Wednesday, 4 July 2018
Motorised Transport Grant Eligibility
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for choosing this matter and the Minister of State for attending. We know it off by heart at this stage so there is no need for me to go into the details again. I have had a number of cases on this motorised transport grant, particularly because I come from a rural constituency where there is no public transport and people need to bring their family members to appointments and take them out for therapy, etc. The withdrawal of this grant in 2013 has caused great stress, trauma and difficulties to these families. There was a guarantee given that it would be replaced with a new scheme in October 2013. We are now in July 2018 and nothing has happened since.
I have raised it continually during my time in the Dáil and in this House. I am raising it again now because of an issue I am seriously concerned about. I refer to a woman whose husband is quite ill. He is in hospital and she is bringing him to appointments a couple of times a week. Cars are breaking down on numerous occasions on the way to those appointments. This woman has saved the State thousands of euro by caring for her husband and she will not allow anyone else to care for him because he has brain damage, epileptic seizures and depression as well as word finding, memory and understanding problems. It really is a humanitarian issue at this stage. I am not blaming the Minister of State but I hope he can report some progress and that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
I thank and commend Senator O'Mahony for raising this important issue. I also commend his determination and perseverance on the motor transport grant proposals. I am happy to update this House on the progress of the health (transport support) Bill. The Senator will be familiar with the background to the closure of the mobility allowance and motorised transport grant schemes in February 2013. Following the closure of the schemes, no further motorised transport grants have been payable. The Government, however, decided that the detailed preparatory work required for a new transport support scheme, and associated statutory provisions, should be progressed by my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris.
The Government directed that the Health Service Executive, HSE, should continue to pay an equivalent monthly payment of up to €208.50 to the 4,046 people in receipt of the mobility allowance, on an interim basis, pending the establishment of a new transport support scheme. I welcome that. These 4,046 people are getting the €208.50 each month. The bottom line, though, is that Senator O'Mahony is right. A Programme for a Partnership Government acknowledges the ongoing drafting of primary legislation for a new transport support scheme to assist those with a disability to meet their mobility costs. The health (transport support) Bill is on the list of priority legislation for publication in the spring-summer session 2018.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel. I confirm that work on the policy proposals for the new scheme is at an advanced stage. The proposals seek to ensure there is a firm statutory basis to the scheme's operation, there is transparency and equity in the eligibility criteria attaching to the scheme, resources are targeted at those with the greatest needs and the scheme is capable of being costed and is affordable on its introduction and on an ongoing basis.I recently brought a memorandum to Government for a new transport support payment scheme. Following consideration of the matter, it was decided to withdraw the memorandum from the Cabinet agenda on 8 May last. I intend to revert to Government in due course with revised proposals reflective of the discussion at Cabinet. While not wishing to breach Cabinet confidentiality, the view in government is reflective of Senator O'Mahony's view, namely, that we need to ensure that adequate funding is available for this scheme. Hence, the debate and the delay.
It is important to note that the disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme operated by the Revenue Commissioners remains in place. Specifically adapted vehicles driven by persons with disabilities are exempt from payment of tolls on national roads and toll bridges. Transport Infrastructure Ireland has responsibility for this scheme. Work is ongoing in various Departments, agencies and transport providers on how access to public transport services can be further improved. Under the national disability inclusion strategy, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has responsibility for the continued development of accessibility and availability of public transport for people with a disability.
Senator O'Mahony has on many occasions raised the issue of inadequate access to public transport, particularly in rural areas. I am aware of the stress this is causing for families and I hope to be able to report progress soon on the transport support payment scheme.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Can he confirm if he will be bringing a memorandum to Government before the summer recess or the final Cabinet meeting? If not, this matter will run into the sand. I do not propose to add to the speculation about an election or the supply and confidence agreement. This scheme is committed to in the programme for Government and it needs to be delivered. Can the Minister of State indicate a timescale for when he will bring a memorandum to Cabinet for consideration and approval?
In regard to the memorandum, I am considering three options. I know exactly what I want in terms of this scheme. I am sure Senator O'Mahony would agree with my proposals. I was not happy with what was proposed at Cabinet and I undertook to consider other options in terms of funding. My preferred option is the most expensive. There is a problem in that as we approach the Estimates process, there are other groups, such as senior citizens with disabled adults seeking residential care, in respect of which I am seeking approximately 400 additional places in 2019. The assessment of need issue is also on the table and families with young children with disabilities are also demanding funding. There is competing needs for funding. As far as I am concerned the Government committed to the introduction of this scheme in the programme for Government.
I take the Senator's point about transport issues in rural Ireland, the stress this is causing for families, the amount of work these families do and the savings that accrue to the Exchequer as a result of that work. In answer to Senator O'Mahony's question, I hope to bring the memorandum to Cabinet before the summer recess, and at the latest, early September. As I said, I am currently considering three options and I will decide in the next week or two which option I will bring to Cabinet. I hope I will achieve the objective of bringing it before Cabinet before the summer recess but, if not, I will do so early in September.