Seanad debates

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Services for People with Disabilities

2:30 pm

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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The Minister will be familiar with this issue, which affects a number of organisations in Donegal. iCare, which is based on the Inishowen Peninsula and works with more than 100 families of children and young people with autism, provides an absolutely vital service not just for the Inishowen Peninsula but for the wider area of north Donegal.The Bluestack Special Needs Foundation based in Donegal town also provides a vital service to a large number of families in that area of south Donegal. They combined with the organisation Extern to apply for funding under the Ability programme last year. As the Minister of State will be aware, that programme has funding of €16 million and is co-financed by the Irish Government and the EU, delivering to 27 projects across the State. Major controversy arose last year when iCare, Bluestack Special Needs Foundation and Extern were refused funding. When we look at a map of the State, only one organisation north of the famous Galway to Dublin line, which was located in Roscommon, had received funding. Major controversy surrounded that because both iCare and the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation have existed for many years without any substantial State funding. iCare based in the Inishowen Peninsula, my home area, has been in existence for 18 years. It has raised a great deal of money. This organisation involves families who are taking care of their loved ones with intellectual special needs and trying to fundraise massive amounts of money every year. There was an intervention for both organisations last year, which I welcome. At last they got some funding. Both of them were on the verge of collapse, which would have been a disaster.

As we are now into 2019, we need confirmation, and I hope the Minister of State will provide it today, that there will be a service level agreement between both organisations and the HSE and fixed annual funding will be provided in order that they will know where they stand and that the families will know that they have a service and will not have to cope, from year to year, faced with massive demands of fundraising. Both organisations have achieved a great deal. They have great support in the community but, frankly, they have been taken for granted for far too long. If funding is not confirmed by the Minister of State today, urgent intervention is needed to secure that funding as soon as possible.

As we are now into 2019, we need confirmation - I hope the Minister of State will provide it today - that there will be a service level agreement between both organisations and the HSE and that there will be fixed annual funding in order that they will know where they stand and that the families will know they have a service and will not have to cope, from year to year, with facing massive demands in terms of fundraising. Both organisations have achieved a great deak They have great support in the community but they have been taken for granted for far too long. If such funding is not confirmed by the Minister of State today, there needs to be urgent intervention to seucre that funding as soon as possible.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I thank the Senator for raising this very important issue. I am well aware of his work and support for families of children and adults with disabilities in the Donegal area.

I thank him for raising the issue of funding for the iCare autism support group and the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation. As Senators may be aware, iCare provides a range of activities for children and young adults with autism spectrum disorder in the Inishowen area. The organisation also provides supports and services for siblings and parents of children and young adults with autism spectrum disorder.

I would also like to acknowledge the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation's extraordinary achievements since it was established in 2006. The foundation operates a range of educational, practical and emotional support programmes using a family support model and provides evening and weekend activities, as well as summer camps and a diverse range of activities. Through its funding activities, the foundation has made very significant donations to charities in the area over a number of years.

I understand the Bluestack foundation has in the past received modest funding through the national lottery. Following a request for urgent funding last year, of which I am aware, the HSE met representatives of the Bluestack foundation and some funding was awarded to assist the organisation. That intervention was made last year.

I understand that both organisations have submitted funding applications to the HSE for 2019 and I can appreciate they are anxious to learn the outcome. The HSE's national service planning process for 2019 has now been agreed and budgets are currently being assigned to each community healthcare organisation, CHO. Once CHO area 1 receives its allocation, it will be in a position to consider the funding arrangements for individual services and organisations, and this will include those raised by the Senator.

As Senators may be aware, a number of important developments are under way regarding disability services in general and this includes autism services. In December 2018, the Minister, Deputy Harris, announced the publication of two reports relating to autism services. These included a research report on prevalence and a review of HSE autism services. The HSE review includes a range of recommendations aimed at improving services for children and adults with autism. The Minister has asked the HSE to proceed with implementing these recommendations and an autism plan will be published later this year. These actions will build on the substantial work already under way on improving autism services and the assessment process, in particular. The Government remains committed to providing service supports for people with disabilities which will empower them to live independent lives. These supports will provide greater independence for people in accessing the services they choose and will enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives. As part of this commitment, a radical programme of reform of disability services is under way. The implementation of the reforms will continue to have a practical and tangible impact on the lives of young people and their families. The work is ongoing, as is the investment and the reform. We need to focus on the organisations involved, such as those to which Senator Mac Lochlainn refers.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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I acknowledge the Minister of State's long campaign for families with loved ones with disabilities and for persons with disabilities. He has personal knowledge of being a carer so he will understand more than most just how frustrating the situation has been. I will again tell the story of iCare, which I know so well because it is based in my home town of Buncrana. It has been in operation for 18 years and has become bigger and bigger in terms of the services it delivers. Its work is groundbreaking in terms of autism support services. It works with the local school, Scoil Íosagáin, in Buncrana. iCare is a template for organisations across the State but, incredibly, it has achieved that with its own resources and those involved are weary. The HSE will announce its decision soon. I urge the Minister of State to ensure that clarity is provided as soon as possible on the funding for 2019, along with the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation. There is full, cross-party support in Donegal for the services provided by the two organisations. We desperately want them to have State funding that will allow them to continue their important work. I urge the Minister of State to continue to monitor the position and to ensure that funding is provided for this year. I thank the Minister of State for attending.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I thank Senator Mac Lochlainn for his comments on disability. I appreciate the work of iCare, the members of which I have met. I was involved with representatives of the Bluestack foundation last year when an issue arose at the time of the intervention. I recognise the dedication, commitment and autism support services in Senator Mac Lochlainn's community.

The HSE will continue to provide significant support services for children, young adults and their families in the north west. Alternative respite, in-home respite and community-based activity programmes are in place in the community healthcare organisation area benefitting 157 children and adults with some complex needs. I recognise the commitment of the groups raised by Senator Mac Lochlainn and I firmly believe that community and voluntary services such as those must be supported as much as possible. I accept the Senator's point that the services are essential. In this year's budget, funding of €1.9 billion was allocated by the HSE for disability services in 2019. What that means essentially is that we will 8,600 people in residential care, 27,000 people in day services, respite residential support for 182,500, personal assistance services of 1.63 million hours and home support services of 3.08 million hours. The good news for people living in institutions is that we will move 160 more people out of institutions into smaller community settings. We must invest and reform and listen to the needs of groups such as iCare and the Bluestack foundation. I am listening carefully to what the Senator says and I will push very hard on those issues.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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There are two remaining matters. As a vote is being taken in the Dáil, however, we do not have Ministers available. I invite the Leader to speak.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I apologise to the Members. The first I was aware of this was when I received a telephone call from the Seanad Office. I have never seen it happen during the Commencement debate previously. Given that there is a division in the Lower House, I propose that we check if a Minister is available to respond to the remaining matters.