds one quarter of families headed by a person with a disability were persistently deprived. These rates are 10% higher than in ten similar EU states. The Government presides over this scandalous discrimination through cuts and underfunding in services right across the board.
Persons with disabilities are no longer prepared to be second-class citizens. They are now in the driving seat of the bus to which I referred. That is down to people like Senator John Dolan, DFI and the other organisations which have pushed this important issue forward over the last 11 years. My own colleague, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, has also pushed this. The Minister of State must now make those rights a reality by enacting the necessary legislation to end the discrimination which all of our disabled citizens face every day.
I thank the Deputy and his colleagues for their co-operation. The debate was supposed to finish at 8.10 p.m. but that will obviously not happen. It may mean we must sit five minutes later tonight. Is that agreed? Agreed. There are two speakers left before the Minister of State replies, namely Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan and John Brassil. Would they be happy with five minutes each?
People with disabilities experience inequality more acutely than anyone else. They tell us they are a long way from the kind of society in which they would like to live. The facts of inequality speak for themselves, not to mention the extra costs imposed on those who live with a disability. There has been progress on equality for others, including LGBT people. We had the marriage referendum. It is an unequal world, however, for those who live with a disability and that was exacerbated by budgets in the austerity years. Ireland took a different approach to ratification and is the last member state of the EU to ratify the convention. I can understand how that failure to ratify has been seen by those with a disability as an indication that they were a lower priority for successive Governments. We have had a great deal of lipservice.
I have looked at the reactions of those with disabilities. Senator John Dolan of the Disability Federation welcomes ratification but his statement also made the point that we cannot be happy with that alone and must look at the implementation plan and its timeframe. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, to which Ireland is a party, and our Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, contain a number of rights which have not extended to those with a disability. Ratification must be the start of a process which will mean planned, resourced implementation to create real outcomes for people with a disability. That must be reflected in budgetary measures. As we talk about gender proofing and equality proofing budgets, we should focus in particular on disability proofing. That is something at which our budget oversight office could look at.
I have looked at the response of Inclusion Ireland. Those with an intellectual disability have very particular needs. I acknowledge those who work in the intellectual disability area and the challenges they have. They welcome ratification but have concerns and note the need for a clear timetable for implementation. The Minister of State said himself that it will take a whole-of-Government approach. As such, their call for a single focal point in the Department of the Taoiseach makes sense and would show a real commitment to people with a disability. They have called for a monitoring mechanism because post-ratification the EU will monitor and examine implementation. We would like a good report in that regard. A way to bring that about would be to appoint an advisory and monitoring committee of people with disabilities. That committee should be resourced, trained and supported.
I refer to carers. We have heard many harrowing stories from parents and other relatives caring for someone with a disability. There is an awareness of the significant savings to the Government where those with a disability are cared for at home. I am struck greatly by the realisation that those of us in the Chamber cannot know what kind of intellectual or physical disability we may face in years to come. Ireland played a key role in the sustainable development goals and disability is part of that. As we want to bring about equality in the wider world, we could start here in Ireland with a commitment to end poverty for those with a disability. I hope ratification means an end to protests by people with a disability like the one which took place outside the Dáil overnight. I remember the late Martin Naughton, also, in particular from my leaving certificate English class many years ago. I want to remember another voice, namely one for those with intellectual disability and mental health issues. I refer to the late John McCarthy of Mad Pride who was from Cork.
I liked the point the Minister of State made about the need to focus on ability not disability. There is cause for him to celebrate this evening. He sat through successive Governments which failed to ratify the convention, which might still not be ratified had he not been appointed to his office. This is only one step, however, and there are many more left to take.
I compliment the Minister of State on the ratification of the convention and welcome the contributions of Members. In particular, I recognise the great work done by Senator John Dolan in this area. Many speakers have said that ratification without implementation is meaningless and that is worth repeating. However, I note the Minister of State's commitment and look forward to working with him to implement as much as we can in as short a period as possible. There are a few issues on which I wish to focus specifically while the Minister of State is in front of me. He met with a group from Ashfield House, Listowel, last summer and gave them a commitment that he would come to the town to meet them. Events like the recent bad weather have delayed that but I ask him to consider a date and to set it as soon as possible. I recognise the delivery of Kilmorna respite house which will open in April and which the Minister of State and I worked together to achieve. I acknowledge that in the House. I also acknowledge the delivery of a nurse for the Nano Nagle school, which we also worked on together. The Minister of State met with the parents on that. I want to go for a hat trick with Ashfield House, in which regard I look forward to meeting the Minister of State in Listowel shortly.
When disabled children, in particular profoundly disabled children, become adults, there are a few things that can make life easier for their parents. Where those children used to get a disabled person's grant from the HSE to provide for necessary equipment, it is replaced when they become adults with the mobility aids grant. If, on becoming an adult, a person needs a new hoist, he or she must go through the application process again, obtain occupational therapy reports and face every sort of blockage. That should be an automatic entitlement. The advance of information technology will hopefully facilitate that, but it is very unfair in the meantime to ask parents with profoundly disabled children to apply for equipment again when those children become adults for whom they continue to care. It is a protracted process which a little tweaking and common sense could solve.
