Seanad debates

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Commencement Matters

Services for People with Disabilities

2:30 pm

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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It is National Carers Week and I compliment the people who, in their communities and homes, look after people with all kinds of conditions. This gives them an opportunity to stay in their homes, live in their communities and play a part in family life. It is important to acknowledge the work being done, especially as it is National Carers Week.

I cannot give the Senator any commitment on the budget, and nor could the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, if he was responding. The budget is in the process of being put together for October. I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, will have many meetings about the budgets for all the services, particularly services for older people.

I do not have specific answers to some of the Senator's questions, but I will follow up on them for her. I assure her that the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, and the Government are committed to helping people with dementia to continue to live at home, with supports around them. This is what we all want, whether we are in government or opposition. We all want to support as many people as possible. I do not have figures on the budget and probably will not have them for some time. I will relay the Senator's concerns to the Minister of State, who unfortunately is not here to provide some of the finer details, which I do not have. I will ask his office to reply specifically to the Senator.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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Earlier this month, the Government announced funding of €16 million for 27 projects across the State, to be funded under the Ability programme. This programme provides supports to more than 2,600 young people aged between 15 and 29 years who have a disability. According to a Government press statement, the announcement was the fruition of a long period of planning, consultation and assessment by various Departments and Pobal. Initially it was planned to allocate €10 million in funding. This was subsequently increased to €16 million, supporting all 27 projects. I welcomed that increase.

One of the groups that applied for funding was a partnership consisting of the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation based in Donegal town, Inishowen Children’s Autism Related Education Limited, which covers the Inishowen Peninsula but also provides services to the wider Donegal area, and Extern.They came together in a partnership and they were one of the groups turned down for funding. iCare met Oireachtas Members in recent days and it has given us this map and put it online. It is a scandal that there are 27 projects, not one of which is north of Roscommon or Dublin. In my part of the world in Donegal, people are sick and tired of looking at maps like this when it comes to a range of health services, but these are disability services.

iCare is based in my home area of Inishowen and has been going for 18 years. It has had to raise every single cent it spends. It started off with six families and today it provides services to 105 persons with disabilities and their families. It delivers a huge service solely from fundraising. It has been turned down for funding only to discover, when looking to see where the money went, that nothing went north of Roscommon or Dublin. That is not to begrudge any of the organisations that got funding. I believe every single one of them deserved to get funding, but how can this be called a State-wide service for young people with disabilities when so many counties are missing? I am particularly angry about Donegal because we are isolated and we are denied access to health services in so many ways. So many of these maps are a line between Galway and Dublin, north of which nothing is provided to us.

I am asking that both the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and the Minister of State with special responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, urgently review this. After all, in their own press statements they have acknowledged that they have increased the originally planned €10 million to €16 million. They need to increase it further. They need to make sure that no young person, whether they are in Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan or Louth, is denied the equality of access and opportunity with which other young people with disabilities throughout the country are rightly provided.

This needs urgently to be reviewed. It is scandalous that two Departments, working with Pobal, in whose statements it says it has put extensive preparation into this, have allowed young people with disabilities in such a huge area to be left neglected and abandoned again. We will not stand for it and we demand a review and a reversal of the decision to limit the funding to €16 million. That is my call here today and I can tell the Minister of State that since this map has gone up on social media, it has gone viral. People are furious in my part of the world. The Minister needs to review this urgently and make sure the funding is provided. If not, there will be a battle on the Government's hands.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Mac Lochlainn for his Commencement matter. I will be taking this question of behalf of the Minister of State with special responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, who is, unfortunately, out of the country at present.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, together with the Minister of State, recently announced funding of €16 million to deliver a new pre-activation programme for young people with disabilities called Ability. The Ability programme provides supports to in excess of 2,600 young people with disabilities and who are aged between 15 and 29 years old. The programme, using a range of person-centred supports, will promote employment prospects and meaningful social roles for young people with disabilities, in particular, young people who are distant from the labour market. The initiative is being funded by the Exchequer and the EU under the European Social Fund, ESF, as part of the ESF programme for employability, inclusion and learning for 2014 to 2020. It demonstrates the commitment, at both a Governmental and EU level, to support and assist young people with disabilities to achieve their individual employment and other goals.

