Thursday, 22 September 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
97. To ask the Minister for Finance the progress that is being made on introducing a new scheme for disabled drivers and passengers which will be workable and relevant to persons with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46557/22]
What progress is being made on the introduction of a new scheme for disabled drivers and passengers, which would be workable and relevant to their particular circumstances, taking into account that the mobility allowance and motorised transport grants for new applicants were suspended in 2013, with the promise that a new scheme would be put in place?
The only remaining support available for those living with a disability is the disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme which is operated by the Revenue Commissioners. As the Ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, outlined in his report "Grounded", this scheme, which is a statutory scheme, is inadequate to meet the needs of many people living with a disability.
I gave a commitment to the House that a comprehensive review of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme to include a broader review of mobility supports for persons with disabilities would be undertaken. I am working with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman on this. Both of us agree that this work should take place under the auspices of the national disability inclusion strategy to examine transport supports encompassing all Government-funded transport and mobility schemes for people with disabilities. This is the best way of handling this issue. A working group has been set up to do this and is chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte. Officials from my Department and from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth sit on the group, which began work at the start of the year.
In September, the group continued its meetings and assessed the best proposals to modify or take the place of the scheme the Deputy is raising. At its next meeting on 29 November, the group will try to further develop policies and proposals in this area. My Department has established an information gathering group to capture the experiences, expertise and perspectives of former Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal members and principal medical officers in the HSE. A range of outputs have been produced, providing information and views on the disabled drivers scheme, and these are feeding into our work. I accept that this is a priority. I will continue to work on this matter to try to bring it to conclusion.
I thank the Minister for the update. There is no appeals mechanism in place for anyone who applies for the primary medical certificate because the appeals board resigned over a year ago, citing the unworkable nature of the scheme. No action has been taken since. Sometimes when you look at something like this, there is complete inequality in the system. People who are on the existing schemes, the mobility allowance and the motorised transport scheme are benefiting but new entrants cannot apply for those schemes. There are people who are being supported and people who are not. In my constituency of Galway East, there is very little public transport to help these people. They will have trouble in accessing public transport. As the Ombudsman report said, they are being grounded. The report was published in November 2021. The schemes were decommissioned in 2013, or nine years ago. There has been ample opportunity to get something in place to help people with disabilities. As a member of the Committee on Disability Matters, it is incumbent on me to state this on behalf of people with disabilities: it is not good enough and we need to do more.
I accept the point Deputy Canney is making. I am committed to trying to resolve and conclude an issue that has been running for some time. Two things are under way now. First, we are trying to come up with a better overall policy compared to where we are at the moment. I understand the issues of equity that the Deputy raises. As always, we must look at the cost and impact of any new scheme that is put in place. I have a duty to consider that too. Second, and this relates to what the Deputy said about the lack of a board to consider and oversee the process that is in place, suitable candidates for the role are going through the Garda vetting process. This is important given the nature of this work. I will do what I can to try to support the new board being put in place and to conclude the policy assessment.
I do not doubt the Minister's commitment but we need to move it on. I would like to quote from Peter Tyndall's report:
The reports published by the Ombudsman since 2012 highlight the same issues over and over again. I am very concerned that the issues identified appear to have effectively been ignored and that nine years later, there is no evidence of any real progress that would serve to enhance the lives of those for whom these schemes were intended to assist with their daily lives. This is of huge concern to me.
As Ombudsman it is my obligation and privilege to speak out when I see unfairness or injustice in the administration of our public services. Living with a disability in Ireland in 2021 should never mean that a person is grounded in their home, unable to participate equally and actively in their community and in work. Another working group or action plan is not enough. Those people who are adversely affected by the current lack of access to transport supports require immediate and decisive action.
[...] I hope this commentary provides a timely reminder to legislators and policy makers as to the urgency of progressing work so that we are not looking at this issue again in another nine years. Progress must now be quick and comprehensive.
I wanted to read that into the record of the House. It is very striking.
I am very much aware of the views of the Ombudsman. Deputy Canney has reminded me of those views again. I fully accept that where we are is not acceptable to many people who rely on a scheme like this while dealing with great difficulty in their own lives due to their health. That said, it is a complex and sensitive matter. I will pursue two things. First, I will support the work that is under way to put a new board in place. Second, I will support my officials to conclude the work to identify how the scheme can be improved.
I am aware of the really important issues of equity and the need for the scheme to be very sensitive given the needs it is responding to. We are trying to get it right. I am equally aware of the duties I have to ensure that whatever scheme is brought forward is affordable and we are able to sustain it, and to explain the role it plays in meeting the health and mobility needs of our citizens while acknowledging there are so many other demands and pressures that the taxpayer and the Exchequer must respond to.