Thursday, 31 January 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Motorised Transport Grant
This is the umpteenth time I have raised the issue of the motorised transport grant which was suspended in 2013 and due to be restored within a few months but which has not yet been replaced. There is an urgent need to assist families who are caring for loved ones at home, particularly in rural areas where public transport is not available.
A builder in my area was struck down with viral encephalitis in 1995. It has caused brain damage, epileptic seizures and aneurysms. His wife and family particularly his wife, have cared for him 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the past 24 years. He wants to be cared for at home and his wife brings him to hospital appointments, stays at his bedside when he is admitted to hospital with serious illnesses and brings him out for a daily drive to a local café for a cup of tea, as therapy, as recommended by his consultants. Until 2013 when this scheme was suspended, she received a small grant of a few thousand euro to buy a second-hand car but this support was taken away in 2013. Now she is driving an old car which has broken down numerous times on motorways and elsewhere. There would be a public outcry if the man had suffered any serious setbacks on his way to a hospital appointment.
I have spoken to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, on this subject. The first time I raised this issue, I was in the Dáil and the present Taoiseach was the Minister for Health. There has been a big increase in funding for the health services. I appeal that some comfort be brought to this family and, I am sure, a small number of others. That would show the Government cares and appreciates money saved because if this man was not being cared for at home his care would have cost the State many thousands over the years. I am appealing for some human nature on this case.
I thank Senator O'Mahony for raising this matter, which I will be taking on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. I am pleased to provide an update to this House on progress on the health (transport support) Bill, since the closure of the mobility allowance and motorised transport grant schemes in 2013. Senators will be aware of the background to the closure of the schemes. In summary, the Government decided to close the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant schemes in February 2013, following reports of the Ombudsman in 2011 and 2012 which found that the schemes did not comply with the Equal Status Acts. A total of 300 people per annum were in receipt of the motorised transport grant when the Government closed the scheme. The Government has directed that the Health Service Executive, HSE, should continue to pay an equivalent monthly payment to the now 3,790 individuals who were in receipt of the mobility allowance, pending the establishment of a new transport support scheme.
In line with the Government decision of November 2013, the Department of Health has been working to develop legislative proposals for a new transport support scheme. The 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. A general scheme and heads of Bill were completed in draft form and have been subject to detailed legal examination, given the complex legal issues which arose in the operation of previous arrangements. The legislative proposals for the scheme sought to ensure that there is a firm statutory basis to the scheme's operation, there is transparency and equity in the eligibility criteria attaching to the scheme, that resources are targeted at those with the greatest needs and the scheme is capable of being costed and it is affordable on its introduction and on an ongoing basis.
In December 2016, this draft general scheme and heads of Bill were circulated to other Departments and were the subject of consultation between officials in the Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform. The House will appreciate that it has been necessary to estimate both the numbers likely to qualify for payment and the likely overall cost of the proposals. In May 2018, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, brought a memorandum to Government on proposals for a new transport support payment scheme. Following consideration of the matter, it was decided to withdraw the memorandum from the Cabinet agenda at that time. The Ministers intend to revert to Government in due course with revised proposals. These proposals will reflect the discussions at Cabinet and further discussions between both Ministers on the best way to progress the transport scheme. It is important to note that the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme operated by the Revenue Commissioners, remains in place. Specifically adapted vehicles driven by persons with a disability are also exempt from payment of tolls on national roads and toll bridges. Transport Infrastructure Ireland has responsibility for this scheme. 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 disabilities.
I am very well aware of the circumstances but, without being personal, the sixth anniversary of the suspension of this scheme is coming up. It is not good enough. I am aware of the legal difficulties and all the rest but the legislative proposals the Minister of State mentioned sought to ensure that resources are targeted at those of the greatest need. There is no greater need and I would bet my life on this, than the case I have mentioned. I have come across others but I wanted to highlight this very difficult case.
What I read in the Minister of State's response is just kicking the can down the road again. This is not personal. It is an appeal. I know the Minister of State has a great personal sense of wanting to help people who are in real need. The example I have quoted this morning is of a person in real need who is driven to distraction. This person won the carer of the year award in Ireland some years ago. I do not mind what scheme it is but it would qualify under any scheme from the point of view of treating people with some equity. I appeal to the Minister of State to bring this to the Minister's door and to those of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and of the Taoiseach because I have been at all those doors too.
I acknowledge the importance of the point raised by Senator O'Mahony and the urgent need to reintroduce the scheme, particularly for people living in rural communities as he stated. I know many people who live in Dublin who have transport needs and are the lifeline for many with disabilities. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, have been in conversation on trying to resolve some of the issues.
I will, however, pass on the Senator's deep concerns and his compassion in dealing with people. There is a human cost when people look after people with disabilities and we should give them every possible support, both through home help and in respect of transport and other areas. Many people who live in rural areas and isolated communities have a great need because the local public transport system does not reach their doors. I will bring the Senator's concerns and frustration back to the Minister and the Minister of State and ask them to respond to him. I believe this is a human rights issue.
We need to accept that there are people who, on a daily basis, are caring for people with major disabilities in their homes. Without carers' help and support, many of the facilities in nursing homes, hospitals and other areas of community nursing would come under serious pressure. They are under pressure as it is, but the pressures would only be compounded. I will bring all the necessary and relevant issues raised back to both Ministers.