Seanad debates

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Disabled Drivers and Passengers Scheme

10:30 am

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to attend the House today. I wish to raise with her the disabled person's parking card, the primary medical certificate and the regulations governing the eligibility for them. Both of them come under the remit of her Department. When I addressed the House on this subject on Make Way Day, I spoke about the experiences of a constituent who is well known to me and the hardship experienced by that person. Much to my surprise, and perhaps horror, I have been contacted since then by many people who are experiencing the same problems and are in a similar position.

I am asking for a review of the eligibility criteria on the basis that if one holds a primary medical certificate, one is entitled to the disabled person's parking card but must still automatically apply for it. More importantly, from that card flows an exemption from the payment of VAT, motor tax and vehicle registration fees, as well as various reliefs that assist in the purchase or adaptation of a car for people who are drivers with disabilities, or who have a passenger with a disability.

The eligibility criteria, as they stand, are based on the medical grounds of disability for people who are severely or permanently disabled. Assessment is made with reference to a particular set of criteria, including the loss of both legs, restricted use of lower limbs or the loss of both hands or arms. Those who are not taken into account include people who have lost one upper limb or have a severe debilitating or life-changing disability and are falling short of meeting the criteria. The constituent to whom I previously referred had an appalling accident when she was in her 20s. She is now a number of decades older. She did not receive any compensation at the time, in the circumstances arising from the accident, but she has lost one arm. This affects her washing, dressing, typing, managing her phone, toileting and driving. She has to pay for all the adaptations made to the car herself. She gets no relief from the State in this regard because she does not fit any of the criteria. Every minute of every day, she is reminded of her disability in an ambidextrous world.

The qualifying criteria, as currently prescribed in legislation, are far too stringent. They require a level of disability that appears to be deliberately designed to ensure exclusion. Where is the compassion for those who have lost one arm? In this particular constituent's case, it was the result of an accident, but in subsequent representations made to me by others, the disabilities have arisen from cancer and the treatment of same. Therefore, there is a wide group of people included in this cohort.

Since I submitted this Commencement matter, I have done some research. It appears that this issue has been raised frequently in the Seanad and in parliamentary questions, especially over the last decade. I note that a review was last undertaken in 2011. The response is always that to widen the criteria would open the floodgates to payments. As the Minister of State is smiling, I anticipate that I am about to get the same response.

I ask for consideration to be given to the introduction of a graduated relief system, which would provide for differing degrees of disability that entitle claimants to differing levels of relief. This would demonstrate compassion, without opening prohibitive floodgates. The situation as it stands at the moment is far too stark and is devoid of empathy. It is not supportive or cognisant of the very real and genuine impairments that are experienced.


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