The primary medical care certificate is next to impossible to get. The Minister of State must review who qualifies for it. A previous speaker referred to the mobility allowance and motorised transport grant. I know it is on the Minister of State's desk, but it needs to move on to delivery. Electronic health records and an individual health identifier for disabled persons would be very welcome and we need to progress those measures. Another issue which must be considered is the qualification of carers of disabled children for a free travel pass. In many cases, the nature of a disability means both parents must be available to travel with a child. The carer should be allowed to nominate the second parent to travel with the child to hospital in Dublin, for example. If we do not allow this, parents will have to drive up, which adds to congestion. The new children's hospital will be at St. James's Hospital which is down the road from Heuston station and linked to the DART via the Luas line. We must ensure that parents who qualify for the free travel pass can nominate a partner to travel with them free of charge to avail properly of the facility.
Carers do not qualify for the fuel allowance but many others in receipt of State payments do. The Minister of State could look at that. Where there are two parents looking after a profoundly disabled child, the Minister of State should consider one and a half times the carer's payment as opposed to a single carer's payment. One parent will often be able to work only limited hours to be available to help the caring partner. If the rate were increased to one and a half times, it would be hugely beneficial for many parents. Those are just a few practical issues which I ask the Minister of State to consider in the short term. It would be greatly beneficial for those caring for children with disabilities. I look forward to working with the Minister of State as we have done over the past two and a half years to get key items over the line.
I thank all my colleagues for their contributions and particularly for their positive comments and constructive suggestions. I was very interested in some of the negative comments and I will deal with those in a few minutes.
The ratification of the convention is a common goal that should unite us all. All political parties and Independents support the ratification of the UN convention. Civil society groups and stakeholders are keen to see it ratified. As I said at the start, we are dedicated to continuous improvement where equality and human rights are concerned. I firmly believe equality is about creating circumstances in which it can be ensured that every individual has an equal opportunity to enjoy his or her rights. I accept, however, the point made by many of my colleagues that rights are of no use unless there are services and implementation. It is a valued argument.
When I took over as Minister of State, we saw the restoration of the carer's grant to €1,700. The extension will have benefited 1,000 families. Medical cards were made available to 11,000 children in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance. Some €3 million was allocated for the Decision Support Service, which Members should remember is the engine room of the convention. Some €10 million was allocated for the ability programme, which concerns the training and employment of young people. Some €167 million extra was allocated through the HSE in respect of the social care plan for the period 2017 to 2018. Recently, following lobbying from many of my colleagues, €10 million was made available for respite services. It is important that we acknowledge that we are implementing certain measures.
I will address the Members' concerns about ratification. I am very confident that all the Departments will work with them on this. The necessary legislation will be in place before the first phase of reporting under the convention. A clear timescale has been drawn up to address the remaining implementation issues in line with the proposals for the progressive realisation of services that operate in respect of compliance with the convention. Priority drafting has been approved for the disability (miscellaneous provisions) Bill and a stand-alone Bill to deal with the deprivation of liberty. There were delays and I accept the criticism in that regard. As I stated, €3 million was allocated in budget 2018 to facilitate the establishment of the Decision Support Service. We have already appointed the director, Ms Áine Flynn, and we are experiencing some technical delays in the appointment of the project manager.
The reservations and declarations have to be entered at the time of ratification and can be reviewed. In each of these areas, it is the Government's view that there is a reason to make a declaration or issue a reservation to allow for compulsory care and treatment under the Mental Health Act to permit substitute decision-making in limited circumstances as a last resort where there are considerable capacity issues and to deal with specific occupational requirements for employment in the Defence Forces or emergency services.
With regard to the monitoring framework, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and some others raised the possibility of involving people with disabilities. The convention provides in Article 33 for the establishment of a monitoring framework. This will be facilitated by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission with the support and technical expertise of the National Disability Authority. More important, as Deputies pointed out in the debate tonight, it is essential that the monitoring be carried out by persons with lived experience of disability. I accept that, and it will be acted on. I assure the House tonight that this is a key principle of the arrangements that will be put in place by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
Consultation is taking place. The advertisements were put out in September and people have made detailed submissions. Last December, we put the advertisements in the newspapers. The provisions are designed to address the issues of safeguards for older people, persons with a disability and some categories of people with a mental illness to ensure they are not unlawfully deprived of their liberty in certain residential facilities. These are the points the Deputies raised. The approach proposed in the draft provisions represents a significant cultural change by comparison with the status quo, whereby third parties often make decisions on behalf of vulnerable people.
I thank everybody for contributing to the debate. I did not get to cover many of the points I wanted to cover. My focus, however, has been on ratifying the convention. I accept this is a first step. We need to implement and deliver the services. I commit in the Dáil tonight to doing my best and I urge everyone to support the motion.