The Minister of State with special responsibility for Disabilities, Finian McGrath T.D., today, Thursday 9thJanuary 2020, welcomed Government colleagues to a special Cabinet meeting on disability issues. The meeting was held at the Marino Institute of Education.

Government approved the Mid Term Review of the National Disability Inclusion Strategy. The focus for 2020 and 2021 will be on the implementation of UNCRPD. The review contains 20 new actions and 5 new strands which will:

  • Improve services through better implementation and collaboration
  • Strengthen rights
  • Expand into new areas
  • Implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • Raise awareness of the lived experience of people with disabilities

An implementation plan will be developed to coordinate implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A consultation and participation model, in line with the UN CRPD, will be established to facilitate participation by persons with disabilities in the policy development process.

Government was updated on the progress made on a wide range of issues for people with disabilities and their families.  Minister McGrath outlined to his Cabinet colleagues that upon being appointed Minister, one of his intentions was to ensure that services became more person – centred and that the voices of those with a disability would be heard.

“For too long in the past, society placed obstacles in the way of people with disabilities which denied them the opportunity to achieve their full potential in life”, the Minister said. “Now with initiatives such as the National Disability Inclusion Strategy and the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for people with Disabilities, which I have overseen, the future for people with disabilities is full of potential and possibilities. And of course, while many other administrations promised and failed to, we as a Government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability and I am proud to have been the Minister to see that ratification through”.

The Minister added, “Under the Transforming Lives Programme, we have been working to develop more person-centred services for people with disabilities through a significant programme of reform involving the implementation of Time to Move on from Congregated Settings which is enabling people, who choose, to leave institutionalised settings into homes in the community and develop a life of their own choosing.

In the last year we have also seen the opening of 12 new Respite houses countrywide which gives both service users and their carers a much need break. In addition, we continue to acknowledge the incredible work that carers do and have increased the Home Carers Grant during the lifetime of this Government”.

In children’s disability services, Minister McGrath acknowledged the difficulties which long waiting times for assessment of needs has caused. “I am pleased to say that the 100 new Therapy posts outlined in last year’s Budget have all been filled as well as the introduction of a new Standard Operating Procedure by the HSE in dealing with applications for assessments. The new standard operating procedure for Assessment of Need for all applications will ensure that there is no more geographical variances across the country. I am confident that these will have a positive effect on those waiting times.

A radical programme of reconfiguration of health delivered services has resulted in unprecedented change in the delivery of services to people with disabilities in the past five years.   The disability services budget for 2020 will exceed €2 billion euro for the first time ever.  This represents a 31.9% increase on the disability budget when this Government came into office in 2016 and reverses the disability budget reductions during the austerity period. The additional funding provided for 2020 will enable us to significantly enhance specialist disability services this year.

Over €35m of the additional funding provided in the 2020 budget will be earmarked for key service developments this year. These include the provision of an additional 40,000 personal assistance hours, additional funding for day services benefitting 1,600 school leavers and increased funding for residential placements and respite services. This year will also see the delivery of a range of initiatives for people with autism, including a campaign to assist in creating the awareness of the challenges, needs and experiences of people with autism spectrum disorder and a programme of awareness raising that can provide better information resource for children and parents about what supports are available”.

Minister McGrath also announced that the research project on the Cost of Disability which he and the Minister of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty T.D. established last year was progressing and will, when completed, help inform policy decisions from a whole of Government perspective. “Both Minister Doherty and I wanted this research to include data directly drawn from the experience of people with disabilities and as part of this a survey will be issued to 33,000 recipients of the Department’s disability related payments to get their input into this work.” The Minister said that he expects the research to be completed later this year.

Minister Doherty announced that she has secured funding of €5million under the Dormant Accounts Action Plan 2020 for measures to provide supports for people with specific types of disabilities, particularly those who are deaf, deafened, hard of hearing or with sight loss. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection would be unveiling a scheme and call-out for funding applications in the coming weeks. “We will be putting out a call for measures which will facilitate people with a disability access to meaningful employment to enable them fulfil their own potential within the workplace”, the Minister said.

Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh T.D. updated Government on the progress the Teaching Council is making on updating standards for initial teacher education which will help ensure that student teachers are better supported to meet the needs of children with special educational needs.

Cabinet was also updated on the improved collaborative working and data-sharing to improve planning for the establishment of special classes in areas of significant population growth. An agreed protocol is now in place between the Department of Education and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to allow for data to be shared earlier.

Minster McHugh said “We know that the quality of teaching and learning is the single biggest factor in improving educational outcomes for students. In an ever more challenging world, teachers must have opportunities to gain the knowledge and skills they require to meet the needs of all students, including those with special educational needs. There is an onus on Government to plan for this provision and to provide teachers with the right supports to help them provide for their students”.