The announcement brought to fruition the result of a long period of planning, consultation and assessment for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and its partner Pobal. Pobal has been contracted by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to manage the application and evaluation process for the proposals received under the measures.Pobal put considerable resources into providing information resources for potential applications, including several regional seminars such as one held in Cavan. Following an extensive information campaign and application process, the Ability programme attracted applications from 57 projects. A detailed and independent assessment process of these 57 applications was undertaken by Pobal. Pobal awarded scores out of 100 for all the applications. Scores were assigned to each proposal based on a weighted marking system linked with the scheme's evaluation criteria as follows: meeting the programme measure priorities; need for the proposals; capacity of the organisation; and value for money. The first criteria attracted 40% of the marks while the other criteria attracted 20% each. Only projects receiving a score of 60 or above were deemed by Pobal to be of sufficiently high standard to be recommended for funding at the time. On this basis, Pobal recommended 27 projects as suitable for funding. These recommendations were accepted because they were made by Pobal on the basis of these objective criteria. Neither the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, nor the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, had any role to play in this completely independent assessment process.

At the time of the launch of the measure it was expected that funding for the programme would amount to €10 million over a three-year period. However, given the number and quality of the proposals received, enhanced funding arrangements have been put in place in the amount of €16 million to support all 27 projects recommended for funding by Pobal.

Pobal and the Ability programme have an appeals process for applicants or grant-holders who believe that decisions taken and procedures followed by Pobal in the administration of funding have not been applied fairly or consistently. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, through its Intreo service and the EmployAbility service, continues to offer national supports and services to people with disabilities who wish to pursue their employment ambitions. Pobal is currently in the process of drawing up and putting in place funding agreements with the 27 projects or organisations. Once these are in place the 27 projects will commence the delivery of services and supports for more than 2,600 young people with disabilities who have been identified as people who will benefit from the new programme. I will come back to the Senator with any further queries.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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I do not dispute that this was an independent process, but it was an entirely flawed process. Two Departments worked with Pobal, which is responsible for assisting communities in tackling poverty and improving inclusion throughout the State. I cannot understand how, following an extensive process, they could come up with the map I have before me. The map shows that no organisations north of Roscommon and Dublin were given any funding. It is absolutely shocking. I cannot understand how the Departments and Pobal could not have worked better.

In Donegal, organisations such as iCARE and the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation work with young people with special needs, as does Extern. All these are impressive and trusted organisations. How on earth could they not have been assisted to ensure that their projects fitted the criteria appropriately? It is beyond me.

It is absolutely indefensible for the Government to stand over a national EU co-funded measure that results in a map with such huge gaps. The Minister of State should immediately review the process and go back to the organisations in those counties that have been left behind.

I am here to speak about my home county of Donegal. I am absolutely outraged because I know the relevant organisations. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, knows about iCARE because he met those involved last November. He knows that the organisation is about to go to the wall, along with many of its services. That means the 105 young people iCARE has supported cannot be supported in the same way from now on. It gets no money from the Government and now has received this kick in the teeth.

We are told that independent criteria were applied. People's heads were torn apart with the bureaucracy.Where is the humanity in a decision like that. which leaves so many young people with disabilities behind across a huge swathe of this country? It is indefensible. The process is flawed. It needs to be reviewed and the Government must reverse the approach it has taken. It must do right by young people with disabilities in my county of Donegal and all of these counties. The same counties are always let behind.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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While listening to the Senator's concerns and anger I have taken some notes. There is an appeals process and I do not know whether the organisations the Senator speaks about went through the appeal process. It may not be for me to say that.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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The process is flawed. That is the point. There is no point appealing a process that is flawed.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I can only give the reply that I have in front of me. Unfortunately the Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities cannot be here to listen to the Senator's concerns. I will relate them to him.

I do not believe that we as Ministers should have an influence on decisions made by different groups around the country. I know the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and the Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, would agree with me. There are criteria and they were stated in the reply. I do not know why some of the organisations the Senator speaks about did not get money. I can understand visually from the map that some places or organisations have not received funding. Maybe there are flaws in the process, I do not know. If there was something wrong with their applications it may have helped if they had been assisted in some way. I will bring the Senator's concerns and his anger - because I can see he is angry about this - back to the Minister and the Minister of State and ask them to look at the map, and speak to Pobal to see if there is any way it can consider an appeals process, particularly for the projects the Senator has been speaking about. It would be helpful if he could send me the map.

Sitting suspended at 3.22 p.m. and resumed at 3.35 p.m.