Thursday, 17 December 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Disability Support Services
I thank the Minister of State for giving me the opportunity to ask about the concerns raised about fire safety at Camphill Community Dunshane, Naas, County Kildare, and plans to ensure that residents with intellectual disabilities and other kinds of special needs are not evicted. My indications are that this could come to pass. Families have contacted me. I know that officials in the Department of Health have sought information from the HSE regarding Camphill Community Dunshane. I was contacted by a constituent of mine who was troubled to be told, last week, that on 23 December, their family member with an intellectual disability and who moved from his home in Kilkenny to Camphill Community Dunshane, Naas, County Kildare when he was 15 was about to made homeless at Christmas time due to fire safety issues at the community home. This has been his home for decades.
Camphill Communities of Ireland is part of an international charitable trust working with people with intellectual disabilities and other kinds of special needs. Its website states that its guidelines and policies aim to support a safe, secure and good quality of life for those living in Camphill Communities, grounded in the reality of community life. The Minister of State knows that these communities are a home from home. They are families. We cannot let anything happen to this. It is a lovely, close unit.
HIQA inspected Camphill Community Dunshane on 23 November and raised grave concerns regarding fire safety. My understanding is that those concerns were flagged in 2015. If it was flagged five years ago, why is the issue now urgent? Perhaps the Minister of State can explain that. It seems that HIQA was unhappy at the lack of progress made at the facility and asked for immediate action.
It was decided that the house would be closed as soon as possible. However, the families were not consulted in respect of this decision and had learned that there are issues with fire safety and renovation this year. My understanding is the families were not told about this. It could take a year and a half if the works were to be done. During this time, families were asked to shelter their family members. They were brought in and asked if they would be able to take their family member home. I ask for clarification on that.
This decision means that residents are effectively made homeless through no fault of their own. There does not seem to be any short-, medium- or long-term plan in place, or any plan at all. My understanding is that it is to close on 23 December and I need confirmation of this. If the family cannot shelter their loved one, they have nowhere to go. Some families can shelter their loved one around Christmas but this is a community. These are vulnerable adults with support needs who are experiencing total shock and dealing with a life-changing situation days before Christmas and we are facing into Brexit. We have gone through a year of Brexit and this is unacceptable. Covid has brought many difficulties to families and this difficulty should be avoided. It is my understanding that this kind of situation cannot be allowed and there must be a place found for someone in care. I would like clarity on this. This lack of planning has caused unnecessary anxiety to the family and their loved ones. When one is dealing with people with intellectual disabilities and their families, it is important that communication to the family is given.
I would be grateful if the Minister of State could offer assistance on this as a matter of urgency. Are there plans to provide alternative accommodation for the residents? I do not know. I am sure the Minister of State will do all she can to help me with my constituents and other families like them.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to outline the position regarding developments at Camphill Dunshane Community, Naas, County Kildare. I know the Deputy has raised this issue with my office over the past couple of weeks and I am very aware of the worry and confusion it has caused for the residents of Dunshane and their families, which is something nobody ever wants, particularly just before Christmas.
The positive news I can report tonight is that Camphill Communities of Ireland, CCoI, is not closing the Dunshane Community residential service in Kildare. CCoI Dunshane accommodates 26 adults with intellectual disabilities in eight residential buildings. Fire safety issues have been identified in one of the houses and remedial works will be necessary in the interests of the safety of the residents involved. There are normally seven residents in the particular setting.
CCoI has confirmed to the HSE that its decision to undertake these works is based on careful consideration of internal and external specialist advice. I am told this has been ratified by its board based on the overwhelming requirement to protect the safety and well-being of its residents. What the Deputy raised in respect of the HIQA reports of 2015 is important and I acknowledge that I was not aware of that. I will ask the Deputy's questions and get a particular answer on that. I will also raise the Deputy's concern as to why, having waited five years, it is such an issue at this time in a pandemic year.
Since this issue emerged, CCoI has been engaging with the HSE regarding a transitional plan to address the needs of the residents involved while the works are underway. HIQA, in its capacity as regulator, has been informed of the intention to have the works carried out. CCoI has confirmed to the HSE that all residents will be accommodated in new accommodation during the time that the refurbishment of their home is to be carried out. The Deputy will relay that to her constituents.
I take on board the Deputy's points regarding communication. It is unfortunate that we have to come in on a Topical Issue the week before Christmas to relay this to the residents and their families. Better communication should be at play in this issue. During this period, the residents concerned will continue to receive services from CCoI and the organisation has been actively liaising with the families, I am led to believe, of the persons concerned with a view to putting in place person-centred plans to ensure suitable accommodation for the residents. I will ask again the questions about timelines in the context of communication. From what the Deputy is saying, the position in this regard is not clear.
I know that such changes to routine are far from ideal for residents and I am very much aware that this will bring particular challenges for people with disabilities and their families. Any change to a setting or routine is traumatic, particularly in the year we have had when routine has been completely upended. I also understand that this can increase the strain on the families. That is why it is important that the person-centred approach has guided the response of CCoI and the HSE to the needs of the residents involved while these important works are carried out. I know staff working in all disability services across the country have made a considerable effort to keep residential care settings safe in these Covid times and this needs to be acknowledged. They have put effective measures in place to protect the public health of the residents involved during this pandemic across the country. I take this opportunity to thank the staff in these front-line organisations.
I thank the Minister of State. It is excellent news that new accommodation will be found. Things happen but we have to compliment all the staff. Everyone is doing their best. We are living through Covid. Communication was the biggest issue here. I raised the issue to get clarity and establish the fact that it was definitely not closing. I needed to get that for the families. I am delighted that there will be accommodation until all the works are done. I want to say well done to everybody. These have been challenging times and staff and all involved have been so good, doing their best and trying to social distance. It is so important with Covid that we all play our part.
It is a good news story. It is our final Topical Issue matter for 2020 and at least the families and the people in my constituency who have contacted me know that everything will be resolved.
On a side note, earlier today the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Deputy O'Gorman, signed the commencement of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017. I was there with him when he did it. This is a proud day for the deaf community. I will say my next words in Irish Sign Language - Happy Christmas.
I wish the Members, the Ministers and the staff a happy Christmas. Nollaig Shona daoibhse go léir agus gach rath oraibh sa bhliain nua. I have seen first hand the work the staff on the ground have done behind the scenes. Maybe in the new year we might begin to look at the hours, which are inhuman for the staff, not to mention Deputies and Ministers. It is something we should consider.